Pistachio, Citrus & Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb + Charred Cabbage + Mint & Parsley Chimichurri
By Pervaiz Shallwani
We have all had a nostalgic meal that felt special. For me it was lamb. It was my go-to order at a Chicago Iranian restaurant that was our special meal spot — the meat, either a hefty shank or nice chunk of leg, cooked slowly in a heavy dose of garlic and served over a bed of dill rice with charred vegetables and lemon wedges.
A well-raised lamb doesn’t require much for its leg to shine on the dinner table. Butchered right, brought to the right temperature and salted generously, the oven will do the rest. Top it with a bright sauce for freshness and you look like a big day meal veteran.
To take it further, I find lamb and pistachios have an affable relationship. They are perfectly fine on their own, but together complement each other well. Sweet and slightly smoky from being roasted, pistachios add a nice texture and contrast to the butteriness of lamb. It works both fresh, dusted as a garnish, but also mixed into a marinade and crusted on top.
Here we mix the pistachios with garlic and a blend of complementing spices — fennel, coriander and aleppo for a touch of heat – and citrus and thyme to add some brightness.
We found putting the lamb on a wire rack allowed it to roast on all sides. We added cabbage because it’s a workhorse of a vegetable (and also one of the few things available in the dreary months) that devours the lamb drippings as it caramelizes. Large florets of cauliflower or whole peeled carrots would work well too.
And the bright green sauce brings it home, just like that dill rice and lemon did for me as a child.
- 1 leg of lamb
- Kosher salt
- 1 cup of pistachios
- One large head of garlic
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- Zest of two oranges
- Zest of two lemons
- 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 head of green cabbage, halved, core removed and sliced into 8-10 wedges depending on how large it is.
- ½ tablespoon of salt
Mint and Parsley Chimichurri:
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 bunch of mint, leaves removed from stems
- ½ cup of olive oil
- Juice and zest of one lemon
Fully defrost and dry lamb leg. If cooking the same day, pull out about an hour before cooking and, using a sharp knife, cut away any excess, large pieces of fat, making sure not to cut too much from the fat cap.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and make sure there is enough space for a roasting pan outfitted with a cooling rack topped with the lamb to fit in the oven.
Cross hatch the fat cap carefully using the tip of your knife to checkerboard-like pattern of lines about 1 inch apart. Make sure not to cut through the fat to the meat.
Salt the lamb liberally and set aside while you make the rub. This can be done up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated, just make sure to pull the leg out one hour before cooking.
For the marinade, crush the pistachios and mince the garlic. This can be done in a food processor.
In a small, hot frying pan, toast the fennel and coriander seeds swirling constantly to make sure they toast evenly and don't burn, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder with black peppercorns and crush until fine.
Add the spices along with zest and Aleppo pepper to the olive oil and combine thoroughly. Fold in the garlic and pistachio mix. If you used a food processor add spices, zest, and olive oil and pulse a few times to combine.
Return to the lamb and blot any wet spots with a paper towel. A wet lamb is a steaming lamb and will be harder to get a nice crust. Rub the marinade liberally all over the lamb, massaging to make sure it fills the crosshatch pockets.
Place a cooling rack on a roasting pan. Place lamb on top of the cooling rack and place it in the oven. Cook at 425 for about 30 minutes and then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees. Cook for about 90 minutes or until the lamb is 130 degrees for medium rare, and 140 for medium. The temperature will continue to rise about another five degrees while it rests outside the oven. The time will depend on the size of the lamb. If the lamb crust looks like it is getting too dark, place tin foil on top. Let the lamb rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
For the cabbage: About 60 minutes after you first begin cooking the lamb, using potholders, lift the rack and lamb off the roasting pan. If there is a lot of fat in the pan, spoon some into a bowl and set aside. Add the cabbage to the pan, toss to coat in remaining fat and sprinkle with salt. After you take the lamb out of the oven, turn heat up to 475 and cook cabbage until done, about 10 minutes. You want the cabbage to be nicely browned and soft.
While the lamb cooks, make the chimichurri: In the bowl of a food processor, place mint, parsley, garlic, salt, lemon juice and zest and pulse several times to finely chop. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend while slowly pouring in the olive oil.
Carve lamb and serve on a platter over the cabbage with the chimichurri sauce.
Pervaiz Shallwani is an award-winning journalist and trained chef based in Brooklyn, where he runs a hot dog popup called "Chaat Dog" — a mashup of his Chicago upbringing & Pakistani heritage — and a Substack called “Stinky Lunch Kids Strike Back: The story of American food." His approach to cooking: learn the rules and then use that knowledge to break them. He promises to eat anything (edible) at least once.