Ovelias is a Greek Easter tradition where a whole lamb is roasted in huge roasters in their yards.
The preparation of the lamb and of its offals 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’s man job to do.
During the Easter holidays half the population of Athens celebrate Easter at their villages or at their relatives’ villages. Like the majority of theAthenians we drive away from this crazy city to relax and rejoin again with our relatives. 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.
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 absorbe the flavours of the seasoning.
On Sunday morning, my husband gets up early in the morning to prepare the fire, together with my brother in law. Olive tree logs are used for the fire and they are burnt until it has become charcoal. The charcoal is then put in the roaster and the lamb starts to roast.
The lamb takes a lot of hours to cook but a lot of fun goes on while roasting. Usually music is playing loud and a lot of mezedes are served through the whole procedure. I usually make sheftalia which they love and usually are devoured during the roasting procedure. So does the kokoretsi, which is cut piece by piece directly from the spit. It never makes it to the table and disappears together with some ouzo.
Ovelias – Roasted Lamb on the spit or Souvla, recipe by my husband
- 1 lamb about 10 – 12 kilos
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
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.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.
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.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.
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, plan on approximately 500 grams / 1.10 lbs per person).
In Cyprus, the tradition is quite different. In Cyprus they make Souvla, which is called kontosouvli in Greece. The Cypriots love souvla so they don’t need an excuse to make one, on every occasion and opportunity. 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 meat whenever they like.
Whenever we cannot go to Sparta for the Easter holidays, we enjoy making souvla (kontosouvli) in Athens on our small balcony.
Souvla (or kontosouvli in Greek) is a popular dish from Cyprus. It consists of large pieces of lamb cooked on a long skewer over a charcoal. barbecue.
The recipe for souvla is included in my cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste! and in Volume 1 of my e-cookbook.
Other relevant recipes:
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,