Sundays are like a double-edged sword for me. Whilst it is still the weekend, it also a day closer to Monday, when the mad dash to get to work and school on time begins. Sundays were also made for long leisurely lunches with family. The kind where the table is groaning under the sheer weight of the amount of food piled on top of it. Roast chicken or lamb, roasted potatoes, plump sweet yellow rice, carrots, caramelised butternut, the unique South African gem squash which should have pools of melted butter in them, and salads complete the main part of the meal.
Sundays also take me back to my granny and her salt and pepper roast chicken. It was so delicious that even after more than twenty years that meal still remains sharp in my memory. I remember everything from the crispy golden-brown chicken sizzling with some potatoes in an electric frying pan to the aroma that embraced you the minute you came in through the front door. Sunday was just not Sunday without it. I have tried and tried to copy that recipe and get it right, but I still do not get any closer to the way my granny makes it.
Recently I have taken to cooking Sunday lunch. I used to be happy to get take-out or have a late breakfast and just have a light supper. But Sundays are our only day as a family when we can have leisurely lunch together. So I try to make the effort and cook and the best part is there is no rush as everyone is quite happy to eat when the food is done.
Roasted anything is usually on the menu, but to make the hubby happy it has to be the customary roast leg of lamb. After years of experimenting, I think I have found the perfect recipe for us. After I freshly grind the roasted spices and marinate the meat, I sear the meat to get that perfect golden brown colour, then into a slow oven to roast for a few hours. Once the meat has cooked and all the lovely juices have oozed out, I throw in a few parboiled potatoes and roast them to perfection in the meat juices. We usually have the meat with some roasted veg, rice and a green salad. Dessert is often much later.
I go through all this trouble because there are very few things that bring such genuine happiness and closeness into homes as a proper Sunday lunch. And the reason for this is not because of the food, but because of the laughter and memories that are formed around the table. I suppose it’s like that all over the world. Every person, no matter how rich or poor, has a memory that is directly related to food. Whether it is your mother giving you warm chicken soup and toast when you are ill or your BFF feeding you chocolate cake when you are feeling down or just having ramen noodles with the kids, everyone has a food memory. These memories are what holds communities and families together.
And the task of perfecting my granny’s roast chicken recipe still continues…
My Roasted Leg Of Lamb Recipe
• 2kg good quality leg of lamb
• 5 whole cloves of garlic
• 1 red chilli
• 1 tsp mustard powder
• 2 tbsp roasted coriander seeds
• ½ tsp roasted cumin seeds
• 1 small bunch of fresh coriander leaves
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• Freshly ground black pepper – be generous!
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
• 1 tsp sugar
• 2 pinches salt
• 1 tbsp hot water
• 3 tbsp white vinegar
1. Preheat your oven to 160°C.
2. In a small kitchen processor, grind all the herbs and spices to a fine, smooth paste.
3. Make deep slits with a sharp knife in your meat. Smear the paste all over the lamb, making sure you get the paste well into the slits.
4. Seal your lamb on a hot grill if you wish, then place it in the oven directly on the rack.
5. Cook the lamb for about an hour and 30 minutes if you want it pink or another half hour if you want it more well done.
6. Meanwhile, prepare your mint sauce. To make the mint sauce, mix the chopped mint, sugar, salt, hot water and vinegar.
7. Take the lamb out of the oven and cover with tin foil. Leave for 15 minutes before serving. Carve and serve with roasted potatoes and mint sauce.
Fatima Bheekoo-Shah is a wife, mother, food blogger, foodie and breastfeeding activist who is finally answering her calling to be a writer.