I never ate lamb growing up. My mother wouldn’t cook it because my father didn’t like it. Apparently he had eaten more than his share of badly cooked mutton while in the service and the effect lingered. Thus when I was invited to Christmas dinner where Abu Suzannah was cooking his famous leg of lamb, I approached the event with a bit of trepidation.
Abu Suzannah was the first of my husband’s relatives I ever met. Family lore says that he loaned my husband the money for our first date, but that’s a story for another time. For now, suffice it to say my husband and I had been dating just over a year and this was the first time I had been invited to a family function.
Just as my parents passed down their disregard for lamb, they passed down the idea that, when you are a guest at someone’s home, the polite way to behave is to eat whatever they serve you and say thank you. If you don’t like it, for heaven’s sake don’t let on. I was expecting to have to call this training into service for Abu Suzannah’s lamb. Boy was I wrong.
The meat was tender, spicy, succulent, and literally fell off the bone. It was so good that, while I can’t remember anything else that was served at that meal, the sight and taste of that lamb is still as vivid today as it was the first time I tasted it almost 15 years ago. To this day it’s my favorite holiday roast.
Abu Suzannah’s Leg of Lamb
First make a “rub” (it’s really a sort of pocket stuffing) out of 2 tablespoons each of the following:
whole cardamom pods
+ 8 chopped fresh garlic cloves (about 3-4 tablespoons of garlic)
Toss all these ingredients in a bowl and mix together to form a pasty rub.
Liberally salt your leg of lamb, then cut horizontal slits about an inch wide and 2 inches deep randomly all over the lamb. Stuff the slits with generous pinches of the spice mixture. If bits fall out or spill over, no worries. Drizzle a little olive oil over the lamb, salt liberally, then either wrap it tightly in foil or put it in a baking bag. Place it in a roasting pan and roast the lamb in the oven at 350 degrees. The amount of time it takes depends on the size of the leg, but generally figure on 30 minutes per pound. (If using a baking bag, follow the directions from the package for cooking time. If you’re cooking it in foil, take the foil off for the last 30 minutes it’s in the oven so it browns nicely.) All in it’s usually in the oven 2-4 hours. (You can use a boneless trussed leg of lamb if you prefer)
We typically serve this with basmati rice mixed with toasted nuts and raisins and a big salad, but roasted potatoes and green beans are also good companions. It also makes a great next day sandwich on a crusty loaf of bread with a little tzaziki.