Here is one special centerpiece of Greek cuisine… Kleftiko!! Kleftiko is not just a dish – it’s a centuries-old legacy and history served on a platter, transporting you to the heart of Greece with each bite.
We will tell you all the stories behind this classic Greek dish. This delicious, fork tender Lamb Kleftiko is cooked in a very peculiar way. A well marinated huge chunk of lamb with plenty of olive oil, garlic and lemon along with a few aromatic Greek herbs is wrapped in parchment paper along with potatoes and vegetables.
All that remains is waiting patiently while it slowly roasts in your oven. When you unwrap the parchment paper, prepare to get ready for amazing flavors and aromas of an authentic Greek dining experience.
We wanted to present you with something really special for our 1000th post on GypsyPlate.
We’ve come up a long way from our very humble first post, Creamy Lemon Chicken. We shot that one (and quite a few others) with one of us holding a lamp with a bare bulb up to the food, while the other took pictures.
This Greek Slow Roasted Lamb with Veggies and Potatoes fits that special spot. Kleftiko is something you wouldn’t find in any restaurant here in states, and it might be hard to find in recipe books.
But that’s what GypsyPlate is all about, bringing you new recipes you’ve never come across.
This is your special occasion meal for you and your family. That conversation meal to impress your guests. Kleftiko is not only novel to most of you, but it’s bursting with amazing, bold Greek flavors in every single bite.
We first cooked Kleftiko this Easter, as we were looking for something other than the regular ham meal. One bite into that well marinated lamb, and we were completely hooked on this traditional, classic Lamb dinner.
Kleftiko Will Win Your Hearts Too, Big Time. Why?
- The Flavors: Kleftiko is marinated with an assortment of classic Mediterranean flavors such as olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and a variety of Greek herbs. This results in a deeply flavorful and aromatic dish.
- The Tenderness: Kleftiko is slow-cooked for several hours, until it’s melt in your mouth delicious.
- The History: Kleftiko has a unique and intriguing history that adds to its appeal. Great for dinner table conversation.
- Versatility: Kleftiko can be served with a variety of sides, and the leftovers have many different uses (stay tuned, we’ll be sharing a couple in the near future).
- Simplicity: Despite its rich flavors, Kleftiko is relatively simple to prepare. You basically just need to marinate the meat, wrap it, and let it slow-cook for several hours.
- Great Crowd Pleaser: Because it’s typically cooked in large portions, Kleftiko is perfect for family meals, parties, and other gatherings.
What is Kleftiko?
Kleftiko is a traditional Greek dish, usually prepared with lamb. The name “Kleftiko” literally translates to “stolen meat” in Greek, originating from the word “kleftes”, meaning thieves. It is referring to the bandits who lived in the Greek countryside in the 19th century.
The method of cooking the meat slowly over many hours is a technique supposedly used by the kleftes to avoid detection by the Ottomans. The meat would be sealed in a pit with hot coals and left to cook all day, resulting in a flavorful and tender dish.
The kleftes were originally Greeks who fled to the mountains to avoid Ottoman rule, where they lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle, surviving through stealing or plundering, and occasionally through mercenary activities. They were seen by many Greeks as resistance fighters, and are considered true national heroes in Greece against Ottoman rule.
Originally a dish of the outlaws and hidden from prying eyes, Kleftiko has come a long ways in Greek homes. It is now their beloved celebratory meal for special occasions and family get togethers.
Its preparation in modern times involves meticulously wrapping the lamb in parchment paper or aluminum foil before slow roasting, resulting in meat so succulent that it effortlessly falls off the bone.
The meat is usually accompanied by potatoes and any seasonal veggies that gets roasted along with lamb.
Why Cook Kleftiko in Parchment Paper?
Most of the Kleftiko recipes traditionally uses parchment paper or aluminum foil, or a combination of both. Why?
- Heat Distribution: Parchment paper helps evenly distribute heat around the food, which is particularly important in a dish like kleftiko that relies on slow, consistent cooking.
- Moisture Retention: By wrapping the lamb in parchment paper, the moisture from the meat and its marinade is trapped inside. This results in a juicier, more flavorful dish, as the lamb essentially stews in its own juices.
