"Greek" Lamb with Orzo

By • March 4, 2013 142 Comments

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Author Notes: About a million years ago, when my brothers and I were just starting to be adventurous enough to eat foods other than Norwegian meatballs or fish cakes, my mom found a recipe for Greek lamb with orzo in a magazine -- Cooking Light or Eating Well or one of those types -- and tried it out on us. It was a hit and became a mainstay of our family meals. It was also the recipe she sent to each of us, successively, when we needed something easy but impressive to cook for friends in college. It's still one of my favorite meals, and a wonderful way to easily serve a crowd. Of course, as I've evolved, my lamb with orzo has evolved as well, gathering additional ingredients and spices like a glacier gathering stones. Very recently, I made April Bloomfield's lamb meatballs in spicy sauce, and it knocked my socks off with its deliciousness. It also reminded me of my lamb with orzo -- which by this point had already become more "Greek" flavored than Greek flavored -- so I adapted some of her techniques, adding them to the mix.
What makes this a cheap feast? When I think of a feast, besides feeding a crowd, I feel like it ought to have some little elements of decadence, some richness that makes it feel ever so above the ordinary. But, if it needs to be cheap, this means you must be clever and judicious with your fancier ingredients, scattering them with elegance rather than ebullience, and stretching them with simpler, complementary, ingredients. I feel like this dish does just that.

Food52 Review: WHO: Fiveandspice is a long-time Food52-er who works nothing but magic in the kitchen.
WHAT: A filling -- and exciting -- dinner that goes from stove to the table in under an hour.
HOW: Cook up a pot of saucy, fragrant lamb, and then all that's left is a quick boil of the pasta.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The process is straightforward, but the finished dish doesn't taste that way; in terms of eating and cooking, it's a win-win. And you only have to dirty two pots! We'd run out for the ingredients now, if we were you.
The Editors

Serves 8-10

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 28 ounces can of whole tomatoes, drained and smooshed with your hands (fun!)
  • 14 ounces can of chopped/diced tomatoes
  • 5 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 2 cups chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  1. In a good sized Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan, heat the one tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering. Add the lamb and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Cook, stirring to break it apart, until it is nicely browned. Remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.
  2. Return the pot to the stove top and add the onion and garlic (still over medium-high). Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spices (cinnamon, oregano, cumin, coriander, and red pepper) and cook until they start smelling extremely toasty and fragrant (1-2 minutes). Then, stir in the smooshed tomatoes.
  3. Cook the smooshed tomatoes in the spices, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Then, add the can of diced tomatoes and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the cooked lamb back to the pot, give a good stir, then cover the pot and leave it to cook, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. At this point, stir in the fresh spinach and cook just a couple more minutes until the spinach is wilted. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind you'll be sprinkling just a touch of feta and olives on, which will add to the saltiness).
  5. While the lamb and tomatoes are simmering together and marrying their flavors, bring a large pot of well-salted water (it should taste like sea water, basically) to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, about 7 or 8 minutes, usually. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  6. Drain the orzo. Toss the orzo with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and all of the parsley, adding a bit of pasta water at a time, if you feel it needs additional liquid.
  7. Spread the orzo out on an enormous serving platter. Spoon the lamb and sauce all over the top, then sprinkle with the feta and chopped olives. Pass the dish around the table and relax. A good red wine, on the dry side, is a highly recommended companion here.

More Great Recipes: Entrees|Lamb|Tomatoes|Olive Oil

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Comments (142) Questions (1)


about 1 month ago Suma Chandrasekaran

easy and delicious, already had most ingredients on hand. Great meal to make in advance to keep for lunch for the week.


3 months ago aimeebama

Outstanding. I also used more concentrated tomato flavour. Thank you for a super meal. The whole family with crazy with yummmmmmies.


3 months ago iron_cho

I've made this twice: the first time, it was very good; made some minor tweaks the second time, and it was phenomenal. 1stx: Too much cinnamon for our taste. 2ndx: Instead of the ground cinnamon, we threw in a bark/stick into the mix to simmer, and then removed before serving--perfect! 1stx: used tomatoes, whole and diced, in the proportions stated; 2ndx: cut back to 14oz. of whole tomatoes, and added a bit of tomato paste instead. I preferred the more concentrated flavor of the paste. Either way, this is a very forgiving recipe and probably beautifully accommodates any number of preference changes. Thanks so much for the keeper, fiveandspice! :)


3 months ago Lindsey Wildman

This was so. good. I added worcestshire sauce to the tomatoes and it deepens the flavor. Excellent


