Kalimera, the stew “Arni Kleftiko” - lamb in the “robber style” - and its history is very interesting. In many taverns on Crete a pot roast is offered that is called Kleftiko (Kleftes = German thieves, robbers). As Kleften or Klephten one describes rebels in the freedom struggle of the Greeks against the Ottoman rule.
In the 19th century during the independence struggles, bands of robbers made the mountains of Cyprus unsafe. The "Kleftes" lived off cattle theft. So that their hiding places could not be discovered by smoke from the fire or the smell of barbecue, they built clay ovens under the ground. This was where the stolen goat and sheep meat came to be cooked. Everything was sealed airtight with earth. The meat was left underground for hours and sometimes even days. So it stewed in its own juice and the meat of older animals was also nice and tender.
Gangs of robbers once lived in the mountains of Greece and Crete, who stole cattle from the farmers in order to satisfy their hunger.
The Kleften were originally recruited from Greeks who for various reasons evaded the Turkish justice and went to the mountains. In the course of time they changed from band of robbers to resistance fighters.
So it came about that the once feared robbers blossomed into successful independence fighters. They became freedom fighters and now earned the respect of the Greek people, who had been dominated by foreign rule for centuries.
Their free life in the mountainous regions of Greece found expression in folk songs and ballads and lives on to this day in songs and legends.
Nowadays kleftiko is a delicacy and a popular national dish. The robber dish is made from goat, lamb or beef, seasoned with lemon juice, salt and oregano and baked in a clay oven.
The oven should be hermetically sealed, the kleftiko can be served after stewing for three hours, but tastes even more delicious when it has been in the oven for two days, as in the days of robbers.
(from various articles by Radio Kreta)
Ta Leme, kv