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Ovelias – Whole Lamb Roasted on the Spit and Cypriot Souvla

Ovelias – Whole Lamb Roasted on the Spit and Cypriot Souvla

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Ovelias is a Greek Easter tradition where a whole lamb is roasted on the spit. 

The word ovelias (pr. Oh-veh-LEE-as), comes from the ancient Greek word “ovelos” which used to be a wooden or steel rod, where pieces of meat were skewered on and slowly cooked. 

Roasting on the Spit in Ancient Greece

Roasting on the spit, is an ancient tradition, when the Greeks would sacrifice animals to be favoured by their Gods!

A very popular place of sacrifice was on the Acropolis, when during very important events, such as the Panathinaea, they created a huge rotisserie, where they would roast up to 100 cows to honour Goddess Athena!

Ancient Greeks cooking ovelias image

Nowadays, the word “ovelias” means a whole lamb cooked for Easter on the spit.

The preparation of the lamb and of its offal is usually my husband’s job. 

It’s not an easy job to do and of course the women in the family help out as this is not a one man’s job to do this. 

He used to be the only male member of the family who knew how to make ovelias and kokoretsi but as the years pass, he has trained other members of the family to  do this.

Easter Demetris preparing ovelias image

Easter is best celebrated in the countryside

During the Easter holidays half the population of Athens celebrate Easter at their villages or at their relatives’ villages. 

Like the majority of the Athenians we drive away from this crazy city to relax and rejoin again with our relatives, who live in Sparta.  

Sparta is about 2 – 3 hours drive away from Athens but some times, during the Easter holidays, it may take even four hours to reach there.

Greek families usually gather together and celebrate on such occasions and we end up being more than twenty persons on Easter Sunday.

Preparing the lamb to make ovelias

The preparation of the lamb starts from the previous day. 

It is washed, seasoned and tied on the spit so that it is ready early in the morning to go on the spit. 

It is then covered with napkins and it is left all night, vertically on the spit, to drain and absorb the flavours of the seasoning. 

The same applies to making Kokoretsi, which needs even more time, as the thorough washing of the intestines takes a lot of time.  

The intestines are turned inside out and carefully washed, then rubbed with salt and often soaked in vinegar or lemon juice and water.

Demetris basting lamb and kokoretsi image

Preparing the fire and Roasting the lamb

On Sunday morning, my husband, together with my brother in law, get up early in the morning to prepare the fire.

My brother in law makes the fire by burning olive tree logs in a fire pit until they turn into hot charcoal. 

The charcoal is then put in the roaster and the lamb starts to roast.

The lamb takes a lot of hours to cook, about 5 – 6 hours for a lamb around 10 – 12 kilos, but a lot of fun goes on while roasting. 

Usually folklore music is playing loud and a lot of mezedes are served through the whole procedure.   

The lamb is roasted together with a Kokoretsi  and if there is leftover caulfat and lamb offal, we also make Tourkakia, a recipe we learnt in Sparta.

Some useful tips:

  • If the charcoals are about to extinguish, remove the lamb and blow air on the charcoal by using a hair dryer to light up the fire again.
  • When some of the fat melts on the charcoal the fire may light up, so just put it out by throwing some coarse sea salt on the fire.
  • There should always be some backup wood burning to add to the roaster, in case it is needed.
  • Depending on how many guests you expect for dinner, plan on approximately 500 grams / 1.10 lbs of lamb per person.
Tourkakia liver skewers served image

I have taught my sisters-in-law to make sheftalia, which although a Cypriot delicacy, everybody loves, so we always make some.   

They  never make it to the table as they are cooked before the lamb, so their lovely smell attracts everyone around the spit.

They are usually devoured during the roasting procedure, accompanied together with some ouzo.  So does the kokoretsi, which is cut and eaten piece by piece directly from the spit.

barbecuing sheftalia during Easter image

If you do not want to roast a whole lamb, the alternative solution is Kontosouvli (called souvla in Cyprus) or if you do not have a rotisserie, you can make Lamb Kleftiko or Lamb Bogana, which are equally delicious. 

ovelias cut and served image

Scroll down to the end for the recipe.

Cypriot Souvla (kontosouvli)

In Cyprus, the tradition is quite different and instead of ovelias, they make Souvla, which in Greece, is called kontosouvli.

Cypriot lamb souvla image

Souvla or kontosouvli, consists of large pieces of meat cooked on a long skewer over a charcoal barbecue. Think of a giant souvlaki but with bones in the meat!

The word souvla means skewer, and the Cypriots love making their souvla. It’s much easier to make than ovelias, so they don’t have to wait for Easter to roast one. Souvla is like “the traditional” Cypriot food and they don’t need an  excuse to make one, as they make it on every occasion and opportunity!  

Cypriot souvla or kontosouvli in a platter image

Everybody (well almost everybody who does not live in apartments) has a barbecue in their back yard, so it is very easy to have this delicious roasted meat whenever they like.

