Luscious Lamb

No longer “the other red meat,” this delicacy has earned a reputation for rich flavor and nutrition that’s all its own.


We often overlook lamb as a dinner choice in the United States, although it’s been a favorite of many other cultures for centuries. Instead, we tend to think of beef, pork, chicken, and sometimes fish. In fact, some of us can even be squeamish about eating lamb.

This red meat — richer in flavor than beef, and often more succulent, sweet, and tender — is gaining popularity among foodies, paleo types, and grassfed meat aficionados.

When the animals are raised on pastures and fed on grasses (which is more common than with beef or pork — but not always, so read labels), lamb offers a wealth of nutritional benefits.

The dishes here vary in complexity — from quick burgers to all-day roasts. Prepared with care, any of them can become the foundation of a healthy, hearty meal.

Quick & Easy Lamb

  • Lamb Burger

    It’s easy to substitute ground lamb for beef in classic family favorites such as burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf. For a Greek-inspired burger, add chopped fresh mint, parsley, and crumbled feta cheese to the ground lamb. (For a full recipe see “Luscious Lamb”.)

  • Lamb-Kabobs
    Stew Meat

    Marinate chunks of lamb for up to one hour in a mixture of 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, zest of 1 lemon, 1 minced garlic clove, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Salt meat immediately before cooking, then broil or grill five to eight minutes. Use caution: Lamb is quite fatty and can flame when broiled or grilled.

  • Lamb-Sausage

    Gourmet grocers and natural-food stores often sell lamb sausages. For a simple way to make your own lamb sausage that doesn’t need to be stuffed into a casing, see “Luscious Lamb”.

  • Lamb-Shank

    An inexpensive but wonderfully flavorful cut of meat, lamb shank is especially good braised with vegetables, beans, and grains. (For a terrific braised-lamb-shank recipe, see “Back to Your Roots”.)

  • Leg-of-Lamb

    For a simple weekend dinner, cover the bottom of a Dutch oven with sliced onion and top with a bone-in lamb shoulder. Cut several slits in the lamb roast and insert into each a clove of garlic and a sprig of rosemary. Sprinkle the roast with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of fennel seeds. Roast uncovered at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 325 degrees F, drizzle with a little balsamic or sherry vinegar, cover, and cook for another four to five hours.

Nutritional Know-How

  • Lamb is high in vitamin B12, which nourishes blood and aids both metabolism and mood. It’s also high in zinc, which is important for tissue repair and immune function.
  • Lamb’s healthy fats, selenium, zinc, and B vitamins all promote a healthy heart.
  • Our bodies don’t produce omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, so we need to get them from foods — in a healthy proportion. Most Americans take in too many omega-6 fatty acids, many of which are proinflammatory, and not enough omega-3s. Grassfed lamb, like nuts, seeds, and fish, is high in omega-3s.
  • Conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, is an unusual omega-6: It helps improve inflammatory and immune responses. Grassfed lamb contains almost twice as much CLA as conventionally raised lamb.
  • An unsaturated fat called palmitoleic acid in lamb has strong antimicrobial properties.
  • Because (like apples, pears, and rice) lamb is considered a hypoallergenic food, it is often included as an option within elimination diets that restrict many other foods.

Homemade Gyros

Easy to make and keep on hand in the freezer, gyros taste better when made a day ahead, and the loaf will slice better when chilled overnight. Serve with a cucumber yoghurt sauce and roasted spring potatoes, roasted cauliflower cous cous, or salad greens.

lamb gyro

Makes eight to 10 servings

Preparation time: 90 minutes plus overnight chilling time

  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs. dried oregano
  • 2 tsp. dried rosemary leaves
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Roast the minced onion on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes to brown a bit and remove excess moisture. Allow the onions to cool while you prepare the other ingredients. Blend all ingredients, including the roasted onions, together in a food processor until smooth. Work in smaller batches if the whole mixture doesn’t fit. Line a standard loaf pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to come up over the edges of the pan. Spoon the mixture into the pan and press well to eliminate any air pockets; fold the parchment paper over the meat mixture. Set the loaf pan in a larger pan, and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the loaf pan, creating a bain-marie, or water bath. Bake the gyro loaf for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the temperature reads 165 degrees F in the center. When the loaf is fully cooked, remove it from the oven and allow the loaf to rest in the pan for 30 minutes. Using the parchment paper as handles, lift the loaf out of the pan, allowing the fat to drain off. Cool the loaf at room temperature for 30 minutes with a plate resting on top of it to press it gently. Wrap the loaf well and chill overnight. When the loaf is chilled, slice thinly. You can then sauté slices with onions and peppers and serve as you wish.

Pan-Seared Lamb Chops

Good-quality lamb needs little adornment. A simple drizzle of balsamic reduction and some fresh seasonal vegetables (like the spring combo below) are perfect. If your lamb chops are on the smaller size, or have significant bones, plan to serve more chops per person.


Makes four servings

Preparation time: 20 minutes

  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 4 lamb chops (with or without bones)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cipollini onions, or small red onions
  • 1 large fennel bulb, cored and cut into 8 slices, fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 bunch radishes, cleaned and cut in half
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or water
  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar, simmered to reduce to 1/2 cup

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Sear the chops, about four to five minutes on each side. Remove the chops, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil, and set aside to rest while you prepare the vegetables and sauce. Add the vegetables to the hot pan and sauté for five minutes. Add the chicken stock or water to the pan, cover, and cook for another five minutes to braise. In a small saucepan, heat balsamic vinegar and simmer until it has reduced to ½ cup. Serve the chops and vegetables with a drizzle of the balsamic reduction. Garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.

