Lamb is traditional for Easter dinner in many cultures.
My American friend was already bringing a ham, that she baked according to a cherished recipe from her grandmother, to our international feast. It was delicious, and really well cooked, in a delicious sauce, some of which is sitting in my fridge, waiting for me to come up with a way to use it.
A baked ham for Easter is traditional in both the US and in Sweden.
However, I have a tendency to continue to invite people to dinners, and I would be horrified if people were to go away hungry (often resulting in us eating a lot of leftovers, but that is really no trouble). True to form, I had invited more people than I had told my friend about, and I wanted to make sure that we all had enough to eat. So I fell back on some more traditions and made a lamb dish.
A few years ago, the Big Guy and I had the pleasure of a trip to Plovdiv in Bulgaria. A friend of a friend had recommended the Puldin restaurant, and we had eaten an excellent meal there. My memory was that it was also pretty reasonably priced, despite what the Lonely Planet says, but I can’t really say for sure anymore. Either way, if you go to the beautiful, historic town of Plovdiv, I recommend this restaurant. The settings are gorgeous, and the series of rooms are both sumptuous and adorned with lovely art, frescoes and even a Roman wall in the room where we ate.
For some reason, my memory of this meal was stirred by trying to think of a different way to serve lamb, so that it would not overpower the ham. My memory is that I had a lamb dish that may (or may not) have been called St George’s Lamb. I may not remember the exact name, but I certainly remember the dish. The meat was meltingly tender, and came cooked with carrots and peas. Interestingly, it had been cooked in white wine, which really cut through the fatty richness of the meat. The vegetables had been added near the end of cooking, so they still retained a nice crunch. It was a truly remarkable dish.
Unfortunately, the Puldin does not seem to have a website (or at least not using our alphabet – they use the cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria), so I have been unable to check if they still carry the dish to see if I got the name right , or go from a description on a menu. But that memory of a dish was the perfect thing to go on a plate that will star a baked ham, for a hungry person, so I decided to have a go at an approximation anyway.
There are a few Bulgarian lamb dishes on the web, but none really seemed to resemble the dish I had eaten in Puldin. I was pretty much on my own, so I decided to dive in and do my best in any case. I did find these two recipes, which I used as inspiration.
This is what I came up with
Recipe: Bulgarianish Lamb
1.5 kg leg of lamb, bone in – I found some lovely organic Texel lamb,
For the Marinade:
1 l water
400 ml white wine. I used an Auxerrois from Limburg, so it was local, and fruity enough to balance the lamb.
½ unwaxed lemon, sliced
50 ml tarragon or white wine vinegar
3 dried or 5 fresh bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
4 tbsp oil
4-5 cloves garlic
150 g cherry tomatoes
3 medium potatoes
4 sticks celery
1 small onion
1 tbsp tomato puree
Little cold water to make a thin paste
1 tbsp plain flour
Pour the marinade ingredients over the lamb, and allow to marinate overnight. If the lamb is large, turn the meat regularly in the marinade.
Dry the lamb on kitchen paper, keeping the marinade aside for later.
Cook the whole garlic cloves in the oil. Remove them when they start to colour, and set aside. Be really careful not to allow the garlic to burn, you want a nice brown colour, but no black. Burnt garlic is bitter, and you do not want it in the sauce.
Salt the meat and brown the meat well on all sides. Be careful, it will spit, even if you have dried it well.
Soften the vegetables in the same oil, including the garlic used earlier. Meanwhile, remove the peel from the slices of lemon from the marinade, and make a thinner paste with the tomato puree and cold water.
Add the flour, and the tomato paste to the vegetables, and cook through for a couple of minutes. Don’t be tempted to skip this step, or the sauce will taste of raw flour. Add the lemon pulp to the pan, you can leave it on top of the vegetables, no need to stir it in.
Return the leg of lamb onto the top of the vegetables, and pour over the retained marinade. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum that forms. Simmer on a low heat for up to three hours. You want the meat to be really tender and falling off the bone, but not overcooked, which will dry it out, despite being cooked in liquid.
Once it is done, allow the meat to rest in a warm place.
Pass the vegetables and the cooking liquid through a food mill (or you can blend them) to make the sauce. Remove the bay leaves before you pass them through the food mill, you don’t want to grind them, it will render your sauce inedible.
There will be quite a lot of sauce. Put it back on the hob in a clean pan, and reduce it by about a third. Taste at this point, and season with salt, pepper and some lemon juice, if required. The sauce should have a bit of a citrus kick to cut through the richness of the lamb.
Serve slices of the lamb, along with whatever veg you like, and allow your guests to pour the sauce over, as they choose.
You will have quite a lot of sauce left, and the bone of course, as well as some of the meat. Make stock with the bone, to be used on future lamb dishes (it is particularly distinctive, so may not be suitable for multiple meats, as is chicken and beef stock.
Don’t throw out the rest of the leftovers, I have a great recipe that will help you use them all up (of course!).