Lamb kleftiko

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Danny (a.k.a Food Urchin) captures the essence of Greece in this easy lamb kleftiko recipe, a true classic of Greek cuisine. There's nothing like fragrant leg of lamb flavoured with garlic, lemon and oregano to bring a Greek holiday to the table.

The best holiday I think I have ever had was a last-minute two-week break in Kefalonia, Greece, about 12 years ago now. It even surpassed my honeymoon in Kenya. And I think the reason being was that my wife and I went along with no pre-conceptions, no idea, not even a smattering of what this jewel in the Ionian Sea would be like. It was late in the season but the weather was still glorious and warm. Just right in fact for my pasty ginger skin. The hotel we stayed at was idyllic. A small family run place with bougainvillea climbing up side of the building, framing balconies and perfuming the air. The pool was quiet and cool with a sheltered bar attended by a friendly Albanian called Steve. Which was an unusual name for an Albanian, or so we thought. But Steve told us that he came from a long line of Stevens. So go figure.

The beach, which was nearby, was golden with sand as soft as silk. The sea mirrored the sky, a deep azure that glistened and sparkled as the sun’s rays bounced off the calm surface, with schools of fish that danced underneath, tickling our toes as we swam. Tall fir trees lined the road into the village nearby and come the often balmy dusk, we would to walk towards it, casually strolling hand in hand; taking all the time in the world. Eventually we would rock up to a narrow street full of small tavernas and bars, gently humming with life and laughter with lanterns swaying in the breeze.

We soon found a favourite eating spot that came in shape of a walled garden with rickety tables, chairs and a ramshackle hut in the centre, from which a couple of wizened old men would grill meat on open flame or take cast iron pots out from their clay oven. The menu was simple, very simple. And perhaps most importantly, the alcohol was local and cheap. I think we popped back there at least 4 times during our stay; to sample their souvlaki, gyros and oh so tender kleftiko. All variations on a same meaty theme but that didn’t bother us as the atmosphere was so perfect in that restaurant garden, dining underneath the stars. It truly was a beautiful place. I often think back to our peaceful, tranquil time in Greece and when I do, I always feel a sort of melancholy, a sad pang in my heart and I suppose that could be considered as a sort of tribute to a rather special part of the world. Kefalonia certainly made an impression that I will never ever forget.

But I think what makes me pine and ache the most is the fact that I currently have two six year old children. And I will never have a holiday like that again! (Not until they’ve left home anyway and that is a long time coming . . . sob.)

However, what I can do is to slow roast a leg or shoulder of lamb from time to time, to rekindle the memory. It’s not quite the same but for now I will take melting, fragrant ribbons of meat flavoured with garlic, lemon and oregano and I will take handsome waxy spuds that have soaked up all the juices. And what about a freshly chopped Greek salad? Yes, I’ll take that too. What can I do to take me back to that moment in time though? Well, I will just have to close my eyes at the dinner table and hope for the best. Some earplugs would help.




Lamb kleftiko


The day before cooking, take a small paring knife and make approximately 15-16 incisions into the flesh of the lamb. Smash the garlic bulb with the palm of your hand and peel the garlic gloves. Slice each clove in half and then insert each sliver into the incisions
Season generously with salt, pepper and oregano and place into a freezer bag. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil into the bag along with juice from one lemon and shake and rub all over. Leave overnight in the fridge
The next day, preheat your oven to 140°C/gas mark 1
Remove the meat from the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature. Take a large roasting tray and line it with two lengths of strong foil, lying them over each other to create a cross. Wash the potatoes, quarter them and spread evenly on the bottom of the tray, along with the bay leaves. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes and drizzle everything with another splash of olive oil and the white wine
Juice and zest the second lemon and drizzle over the top of the lamb. Pull the edges of the foil together to wrap and seal, trying to leave some space above the lamb for steam to circulate
Place in the oven and leave to slowly braise for 5 hours, after which time the meat should be falling off the bone. Spoon a generous serving of potatoes on a plate, place the shredded lamb on top and drizzle over the tray juices. Eat with a nice Greek salad as accompaniment

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

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