4 lamb shanks
8 cloves of garlic
Salt and pepperto taste
1 pound baby potatoespeeled and halved
1 red onionssliced
2 medium tomatoescubed
6 ounces Kefalotyrior Kasseri cheese, cubed
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons paprika
½ cup Extra Virgin Oil
1 lemon Lemon Juice
8 sprig of thyme
This traditional Greek dish is slow oven cooked lamb infused with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. The recipe was originally called for an earthen oven to trap smoke and heat.
The word ‘Kleftiko’ translates as ‘stolen’ and the name for the dish is said to have originated from the Klephts (descendents of Greeks who were anti-Ottoman insurgents) who 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 is supposed to be slow-cooked and covered.
How to Cook Lamb Kleftiko:
- Season each lamb shank with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Brown each shank for about 5 minutes, enough to get a good sear on each side. Transfer to a plate. Smash the garlic, discard the skins, and slice the garlic into slivers. Using a knife, pierce slits in the lamb and insert slivers of garlic into the lamb.
- In a bowl, add potatoes, cheese, onions, tomatoes, oregano, paprika, olive oil, any leftover 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 in a crisscross manner. Place a lamb shank in the middle of the parchment paper and assemble the vegetables around the lamb. Douse with olive oil. Add two sprigs of thyme on top the lamb and additional seasoning if desired. Do the same thing with the remaining lamb shanks, making four total parcels.
- Bring the flaps of the parchment paper to the middle, twist and tighten the paper to close. Secure the parcels with a piece of string or twine. Place the parcels on a baking sheet for cooking.
- Roast at 350 degrees for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until tender. Remove the kleftiko parcels from the oven, cut the top of the parchment paper to slightly open. Baste the lamb with the juices in the parcel. Increase the temperature to 400 degrees, and roast for another 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 in parchment paper or place on a serving platter.
Notes: 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 any other hard Greek cheese
Cooking method: You can also bake lamb kleftiko in a covered casserole dish by simply adding all ingredients together under one roof. If you use more or less lamb, adjust cooking time. You won’t need parchment paper in this case.