My Greek lineage stretches across Greece from the ancient city of Olympia, to the high mountains of Roumeli, through southern Attiki, and across the sea to Crete. Greek blood runs hot, but it’s my Cretan blood that proudly boils hottest of all. And this recipe is all about vrasto, meaning boiled.
My favorite Greek style of cooking is Cretan, and I have been dancing along to the traditional music of Crete since the 2nd grade. There are thousands of fellow Cretans living in Utah, all still preserving and celebrating Crete’s rich heritage. Besides Cretan weddings where vrasto is typically served late into the night after drinks and dancing, we serve vrasto at Horoesperitha’s (dance party) twice a year.
After working up an appetite from dancing maleviziotikos, syrtos, and sousta, the crowd takes a break to eat lamb vrasto and pilafi. We simply call it vrasto. Everyone knows the second big feast of the night is coming when plates of vrasto are brought out to the tables. All it is boiled lamb and lemon rice, but it’s still one of my favorite dishes.
Somehow after all these years I’ve depended on weddings and horoesperithas to get my fill of vrasto. But that’s no longer enough for me. It was time to master the dish myself. Over a recent FaceTime session, I asked my good friend and fellow foodie, Matthaios Daoutis, a Chicago Cretan to cook the dish with me. It’s even more straight forward than I imagined: season the lamb with salt and pepper, boil the meat until tender, and then reserve the broth to make the pilafi, and of course add lots of lemon.
But what if you don’t get invited to Cretan weddings or a Horoesperitha? Just make it at home. But if you do know any Cretans, I highly suggest asking one to take you to a local Horoesperitha to get a full Cretan experience.
- 4 lb lamb shoulders, cut into thick pieces*
- 2 tablespoon pepper, plus more to taste
- 2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ cup butter
- 2 cups Uncle Ben’s long grain white rice
- 6 cups juice from meat
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Wash the lamb pieces and fully season with salt and pepper.
- Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the meat. Add the lamb and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 90 minutes to 2 hours until the meat is tender. Add more salt and pepper to the water if necessary.
- While the meat is cooking, fatty particles will rise to the surface. Use a slotted spoon and remove during the cooking process.
- Once the lamb is nearly done, drain the water of impurities and set the lamb aside. Reserve the liquid to use as the juice for pilafi.
- In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and add the rice and stir together for 2-3 minutes. Add lemon juice and stir, and then the lamb broth and let simmer for 17-20 minutes. (There should be liquid in the pan when you take it off the heat, so the juices fully absorb with the rice. If not, add more broth or water). Take off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.
- Serve the lamb vrasto and pilafi together on a platter and enjoy!