- Easy Clean-Up: Cooking in parchment paper also makes clean-up easier, as it prevents the food from sticking to the pan.
- Tradition: The use of parchment paper mimics the traditional method of cooking kleftiko, which involved sealing the meat in a pit to slow-cook for many hours. The parchment paper serves as a modern stand-in for this technique, creating a sealed environment for the meat to cook in.
- Lamb – Today we are using boneless leg of lamb. You can also use bone-in leg of lamb and allow a bit more time for cooking. Lamb shank or lamb shoulder are also great in this recipe.
- Kleftiko Marinade – Extra virgin olive oil, lemon, garlic, fresh rosemary, dried oregano, dried thyme, cinnamon, red chili flakes, honey, dijon mustard, salt, pepper.
- Veggies – Tomatoes, red onion, bell peppers, potatoes, green olives.
- White wine
1. Marinate the Lamb: Pat the lamb dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the top side of the lamb by making shallow cuts all over. In a bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients and whisk well.
Rub the marinade, leaving behind 2 Tbsp for veggies, all over the lamb with your hands, making sure it goes in all the cuts and crevices. Cover with cling wrap and leave it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 5-6 hours before roasting, or better yet overnight.
2. Prepare the Kleftiko with Parchment Paper: Take the lamb out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting, and leave it on the counter to bring it to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375°F, and position a rack in the middle.
Line a large roasting pan with two very large pieces of parchment paper, making a cross shape so that you have long pieces of parchment overhang on all sides of the pan (we like to have about 8 inches of parchment overhang on all sides of the pan).
Spread the potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives and onions in the bottom of the pan over the parchment.
Season it with remaining reserved marinade and salt and pepper and mix well. Add the lamb on top of the vegetables and pour the white wine in from the side of the pan.
Fold the parchment to cover the lamb and vegetables. Pull parchment paper sides together and cover tightly, sealing the edges to create a parchment parcel to retain the moisture as it cooks.
3. Roast: Place the roasting pan on the center rack of your heated oven and cook for about 4 hours, or until the meat is tender and falls apart. Remove the cover, increase the temperature to 425°F, and cook for 15- 20 minutes to brown.
4. Let it rest: Once ready, allow the lamb kleftiko to sit for about 20 to 30 minutes before serving. After resting, shred the lamb meat with forks and serve along with roasted vegetables.
Tips and Tricks for Best Oven Roasted Kleftiko
- Use good quality lamb: For the best flavor, choose high-quality, fresh lamb. The meat should have a good amount of fat, as this will render down during cooking and keep the meat moist and flavorful.
- Marinate for a long time: Marinate the lamb for at least 5-6 hours, or ideally overnight. This will help the flavors to fully penetrate the meat.
- Be generous with marinade and all the herbs. Using plenty of garlic, lemon, olive oil and herbs adds tons of flavor. Don’t skimp on it.
- Use waxy potatoes: Starchy varieties will turn into mush with long cooking times.
- Cook low and slow: Kleftiko is meant to be fall apart tender. This can only be achieved with long cooking time.
- Seal the parcel: Whether you’re using parchment paper, foil, or a combination of the two, make sure to seal your parcel snugly. This will keep the moisture in and allow the lamb to baste in its own juices as it cooks.
- Rest the meat: After cooking, let the meat rest for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, making it more moist and flavorful.
Kleftiko Cooking Times
Our recipe card is based off of a very large boneless leg of lamb. The cooking time will vary based on your oven, but also as well as the size of the lamb. For fall off the bone tender meat (which is how kleftiko is meant to be cooked), shoot for an internal temperature of at least 180°F.
Here is a basic guideline for cooking times, if the leg is boneless.
- 2-3 pounds: Roast 2.5-3 hours at 375°F, then an additional 15 minutes at 425°F to brown and crisp the outside.
- 3-5 pounds: 3-4 hours at 375°F, then an additional 15 minutes at 425°F.
- 5-7 pounds: 4-5 hours at 375°F, then an additional 15 minutes at 425°F.
