Greek Lamb Stew with Baby Onions and Allspice

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

In Greece, beef, veal, venison, or rabbit would be the meat of choice here—first marinated in vinegar and then gently stewed until fork-tender. I break a cardinal rule and substitute meaty lamb shoulder, which my Greek friends have told me is incorrect. Well, it works for me. I don't marinate the meat but do brown it thoroughly before stewing. And I enhance it with plenty of allspice berries, which lend an aromatic taste to the sauce.

As with so many slow-cooked dishes, this stew is always more luscious if prepared a day in advance. Serve the dish hot, along with a big loaf of crusty bread.


  • 4 pounds meaty lamb shoulder, cut into 2½-inch chunks
  • 1 can (28 ounces) Italian plum tomatoes packed in puree
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed with a pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries, tied in a cheesecloth
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 pounds small white boiling onions, trimmed and peeled
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup cubed feta cheese


  1. Trim any excess fat from the meat and pat dry. Strain the tomatoes with their puree through a food mill to remove the seeds.
  2. In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until hot. Add the lamb in batches without crowding and sauté over medium-high heat, turning, until browned all over, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer each batch to a bowl and season with salt.
  3. When all the meat is browned, pour off the fat from the pan. Add 2 cups water to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. In a large flameproof casserole, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with ¼ cup water. Add the chopped onions and stir to mix. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated and the onions are melting and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the crushed garlic, tomatoes, allspice, cinnamon sticks, and bay leaves. Add the browned lamb along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Pour in the reserved liquid from the skillet. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, trim the boiling onions. Cut an X in the root end of each with the tip of a small knife and peel. In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the onions for 3 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold running water, and shake to drain well.
  7. Put the onions in a large nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté over medium-high heat, shaking the pan often, until glazed all over, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on ½ teaspoon sugar and continue to cook until shiny and golden brown, about 3 minutes longer. Remove to a bowl and repeat with the remaining onions.
  8. Add the browned onions to the stewed lamb. Continue to cook over low heat, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, uncover, and let cool. Discard the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and bag of allspice.
  9. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones and cut into 1-inch pieces. Return the pieces of meat to the onions and sauce and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top. Cover and refrigerate for up to a day.
  10. About 1 hour before serving, uncover and remove the plastic wrap. Skim off all the congealed fat. Set over medium-low heat and cook, uncovered, stirring to prevent sticking, until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Stir in the vinegar. Season with the pepper and salt to taste. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Let stand, covered, until ready to serve. Reheat for an instant and serve hot, with the cubes of feta sprinkled on top.