This dish comes from the time of the Greek revolution, when bands of Greek guerrillas, called Klephts, hid in the mountains. In Greek, “kleftiko” means “stolen meat”. In order to survive, the klephts would steal a lamb or a goat from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thieves would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground, with red hot stones and glowing embers, sealed the hole with soil so that no steam could escape to give them away. They would go on their missions and come back after hours to find a cooked meal. No other ingredients were added except maybe some salt or herbs, if they had any.
Lamb kleftiko is an easy, rustic, traditional Greek dish made with lamb. Ofton, is a word used in many parts of Greece, including Cyprus, which means baked.
Traditionally, kleftiko was baked in wood fired ovens, which almost all households in the villages use to have in their yards. My mother used to cook it in a large terra cotta pot in the conventional oven, always using aged stock, which slowly cooked for hours. She would also add some potatoes and sealed the lid of the terra cotta dish with a paste she made, by mixing flour with water, covering the sides of the lid with this batter so that the steam would not escape and cook it for at least three to four hours in the oven.
Nowadays not everybody has clay ovens, so a more modern adaption of this dish is to cook it wrapped in parchment paper or use a casserole dish with a lid.
I have enriched this dish by adding more vegetables and herbs, which makes it even tastier and you get a side dish as well, with all the vegetables.
If the lamb comes with caul fat, wrap the leg with it as this melts, adding more flavour to the dish.
It’s a lovely Sunday dish, as it is very easy to prepare and you don’t have to slave in the kitchen for hours watching over the meal.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
- 1.5 kilos (3.5 lbs) leg of lamb or goat, bone in
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 – 6 peeled carrots coarsely sliced
- 5 – 6 potatoes peeled and quartered
- 1 – 2 ripe tomatoes, cut in slices
- 2 cloves garlic, finely cut
- 2 onions, cut in slices
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Wash the lamb or goat and place it in a large baking tin, lined with a big piece of parchment paper. Make slits in the meat and add the garlic.
- Season with some salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary and add in the bay leaves. Arrange the onions, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots around the lamb and season them as well.
- Add the lemon juice and olive oil.
- Cover tightly with parchment paper and cover the baking tin with aluminium foil, to make sure that no steam will escape.
- Bake in a preheated oven to 180o C/ 350o F for 2½ – 3 hours. (For aged lamb or goat, cook up to 4 hours).
- Remove the aluminium and parchment paper and cook uncovered for about half an hour or until golden.
- Serve warm but it is also very delicious served cold.
The above recipe is included in my cookbook «Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!»You can find many more Greek recipes in my second cookbook «More Than A Greek Salad». Both cookbooks are available on all Amazon stores. Read more here.
Other related Recipes:
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,