Tava (Cypriot baked lamb and potatoes with cumin and tomatoes).

I had a birthday yesterday.  My 25th.  It went by quickly; I was in a haze all day from the black sea bass with syrah sauce that I had at Daniel the night before.  A swooning, satiated haze. Daniel has recently been redecorated; the white, Greco-Romanish dining room is enough to make you woozy and the 15th anniversary three course with wine pairing event (offered weekdays from 5:30 to 6:30) will without-doubt knock you off your feet.  If you can go, go.  And email me to tell me all about it, please. And order the black sea bass with leek royale and chived potatoes. And don’t worry if it makes you teary-eyed with happiness; I totally understand.  But this has nothing to do with lamb tava, which has nothing to do with my birthday since I made this a few weeks ago, but I just reached a quarter century, and I think that’s worth mentioning, no?

So on to the lamb tava.  The recipe is from Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries, a deliciously gorgeous book that was featured in Gourmet’s Cookbook Club a month or so ago.  Gourmet called it a memoir, though it’s nothing like the other food memoirs that I love.  There’s not much in the way of food writing; Kiros’ life is revealed through the recipes.  I’ve spent hours reading recipes from all the places that Kiros has lived, or visited, and been inspired by, beginning with Scandinavia and ending with a mélange of worldly dishes from her traveling.

The food is simple but polished—the kind of recipe that seems like it was passed down by generation upon generation of wise old grandmothers, tweaked but never messed with, resulting in the most perfect milk tart, dilled pickles, or lemon-vanilla jam.  They aren’t recipes that you need to follow to the tee, but you’d benefit it you did.

This tava (tava refers to both a kind of round griddle—not used by me here—and a kind of cooking) features lamb chuck (the recession-friendly lamb), whole cumin seeds, and oven-roasted tomatoes (as well as red onion, crispy potatoes, and butter).  It’s easy to put together, you just layer everything in a roasting pan, and once you cook for a few hours the result is a heady combination—very savory, buttery, and scented.  The cumin seeds offer up all their flavor, mixing into the potatoes.  The lamb is tender and falling apart and it also flavors everything else (this is why you shouldn’t substitute another meat for lamb, its mild goatey flavor is important.)

It’s probably the most interesting one-pot meal I’ve ever made; one to serve to guests, maybe with a dressed butter lettuce salad on the side, a glass of wine, and some good music.  We’ve had this a few times now and I’m never disappointed, even if the potatoes don’t crisp up as well as the last try, or if the lamb is not cooked perfectly; it’s one of those if you mess up it’s still good dishes, and who doesn’t need a few of those up her sleeve?

Tava (Cypriot Baked Lamb and Potatoes with Cumin and Tomatoes)

adapted from Falling Cloudberries

2 red onions, chopped roughly
2lb 12 oz new potatoes, quartered
2lb 4oz lamb, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 teaspoons cumin seeds, lightly crushed
1/2 cup olive oil
4-5 ripe tomatoes, sliced
2-3 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350F.  Put the onion, potatoes, and lamb in a large roasting pan or baking dish.  Season (generously) with salt and pepper, then add parsley, cumin and olive oil.  Using your hands, mix everything up well.  Place the sliced tomatoes on top of mixture, season lightly with salt and pepper, and then dot with butter.  Pour about a 1/2 cup of water around the edge of the pan.  Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, tilting every once in a while to distribute the juices.

Remove the foil and increase the oven temperature to 400F.  Cook for another 45 minutes or longer, until the tomatoes and potatoes are golden browned and the liquid has all but evaporated.  This is delicious served hot or at room temperature.

27 thoughts on “Tava (Cypriot baked lamb and potatoes with cumin and tomatoes).”

  1. This really does look delicious. Lamb is one of those very distinctive flavors that you can’t really substitute for (well, goat might work, but people who are squeamish about lamb are going to be downright rebellious at goat.) I can almost smell it cooking!

    Happy birthday, btw!

