At The Ruined Garden of Riad Idrissy, this dish is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over charcoal, although an oven or barbecue also works. Don’t be put off by the time it takes to prepare – this dish is great for dinner parties and, once you bring it to the table, the unwrapping is simple and always gets guests excited. The meat is so tender that you can serve it with a spoon and fork, and there’s a complex mix of sweet, salty and spicy flavours. If you like, scale down as necessary using a smaller joint and reduce the cooking time. You can also use other lamb cuts, such as shoulder. Traditionally, the only seasoning used would have been salt, ground cumin and maybe ground hot paprika. Any leftovers can be enjoyed cold, wrapped up in rice flour pancakes and topped with shredded green herbs and preserved lemon and chilli.
- 200 g medjool (fresh dates), pitted
- 200 g black olives, pitted
- 4 garlic cloves, flattened with a knife
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 lemon, juiced, zested
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 kg leg of lamb
- banana leaves (see Note), to cook (optional)
- carrot and currant salad, and lemon wedges, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Place dates in a saucepan and cover with water. Cover and bring to the boil, then remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Drain and set aside.
Process dates, olives, garlic, coriander seeds, pepper, lemon juice and zest and oil in a food processor to a coarse paste.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Using a sharp knife, make three even cuts into lamb leg, slicing to the bone. Spread paste between each slice of meat, then press back together to create a more or less complete-looking leg of lamb.
Place lamb onto banana leaves or 3 large sheets of baking paper and wrap lamb completely. Cover with a large sheet of foil, then place in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 120°C and roast for a further 4 hours or until meltingly tender; you will know when the lamb is cooked through as the parcel will feel saggy as the meat shrinks. Serve roast lamb with the carrot salad and lemon wedges.
• Available from select greengrocers and Asian food shops.
Photography John Laurie