Recipe: Magiritsa, Easter Lamb Soup
Photo by Aglaia Kremezi
Magiritsa is traditionally made with the parts of the lamb not used for spit-roasting. Remember that Greek Easter lambs are very small, about 24 pounds. In the classic recipe, all the innards--heart, lungs, and so forth--go into the pot, but they do not really contribute to taste.
The flavor of the stock comes from the boiled head and neck, and the soup gets its distinctive taste from scallions, fresh dill, and egg-and-lemon sauce. There are lots of different magiritsa recipes. A friend described to me the one her family prepared in Halki, a small island in the Dodecanese. In her family's version, no innards are used because, on Halki as on all the Dodecanese islands, people do not roast the lamb on a spit, but slow roast it in a wood-burning oven, stuffing the cavity with rice and chopped innards.
In Halki's magiritsa, many lamb's heads were boiled to make a very tasty stock. The heads were not boned, but as they cooked for many hours, even the bones softened. Each member of the family got one head and ate it with the broth. No scallions or dill were added to that unusual magiritsa.
Serves 6 to 8.
• Head, neck, some intestines, and liver of a young lamb, or 3 pounds lamb bones (see variation)
• 2 large onions, halved
• Sea salt
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 2 cups finely chopped scallions
• 1 small chili pepper, minced, or freshly ground pepper to taste
• 1 1/2 cups chopped fresh dill
• 2 eggs
• Juice of 1 1/2 - 2 lemons
Wash the lamb head and neck thoroughly and place in a pot with the onions. Cover with cold water, season with salt, and simmer for about 1 hour, skimming the surface several times to remove the accumulated froth.
Cut the intestines into several pieces and wash thoroughly under running water. If you like, slice them open so you can wash them more easily. In a separate pan, bring some salted water to a boil and add the intestines. Blanch for 2 minutes, then remove with a skimmer and discard the water. Chop the intestines finely. You don't need more than 1 cup of chopped intestines.
The head and neck are done when the meat falls from the bones. Remove from the pot. Using a sharp knife, cut open the head and separate the meat from the bones. Remove the meat from the neck and cut all the meat into small pieces. Strain the stock and discard the onions. Let the stock cool and remove the fat. (Up to this point, the preparations can be made a day ahead. Refrigerate the meat and the stock, making it easier to skim off the congealed fat.)
To finish the soup, wash the liver well and cut it into small cubes. In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the liver with the scallions and chili pepper, if using. Add the finely chopped meat and intestines, together with 1 cup of the dill, and turn a few times with a wooden spoon. Transfer the mixture to a pot and add the skimmed stock plus an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and add more pepper and salt if needed.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl with about 2 spoonfuls of water and the juice of 1 lemon. Slowly add cupfuls of the hot soup to the bowl, beating continuously with the whisk. When the egg mixture is very hot, pour it slowly into the pot, over very low heat, stirring well to prevent curdling. Taste and add more lemon juice if needed, sprinkle with the rest of the dill, and serve immediately.
Variation: Chicken or Vegetarian Magiritsa
If you hate the taste of boiled lamb, you can make an equally tasty magiritsa with chicken livers and chicken stock. There is even a meatless magiristsa. Sauté the scallions and dill, adding mushrooms and a few chopped outer leaves of romaine lettuce. Pour in vegetable stock and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Make the egg and lemon sauce as described above.
Adapted from The Foods of Greece (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang).