Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Klephtic Cooking

  • Kleftiko: literally meaning "in the style of the Klephts", this is lamb slow-baked on the bone, first marinated in garlic and lemon juice, originally cooked in a pit oven. It is said that the Klephts, bandits of the countryside who did not have flocks of their own, would steal lambs or goats and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being seen.

From Greek Outlaws, Underground Food

[1] See also: The Food and Wine of Greece by Diane Kochilas (born May 17, 1960) is a Greek American cookbook author, celebrity chef, and cooking school owner. Kochilas received the IACP Jane Grigson Award for Excellence in Research for her book "The Glorious Foods of Greece" in 2002. In, 2015, her book "Ikaria: Lessons of Food, Life & Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die" won best cookbook in the IACP International Category

The New York Times Archives

ACROSS the mainland of Greece, people have been digging holes for their dinner for centuries. This manner of cooking - in a shallow dirt-covered pit over smoldering coals -is called steen hovoli, or in embers. But more often than not, it is affectionately referred to as klephtica -of thieves.

The name refers to the Klephts, bands of Robin Hood-like outlaws who fought in the Pindus Mountains, as well as in the mountains of Pelion, Olympus, Agrapha, and Parnassus, during the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks of the 1820's.

The Klephts have become folk heroes in Greece, with ballads praising their feats and tales of their hardships ingrained in the popular imagination. Many tales revolve around the ingenuity with which the Klephts procured and prepared their meals.

From the earliest days of their existence, the Klephts survived by moving their camps and finding shelter in caverns and in the nooks and crannies of Greece's most rugged mountains. They hid by day and roamed by night, frequently descending to the plains to pillage Ottomans and the monasteries that had secured privileges from the Turks.

The Klephts were forced to do much of their cooking underground. They frequently had to steal food -animals belonging to villagers, for example. By cooking underground, they were able to hide a bounty of lamb or goat. The cooking method needed little attention; once the coals were fired up, the food, often prepared in brass, clay, or iron pots, was left to bake for hours.

Perhaps the most important reason the Klephts cooked by this method was that by concealing the food and baking it over smoldering embers (probably derived from relatively smokeless wood like olive or oak), neither steam nor aroma could escape to betray their camps.

That simple survival tactic has managed to capture the popular imagination. Today, klephtica has evolved to refer to several methods of baking, all of which require sealing the food and letting it cook, usually slowly. For example, in the northwestern city of Ioannina, lamb or goat baked in a clay dish sealed with dough is called steen stamna or, literally, in a clay water jug.

Another way of preparing meat, similar to the French en papillote, entails wrapping it, parcel-like, in wax or parchment paper or phyllo pastry, and baking it in a conventional oven. This method is exohiko, of the countryside. The connection to klephtica, as George Conidis, a former restaurateur and amateur food historian in San Diego, explained, is that ''whatever is being baked is enclosed - hidden.''

''Aromas and steam can't readily escape, as they can't if you're baking in a makeshift oven underground,'' he said. One favorite dish from the islands of the eastern Aegean is made with either thrushes or quails tucked inside the hollows of eggplants and then baked.

Few people now bother to prepare an entire dinner underground over smoldering coals. But it is still a widespread, and delicious, way to prepare vegetables like potatoes and onions.

Even among American Greeks, the tradition still holds. Yaanis Liatsikas, a native of Volos, now lives in Hicksville, L.I. He keeps a store of charcoal on hand, as well as foil and a shovel, for baking vegetables underground like his mother and grandmother did, even after they came to the United States.

''My grandmother used to make potatoes and the sweetest onions I've ever tasted steen hovoli,'' he said. ''We'd go to her house for Sunday dinner, and she would tell us the stories that came down to her from her own grandparents about the Klephts and how they survived in the mountains on the same simple fare. I like to cook, and I like folk history. Somehow, digging a hole in my garden and cooking in it, in the middle of suburbia, makes me feel good.''

Though not much was recorded about the day-to-day existence of the Klephts, a lot has been passed from generation to generation. The klephtic cuisine, like the tales and ballads, is more an affectionate, imaginative tribute to those mountain fighters than living proof of the foods they actually ate. 

Three Meat Stew Steen Hovoli (Baked Over Embers Underground) 

Preparation time: 1 1/2 hours, including starting up the coals Cooking time: 3 1/2 hours 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons water 3/4 pound stewing veal, cubed 3/4 pound lamb, preferably from leg, cubed 3/4 pound boneless pork, cubed 2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces 4 medium-size carrots, scraped and cut into 1/2-inch pieces 4 medium-size potatoes, peeled and quartered 3 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped 4 cloves garlic, minced Juice of 2 1/2 lemons Y cup dry white wine 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons oregano 6 large baking potatoes, unpeeled and whole 6 medium-size onions, unpeeled and whole 1 20-pound bag charcoal Lighter fluid Wood.

