Ipush vegetables and encourage meatless mains as often as possible. But sometimes you just need to splurge. Our family adores lamb. Grilling makes it even better. For a small group, I’ll make lamb chops; for a larger crowd, boneless leg of lamb impresses and proves super easy.
Lamb comes from sheep less than 1 year old, meaning almost all of the meat is tender. I look for lamb with a fine grain, bright red color and pinkish (not gray) bones that look moist. I prefer a little marbling on the meat, so I opt for leaving a thin fat coating, which adds tremendous flavor while grilling.
Whenever possible, I buy meat that was raised right: Fed a vegetarian diet (preferably grass for the best flavor), allowed to range and not given antibiotics or hormones. Buying lamb from the farmer at a farmers market proves satisfying because the money goes directly to the folks responsible for the care of the animal. Many supermarkets sell Australian or New Zealand lamb, which tends to come from smaller animals than domestic lamb. A boneless leg of lamb from these animals will be about 5 pounds, just right for a group of 8 to 10, with some leftovers.
I love to grill boneless leg of lamb because it’s speedy — cooking time is less than 30 minutes — and carving is a breeze. Most butchers will remove the leg bones for you with advance notice. If you do purchase a bone-in leg of lamb, removing the bones proves easier than it sounds: Simply keep your knife as close to the bones as possible while you gently loosen the meat from around them. Once loosened, simply twist out the bones. After boning, I cut the meat into two equal-size pieces for easier handling on the grill.
Lamb marries perfectly with garlic. Sweet spices such as cardamom and cinnamon likewise complement. I mix all the above with aromatic coriander, cumin and fennel.
I like to serve the grilled lamb with a condiment of shredded cucumber and plain yogurt. Labneh, the Middle Eastern yogurt, tastes especially rich and satisfying. The combo reminds us of gyros, so we serve it with flatbreads, toasted until warm on the grill.
Garlic and Spice Grilled Leg of Lamb • 1 boneless leg of lamb, about 8 pounds
• 3 to 5 large cloves garlic, cut into thin slivers
• 10 cardamom pods, crushed, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 2 teaspoons each: ground coriander, ground cumin, salt
• 1 teaspoon each, ground: cinnamon, black pepper
• 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds, optional
• 2 cups cherry or apple wood chips, optional
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Cucumber yogurt sauce with garlic and herbs, see recipe
Cut the boneless leg of lamb into two even pieces. Use a sharp small knife to cut small slits in the lamb at regular intervals; insert a sliver of garlic into each slit as you go. Combine all the spices in a small dish. Rub the spices into the lamb on all sides. The lamb can be refrigerated in a glass dish, covered lightly with butcher paper, for 8 hours or up to 3 days.
Prepare a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium hot. If using, soak wood chips in water to cover, about 30 minutes. Then drain and periodically sprinkle the chips over the hot coals. (If using a gas grill, set the chips on a piece of foil and place the packet over the heat source.)
Spray or brush lamb on all sides with olive oil. Place the lamb directly over the heat source. Cover the grill; cook, 12 minutes. Turn lamb over. Cover grill; continue grilling until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees when inserted in the thickest portion, 11-13 minutes more. Transfer lamb to a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil; let stand 10-15 minutes.
Use a sharp knife to slice the lamb thinly. Serve with the cucumber sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 445 calories, 16 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 213 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 69 g protein, 627 mg sodium, 0.5 g fiber
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce with Garlic and Herbs • 1 large seedless cucumber
• 2 to 3 cloves garlic
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 16 ounces labneh or plain Greek yogurt
• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, mint or chives (or a combination)
Peel off and discard about half of the cucumber skin. Put a four-sided grater into a colander. Use the largest holes to shred the cucumber into the colander. Crush the garlic into the cucumber strands; stir in the salt. Let everything drain in the sink or over a bowl, about 30 minutes. Use your hands to squeeze as much water as you can out of the cucumber.
Put the squeezed cucumber mixture into a bowl. Stir in the labneh and herbs until well mixed. Refrigerate up to 2 days. Stir well before serving.
Nutrition information per tablespoon: 20 calories, 1 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 77 mg sodium, 0 g fiberPrep: 15 minutes / Chill: 8 hours to 3 days / Cook: 25 minutes Yield: Makes 10 servings with leftovers Prep: 15 minutes / Drain: 30 minutes Yield: Makes about 2 cups