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Greek Recipes - Lamb kleftiko

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'so easy to prepare but looks so impressive'.

Lamb kleftiko is one of the most popular traditional Greek dishes and you will be hard put on a Greek island holiday to find a decent taverna that does not include lamb kleftiko on the menu. Lamb kleftiko is basically lamb cooked slowly in a parcel of vegetables. Again, as with most Greek meat recipes, it is the slow cooking that makes all the difference.

The great thing about lamb kleftiko is that it is so easy to prepare but looks so impressive on the plate. The lamb should be melt-in the-mouth and the vegetables infused with all the meaty juices.

I prefer using lamb shank for kleftiko. This meaty cut comes from the lower end of the leg and it's not only full of flavour it also gets mouth-meltingly tender with long, slow cooking. It also lends itself very well to creating 'parcels' of lamb. You could also cut a leg of lamb into suitable portions - allow 1kg for six portions

Kleftiko is a Greek word for 'stolen' and the recipe is sometimes referred to as 'bandit's lamb'. I'm told by a Greek taverna owner that the recipe derives from a stolen sheep or goat cooked in a hole in the ground for several hours.

The hole was sealed prevent steam escaping and giving the thief away. I'm not convinced, but today's recipes seal the meat in a paper pouch to keep the lamb moist and to trap the fragrant juices.

This lamb kleftiko recipe comes from Lefkas Ori (White Mountain) in Crete, notorious bandit country where roadside signs are often peppered with bullet holes, and it is for six lamb kleftiko portions - just vary the amounts to suit.

Ingredients to serve 6

  • 6 lamb shanks
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 large potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • sprig of rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 sheets of greaseproof paper - about 30cm square
  • some string

1. Cut carrots and potatoes into thick slices and mix in a bowl.
2. Lay two sheets of greaseproof paper on top of each other.
3. Fold the paper one way then the other to form a cross in the middle
4. Place a layer of potato and carrot in the centre of the paper.
5. Stand a lamb shank on top of the vegetables.
6. Nick each shank with a knife and insert a garlic clove.
7. Slice onions and tomatoes into 12 and stack two slices around the lamb.
8. Add oregano, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper and squeezed lemon juice to the olive oil.
9. Fold the corners of the paper upwards into a pouch and spoon on some olive oil juice.
10. Tie the paper with string and place in an open oven dish.Repeat for each parcel.
11. Leave in the middle of the oven at 160°C for at least two hours.
12. Turn off the oven and let the parcel 'rest' for about 20 minutes.

Place each parcel on a warm plate and just open it to serve. Add some lightly cooked spring greens drizzled with a little olive oil or some salad and rice. Lamb kleftiko is almost guaranteed to bring back all those memories of Greek taverna meals enjoyed on a holiday in Greece.

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