Joni Woolf: Forget ham; get lamb (roasted, with lemon)

Published 4:02 pm Monday, April 2, 2018

Baked ham has been a traditional Easter season mainstay for as long as I can remember.  There are good reasons for this: They are easy to prepare, and with the advent of spiral-cut hams a few decades ago, they became almost effortless to offer. Ham also goes well with certain traditional foods like potato salad and deviled eggs. After the main meal, it can be put away in the refrigerator and sliced whenever someone wants a quick sandwich, or chopped into small pieces to embellish a breakfast omelet. Except for those with ethnic or dietary concerns, ham is a common choice, not only at Easter, but throughout the year. So, there is nothing unusual about seeing the grocery bins filled with all kinds and sizes of the ubiquitous meal when this season comes around.
There are other choices, however. My daughter Carey has often prepared leg of lamb (with mint sauce) at Easter. This was a tradition in her husband’s family before she married, and she has mastered both the roast and the mint sauce. In fact, lamb is giving ham some Easter competition as more cooks are expanding their recipe repertoire and offering their family and friends alternative “traditional” recipes. The recipes below came from the new cookbook “Fresh Tastes From a Well-Seasoned Kitchen,” and like others we will offer from the book, they are not complicated. Someone with average cooking ability and an understanding of terms (most know what a cast iron Dutch oven is) can handle these with little difficulty. There are dozens more that we will be featuring in the months ahead, interspersed with news about the opening of farm markets throughout the area. Spring has arrived. So. we know that summer is not far behind.

Roasted Lamb with Lemons
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, thinly sliced 1 to 1 ½ lemons
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds trimmed, cubed lamb *
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup hot water
1 large pinch saffron
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
Cooked basmati or jasmine rice
*Ask the butcher to trim and cube lamb shoulder for you if cubed lamb meat is not readily available in your grocery store.
In a medium skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 35 to 45 minutes (keeping the heat low), until soft, sweet and dark golden brown. Set aside. In a heavy cast iron casserole dish or Dutch oven, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the lamb with salt and pepper; add to the pan and sear on all sides. Reduce heat to medium-low; sprinkle the flour over the browned lamb and scrape the bottom of the pan to mix the flour with the fat. Stir in 1 cup hot water, saffron, cinnamon and turmeric; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the caramelized onion, bring to a low boil for 2 minutes. Place a layer of lemon slices over the top of the meat. Put the lid on the pot, place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes. To serve, spoon a bed of rice with an indentation in the middle on a large platter or bowl. Stir the stew so the lemons are mixed throughout, and neatly spoon the lamb onto the rice. For color, add some sauted carrots around the edges of the platter and voila! You have a perfect meal.

Green beans are a welcome side dish at any occasion. They are not only lovely to look at; they are low-calorie, full of vitamins and delightful to the palate. The following recipe using green beans should be a hit, wherever you serve it —at home, or at a covered dish luncheon or dinner.

Lemon–Dijon Green Beans with Carmelized Shallots
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces (about 2 to 3 large) shallots
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 ½ pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and broken into 1-to-2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Peel shallots, cut in half and thinly slice. Using your hands, break slices into individual pieces. Saute shallots in butter, stirring occasionally, about 10 to 12 minutes or until very soft. Stir in sugar and continue cooking stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place beans on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, tossing to coat. Season with salt. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp-tender. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add cooked beans and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature with caramelized shallots sprinkled over the top. (Note: Shallots can be caramelized up to 24 hours in advance, covered and refrigerated. Sauce can be made up to 24 hours ahead, covered and refrigerated. Bring shallots and sauce to room temperature before serving. Green beans can be steamed instead of roasted.)

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at