Youvetsi is comforting Greek dish made of tender pieces of lamb (or beef) and small noodles such as orzo, all cooked together in an aromatic tomato sauce with garlic, oregano, and other comforting Greek flavors! Tips and make-ahead instructions included.
What is youvetsi?
Youvetsi--sometimes spelled Giouvetsi, likely from the Turkish güveç--is a popular and comforting Greek stew made with tender bits of lamb or beef, cooked with small noodles such as orzo. You might also see it with chicken(like my earlier chicken orzo recipe), but red meat is more typically used.
While the original Turkey güveç referred to the specific clay vessel in which food was slow-cooked, the Greek version refers simply to the preparation of a slow-cooked meat and pasta dish. The type of dish it's cooked in and the manner, whether on the stovetop or in the oven, differ from one household to another. But youvetsi will always include tender cooked meat and pasta.
Many years back, traditional youvetsi was assembled in special earthenware dishes and cooked in wood burning ovens. But in this easy modern version, I use a large, heavy ceramic braising pan with a lid. And although many recipes call for baking youvetsi, it is easy to cook entirely on the stovetop. You'll start with browning the meat (for added flavor and color), and then simmering it in the sauce until perfectly tender. Finally, stirring in the orzo to cook for a few minutes until it has absorbed a good bit of the sauce!
For me, the true draw to this one-pot lamb stew with orzo is in the delicious sauce made with sweeter San Marzano canned tomatoes, red wine, lots of garlic and onions, dry oregano, and warm spices. It's the perfect warm-your-belly dinner during the chilly fall and winter months!
What you'll need to make it
This Greek lamb with orzo requires just a handful of ingredients and a few warm spices. And if you don't like lamb, you can absolutely use beef instead. Here's what you'll need:
- Lamb (or beef)- Boneless lamb shoulder or lamb leg are your best options. Trim the fat before cutting it into small chunks.
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil - Be sure to use a quality olive oil to brown the lamb. My favorites are here.
- Onions and garlic - Chopped
- Spices- paprika, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bay leaf help provide the warm flavors in this dish.
- Herbs- dry oregano, and fresh parsley
- San Marzano tomatoes - Canned San Marzano tomatoes are sweeter than other varieties, they make the base for the hearty sauce.
- Red wine - Any dry red wine will work. If you don't want to use wine, you can use a low-sodium beef broth instead, although the acidity from the wine enhances this dish.
- Orzo - You can also substitute any other small, rice-shaped pasta like acini de pepe or orecchiette.
- Feta cheese - Optional for garnish
How to make Greek lamb stew with orzo (youvetsi)
This easy lamb orzo recipe is made entirely on the stovetop in a few simple steps:
- Brown the meat. Start with one pound of meat (I used boneless lamb shoulder), and cut it into small cubes or pieces. Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy pan with a lid, brown the meat in olive oil over medium-high heat, tossing regularly. Transfer to a large plate for now.
- Saute the aromatics. Add the onions and garlic to the same pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened.
- Simmer. Return the lamb to the pan, along with the red wine and seasonings (1 teaspoon each dry oregano and paprika, and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg). Add a bay leaf. Cook until the wine until the wine has reduced by ½ then add water and canned San Marzano tomatoes with their juices.
Once everything is boiling, reduce the heat and cover. Let the meat simmer for a good 45 minutes or so until fully cooked and tender!
- Add the orzo. Stir in the orzo. Cook until the orzo is tender and most of the moisture has been absorbed, about 15 minutes or so.
- Garnish and serve. Top with parsley and crumbled feta if desired. Enjoy!
To cut down on dinner prep and wait time for this lamb and orzo, you can cook the meat one night in advance. Just stop before adding the orzo. The next day, you can warm up the meat on the stovetop and add the orzo to cook for another 15 minutes or so.
Tips and variations
Youvetsi is a simple comfort food that doesn't require too many tips or tricks, but here are a few things to consider.
- Allow the orzo and meat to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. The orzo will continue to absorb the sauce.
- Don't like lamb? Use beef. If you prefer to make it with beef instead, you can use beef chuck, which is an inexpensive cut of beef that is well-suited for stews. Be sure to trim the beef and cut into small pieces. Still, your cooking time will vary.
- Swap the feta for grated cheese. If you're not a fan of feta, you can garnish this dish with grated cheese instead. In Greece, you'd likely find it topped with kefalotyri but you can also use a quality parmesan or pecorino.
- If you cant't find orzo, swap for another tiny pasta. You can even try this recipe with Pearl Couscous, which is another tiny pasta shaped like pearls (it is not a traditional option, but will work).
To serve this Greek lamb
One of the wonderful things about youvetsi is that it's truly a complete one-pan meal. There's no need to add anything else to make this a meal, just transfer to individual bowls and top with parsley and feta.
How to store leftovers
This Greek lamb stew is best enjoyed straight from the pan, when the orzo is perfectly cooked. However, any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
As it sets and cools, the orzo will continue to soak up any remaining liquid. When reheating, you may need to add some additional liquid to prevent it from drying out. I recommend reheating on the stovetop for best results.
More Greek recipes:
- Spanakorizo: Greek Spinach Rice
- Greek-Style Chicken Orzo
- Pastitsio: Greek Lasagna
- Greek-Style Baked Cod
- Orzo Salad
Youvetsi: Greek Lamb Stew with Orzo
- 1 pound lamb shoulder (boneless, or lamb leg, trimmed of fat and cut into small 1-inch chunks)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions (finely chopped)
- 4 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 bay leaf
- 28 ounces whole San Marzano tomatoes
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- ½ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
- feta cheese (for garnish, optional)
- Pat the lamb dry and season with kosher salt and black pepper.
- In a large, ceramic braising pan or heavy pan with a lid, heat 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add the lamb and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, tossing regularly, until browned. Transfer the lamb to a large plate for now.
- In the same pan, add the onions and garlic. Season with kosher salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened.
- Return the lamb to the pan. Add the red wine, oregano, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg and bay leaf. Cook until the wine has reduced by at least ½, then add 1 cup of water and the tomatoes. Break the tomatoes up using a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the lamb is cooked through.
- Stir in the orzo and cover the pan. Let cook for another 20 minutes or until the orzo has cooked through and most of the moister has been absorbed.
- Garnish with parsley and crumbled feta, if you like, before serving.
- If the orzo is fully cooked, and you still see a lot of liquid in the pot, do not worry as it will continue to absorb the liquid as it sits. Allow 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Make ahead option: You can prepare a portion of this recipe one night in advance. Cook the meat and follow the recipe up to step #3 (but do not add the orzo). Allow the meat to cool and store it in the fridge. The following day, bring the meat back to a boil and add the orzo to cook for 15 to 20 minutes and follow the remaining steps to serve.
- Leftovers & storage: Store cooled leftovers in a tight-lid glass container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oils and spices.