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“Kleftiko” the unforgettable dish of my childhood

Slow cooking makes Kleftiko’s secret

Growing up in a Greek family, I can say that I ate like a king! Especially when we had a Kleftiko day. Lots of Greeks could agree on this. Even though there are many carb-oriented dishes in Greek Mediterranean cuisine, this amazing treat is keto-friendly. Well, at least my version is because I excluded the potatoes. Additionally, this dish is one of the most delicious meals you can have without guilt. Of course, don’t forget the tzatziki sauce and the Greek salad! It will be a phenomenal meal!

The meaning of word Kleftiko

Kleftiko comes from the word kleftis (κλέφτης) which means a thief. I know, I sound like mister Portokalos from My big fat Greek wedding movie. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to explain the meaning of this name. The thieves were Greek guerillas who fought against the Ottoman yoke. These thieves, or the rebellions, lived in the mountains and isolated places. So, they had to find ways to cook the meat without giving out their location to the enemy.

Old traditional method

The first baking method included digging a pit on the ground. After that, they would set a fire. As soon as charcoal was created, they would put the meat, wrapped in a paper and tight with thin twine, on the burning charcoal. 

The interesting part comes now. They would cover the package and charcoal with soil. This way the meat was cooking slowly, for hours, underneath the ground without smoke. Guess what, the result was delicious! This method is still applied in many villages. 

In Greece, you can find areas or islands where this traditional method is frequently used for festivities or family gatherings. Of course, there is a modern version which includes baking the paper-wrapped meat and vegetables in the oven. Wanna know how?

“Kleftiko” the unforgettable dish of my childhood

Recipe by Apollonas Kapsalis
5 from 1 vote


Prep time


Cooking time






  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) lamb leg with bone

  • 2 large tomatoes cut in 4 pieces

  • 3 small zucchini slices

  • 2  eggplants sliced

  • 1 big onion cut into cubes

  • 50g (1.7 oz) aged goat cheese

  • 4 cloves garlic cut in halves

  • 1/4 (lemon to rub the meat)

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme

  • 1 branch of rosemary

  • 60 ml (2.0 fl. oz) fresh lemon juice

  • 40 ml (1.35 fl. oz) extra virgin olive oil


  • Make small cuts in both sides of the lamb leg with the nose of a well-sharpened knife.
  • Cut the cheese into small pieces that will match the garlic halves. Try to fit the halves of cheese and garlic in these small pockets
  • Cut the lemon and squeeze it, then rub it all over the meat.
  • Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil all over the meat.
  • Add salt, black pepper and thyme.
  • Cut and place the vegetables on the 6 large parchment papers and then add the meat.
  • Add the leaves of rosemary and pour the 60ml – 2.0 fl. oz of lemon juice.
  • Add the 40ml – 1.35 fl. oz of olive oil.
  • Tight the paper with natural cooking twine to form a package.
  • At this point, some juice can leak out. But don’t worry about it.
  • Tight good with natural cooking twine.
  • Add the pan in a preheated oven, at 200°C – 392ºF with a fan for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 180°C – 356ºF and continue baking for 2 more hours.
  • Remove the pan from the oven and cut the paper on top with kitchen scissors. Pour some of the sauce on the lamb. Return the baking pan to the oven for another 30 minutes until the lamb gets roasted.
  • Let the package 10 minutes out of the oven before serving it. You can serve it with Tzatziki sauce and Greek salad.


  • Optionally, you can put it in the fridge to marinate for 1 whole day before baking.
  • It would be best to share this meal with family or friends.

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