Above: Fragrant, tangy sumac rub perfectly complements the lamb’s bold flavor in this recipe. (from Cultural Blend, November 2021). Photograph by Quentin Bacon.

The Navajo Nation, an area spanning portions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, is larger than West Virginia. Some of its members raise Navajo-Churro sheep—just as they have since the 1500s, when lambs first began showing up in Native recipes. Check with local butchers on what breeds are available, but the recipe works with what you can find. The fragrant, tangy sumac rub perfectly complements the lamb’s bold flavor, and the juniper-spiced, herbaceous onion sauce will make this dish a fall and winter favorite.


1 cup sumac powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 three-pound leg of lamb (or lamb roast), tied or untied; either will work
3 tablespoons canola oil


2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled and julienned
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 stem fresh rosemary
4 juniper berries
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 cups chicken stock 

Serves 6 to 8


  1. For the onion sauce, in a medium sauté pan, mix oil, onion, thyme, rosemary, juniper berries, salt, and pepper. Turn the heat to medium and sauté until the onion is soft and brown, about 20 minutes, stirring often to make sure the onion and herbs don’t burn. Add water if needed to deglaze the pan.

  2. Add the stock and allow to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and discard the thyme sprigs, rosemary, and juniper berries. Set aside until ready to use.

  3. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a small bowl, combine the sumac, salt, and pepper and stir thoroughly to make a rub. Coat the lamb liberally on all sides with the rub.

  4. In a large sauté pan over high heat, place the oil. When hot, add the lamb and sear on all sides until brown.

  5. Transfer the lamb to a baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for about 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the lamb reaches 145° for medium-rare. Remove the lamb from the oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

  6. Serve with the onion sauce.


New Native Kitchen: Celebrating Modern Recipes of the American Indian is available at bookstores throughout the country. Learn more about Freddie J. Bitsoie’s work, including his partnership with famed Italian chef Lidia Bastianich, on his Rezervations Not Required Facebook page.