Roughly five hundred years ago, a large number of poor farmers were forced to take refuge in the mountains of Peloponnesus, fleeing from the authorities because they refused to bow to a foreign occupation or to the whims of wealthy landowners. They couldn’t pay their taxes or their debts and in order to survive, they would steal a goat or else rely on the hospitality of their fellow countrymen, who gave them food. These hunted men, whose numbers were huge at times, were known as “kleftes” or thieves, by the authorities. In order to cook their food without being detected by the patrols, they had to hide the smoke from their cooking fire and the aroma of roasting meat.
Nor did their fugitive existence allow them to remain in the same place for the six or seven hours necessary to oversee the cooking of their meal. So they used to dig a hollow in the ground, light a fire in the bottom of it and then cover the embers with branches and soil. Then they cut the lamb or goat (which was stolen from the landowners), season it and add chunks of hard, spicy cheese, place the meat wrapped in its own skin on top, and then covered it with more branches and soil.
The meat roasted slowly in this earth-oven for several hours and the roasted meat gradually took on the aroma of its covering of bay leaves and carob leaves, as well as the flavors of oregano and thyme, lemon and wild garlic. Hours later they returned, uncovered the roast meat and enjoyed their “thieves’ dinner” or “kleftiko”.
In our restaurant (Olive Tree Greek Traditional Restaurant: https://www.facebook.com/olive.tree.greek.traditional.rest…/), five hundred years later, we serve kleftiko wrapped in dark brown grease-proof paper.Following a very old traditional recipe, we serve “Kleftiko”, which is lamb meat slowly cooked with vegetables for more than 8 hours in parchment paper. In its aromatic and delicious juice we add patatoes. Enjoy a tasty traditional dish!