FRIDAY SUPPER - MY KLEFTIKO
"In Greek, kleftiko means -stolen meat-," says Theodore Kyriakou, owner of London restaurant, The Real Greek. "According to legend, this dish would be made with a lamb stolen from a flock as it grazed on a hillside. The thief would cook the meat over many hours in a hole in the ground, sealed with mud so that no steam could escape to give him away." Nowadays, the lamb is sealed inside a paper package, which keeps the meat moist and traps its fragrant juices.
Nor did I know, until I read this, that it is traditional to cook Kleftiko sealed in a paper package, something I've never done. It's amazing what you can learn from a bit of internet trawling, isn't it?!
My Kleftiko is simple, robust and flavoursome, and is one of those ultimate one-pot dishes which just cooks itself. You throw the ingredients together, put everything in the oven for a few hours and let chemistry do it's chemical thang: the end result is meat so tender is it falling off the bone into a rich, fragrant, Oregano and lemon-redolent sauce.
I've only visited Greece twice for holidays, and on both occasions, it was something of a disaster: the first time, there was a freak typhoon across the Greek islands, and, as torrential rain and fierce gales pounded the island we were staying on, we were forced to stay in our cramped hotel room, playing cards and drinking Metaxa (Greek brandy), while watching the beach being washed away by the boiling seas. Added to that, we all had the most awful stomach bug. Athens was a huge disappointment, being horrendously busy, noisy and dirty (this was in the days before the Greek government put in place measures to try and reduce the pollution which was damaging the ancient architecture). I do, however, recall a very enjoyable day trip to the island of Aegina. We took the local bus from the port to the local temple (of Afaia), crammed in with home-going schoolkids and goats (yes, really). The temple was amazingly beautiful, set atop the hill, with views across the sea.
I love the food of Greece (and the eastern Mediterranean in general), especially mezze, baklava and that other Greek classic slow-cooked dish, Stifado (beef cooked with onions and red wine). I like to serve my Kleftiko with fluffy couscous, spinach and Feta salad, and a dollop of Rose Harissa, not strictly traditional, but it lends a perfect piquancy to the food. For pudding tonight we're having Jo's Chocolate Tart (again!) - naughty but nice, and I concluded that Lemon Almond and Polenta Cake was possibly more calorific than chocolate tart.....
1 half-shoulder joint, bone in (a 1kg joint will feed 4 generously)
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A generous sprig of fresh oregano, chopped (or rosemary)
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into slivers
A generous handful of black olives
A generous handful of small carrots (I use Chantenay)
Two pieces of lemon peel, torn up
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Salt & pepper
A good lug of olive oil
Oven 180C initially, then 150C
Pour some olive oil into the bottom of a Le Creuset or similar casserole dish (or a tagine), and put everything except the lamb in. Then place the lamb on top. Fill the empty tomato can with water and pour over. Season. Cook uncovered for about 30 mins, until the lamb is beginning to brown. Turn the heat down, put the lid on the casserole/tagine and cook for at least another 2 hours (depending on the size of the joint) until the meat is very tender and falling away from the bone (you should end up with a clean shoulder bone). Check to ensure the sauce does not dry up and add more liquid if necessary. Serve with mashed potato, fluffy couscous, or rice.