Youvetsi with lamb

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Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.

Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.


Γιουβέτσι με αρνί. Several years ago one of us was gifted a cookbook called Slow Food. Like all great cookbooks it was bedtime reading for weeks. Only after every page had been turned over at least once did the book make its way into the kitchen, where a few of the recipe were tried. We still have that book, and love it. The photos are appetizing, the recipes varied and delicious, and the spirit of the book is exactly what we needed then, and now. Slow cooking (not to be confused with slow cooker cooking) is about intentionality, calm and patience. Since that book, the slow food movement has ebbed and flowed in its popularity but one thing is for sure – the Greek kitchen is full of recipes that require time, and little else.

Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.

One of our favourite meals growing up was youvetsi (or giouvetsi), meat slowly cooked in an olive oil and tomato based sauce until it is incredibly tender. Then, orzo is added, and as it cooks in the flavourful sauce it thickens everything up. The end result is a rich, kind of creamy and very, very easy to eat slow cooked meal.

Youvetsi is a humble dish in many regards, real village fare made with a few simple ingredients. It is also incredibly versatile, able to be made with a variety of proteins, including a vegan version we love made with chickpeas.


Helpful hints

The secret to making the best youvetsi with lamb.

Youvetsi recipes tend to be incredibly simple; no complicated ingredients or intricate cooking techniques. All you need are exceptional products, patience and time. Although you will need over 2 hours between beginning your meal and eating, the actual active cooking time is quite minimal. This is perfect if you want to sit back and read while sipping on a cup of Greek mountain tea, or do some knitting, or make a halva!

So, the secret then is not to rush it, and to choose your products carefully. In terms of ingredients, the main things you will need are:

  • Lamb
  • Olive oil
  • Tomato sauce
  • Orzo
  • You will also need vegetable oil for frying the lamb, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cloves. The cloves are optional, because one of us thinks they are the vilest of spices and should be avoided at all costs…but if you love them, go ahead and add them. They are typically used.

We are so happy to have partnered with Montreal based Messara Foods and to have used some of their imported products to create this meal. We think it will become one of your favourites!

The best cut of lamb for youvetsi.

In our opinion, lamb front gives the best result when making lamb youvetsi. It is a tender cut of meat, made fork tender after braising in the sauce. When your pieces of lamb front are cut into serving size pieces they should be small enough that they are almost entirely submerged in the sauce while cooking. This, added to the fact that your roasting pan will be covered with aluminum foil, helps keep your meat moist and delicious.

Use a good quality tomato sauce.

We tend to use our homemade tomato sauce whenever we make youvetsi, but when we run out we substitute with a good quality jar of strained tomatoes or passata. Do not use tomato juice or canned diced tomatoes as this will impact the final result.

What is orzo?

Orzo is an integral part of any youvetsi. Orzo (sometimes called risoni) is a small pasta that in Greek is referred to as kritharaki. Its shape resembles a large grain of rice and it is often used to make orzo salad, and it can be used in place of rice in avgolemono soup.

Choose a good quality orzo.

In this recipe for lamb youvetsi we used the MAKVEL brand of orzo and we are so happy that we did! MAKVEL is a Greek company, founded in 1939 by two brothers near Thessaloniki. Since then it has grown to be one of the most important semolina producers in the country and has been recognized for its conscientious use of energy and reduced carbon footprint. We have another Greek company, founded by another set of brothers, to thank for making MAKVEL pastas available outside of Greece. Messara Foods was founded in 2009 and it is committed to bringing a wide range of exceptional Greek products to happy cooks and eaters outside of Greece!

A wonderful olive oil is key.

Choosing olive oil can sometimes seem like a very onerous task. There are so many varieties and price ranges available, and there has been so much controversy surrounding the purity of certain brands. For this recipe we used MEZE extra-virgin olive oil, imported by Messara Foods. The flavour was light yet rich, with no after-taste. A beautiful olive oil that complimented our meal beautifully.

Use a good quality tomato sauce.

