Make Ahead

"Greek" Lamb with Orzo

March  4, 2013
21 Ratings
Photo by James
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Serves 8-10
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 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.
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157 Reviews

Alison February 7, 2021
ricotta salata! darn autocorrect.
Alison February 7, 2021
This was very tasty and easy. I wanted to use some ground lamb I unearthed in my freezer, but didn't want to go to the store to purchase anything until I did my usual weekly shopping. With the exception of the spinach (I had to use kale) and the feta (I used ricotta salt), this recipe allowed me to rely on my pantry. The seasoning quantities arefine, as is, but this is very much a question of taste. I think it is possible to cut back a little bit on the added water--I followed the suggestion of several cooks below and used the tomato water, and only half of the added water, and will cut back further next time. I also agree that it is like a Greek-inflected ragu,. Although the serving suggestion would be great for a large group, for a smaller table I would just serve over the pasta in individual bowls.
Emily January 17, 2021
We made this dish last night and loved it, but didn't realize how saucy the lamb would be--it was a little like eating a lamb ragu over orzo. My partner and I both agreed we want to try and make this again but with stew meat.
Johanna May 21, 2018
I followed the suggestion of using 1.5x the spices, and omitting the 14 oz of tomatoes. Instead of 2 cups of water, I used one cup plus the juice from the smooshed whole tomatoes, and let the liquid reduce a few more minutes than indicated. It was SO good!
tastysweet March 12, 2020
Funny. As I was reading the recipe, I too said to myself, why not use less water, and use the drained tomato liquid. It would be a shame to waste it.
I guess great minds think alike.
I never would have thought to use the added spices.

I thought that only 1lb. of lamb was not very much to serve 8-10 people. Maybe 1 1/2 lb?
Amy T. January 21, 2018
I got a pound of ground lamb in my monthly meat share last month and was stumped about what to do with it. I stumbled across this recipe and decided to give it a try. I already had most of the ingredients on hand, so the flavors are familiar to me. This reminds me a little bit of a Bolognese, but the flavors are all Greek. I couldn't get fresh spinach at the grocery store so I substituted well-wrung frozen spinach. I also forgot the fresh parsley, but it was still delicious. I've added this to my recipe box and will definitely make it again next time I get my hands on some ground lamb.
deanna1001 November 30, 2017
Made this today to bring to choir rehearsal. It was a very big hit and I shared the recipe with quite a few members. I found the spicing just perfect. Perhaps those who wanted more had less fresh spices than I had. Really great on a mixed buffet table. And the cooking scents are lovely and warming on a fall day. Thank you!
Robin September 7, 2017
Candy Y. July 24, 2017
The article you have shared here very good. This is really interesting information for me. Thanks for sharing!
david M. June 29, 2017
awesome post. The list of ingredients is long but most are things I usually have on hand and the dish comes together quickly.
I am resently posted at
CanadaDan February 21, 2017
great recipe! i halved it all but found it wouldn't be nearly enough for 4-5 (recipe says 8-10). I added some extra ground beef i had lying around as well. It was a little too soupy also, and that's even though i simmered without a lid the whole time. I added potatoes to add more substance (simmered them in the sauce for 15-20 minutes) but still found ti served 3-4 people at most. that said, the flavours were delicious, really great spices and justthe right amount of heat. i'll make this again (with my changes) for sure
Shortrib July 30, 2016
Great! Richer than a bolognaise but brightened up by the lemon in the orzo. I've frozen the leftover sauce and can't wait to get back to it!
Yayita July 30, 2016
I had everything except ground lamb and so I substituted it for ground bison :( I know not the same; and it showed. I thought I could get away with this substitution and still get a good dish but it was a fail. Putting aside this big substitution, I also wasn't digging the sauce for a lack of better word. The flavor and combination of the spices felt bland and muted. I was thinking maybe I used a wrong brand of canned tomatoes or maybe this is one of those dishes that's best eaten the same day rather than the following day. I will have to try again with ground lamb and taste the difference.
Allie November 14, 2023
When it come to canned tomatoes, I find San marzanos are worth it : )
Heather June 15, 2016
wow. delicious. cinnamon can be tricky, I find, but you played it perfectly here. it sings with everything else in marvelous harmony. this is already a favorite, and I bet it will be accompanying me down that time-tested recipe road, you lovingly wrote of. thank you.
Mike D. February 7, 2016
Anyone would be knocked off their station with April Bloomfield's lamb meatballs in spicy sauce as its absolutely deliciousness... I made one of these for a recent family gathering and they were dead chuffed with it...
Its an absolutely simple yet amazing treat this... thanks so much
jill October 5, 2015
Delicious! After reading the comments, I upped the spices by 1.5x and used only half of the 14 oz. can of diced tomatoes and about 1 cup of water. The tomato/lamb mixture was on the liquidy side but the flavors were perfect. Perfect Sunday night dinner with leftovers for the week.
MBE September 29, 2015
Very Good! The list of ingredients is long but most are things I usually have on hand and the dish comes together quickly. Best of all the leftovers are great. I made half a recipe for the two of us, but next time will likely make a full recipe and simply pass the olives and feta.
Megan September 23, 2015
I love this dish. I've made it with both beef and lamb and enjoyed it both ways. I love that it is easy, satisfying to eat, and keeps well for leftovers or for making ahead. I make it as written except I might not put the full 2 cups of water in. I do use extra feta and olives because I just love feta and olives. Thanks for such a winner!
Suma C. July 4, 2015
easy and delicious, already had most ingredients on hand. Great meal to make in advance to keep for lunch for the week.
aimeebama June 17, 2015
Outstanding. I also used more concentrated tomato flavour. Thank you for a super meal. The whole family with crazy with yummmmmmies.
iron_cho June 7, 2015
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! :)