Recipe: Roasted Leg of Lamb With North African Spices

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Photo by Aglaia Kremezi

I call this herb and spice rub "North-African" because, besides the classic oregano and rosemary, it contains such Tunisian and Moroccan spices as caraway, cumin, and turmeric. In addition, it is spiked with harissa, the ubiquitous hot pepper paste that is to Arab North Africa what chili oil is to Asia.

With the same spice mixture you can rub poultry, beef, or pork 2 to 3 hours before grilling and leave at room temperature. Or, you can mix 3 tablespoons of this rub with 3 tablespoons thick yogurt and baste chicken breast or legs, or skewered lamb and pork, before grilling. Better yet, leave in the refrigerator overnight, in the spicy yogurt marinade.

Makes 6 servings.

Spice Mixture:
    • 3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
    • 2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano or savory
    • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves
    • 3 teaspoons caraway seed
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    • 2 tablespoons harissa, marras, or aleppo pepper to taste
    • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic cloves
    • 1/4 cup olive oil

Roasted Lamb:
    •5-to-6-pound bone-in leg of lamb
    •1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    •1/3 cup white wine, plus more if needed
    •1 1/2 pounds medium or small purple onions, peeled and halved or quartered
    •2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, or 1 tablespoon dry

In a spice grinder, clean coffee grinder, or mortar, grind the salt, oregano or savory, rosemary, caraway, cumin, and turmeric to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and add the harissa and chopped garlic. Add olive oil to make a thick paste.

Make 8 or 9 deep slits all over the lamb and insert some spice paste, rubbing the paste all over the surface of the meat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour at room temperature or, preferably, refrigerate for at least 5 hours, or overnight. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the leg of lamb fat side down in a roasting pan that will hold the onions in one layer. Roast for 20 minutes. Mix the lemon juice and 1/3 cup wine in a small bowl. Turn the meat and pour the lemon-wine mixture over it. (If you are roasting the lamb in a clay dish, warm the mixture first, because cold liquid can cause the clay to crack.) Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and roast for 35 minutes, basting every 10 to 15 minutes with the pan juices. If the pan dries out, add a little more wine.

Temporarily transfer the lamb to a plate and add the onions to the pan, tossing them well to coat them with the pan juices. Add rosemary sprigs or sprinkle with dry rosemary, toss, place the lamb on the onions and continue roasting, basting often, for another 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reaches 135°F.

Transfer the meat to a heated platter, cover with a double layer of aluminum foil and set aside. (Leave the oven on.) If the pan juices are watery, transfer most of them to a saucepan and cook briefly to reduce. Meanwhile, return the pan to the oven and continue baking the onions until tender, with browned edges. Turn the oven to broil. Place the lamb on the onions again and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the surface is deep brown and crackling. Carve the lamb and serve, passing the pan juices in a bowl or sauceboat at the table.

Adapted from Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.

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Aglaia Kremezi writes about food in Greek, European, and American magazines, publishes books about Mediterranean cooking in the U.S. and Greece, and teaches cooking classes. More

Aglaia Kremezi has changed her life and her profession many times over. She currently writes about food in Greek, European and American magazines, publishes books about Greek and Mediterranean cooking in the US and in Greece, and teaches cooking to small groups of travelers who visit Kea. Before that she was a journalist and editor, writing about everything, except politics. She has been the editor in chief and the creator of news, women's, and life-style magazines, her last disastrous venture being a "TV guide for thinking people," a contradiction in terms, at least in her country. She studied art, graphic design, and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. For five years she taught photography to graphic designers while freelancing as a news and fashion photographer for Athenian magazines and newspapers. Editors liked her extended captions more than the pieces the journalists submitted for the events she took pictures for, so she was encouraged to do her own stories, gradually becoming a full time journalist and editor. You can visit her website at

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