"Greek" Lamb with Orzo

By • March 4, 2013 • 134 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.
fiveandspice

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.
Jump to Comments (134)

Comments (134) Questions (1)

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3 days 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).

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3 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.

Stringio

3 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.

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3 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.

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5 months 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.

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6 months 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.

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7 months 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!

Stringio

7 months ago tastysweet

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

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7 months 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!

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7 months 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!

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8 months 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...

Ecm_profilepic

8 months 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.

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10 months 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!

Ashley

10 months ago Ashley Marie

I haven't made this yet (I know, I know, I'll come back and review when I do) but I am DYING to after reading it. My boyfriend is having a few colleagues over and has informed me he wants a more "casual" experience than a real sit-down dinner. I was thinking of doing Korean-inspired tacos, but now I'm thinking THIS is what I need to do! Everyone can grab plates of it, and who doesn't love lamb? Oh, thank you SO MUCH for this recipe!!

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11 months ago Xtinabytes

This was a unanimous hit! I took the leftovers to work and had my coworkers swooning! Was just as good the next day!

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11 months ago Linda

Made this last night, delicious! I think next time, I'll use whole cumin seed & coriander and toast them before adding. I did increase the spices, other than the cinnamon.

Sausage2

11 months ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Mmm, yes. Whole toasted spices are always best, if you have time!

Stringio

about 1 year ago tastysweet

Making this again this weekend for different guests. This will be my go to recipe. Thanks for this dish.
Happy holidays to everyone. Love to read all the posts for different suggestions.

Sausage2

11 months ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Happy to hear it!

Open-uri.24967

about 1 year ago Sarah Smith

This was fantastic - I chopped up some lamb leg and used that in place of the ground lamb but other than that, I found the rest of the recipe. I can't wait to eat it for lunch today!

Sausage2

11 months ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

So glad!

Stringio

about 1 year ago tastysweet

I made this fabulous dish back in July. It was a big hit. I used a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes and the called for amount of diced tomatoes and used only 1 1/2 C of water. The consistency was perfect. I made this the day before and then put it in my slow cooker the next day for about 5 hrs. on low and then just kept it on warm until serving. I will confess, I totally forgot to put the spinach in. I had it in the fridge ready to plop it in. But no one noticed. Will be making this again. Thanks for a really intense flavorful dish.

Sausage2

11 months ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Nice!

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about 1 year ago ellen

OMG this is AMAZING! i tweaked it via some comment suggestions: i increased the spices by 50%, just used 28oz. chopped (not whole) tomatoes UNdrained & did not add the other 14oz. can chopped tomatoes or the water. it was delicious & can totally be made ahead up until adding the spinach at the end: just make the pasta while you reheat the lamb, then chop some fresh spinach & throw it in & serve with a simple salad & barefoot contessa's killer tzatziki: http://smittenkitchen.com...
thanks for a FABULOUS recipe! easy, delicious, feeds crowd on a budget, gorgeous presentation & able to make ahead- what more could you want? :)

Sausage2

11 months ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

:)

Tibet

over 1 year ago CookLikeMad

I made this last night with ground grass-fed beef since my market was out of ground lamb, and it was wonderful. I skipped the Kalamata olives since my husband doesn't like them, and served it with a dill & cucumber yogurt as juliunruly suggested. It served 4 with plenty of leftovers for 3 to 4 more.

Sausage2

about 1 year ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Yum! This makes me want to make some and have it with dill and cucumber yogurt right now!