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.
Traditionally, kleftiko was baked in clay ovens all households had in their yards. My mother used to cook it in a terra cotta pot but would prefer the meat to be of aged stock and would seal it with a lid, by mixing flour with water and seal the lid with this mixture so that the steam would not escape and cook it for at least three to four hours in the oven.
If you don’t have an oven proof vessel with a lid, you can cook it in the oven, you can wrap it in parchment. Nowadays, of course more ingredients are added to make it tastier. The extra herbs I have added, rosemary and bay leaves, which my mother did not use, but which are used in other parts of Greece, made it very tasteful. It is very easy to prepare and you don’t have to be in the kitchen all the time to watch 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 for 2½ – 3 hours to 180o C/ 350o F.
- 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:
Stuffed Lamb or Pork Wrapped in Vine Leaves
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,