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!
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 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.
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 aKokoretsi 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.
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.
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 makeLamb KleftikoorLamb Bogana, which are equally delicious.
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.
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!
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.
Whenever we cannot go to Sparta for the Easter holidays, we enjoy making souvla (kontosouvli) in Athens, on our small balcony.
TIPS AND TRICKS TO MAKE SOUVLA
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.
Ovelias – Easter Whole Lamb Roasted on the spit or Souvla
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
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.
Yield 20 Amount Per ServingCalories 580
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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.
Ovelias is a Greek Easter tradition where a whole lamb is roasted on the spit. The word ovelias pronounced Oh-veh-LI-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. Nowadays, the word “ovelias” means a whole lamb cooked for Easter on the spit.
Kokoretsi is a traditional Greek dish made mainly, but not only, during Easter, consisting mainly of seasoned pieces of lamb or goat offal (sweetbread, hearts, lungs, or kidneys), skewered on a spit and wrapped with lamb or goat caul fat and intestines and grilled together with the lamb.
Bogana is a traditional holiday dish from Argolida, with Leg of Lamb, roasted with whole baby potatoes and tomatoes. What makes it different and more delicious from other roasted lamb is the addition of ewe's and goat milk butter which gives its wonderful taste.
Patates Lemonates my way, are Greek Lemony Potatoes, which is a twist to the classic Greek side dish of roasted potatoes, with a sweet and sour taste. These Greek Lemon Potatoes are crispy from the outside and juicy from the inside with just the right amount of lemon flavors.
Flaounes pr. flah-OU-ness (singular flaouna) is a traditional Cypriot Easter cheese bread made with an aromatic yeasted phyllo dough, filled with a special Cypriot cheese, called Pafitiko, made during the Easter period especially for flaounes, flavoured with Masticha (mastic resin), mahlepi (mahleb) and mint.
Salads and Appetizers
A few ideas to make salads and appetizers for Easter
Melitzanosalata is a traditional Greek dip / appetizer made with eggplants which have been charred over charcoal or over an open flame, until the skin blisters, to get a smoky taste. The skin is then removed, as well as the seeds, if any, and the eggplant is either finely chopped, mashed with a fork or pureed.
Quiche, pronounced keesh, is a French, savoury open tart consisting of pastry crust, filled with eggs, milk or cream, and cheese, meat, seafood or vegetables. Discover a new twist I made to this French favourite with Greek cheeses.
An easy and delicious Greek Potato salad made with mayonnaise, extra virgin olive oil and Greek yoghurt. It is perfect to accompany you meat dishes, served as a light dinner or even add it in your sandwiches.
Pirozhki or piroshki or Piroski (as we call them in Greece, with stress on the last syllable), are made from yeast dough and filled with a variety of fillings and are great for snacks, appetizers, lunch or dinner.
Everybody loves a good lamb pie wrapped in puff pastry and this one is made with leftover lamb on the spit, a few days after Easter with the addition of leeks, spring onions, dill and graviera cheese, which is just delicious!
Kantaifi (pronounced Ka-ta-ee-fi), is a pastry made with a special form of shredded phyllo dough which looks like angel pasta. It is used to make a delicious dessert called kantaifi, which encloses a filling with chopped almonds or walnuts (and sometimes other nuts), scented with rose water, ground cloves and cinnamon. When baked it is then drenched in an aromatic syrup.
Tsourekia and Koulourakia are the most traditional Greek Orthodox Easter desserts, made especially for this occasion.
Tsoureki, plural Tsourekia, (pronounced TSOU-rhe-kee), is a slightly sweet Greek bread, similar to brioche, which is braided and made throughout the year. It is also part of our Easter and Christmas traditions.
Traditional Lambriatika Koulourakia (also called Paschalina Koulourakia), are Greek Easter butter cookies, which are traditionally made only during Easter and have a distinct flavour as baking ammonia is used as the leavening agent.
Cakes for Special Occasions
Here are some special cakes to celebrate your name day!
This Twix Banoffee Cheesecake is made from fresh and caramelized bananas, cream and toffee (made from boiled condensed milk, or dulce de leche), combined on a buttery biscuit base and decorated with Twix Chocolates and dulce de leche sauce.
An impressive strawberry chocolate coffee celebration cake for any occasion. It is made with a simple sponge, filled with chocolate mousse and cooked strawberries, topped with fluffy buttercream frosting and fresh strawberries
Tourta Fraoulita is a 100% homemade Strawberry Cake filled with strawberry yoghurt mousse and topped with strawberry white chocolate frosting, which I made from scratch to celebrate my husband's name day.