There is something about cooking in clay, which just makes the food taste better. Cooking in an unglazed, organic clay pot creates an aroma that is both earthy and sort of smokey. Nearly all Greek and wider Mediterranean food was cooked, or stored in clay, in ancient times. I love the range and variety of clay pots that you can still buy in Greece today. Wide bellied pots for simmering tough cuts of meat and narrow necked pots for cooking beans and other legumes, are just a couple to choose from. Apart from the unique character and aroma of food cooked in clay, it also feels healthier - because you don't need to use much cooking fat at all. I've never had any issue of burning food in a clay pot either, because the clay pot heats up slowly and cooks the food more evenly.
This 'one pot' dish can be found in many regions of Greece and is particularly hearty in cooler weather. In many regions pasta would be added to the pot, to soak up all the cooking juices, instead of chickpeas to make a traditional 'youvetsi'.
If you don't have a clay pot, you can still make this dish using a large cast iron dutch oven. I like to add a little spice to this dish - once again I'm using the beautiful smoked Bukovo chilli flakes from Homer St, to really enhance the smokey and earthy character of cooking in clay. These chilli flakes would also help to bring that sort of character to the dish, if you are cooking in a cast iron pot instead of clay.
Lamb and chickpea clay pot 'youvetsi' (αρνί με ρεβίθια γιουβέτσι)
You need to start this recipe the day before you plan to serve it.
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
About 2 heads of garlic, cloves sliced
6 lamb shanks
1/2 kg of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water and drained
4 bay leaves (I used the Daphnis and Chloe Balsamic Bay leaves)
2 large brown onions, sliced
2-3 fresh tomatoes, grated
1-2 cups of homemade chicken or meat stock
1 teaspoon of dried smoked chilli flakes (such as the Bukovo chilli flakes)
1 teaspoon of the 'Sparoza' spice blend for tomato sauces
1 tablespoon of dried riagni (I used the Daphnis and Chloe Oregano from Taygetus)
1. The day before you plan to serve the dish, combine the lemon, olive oil and garlic in a large bowl and add the lamb shanks, stirring to coat well. Cover the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight. You will also want to make sure that your chickpeas are soaking overnight.
2. The next day, start by preparing the chickpeas. Place the chickpeas in a large pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil. Then remove the pot from the heat and let the chickpeas sit in the water continuing to soak for a few more hours. Drain the chickpeas and return to the pot. Add more water to cover and 2 of the bay leaves. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until just tender but not falling apart (around 45 minutes) - they will continue to cook for a little time in the clay pot later. Set aside.
3. Remove the lamb from the marinade (but reserve the garlic from the marinade), season the lamb well with salt and pepper. In a large skillet or frying pan, add the shanks a few at a time and brown well on all sides. Set the lamb aside.
4. In the fry pan or skillet, add a little more oil if you need too and then sautee the onions until they are just about to start to caramelise. Add the reserved garlic, the chilli flakes, remaining two bay leaves and the sparoza spice blend. Add the grated tomato and about 1 & 1/2 cups of chicken/meat stock and stir the base of the pan to release any really caramelised bits.
5. Add the lamb to the clay pot, then pour the tomato-onion sauce over it, then sprinkle with the rigani. Place a 'cartouche' over the lamb and then add a layer of foil to seal the clay pot - then add the lid and then another layer of foil (you don't want any of the steam to escape while cooking). Place in the oven and bake for 2 & 1/2 hours until the lamb is tender. If you are using a clay pot, don't preheat the oven. Place the clay pot in a room temperature and then turn the oven on gradually, bring it up to around 160C.
6. When the meat is tender, transfer it to a platter. Add the drained chickpeas to the pot (there should be about 1 & 1/2 - 2 cups or more of cooking juices left in the pot) along with a drizzle of olive oil and a little seasoning of salt and pepper. Coat the chickpeas well and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes or until most of the remaining liquid has been absorbed (you'll want a little bit left to spoon over the shanks before serving). Place the lamb onto the chickpeas and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately on heated plates, placing a few of the chickpeas and onions on the plate, setting the lamb shank on top, with a drizzle of a little of the remaining cooking juices.