We tend to use our homemade tomato sauce whenever we make youvetsi, but when we run out we substitute with a good quality jar of strained tomatoes or passata. Do not use tomato juice or canned diced tomatoes as this will impact the final result.

Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.
Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.
Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.

Looking for more Greek comfort meals? Check these out:

Roasted chicken and Greek lemon potatoes

Yiouverlakia avgolemono with tomato

Lahanodolmades (Greek cabbage rolls)

Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.

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Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.
Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.
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5 from 3 votes

Youvetsi with lamb

Youvetsi with lamb is a classic Greek slow cooked meal made with lamb and orzo.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Greek
Keyword: Lamb, youvetsi,
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 606kcal
Author: Mia Kouppa

Equipment

  • Frying pan
  • Roasting pan

Ingredients

  • 3-4 lbs (1,650 grams) lamb front cut into serving size pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) Greek olive oil we used MEZE extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 3/4 cups (680 mL) tomato sauce
  • 7 1/2 cups (1,875 mL) boiling water
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 cloves, optional
  • 500 grams orzo we used MAKVEL brand

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Trim any excess fat from your lamb pieces. Season the lamb evenly with the 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a deep frying pan so that you can brown the lamb pieces. Add enough oil so that it is approximately 1/4 inch deep in pan.
  • Cook lamb pieces until all sides are nicely browned, approximately 4– 5 minutes per side. You are not fully cooking the lamb; you simply want it browned on all sides. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan.
  • Once all of the lamb is browned, transfer the pieces to your roasting pan. We used a round roasting pan which was approximately 15 inches in diameter.
  • To the pan add 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 ¾ cups tomato sauce, and 7 ½ cups boiling water.  Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and add the cloves if you are using them.
  • Cover the pan tightly with aluminium foil and place it in the bottom rack of your oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. Check your lamb for doneness by inserting a fork into one of the pieces; if you can easily insert your fork and separate out a small pieces of the lamb, it is ready.
  • Carefully remove the pan from the oven, and uncover it. Increase your oven temperature to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the uncooked orzo. Stir carefully. Return pan to oven, uncovered.
  • After 10 minutes, carefully stir the orzo in the pan as it will have a tendency to stick to the bottom.  We found that the easiest way to do this was with a spatula (easy to scrape up the orzo pieces stuck to the bottom of the pan), using an oven mitt, while the pan was still in the oven.  Alternatively you can place the pan onto the stove top, mix, and then return to the oven. Repeat this every 5 minutes for the next 15 minutes.
  • Note: The total cooking time after adding the orzo should be 25 minutes.
  • If at any point after adding the orzo, your meal appears too dry, you can add a bit of boiling water and mix well.
  • Remove from oven, let cool slightly and serve.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

We partnered with Messara Foods for this recipe and used their imported MAKVEL brand of orzo and MEZE extra virgin olive oil.  
When purchasing your lamb front, ask your butcher to cut it into serving size pieces.
The baking time for the lamb is an approximation and will depend on the maturity of the lamb.  If your lamb requires more time in the oven, keep it covered until it is fork tender. 
Feel free to add some grated cheese when serving.
The orzo will thicken as it sits.  If you have leftovers; we would suggest adding a little bit of water before warming it up.

Nutrition

Calories: 606kcal | Carbohydrates: 69g | Protein: 41g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 91mg | Sodium: 1080mg | Potassium: 974mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 489IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 54mg | Iron: 5mg

4 thoughts on “Youvetsi with lamb

  1. A family favorite. Often the final spot for a leftover leg.
    You called lamb front. Is that the same as we call lamb shoulder here in the states? Almost impossible to find but well worth the effort.

    My big question….are you two lovely ladies planning to compile your recipes in book form? If so, sign me up for 3 copies!

    1. Hi Kathryn! The lamb front is actually any part of the lamb from the neck down to the front of the leg; the lamb shoulder is one part of the lamb front – the others typically include neck, foreshank and breast. As for the cookbook…this is a dream we hope to realize one day!! Comments like yours make us think that it will be a reality one day 🙂 Thank you so much for your support! xoxo Helen & Billie

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