Thai Lamb Stir-Fry

This zesty mixture is great over a bed of brown-rice noodles or brown rice. Update this dish through the year by using seasonal vegetables at their peak.


Makes four to six servings

Preparation time: 30 minutes

  • 2 tsp. sesame or sunflower oil
  • 1 lb. lamb meat (leg or stew meat) cut into 1/2-x-1-inch slices
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbs. minced gingerroot
  • 2 to 3 tbs. Thai red curry paste
  • 2 cups thinly sliced carrots (about 2 medium)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 1 15-oz. can coconut milk
  • Salt
  • 8 oz. brown-rice noodles, steamed brown rice, or roasted potatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh Thai basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Heat the sesame oil in a cast-iron skillet and add the lamb and onions. Sauté until the onions begin to caramelize. Add the gingerroot, curry paste, carrots, and asparagus. Sauté five minutes, then add the coconut milk. Simmer until the vegetables are al dente. Season with salt if needed. Spoon the stir-fry over brown-rice noodles, brown rice, or roasted potatoes. Top with chopped Thai basil and mint, and serve with lime wedges.

Provençal Roast Leg of Lamb

A roast leg of lamb doesn’t have to be an all-day process. If you’re time pressed, ask your butcher for a boneless leg, which requires a shorter roasting time and allows you to work the seasoning more thoroughly throughout the roast. Serve with a green salad.


Makes six to eight servings

Preparation time: 2 hours

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 leaves fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup pitted niçoise or kalamata olives
  • 1 tbs. capers
  • 2 tbs. red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs. olive oil, plus extra for the roasting pan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 21/2 lbs. leg of lamb, boneless
  • 4 cups grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Blend garlic, sage, olives, capers, red-wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper together in a food processor until smooth. Rub the olive-caper paste all over the lamb leg and then tie with butcher’s string to hold it into a roast shape. Place in a roasting pan that you’ve drizzled with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes, then add the tomatoes and sliced onions. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and roast for another 60 to 90 minutes, or until the lamb registers 130 to 135 degrees F. Allow meat to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving.


Greek Lamb Burgers

For a different take on hamburgers, try this recipe that adds Greek flavors to the mix.


Makes six servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tbs. minced Kalamata olives
  • 2 tbs. minced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tbs. minced red onion
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Mix together all the ingredients, form into patties, and sauté in a cast-iron pan, like you would regular hamburgers.


Merguez Sausage

Versatile enough to serve with eggs or on pizza, this merguez sausage uses North African spices and is easy to make. It doesn’t even need to be stuffed into a casing: Simply form it into patties and cook.


Makes six to eight servings

Preparation time: 15 minutes

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 2 tbs. harissa sauce
  • 1 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or run through a garlic press

Mix all ingredients together and chill overnight to allow the flavors to meld over night. If desired, shape into patties before cooking.


Lamb Curry Stew

This light and fragrant stew easily changes with the seasons. Simply use your favorite seasonal vegetables.


Makes six servings

Preparation time: 45 minutes

  • 1 tbs. ghee or coconut oil
  • 1 lb. lamb stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 medium)
  • 2 tbs. minced gingerroot
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tbs. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 15-ounce oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups chopped cauliflower
  • 2 cups chopped collard greens
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Chopped scallions (optional)

Heat the ghee or coconut oil in a heavy 4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven. Sear the stew meat, then add the onion, ginger, and seasonings, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until onion and lamb cubes are browned. Add the tomatoes, cauliflower, and collard greens, stirring to coat with seasonings, and cook for five minutes. Add the chicken stock, cover, and simmer for 15 to 25 minutes. When the lamb and vegetables are tender, check the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serve in bowls with chopped fresh cilantro and, if desired, chopped scallions.


Spicy Lamb Ribs

A terrific appetizer, this dish becomes a meal when served with a salad of shredded cabbage and pomegranate seeds. When purchasing the lamb ribs, ask your butcher to cut a couple racks of lamb for you, separating the bones from the top of the rack and the chops. 

Makes six to eight appetizer servings

Preparation time: 1 hour

  • 2 tbs. sunflower-seed oil or other high-heat oil
  • 1 lb. lamb ribs, cut into 2-rib pieces
  • 2 tbs. sunflower seed oil or other high-heat oil
  • 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces, green and white parts
  • 6 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, diced
  • 1 tbs. minced gingerroot
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 dried hot chilies
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
  • 6 tbs. tamari
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup mirin or sake

Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet, wok, or Dutch oven over high heat. Sear the lamb ribs all over and then add the scallions, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and hot chilies. Stir-fry the lamb ribs with the vegetables for five minutes. Combine the five-spice powder, tamari, maple syrup, and mirin, and add to the skillet. Stir to deglaze the pan, and then turn heat to low. Cover and let simmer for about 35 to 45 minutes, until meat is tender and falling off the bone. Transfer ribs to a serving platter, and skim off as much excess fat as you can from the sauce. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, for five more minutes to thicken a bit. Pour over the ribs and serve. Top with chopped fresh green onions if desired.

is a frequent contributor to Experience Life. All dishes by food stylist and recipe developer Betsy Nelson (a.k.a. “That Food Girl”).

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