This traditional Greek dish is slow oven cooked lamb infused with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. The original recipe called for an earthen oven to trap smoke and heat, but nowadays it’s prepared in ovens.
The word ‘Kleftiko’ translates as ‘stolen’ and the name for the dish is said to have originated from the Klephts, who are descendants of Greeks who retreated in the mountains to avoid Ottomans rule. They would steal goats or lamb and cook the meat in hidden underground ovens in order to seal the smells and flavors and avoid getting caught!
They had to cook and eat their food surreptitiously: no smoke, no visible fires. So they wrapped the meat, etc. in leaves and buried it in the embers, which they covered with rocks and ashes. So, kleftiko lamb is supposed to be slow-cooked and covered.
Enjoy this traditional lamb kleftiko recipe!
- 4 lamb shanks
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 pound baby potatoes
- 1 red onions
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 6 ounces Kefalotyri Feta cheese, Graviera, Kasseri or any other hard Greek cheese
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp paprika
- ½ cup extra virgin oil
- 1 lemon juiced
- 8 springs of thyme
- salt and pepper
- parchment string
Preparation of Lamb Kleftiko:
- Begin by seasoning each lamb shank generously with salt and pepper on all sides.
- Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sear each lamb shank for approximately 5 minutes, ensuring a nice sear on all sides. Once seared, transfer them to a plate.
- Prepare the garlic by smashing the cloves, discarding the skins, and slicing the garlic into slivers. Using a knife, create small slits in the lamb and insert the slivers of garlic into the meat.
- In a mixing bowl, combine potatoes, cheese (such as Feta, Graviera, or Kasseri), onions, tomatoes, oregano, paprika, olive oil, any leftover garlic slivers, and lemon juice. Make sure to season the mixture generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the ingredients thoroughly and set the bowl aside.
- Take two long pieces of parchment paper, each approximately 12 inches in length, and lay them in a crisscross pattern. Place a seared lamb shank in the center of each parchment paper assembly and arrange the seasoned vegetables around the lamb. Drizzle with additional olive oil.
- Add two sprigs of thyme on top of each lamb shank and season further if desired. Repeat this process with the remaining lamb shanks to create a total of four parcels.
- Fold the parchment paper flaps toward the center, then twist and secure the paper to create a sealed parcel. Use a piece of string or twine to secure the parcels. Place the secured parcels on a baking sheet for cooking.
Cooking the Lamb Kleftiko:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Roast the parcels for approximately 1½ to 2 hours or until the lamb becomes tender.
- Once done, remove the kleftiko parcels from the oven, and carefully cut the tops of the parchment paper to slightly open them. Baste the lamb with the flavorful juices from within the parcels.
- Increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C) and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes to achieve a golden-brown finish on the lamb and vegetables.
- Take the parcels out of the oven and cut off the tops of the parchment paper. You can serve the lamb and vegetables directly in the parchment paper or transfer them to a serving platter.
- If you prefer, you can use a leg of lamb, cut into portions. Additionally, you have the option to use goat or pork instead of lamb.
- As an alternative cooking method, you can prepare lamb kleftiko in a covered casserole dish by combining all the ingredients in one place. Adjust the cooking time based on the quantity of lamb used. In this case, parchment paper is not needed.
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