Kabseh-Spiced Lamb Roast: A new Passover or Easter tradition

In Recipies, Tips and Hints on March 27, 2013 at 10:38 am

Our Passover Seder is now a memory. And just in time for Easter’s lamb (not ham) dinners, the Phyne Dyner offers up this year’s Seder headliner to his readers. Enjoy!


If not for the Moorish conquest, most of Europe would likely be flavoring foods with dill and juniper berries. The subsequent exploration and exploitation of North and South America would have been equally flavorless. The Arabian empire building changed our tables (methinks) for the better.

Empire, via the spreading of Pax Americana, has been good for American tables as well.

After WWII in the Pacific, there was an explosion of Polynesian and Japanese restaurants in urban locations. During the immediate post-war years, nearly every VA loan eligible home in the suburbs stood over a ‘finished’ basement having an Pacific island-themed bar and décor. Tiki torches and faux grass huts stood adjacent to wobbly above-ground swimming pools.

Post-war immigration also spread new tastes in America.

The Vietnam War brought thousands of ‘Boat People’ among them; the Hmong and Tai Dam who introduced their own regional flavors, along with flavors from the coastal regions of Viet Nam.

War means there is always a glut of war brides, returning military personnel, and refugees bringing new tastes to American palates. As our dying empire thrashes in the Near East, those struggles have also brought new flavors to our table.

Kabseh (var. kebsa), the Saudi Arabian national dish, is one such example. My neighborhood, once of Christian and Jewish flavors, has experienced an explosion of ‘Mediterranean’ (lit. Arab) markets and shops. A trip to one is like spending a few minutes in a shuk filled with wonderful and exotic aromas and sights. The explosion of these markets has been a good thing for a ‘meat and taters’ town that suffered too long as a cultural wasteland.

Authentic kabseh is a rice-based dish containing shredded meats, like chicken or lamb. The dish gets its name (and flavor) from a blend of spices that include cinnamon, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, and bay leaf. A few kabseh recipes include ginger and saffron and it is worth noting that, like all things in cooking, every cook and chef declares their spice blend to be the most authentic.

And I found, after much experimentation, that kabseh spices also lend themselves to some fantastic roasted lamb. Actually, had I done some research, I would have learned that mandi (pit roasted spiced meat) is also a staple food where kabseh is found.

The kabseh spice mixture is similar to many used for shwarma, that delightful vertical spit-roasted meat. Kabseh spices are a bit more piquant and flowery. Consequently, they can be a bit overwhelming if thickly rubbed on chicken and not advisable at all for fish.

But, on lamb, rubbed-on kabseh spices are a real treat.

So, if you’re looking for a Passover (or Easter) meat course that will allow you to attend to making other table goodies for the festival, try kabseh-spice roasted lamb.

Here we go!

For this recipe, you’ll only need a lamb roast and two tablespoons of kabseh spices. Just follow the instructions below and you’ll enjoy a delightfully spiced bit of meat for your festive occasion.

Oven temperature is critical. I’ve found the best oven for roasting lamb starts out very hot and finishes a bit lower. For lamb, I start with a 450F pre-heat and reduce the heat to 325F when I put the meat in the oven. The result is juicy and tender. Resist the temptation to go too low with the final roasting temperature. This dish is cooked uncovered and a very slow oven will allow the meat to dry out.

Before roasting, be sure to allow the lamb (a netted, boneless leg roast works best) to come to room temperature. About 30 minutes in a 70-degree kitchen will do as a nice start. Carefully rinse the meat and pat it thoroughly dry before rubbing in the kabseh spices.

After rubbing in the spices, cover the meat with plastic wrap and allow it to stand for another 15 minutes to allow the spices to penetrate a bit. Afterward, the meat will be at just the right room temperature and the spices will be perfect.

Allow about 15 minutes of roasting time per 1/4-pound of meat. Rare lamb comes out of the oven at about 140F, medium at 150-155F, and well at 160+. Check the temperature 10-15 minutes before your anticipated ‘done’ time. Oven thermostats are notoriously inaccurate. When the lamb is roasted to desired doneness, remove it from the oven and cover it loosely with aluminum foil for resting. Allow the meat to rest for at least 20 minutes before service. Resting allows heat-displaced juices to return ‘home’ and give you a much more tender (and juicy) piece of meat.


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