Recipes from Our Diverse Community: Kleftiko Recipe for Repast with Storied Greek Past

Katerina Stylianou was born and raised in Sparta, Greece. 

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving general wellbeing are well documented.   

With fresh whole foods as the centerpiecethe Mediterranean is mainly a plant-based diet with moderate consumption of poultry and fish and, occasionally, red meat. 

I reached out to my friend Katerina Stylianou to learn more about Greek history and cuisine.   

Born and raised as Katerina Rozaki in the beautiful region of Sparta, Greece, she moved to New York upon her marriage to John Stylianou, bringing with her the rich cultural heritage and traditions of Sparta, with its captivating history that stretches back more than 2500 years.     

The capital of the Laconia Region in the Peloponnese Peninsula, Sparta, a small, charming town of 18,000 people, is situated in a beautiful, lush green valley, surrounded by mountains and blessed with acres of olive trees and orange groves.  

It is renowned for its outstanding olive oil, nurtured by the mild climate and salty air of the Mediterranean Sea. 

I asked Katerina what would be a special dish that would signify the rich heritage of Sparta, and she promptly came up with Kleftiko, a simple yet delicious dish that her mother made often for their family of six.  

Kleftiko, which means stolen, originated during the Ottoman occupation of Greece, when many Greeks hid in the mountains because they couldn’t pay the high taxes that had been imposed by the regime.  

To survive, they would steal lamb and other farm animals. and cook the meat in makeshift underground ovens slowly, over several hours, to avoid generating smoke and getting caught.   

Katerina was excited to share this recipe. 

Renuka Bijoor is a long-time Rivertown resident who finds cooking therapeutic for the soul and believes eating right is the pathway to wellness. 



  • 2 lbs lamb or pork (any thick cut is ok) cut in large chunks. 
  • 1 large onion cut in half and quartered 
  • medium bell peppers cut in large wedges 
  • garlic gloves minced 
  • 2 medium size potatoes cut in cubes. You can also use fingerling potatoes.  
  • ¼ lb Kefalotiri or Graviera cheese cubed (can substitute with any hard cheese like Gouda). Both cheeses are salty so mind that when adding salt to the mix. 
  • Drizzle of olive oil 
  • Juice of half a lemon 
  • ½ cup of white wine 
  • 1 Tsp dry oregano 
  • Salt, pepper to taste  


  • Combine all the ingredients except the potatoes in a large bowl and refrigerate for two hours. If you are in a rush skip this step and add the potatoes.  
  • Form a cross with two pieces of parchment paper on top of two pieces of equal size aluminum foil (about 2 ft each piece) 
  • Place all the ingredients in the center of the cross. Fold the parchment paper first and then the aluminum foils to create a tight seal.  
  • Bake in a roasting pan in a preheated oven at 375 degree for 3 hours.    

Serve with Greek salad and enjoy!

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About the Author: Renu Rao