1.To make dough, place flour in a medium-size bowl and make a well in center. Slowly add water and stir with fork until dough is formed. Knead for 3 to 5 minutes until smooth. Set aside, covered, in an airtight container or plastic bag.

2.In a 5-quart cast-iron pot, combine meats, celery, carrots, quartered potatoes, and onions. Add garlic, lemon juice, wine, and olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Mix well so that all ingredients are thoroughly blended.

3.Individually wrap the whole potatoes and onions in aluminum foil. Set aside.

4.Dig a hole in ground about 1-foot deep and 1 1/2-feet wide. Fill with about Y of the charcoal and ignite. Add wood to get a strong flame going, and keep adding charcoal. Stoke it, adding more lighter fluid if necessary, and more wood and coals. It should take at least 20 minutes for the coals to get white hot.

5.In the meantime, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into 3 1/2-inch-wide strips. Use the strips to seal lid and pot together. (Make sure you have done this well, so that no dirt gets into the pot during baking.) Wrap the whole pot in foil.

6.With a shovel, remove about half the coals from the hole and set aside. Place pot on top of coals, and aluminum-wrapped potatoes and onions around it. Cover with reserved hot coals, adding more and igniting again if necessary.

7.After about 20 minutes, cover hole loosely with dirt. Let bake for 3 more hours. Remove and cool slightly.

8. Take a damp rag and wash any dirt outside of the pot. Carefully cut away the dough. Open the lid carefully and serve stew piping hot with the unwrapped potatoes and onions.

Yield: 6 servings. Arni Steen Stamna (Lamb Baked In a Dough-Sealed Clay Dish) Preparation time: 35 minutes Cooking time: 4 hours 8 tablespoons all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons water 2 1/2 pounds lamb meat (preferably from leg) cubed, about 3 cups 12 small white onions, peeled and whole 6 medium-size white potatoes, peeled and quartered 2 ribs celery, washed and cut into 1/4-inch pieces 5 green hot pickled peppers, seeded and chopped 3 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 bunch parsley, about 10 to 12 sprigs, stems removed and leaves chopped 1 small bunch fresh dill, finely chopped, about 2 1/2 tablespoons Juice of 2 large lemons 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 heaping tablespoon thyme 2 teaspoons dried rosemary 1/2 teaspoon sage Salt to taste Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled.

1.Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

2.Place flour in a small bowl and make a well in center. Slowly add water, stirring flour from the center outward, until a dough begins to form. Knead for 3 to 5 minutes until smooth and set aside, covered, in an airtight container or plastic bag.

3.Combine lamb, onions, potatoes, celery and peppers in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart ceramic baking dish. Add garlic, parsley, dill, lemon juice, and olive oil, and mix together. Add dried herbs, salt and pepper, and toss again so that all ingredients are thoroughly blended. Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese.

4.On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to approximate shape of ceramic dish; it should be about two inches larger than the dish. Be careful not to tear it; start over if you do. Carefully place dough over top of dish and seal by slightly wetting your fingers and pressing dough around rim.

5.Place on lowest rack in oven. Bake for four hours.

6.Remove from oven and let cool 15 to 20 minutes on a mat or towel. With a sharp knife, carefully cut around and remove seal. Serve hot.

Yield: 6 servings.

NOTE: Feta cheese is sold at most supermarkets. If you have access to a Greek or Middle Eastern store, try to get Feta Telemes, which is pungent and slightly softer than others.

If your ceramic pot has its own lid, use that. Just roll out dough in 3-inch strips, and use it to seal the lid and dish together. Baking time is the same. Thessaly Beef Baked in Bread Preparation time: 30 minutes Cooking time: 4 hours 1 two-pound loaf unsliced white or whole wheat bread 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef, diced 2 leeks, washed and thinly sliced 2 large red bell peppers, washed, seeded, and finely chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes 2 teaspoons oregano 1 teaspoon cumin Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.

1.Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

2.Cafefully cut loaf in half, lengthwise. Remove and discard inside of bread, leaving a cavity in both halves. Bread should be 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick so that meat mixture does not soak through and make it soggy. Set bread aside.

3.In a large bowl, combine beef, leeks, peppers, and garlic. Add hot red pepper, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss thoroughly.

4.Brush insides of both halves of bread with remaining oil. Sprinkle both sides with Parmesan cheese.

5.Fill bottom cavity with meat mixture and fit top half over it. Wrap tightly with aluminum foil. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for four hours. Slice and serve warm.

Yield: Six 2-inch wedges.

NOTE: Buy a fairly solid loaf of bread, preferably from a bakery.

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