This traditional Greek dish is slow oven roasted lamb infused with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. The recipe was originally intended for an earthen oven to trap smoke and heat.
The word ‘Kleftiko’ translates as ‘stolen’ and the name for the dish is said to come from the Klephts (descendants of Greeks who were anti-Ottoman insurgents) who stole goats or lamb and cooked the meat in hidden underground ovens in order to avoid the smells. and flavors and avoid getting caught! They had to cook and eat in secret: no smoke, no visible fire. So they wrapped the flesh, etc. in leaves and buried it in the embers, which they covered with stones and ashes. So Kleftiko should be slow cooked and covered.
How to cook lamb Kleftiko:
- Season each lamb shank on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat half the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown each shank for about 5 minutes, enough to sear well on each side. Transfer to a plate. Crush the garlic, remove the skin and cut the garlic into strips. Poke slits in the lamb with a knife and insert slivers of garlic into the lamb.
- In a bowl, add potatoes, cheese, onions, tomatoes, oregano, bell pepper, olive oil, any remaining garlic, and lemon juice. Be sure to season well! Toss to coat and set aside.
- Lay two long pieces (about 12″ each) of parchment paper criss-cross. Place a lamb shank in the center of the parchment paper and arrange the vegetables around the lamb. Drizzle with olive oil. Add two sprigs of thyme on top of the lamb and additional seasoning if desired, do the same with the remaining lamb shanks, making a total of four parcels.
- Bring the flaps of the parchment paper to the center, twist and tighten the paper to close. Secure the packages with string or twine. Place the parcels on a baking tray to bake.
- Roast at 350 degrees for 1 to 2 hours, until cooked through. Remove the kleftiko packets from the oven, cut the top of the baking paper slightly open. Baste the lamb with the juices in the package. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes to allow the lamb and vegetables to brown on top.
- Remove from the oven and cut off the top of the parchment paper. Serve on baking paper or place on a serving platter.
Remarks: You can also use a leg of lamb, cut into portions. Or, if you don’t like lamb, use goat or pork.
Cheese: Feta cheese, Graviera, Kasseri or another hard Greek cheese
Cooking method: You can also bake lamb kleftiko in a covered casserole by simply combining all the ingredients under one roof. Adjust the cooking time if you are using more or less lamb. In this case you do not need baking paper.