These are estimates, and can vary based on the thickness of the cut, and the exact temperature of your oven. Always use a meat thermometer to make sure your lamb gets to that melt in your mouth internal temperature.
What to Serve with Kleftiko
Kleftiko is a hearty and flavorful complete meal on its own. That being said, here are some nice pairings:
- Greek Salad (Horiatiki): This is a classic side dish for any Greek meal.
- Feta Cheese: Sometimes cubed feta cheese is added to the Kleftiko towards the last 15 minutes of cooking time. It adds another level of salty flavor.
- Tzatziki Sauce: This is a cucumber and yogurt dip that can add a refreshing contrast to the rich lamb flavors of Kleftiko.
- Rice Pilaf: A simple rice pilaf is commonly served with kleftiko.
- Breads: Pita bread, or even a rustic bread like our No Knead Bread, can be served alongside to help soak up the delicious juices from the Kleftiko.
- Wine: Wine is a must with this celebratory dish. We prefer red, but a dry white would also pair well.
- Dessert: For dessert, consider traditional Greek pastries like Baklava or Galaktoboureko.
Leftovers and Storing Kleftiko
Leftover kleftiko is great for leftovers, as the flavors enhance even more as it sits for few days. Before storing, be sure to allow the food to cool completely.
Store leftovers in an airtight container for 4-5 days. You can also freeze it for up to three months (though we do recommend removing the potatoes before freezing, as they don’t hold their texture well).
As this makes a large quantity, it’s a good idea to separate leftovers into smaller, meal-sized portions. This way, you only reheat what you will eat at one time, which helps the leftovers retain their quality.
Thaw frozen kleftiko overnight in the refrigerator before eating. Reheat in the microwave, or on stovetop.
There you go, a celebratory lamb recipe that you have never heard of, all the way from Greece. You will love all the flavors that get roasted together slow and low.
Make this great roast the next time you’re looking for something special to cook, and wow your friends and family.
Kleftiko, our 1000 post here on GypsyPlate, is sure to win your hearts. Thank you for following along!
Lamb Kleftiko, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
Looking for more special occasion meals? Here are some of our favorites:
Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Pernil (Latin Roast Pork)
Coq au Vin
- 6-7 lbs boneless leg of lamb
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 10-12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or chopped
- 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1.5 Tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp red chili flakes
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 large tomatoes cut into large wedges
- 4-5 potatoes, cut into large wedges
- 1 large red onion, cut onto large wedges
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into big chunks
- 1 green bell pepper, cut into big chunks
- 8-10 large green olives
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Marinate the Lamb: Pat the lamb dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the top side of the lamb by making shallow cuts all over. In a bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients and whisk well.
- Rub the marinade, leaving behind 2 Tbsp for veggies, all over the lamb with your hands, making sure it goes in all the cuts and crevices. Cover with cling wrap and leave it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 5-6 hours before roasting, or better yet overnight.
- Take the lamb out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before roasting, and leave it on the counter to bring it to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375°F, and position a rack in the middle.
- Line a large roasting pan with two very large pieces of parchment paper, making a cross shape so that you have long pieces of parchment overhang on all sides of the pan (we like to have about 8 inches of parchment overhang on all sides of the pan).
- Assemble the vegetables and lamb in the pan. Spread the potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives and onions in the bottom of the pan over the parchment. Season it with remaining reserved marinade and salt and pepper and mix well. Add the lamb on top of the vegetables and pour the white wine in from the side of the pan.
- Fold the parchment to cover the lamb and vegetables. Pull parchment paper sides together and cover tightly, sealing the edges to create a parchment parcel to retain the moisture as it cooks.
- Place the roasting pan on the center rack of your heated oven and cook for about 4 hours, or until the meat is tender and falls apart. Remove the cover, increase the temperature to 425 degrees, and cook for 15- 20 minutes to brown.
- Once ready, allow the lamb kleftiko to sit for about 20 to 30 minutes before serving. After resting, shred the lamb meat with forks and serve along with roasted vegetables.
Cooking times may differ from oven to oven and depeding on the size of lamb. Check our cooking oven temerature times in the main post for different roast sizes.
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