4 months ago N

De. Lic. Ous. Four people licked their plates clean. No way it will serve 8, because fist fights will ensue over second helpings.
Per some comments, I downsized the tomato - only 1 can of the "smooshed". I also used arugula instead of spinach, and just tossed it in at the very last second because I prefer my greens barely wilted.
Will definitely up the spice mixture next time (the combination of spices is perfect!). Also, not sure if I read this here, or not, but Ina Garten's tzatziki sauce dolloped on top was sublime. http://www.foodnetwork...
Yum :-P


5 months ago Geri

Family loved it. Now a permanent part of my repertoire! Thanks


7 months ago Jenna Wieder

THIS was AWESOME! Boyfriend licked the plate clean. Thank you, I'm writing down for my recipe box. I know I will make this throughout my lifetime. Cheers!!


8 months ago Kate McGinnis

Love Love Love this recipe! Even better the next day so this is a great dish to make a day ahead and let the flavors develop. I never change a thing to this recipe and it always impresses a crowd!


9 months ago Ashley Mackey

Amazing recipe! I have now made this twice with rave reviews from the family. It's such a simple recipe to make even on a weeknight but never feeling like a quick weeknight dinner (if that makes sense).


11 months ago Rebecca

Very tasty! I followed it verbatim apart from simmering the lamb mixture for 40minutes rather than 20; would have been too watery otherwise. Next time I'd use 1 cup of water rather than 2 although this could alter the flavour. Will definitely make again. Will be a good dish for entertaining as you can make the sauce in advance.


12 months ago Jan Goren

Delicious recipe. Everyone had seconds. Would maybe cut the water in recipe a little and drain orzo better and not adding the pasta water ... Looking forward to the second day flavors.


12 months ago chris

This is an absolutely delicious dish, which explodes with flavor, and looks gorgeous. I used fresh jalapeno, instead of crushed red pepper; and included an eggplant that needed to be used. I also had some shredded lamb in the freezer (I think it was leftover from lamb shanks), which added a nice texture.


about 1 year ago jeri

This dish is *amazing*! My entire family, from age 11 to adult, loved this dish. My husband, who as a matter of principle (very fit/inshape) never has seconds did have seconds. Plus, it makes a ton of food--we are a family of 8 and we still have leftovers (fortunately!). Will definitely make it again. Made it exactly as written except didn't add the cayenne pepper.


about 1 year ago Jerome Kapelus

Cooked this fantastic dish alongside the kale/cabbage/brussel sprouts salad and my guests we thrilled. I used a little less tomato and would recommend using about 1/2 of the tomato amount. Also, it could have benefitted from a bit more lamb. Nonetheless, a great dish in both taste and in presentation, and the salad was a great complement.


over 1 year ago willsmom

Tried this last night on a group of 7 - and it was a huge hit. I didn't leave out any tomato, just did the prescribed simmering. However, I doubled the recipe and still had people who would have eaten more. Granted, we are more of a paleo crowd and the orzo wasn't totally eaten. Served with a big salad as well - plus tzatziki. And spiced chickpeas for appetizer. If you have even one big eater, you might consider doubling. I am sure it tastes fabulous the next day!


over 1 year ago tastysweet

It is even better the next day. And if there are any left overs, it freezes well and still tastes fantastic.


over 1 year ago Agnes

This was very tasty. While I halved the tomatoes, it was still very liquid. I will just use one can of chopped tomatoes. Definitely yum!


over 1 year ago csemsack

Wish I had read all the comments, instead of the first 6. Too tomatoey for us, I would definately cut out the 14 oz can of diced and definitely up the spices. Very good!


over 1 year ago Steve R

Has anyone used fresh mint in this recipe that sounds awesome! My cousin near Rochester, NY sent it to me after making it and loving it! I bought a boneless leg of lamb roast from Costco and will grind it myself to use in this and to make Lamb burgers with Feta & mint...


over 1 year ago ECMotherwell

Made it last night, and Oh My Goodness -- this recipe is PERFECT. Every element is balanced just right, and the result is deeeeelicious. Thank you, fiveandspice!! My very small modifications included: using ground turkey (had it on hand, couldn't find lamb), using about twice as much chopped spinach as listed, and serving on couscous instead of orzo. Yummmmmmmm.


over 1 year ago luv2cook2

To make this dish is to love this dish! I didn't change a thing and still wouldn’t. That’s unusual for me since I always want to tinker. Thank you fiveandspice for this! Looking forward to trying other recipes you’ve posted. So many look so good!