This Easter, I had kleftiko, a Greek slow cooked lamb dish, for dinner. Not my usual Easter fare, but I’m glad that I gave kleftiko a shot.
When I was young, Easter was always a big deal. It brought church, Easter baskets, chocolate bunnies, and our traditional Easter meal — lasagna. Truth be told, lasagna was our meal for every holiday. When you are young, you assume your traditions are everyone else’s too.
As you get older, you begin to realize that families and traditions are all different. My friend Greg gave me one opportunity to learn this. Greg’s family was Greek, and mine was Italian. Greg’s family taught me things that surprised me. For example, they celebrated Easter on a different day. More shockingly, his family did not eat lasagna, but instead enjoyed lamb. Lamb is quite common in Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. It is often the meat used in celebrations and festivals.
So Easter season rolls around again but no lasagna for me this year. Instead, I decided to make lamb, and in the spirit of Greg’s family, a dish from the Greek cuisine. Greek Easters traditionally include a whole roasted lamb cooked over a spit. Not wanting to go that far, I selected a dish called Lamb Kleftiko.
Kleftiko is interesting in that it is cooked inside a parchment paper pouch. “Klepht” is a Greek word for patriots that were a “resistance” after the Turkish conquest of Greece. The became seen as a sort of patriotic Robin Hood with a bit of a bandit reputation. Legend has it this dish was first made by these bandits. They would steal lambs and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen. This also had the effect of sealing in the juices, making for a very tender dish.
Because most people are adverse to digging pits in their yard for cooking, the modern solution is to create a parchment paper pouch to achieve the same effect.
Parchment Paper Pouch
It is actually easier to do than it sounds. In fact, this whole meal came together quite easily and most of the time was just letting it cook.. I was able to go about my day while the oven did the work.
Right away, I will tell you that both the Elegant Baker and I loved this meal. The flavor of the lemons and the herbs infused every bite in this dish. It was spectacular.
I based my recipe on the many variations that I found around the web. The cut of meat, for example, traditionally includes a bone in leg of lamb. But I saw recipes for boneless, lamb shoulders, and lamb shanks as well. I settled on boneless leg of lamb, because my grocery store had more of them to choose from.
My recipe includes tomatoes. Only a handful of recipes included them, but I like them so I included them. I am glad I did, because one thing I thought when this was done was that there weren’t enough vegetables with it. Without the tomatoes, there would have been even less.
The key to making this dish successful is proper marinating of the lamb. The infused taste begins with the marinade. Don’t skip adding the lemon zest as well — it helps deliver the flavor later. I also recommend you put your parchment packet inside a larger pot. A sturdy dutch oven that can be covered during cooking is ideal. I do think that too much liquid escaped as steam from the parchment pouch. You can help ensure everything stays tender and delicious by covering the pot and limiting how much liquid escapes.
Greek Lamb Kleftiko
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Dried oregano
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
- 1 lemon zested and juiced
- 2 large cloves garlic crushed and roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- 2 ½ lbs Boneless leg of lamb cut into ¼ lb portions
- 1 lb baby potatoes cut in half
- 1 large red onion cut into 8 wedges
- 1 large red bell pepper cut into large chunks
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes. Halved
- 1 bay leaf
- In the bottom of a bowl large enough to hold the lamb, combine the rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil and stir to combine well.
- Add the lamb chunks, and toss to coat all over with the olive oil marinade
- Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
- About an hour before you put the lamb in the oven, remove it from fridge and let stand at room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 300F/150C
- While lamb is resting, cut 2 strips of parchment paper about 2 ½ feet long. Place them on the counter or on a baking sheet at right angles to each other.
- Remove the lamb from its bowl and set aside on a plate for the time being, leaving remaining marinade and juices behind.
- Add potatoes, onions, peppers and cherry tomatoes to the bowl and toss with the remaining lamb marinade.
- Transfer the vegetables to the center of the parchment paper
- Place the lamb on top, and add a bayleaf. Add two whole garlic cloves, and juice of 1 lemon over the top. Toss the empty lemon shells in with the lamb
- Bring the edges of the parchment together and fold up tightly, and tie together with a length of butchers twine.
- Place in oven and cook for 4 hours
- After 4 hours, raise the temperature in the oven to 390F/200C and cook for another 20 minutes to help ensure the lamb and veggies are browned
- Remove from the oven. And let rest for 30 mins before serving.