- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Greek cooks serve lamb when they’re cooking for a celebration. Lamb is succulent, satisfying and versatile. It also has historical significance.

Take the delicious recipe called “kleftiko.” It is so named because the Kleftes, the Greek guerrillas who fought against the Turks in the 18th century, roasted lamb in its skin in the embers of fires set in the ground and loosely covered.

This was done so neither the aroma nor the smoke would attract enemies, Aglaia Kremezi writes in “The Foods of Greece” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

Another favorite is lamb and vegetables baked in an unglazed clay pot, the same kind used by village women to carry water from the central well back to their homes.

Lamb chops braised with greens is a testament to the agricultural roots of the country, where dark, leafy greens are a prized part of the cuisine.

An Italian acquaintance recently introduced me to his favorite “Greek” dish, a stew of olives, mushrooms and okra.

I suspect the dish is neither authentic nor traditionally Greek because the recipe calls for pancetta, an Italian cured bacon. The flavor, however, translates to delicious in any language and would make a splendid entree for a Christmas dinner.

Lamb stew

2 slices pancetta, diced

1 cup sliced shiitake mushroom caps

1 leek, white part only, trimmed and chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ pound boneless lamb chunks

1/4 cup red wine

1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4 cup pitted Nicoise or Kalamata olives

½ teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup trimmed, sliced okra

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Brown pancetta in a Dutch oven. Remove and set aside. Add mushrooms, leek and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes in pancetta drippings. Set vegetables aside.

Add oil to Dutch oven. Add lamb; brown about 5 minutes. Add red wine and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits in Dutch oven. Reduce heat to low.

Add pancetta, sauteed vegetables, crushed tomatoes, olives, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 45 minutes.

Add okra and simmer 15 minutes longer, or until okra is tender. Stir in lemon juice.

Makes 2 servings.

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