Wood fired oven and barbecue image

Whenever we cannot  go to Sparta for the Easter holidays, we enjoy making souvla (kontosouvli) in Athens, on our small balcony.


  • The best meat to make souvla is from the neck or the shoulder of lamb. 
  • The meat is cut into big chunks with the bone, washed and then generously salted. I
  • t is then tightly skewered on a spit and is cooked over a charcoal barbecue.
  • There are many variations of souvla, either marinating the meat in red wine, or adding more spices.
  • Start the fire about an hour before cooking. This will depend on the type of charcoal used.

The recipe for souvla are well as many more Cypriot recipes, are included in my cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste! and in Volume 1 of my e-cookbook.

Cypriot souvla or kontosouvli in a platter image

Souvla or Kontosouvli over Charcoal on a Cyprus Rotisserie BBQ

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

Souvla (in Greek kontosouvli) is a popular dish from Cyprus. It consists of large pieces of meat, usually lamb, cooked on a long skewer over a charcoal barbecue.


  • 2 kilos (4.40 lbs) lamb, from the neck or the shoulder

Marinade ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp oregano


  1. Cut the meat into big chunks, the size of your fist (or 10 - 13 cm / 4 - 5 inches).
  2. Marinate the meat with all the ingredients for a few hours and skewer the meat on the spit, distributing the fatty parts among the meat.
  3. Light the charcoal and wait until it becomes white.
  4. Set the meat on the rotisserie over high heat and high speed. You do this so as to sear the outside of the meat and seal inside the juices and flavour.
  5. Then place it higher on the rotisserie and leave it turning until it is cooked, about 2 - 3 hours, depending on the age of the lamb, basting regularly with the marinade.
  6. Serve with lemon juice on top.
Nutrition Information
Yield 4
Amount Per Serving Calories 300

Did you make this recipe?

Tried this recipe? Tag me @ivyliac and use the hashtag #kopiaste!

collage new souvla image
Easter lamb image

Ovelias - Easter Whole Lamb Roasted on the spit or Souvla

Yield: 20
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 8 hours

Ovelias is a Greek Easter tradition where a whole lamb is roasted on the spit 


  • 10 - 12 kilos lamb

Lamb Dry rub:

  • 1/2 cup oregano
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/8 cup black pepper

Ladolemono for basting:

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons oregano


  1. The lamb is washed and is rubbed with a mixture of salt, pepper and oregano both inside and outside.Then the lamb is tied on a metal spit.
  2. The spit has to go in from the rear, through the body cavity and out through the head.The back legs are tied on the spit with a wire so do the front legs with the head.Also you must wire the lamb on the spit from the inside of the cavity around the spit and through to the back of the lamb, encasing the spit and the spinal cord so that it secured and it does not fall apart. The stomach cavity does not have to be sewn as it serves no purpose.
  3. The whole roasting will take about five or six hours depending on the size of the lamb and at the beginning it should be placed on the highest level and once it is on fire it should be rotated continuously, at the beginning quickly so that the lamb will cook well all way through and not only outside.
  4. Gradually you can move the lamb downwards. You must not forget to baste the lamb frequently with the ladolemono mixture.The basting should continue until the lamb is done and the skin is crisp.
Nutrition Information
Yield 20
Amount Per Serving Calories 580

Did you make this recipe?

Tried this recipe? Tag me @ivyliac and use the hashtag #kopiaste!

Greek Easter Recipes and more

Here are some of my Easter Recipes and a few ideas of what to do with your leftovers. I have also included some cakes for those celebrating.

Salads and Appetizers

A few ideas to make salads and appetizers for Easter

Easter Leftovers

A few ideas to make with your Easter Leftovers

Traditional Greek desserts

Here are a few of the most popular Greek desserts

Easter Desserts

Tsourekia and Koulourakia are the most traditional Greek Orthodox Easter desserts, made especially for this occasion.

Cakes for Special Occasions

Here are some special cakes to celebrate your name day!

Collage Ovelias picture

Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,

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Saturday 14th of April 2012

Ivy, your Easter celebration must have been delicious! This lamb looks amazing and I'll bet it was outrageously good! Happy Easter to you and yours! xo


Saturday 14th of April 2012

Scrumptious! I'd love to be there... ;-P

Happy Easter and have a lovely time with your family.



Joan Nova

Saturday 7th of April 2012

I know that tastes wonderful!! Happy Easter to you and your family.


Tuesday 29th of April 2008

Mmm, the best! I hope you had a nice Easter, Ivy. Christos Anesti!


Friday 25th of April 2008

Thank you Laurie for your wishes.

Lulu, Kokoretsi will be posted tonight.

Rosie, shall try and fix the photo, thanks.

Val, I too hope that we may eat roasted lamb together one day.

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