This dish is the king of the Cypriot cuisine! First, we are talking about the island’s beloved and respected  mutton, second, there are loads of legends about the origins of the dish – they include stories going back to  the period of the Ottoman rule, and daring stories about the theft of meat by bandit groups living in the Greek hills. This famous Greek dish entails a slow-cooked lamb, or other meat and the meat was cooked in a sealed pit, often in the ground to avoid smoke being seen.  Nowadays this has been replaced with clay ovens.

I am lucky enough to have my own clay oven in my back garden and I will explain how I make this delicious dish!  I started by buying 3 kg of excellent mutton to start, a procedure that requires rising early in the morning whilst everyone else sleeps!


Kleftiko_flame The oven for kleftiko is an elongated cocoon-shaped clay vessel made of clay  the lighting and heating of the oven is a very important process and takes quite some time, hence having to wake up so early to start the process. Basically it entails lighting firewood inside the clay oven and continuing this process slowly adding more and more wood until the oven becomes very hot inside,  This can take up to three hours before it becomes hot enough. Then when the wood starts to burn down it is time to start preparing the meat.
Kleftiko_carbon This can take up to three hours before it becomes hot enough. Then when the wood starts to burn down it is time to start preparing the meat.
Kleftiko_lamb The meat is cut into medium-sized pieces (about 300 grammes, 3 kg in total), but larger chunks can be cooked (I like it even better like this) — between a kilogramme and a kilogramme and a half. You can take the leg, but the shoulder is better. I do not cut of the fat.
Kleftiko_in_foil Next I fold the foil in two, add salt, black pepper, put a twig of rosemary. You can also add thyme. I pour olive oil, put the meat in (you can add quarters of onion, but this is optional), put some salt and spices on top again and fold the foil tightly covering by an additional piece to be on the safe side (we make three wraps out of the 3 kilogrammes shown above).
Kleftiko_before I then flatten the coals in the heated oven and put a broken piece of clay pottery on them – this is done to prevent the meat from touching the hot coals. I put the meat on the broken prices.
Kleftiko_before_2 The next stage is usually done with clay, but I improvise and use dough instead . I mix the dough with a large volume of salt (4-5 table spoons, a couple of glasses of flour and as much water as the dough will take). I then make dough rollers and press them to the neck of the oven – like this.
Kleftiko_closed I close and seal the oven by pressing a heavy stone lid on the dough. That’s it! You can forget about the meat for 3 hours. You cannot check on it, you cannot even   smell it!
Kleftiko Finally its time, we open the oven and get a wrap out… when you cut the foil impatiently, the smell is delicious and the meat is so soft that it can fall apart  with a slight touch of a fork.
Kleftiko_final This is how this dish looks with fresh tomatoes. Bon appétit!
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