Greek lamb Kleftiko
A dish often found in the kitchens of Cyprus that is enjoyed by both locals and holiday makers alike, you could be left wondering how it took a name that quite literally translates to ‘stolen’. Kleftiko takes its name from the Klephtes, bandits who fought the Ottoman rule between the 14th and 19th century. As they moved around the mountains and countryside they would stay well-fed by stealing sheep from the local farmers, cooking underground, digging deep pits so that the flames and smoke from their fires were well hidden.
Thankfully nowadays the recipe doesn’t require any underground cooking at all, so dont worry you won’t need to dig any holes in your garden for this one! A beautifully simple dish to make, enjoyed by Greeks, Cypriots and the wider Middle East in some form or another, It's a great one to leave cooking on a Saturday afternoon, just check on it every hour or so as the meat becomes tender and takes on all those beautiful flavours.
Prep Time : 20 minutes preparing +3.5 hours cooking
Serves : 2
Difficulty : Easy Peasy
2 lamb shanks
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried mint
2 bay leaves
3 Cypriot potatoes (or a waxy alternative), cut into wedges
1 small onion, halved and cut into slices
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges of 4
1 carrot, cut in half lenthway
1 chicken stock cube
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons of good quality Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
2. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, cinnamon, mint and bay leaves to a large bowl and mix together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Place the lamb shanks into the bowl and rub with the mix.
4. Transfer the two lamb shanks to your cast iron casserole dish before adding the potato wedges and onion to the mixing bowl. Coat in the mix and place in the casserole dish.
5. Add the tomatoes and 200ml of water with the dissolved stock cube to the casserole dish.
6. Cover with foil, place the lid on the dish and place in the oven.
7. Lower temperature to 160°C and cook for 3.5 hours, checking every hour. If the lamb is browning too much, turn it over in the dish.
8. Remove the lid from the dish and cook uncovered for 15 minutes to allow the meat to brown slightly.
9. Remove from the oven, replace the lid and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
This dish is perfect because everything cooks together, all it needs to serve is some nice bread and a salad.
1. You can use any cuts of lamb for this recipe – I tend to use shanks as they’re easier to serve, but bone on shoulder or a leg can be used too. For bigger cuts of meat just add an hour onto the cooking time.
2. Cooking for more than two? Increase the vegetables and seasoning in proportion to the number of extra shanks, use a slightly larger dish and for each shank add 100ml of water.
3. Greek cooking is all about flavour, anything that is cooked is cooked with passion and love so don’t be afraid to experiment and make this recipe your own. You won’t regret it!
4. Ovens vary so if your lamb is still a little tough just cook it for a bit longer until it is soft and tender.
5. Using the right dish for this is key - you need something that seals well and distributes the heat right, I always used a heavy based cast iron dish for this, and can recommend ProCook (www.procook.co.uk) for dishes which are reasonably priced and cook (and, importantly, clean) well - a brilliant option if you want the quality of Le Creuset, but don't have £200 to drop on your kitchen