Greek-style Lamb with Hummus
In the epilogue to her autobiography I Sang for My Supper (1999), Australian icon Margaret Fulton cites an event from the late 1950s that she says has stuck in her mind. 'Driving back to Sydney from Bowral via the coast, we came down the winding road over the mountain towards the settled area around Wollongong. It was a Sunday, about midday, and what hit us head-on was an overpowering smell of roast lamb. Every household in the Illawarra district, it seemed, was cooking roast lamb. And that's the way it used to be in most parts of Australia; the family gathering around the dinner table at lunchtime on Sunday for a meal of roast lamb with all the trimmings.'
How delicious! As strange as it may sound, I don't think I tasted lamb until I was well into my teens. My mother and father had bad food memories of roast mutton served regularly at Bonegilla, the migrant hostel the family stayed at when they first arrived in Australia from Hungary. It wasn't until the 1970s that dad decided to experiment with lamb forequarter chops on the barbecue. The chops were succulent and moreish, and a totally new experience for my tastebuds.
Interestingly, there was no mention of lamb in The Colonial Cookbook, the first cookbook published in Australia. In the chapter on Meat, Poultry & Game, subtitled 'Diverse dishes to delight the discerning diner', author Edward Abbott wrote on the Best Age for Mutton:
'The sheep is in its best condition as food when about five years old... an age it is almost never allowed to attain, unless when intended for the private use of the owner and not for market. It is then sapid, full flavoured, and hard. At three years old, as commonly procured from the butcher, it is well tasted, but is by no means comparable to that of fiver years. If younger than three years, it is deficient in flavour, and its flesh is pale. Meat which is half mutton and half lamb is very unpalatable food.'
The way Australians cook and what we eat has certainly come a long way since those days. According to Meat and Livestock Australia, Aussies are among the biggest consumers of lamb in the world. In 2010-11, Australians ate 9.1kg of lamb and only 0.5kg of mutton per person!
Some of the best lamb dishes I have tasted include slow cooked Illabo lamb prepared by Geoff Jansz at a cooking class held at his Bowral farm; Saltbush lamb cooked on a property in South Australia during a Tasting Australia field trip; and Arni Souvlaki served at Mezethes, a wonderful Greek taverna in Salamanca Place in Hobart, Tasmania.
My own Greek-style lamb is made with premium lamb back strap (boneless eye of loin) or fillet (tenderloin), marinated and then cooked to perfection on a hot grill. I prefer not to use skewers, as this allows me to sear and toss the lamb quickly. The ingredients include lemon, garlic, oregano, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Lemon and lamb pair so beautifully; and oregano, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, EVOO, pepper and sea salt are also perfect partners.
GREEK-STYLE LAMB WITH HUMMUS
600g lamb fillet or back strap, diced into bite sized pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
juice from 1-2 lemons
a heaped teaspoon oregano
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
a good splash of EVOO
hummus, to serve
a big, fresh Greek salad or Horiatiki, to accompany
Combine the diced lamb, garlic, oregano, lemon juice, EVOO, sea salt and black pepper in a bowl. Marinate for as long as you can (sometimes on busy weeknights I allow the lamb to marinate for only half an hour, other times I leave it overnight).
Meanwhile, prepare the hummus. Nothing quite compares with home made hummus and I offer a great recipe here. Sprinkle a little paprika or sumac over the hummus for extra flavour.
When you are ready to cook the lamb, heat a BBQ hotplate, cast iron grill pan or griddle. Toss in the lamb pieces and cook, quickly, turning to ensure all sides are evenly browned. The meat should be medium rare, but cook it to your liking, taking care not to overcook it. Allow the meat to rest briefly before serving. This quantity will serve three or four. Serve the lamb piled on a plate with steamed rice, the hummus, a wedge of lemon and a fresh salad.
The process in pictures...
καλή όρεξη kali orexi
Do you enjoy lamb? What's your favourite way of preparing it? Do you have any memories or family stories about a lamb dish?
Incidentally, have I mentioned that my focus is on fresh produce, rather than expensive, house-cluttering props? This is, no doubt, obvious. That said, I have huge admiration for those food bloggers who have a stock of antique cutlery, vintage china and weathered boards for their photographs. I love your work!
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.