Mechoui (Moroccan roast lamb)

Roast lamb with spinach and saffron riceIt’s Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, the second-most-important holiday for Muslims. Not being Muslim, I know little about the holiday and have never celebrated it before, but apparently it commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismail upon Allah’s command. At the last minute, Allah intervened and gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead. Pretty much the same story occurs in the Bible, though the names of the main characters are Abraham, Isaac, and God, and instead of a lamb, God offers up a ram.

Um, yeeeaahhh. Much as I respect people’s religious freedom, to me, either version of the story seems frankly barbaric. However… I do like the idea of roast lamb. So putting aside the squickiness of the idea of the lamb standing in for a son, we “celebrated” with a delicious Moroccan-spiced roast lamb. I served it with a simple saffron rice (I cooked basmati rice with saffron, mustard seeds, and just a little asafoetida and turmeric, then stirred in chopped coriander once the rice was cooked) and a spinach dish similar to sabzi, except that I garnished it with olives.

This was a time-consuming dish in one sense, because the meat has to marinate for several hours before being slow-roasted at a low temperature. However, there isn’t much hands-on time so it’s actually quite an easy dish to make. The accompaniments I chose are also quite easy and quick to make, so even though Daddy didn’t get home until it was time to eat, and even though I had one extremely grumpy, oft-screaming, teething toddler on my hands and a five-year-old who kept bugging me with requests to help her with a new loom band pattern or prevent her little sister (AKA Agent of Chaos) from tearing apart all her stuff, I managed to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. Now, that’s worthy of a feast!Roast spiced lamb with sabzi and saffron rice in background

Mechoui (Moroccan-spiced roast lamb)

  • Half leg of lamb, bone in (about 1 kg)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic-infused olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Good pinch of saffron
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh coriander leaves, optional
  1. Trim excess fat from lamb. Make several deep incisions into meat.

    Spice rub mixture

  2. Mix together all other ingredients in a small bowl and rub well all over the lamb, including into the incisions. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.Raw lamb covered in spice mixture
  3. Preheat oven to 475 F / 240 C. Put lamb into a roasting pan. Add about 1/2 cup water to bottom of pan. Roast at this temperature for 15 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to 300 F / 150 C. Lightly drizzle more garlic-infused olive oil on the lamb and baste with the juices from the bottom of the pan. About every 30 minutes, baste lamb with juices again. If at any point you find there’s very little liquid in the bottom of the pan, add just a little more water, maybe a couple of tablespoons, and an additional drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil.
  5. Continue roasting until internal temperature has reached 140-160 F / 60-70 C, depending on how well-done you like your lamb – this range is from medium-rare to medium-well. (I roasted mine at the lower temperature for about 75 minutes, not including the initial 15 minutes. I meant to take it out slightly earlier, at 150 F, but my toddler distracted me and I didn’t end up taking it out until the internal temperature was 160 F. It was still good and my husband likes it better that way anyway.) Check temperature with a meat thermometer, inserting into thickest part, away from the bone.
  6. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting. This will allow the juices to distribute themselves throughout the roast, making for tender meat.
  7. Garnish with chopped coriander, if using. Slice and serve, optionally with saffron rice and spiced spinach (something like sabzi).Half sliced roast lamb
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