  2. Thanks, Robin. This looks very much worth trying. I like cumin, but I usually cook lamb with rosemary, so this should be a nice change too.

    1. Oh, we had dessert(s)! There was a pinapple dessert with cilantro and a luxurious coconut sauce that was out-of-this-world and a chocolate mousse with crunchy chocolate-hazelnut candies, and a fabulous chocolate cake with an ice cream that tasted vaguely (and deliciously) of blue cheese. Plus all the lemony madeleines and the petit four that came out at the end of the meal.

      Jim had the steak duo, which consisted of a rib eye with a salty crust that made the dish, and braised short ribs that we’d been dreaming about since trying them on the tasting menu a couple years ago. We also had peeky-toe crab with spring rolls and a fresh, beautiful mango chutney and a sea scallop and brussel sprout dish that tasted like really, really good Chinese food for starters. And a shiso leaf cocktail with perfect little breadsticks dotted with olive paste that made Jim realize why people like olives on their pizza. It was all amazing; the perfect birthday dinner.

  3. I turned 25 on Monday! Happy Birthday. I haven’t had lamb in a long time. I will have to search out some and try this. It looks wonderful.

  4. First of all, happy birthday!! I bet you had a good time and Jim better have pampered you 🙂 Second, I saw this book at the store and fell in love with the photography. Everything just looks gorgeous in it and I enjoy the variety of recipes in it. I don’t eat lamb, but I’m looking forward to everything else you whip up from this book!!

    1. Thanks! You know, I say that this would have to be made with lamb, but on second thought, I think grass-fed beef would do (though are you a vegetarian?)

      I made her fried potatoes and artichokes and they were so good.

  5. Ah, beautiful! I love Tessa Kiros and all her books. Apples for Jam makes me want to have children, immediately, just so I can cook for them. That’s saying a lot for a cookbook. Plus I think she’s absolutely darling. Happy Birthday!!!

  6. Happy birthday! Sounds like a fantastic celebration! 🙂

    I love Tessa Kiros’ books! Tey are gorgeous and always set me day-dreaming 🙂 Must try this dish!

  7. Happy birthday.
    Having read your blog pretty much since its inception, it’s fair to say you’ve squeezed a lot of living into one quarter of a century. There aren’t a whole lot of 25 year olds who get taken to Daniel for their birthday. And, I would venture to say, most of them don’t have the same level of appreciation as you did of what they were served.

  8. happy, happy birthday. what a treat – DANIEL? ok, i need to have a talk w/ jonny pronto. we went for korean bbq for my birthday! i was cheated, clearly.

    this looks really rustic and perfect for a cool summer day.

    1. Haha… korean BBQ sounds good, too! (Gotta step it up, Jonny!)

      In truth it wasn’t all that expensive. They have an event going on weekday nights from 5:30 to 6:30–a small window of time, I know—where you get a three course meal with wine for $98 per person. Still expensive, but worth it!

  9. Happy Birthday, Robin!
    You are always cooking up the most interesting things. This looks like a great meal for a half of century! You are a young thing still!

  10. I tried and tried to comment here before now but to no avail! UGH! It’s problems on my end not yours. Boo.

    So… Happy Birthday! A week late. 😛 Hope it was wonderful… sounds like it was.

    I know what you mean about recipes seeming like they were passed down. Traditional and simple and just right.

  11. Happy birthday! I made this dish from the cookbook, too. I love how easy it is to prepare. And tender lamb with sweet, unctuous tomatoes is the perfect combination.

  12. Hi Robin – love this recipe, I’ve made it twice in the last week. I love its simplicity – you can leave it to cook while you do all sorts of other things (like relaxing, even). One little touch which lifts it really nicely is a squeeze of lemon when you serve it. Delicious!
    Keep up the good work, this is a great blog.

  13. […] we ate had been slow cooked and was served stew-like in a small earthenware pot. Just by googling, this recipe looks pretty good. For some reason it never occurred to me that they might have cumin-based […]

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