For A's birthday this year I wanted make something special. Something I had never tried before. Something to mark the occasion that he turned another year older and is finally the same age as me. (Yes, I married a younger man. Those thirteen days make all the difference.) I tackled a classic Greek dish: kleftiko.
More than that, I cooked lamb for the first time! We never ate lamb at home and North Carolina is not the hub of international restaurants to give me the opportunity to try other cuisines that feature lamb prominently. Plus, I don't eat lamb as a personal choice. I keep trying it and I keep not liking the taste, no matter how it is prepared. I know this is limiting my restaurant choices and maybe I will try it again, but I realized when trying to cook this dish that my non-lamb eating habits are also getting in the way of my cooking knowledge. I have no idea how to cook lamb! After spending- I am not joking here- ten minutes looking over the five options of lamb in the tiny express supermarket on my lunch hour, I decided upon lamb cutlets and neck, hoping that would be appropriate for kleftiko.
Kleftiko is a type of dish that you cook on a low heat over a long period of time. There are stories about the origins of the dish coming from soldiers who would bury their food in a packet or clay dish with coals and it would slowly cook without giving away the location from the fire. Going into this, I only knew that I didn't have a huge amount of time in which to cook the kleftiko, which you traditionally need, so the meat had to be small, and I didn't have a clay pot, which you also traditionally need. Obviously, I had this well thought out.
Forging ahead, I read that you can use baking paper to make a packet that will keep a lot of the meat's juices in, much like a clay pot. I diced the lamb into large chunks and added the neck (which A loves by the way). I quartered an onion and not really knowing what spices to add, I stuck with the traditional Greek spices of oregano, bay leaf and cinnamon.
Some people will add tomatoes or chopped tomatoes at this point but since I was working with baking paper, I thought not. I baked my packet in an oven for 1.5 hours on a medium-low heat, 160C.
Ta-da! A said it was really juicy and tasty, possibly because the neck is such a fatty part of the lamb.
Not bad for my first time cooking lamb and kleftiko. I may need to invest in the official Greek cooking clay pots to do this properly in the future.