By February gardeners on the island pick the remaining cabbages from the garden, as they start to prepare the soil for the spring and summer vegetables.

Local cabbages are huge this time of the year but not particularly heavy; the heads are no longer tight and compact because the cabbage leaves start to loosen as the central stem grows. For us now is the ideal time to make lahano-dolmades, or yaprakia (stuffed cabbage leaves). It is much easier to separate the outer leaves of these late-season cabbages to blanch and stuff them. Our neighbor Stathis gave me two large cabbages the other day, as he was digging out his winter garden. He got six cabbages, more than Ela could use.

Between the rich feasts of Christmas and the New Year, this humble yet delicious mung bean soup is what I would love to cook and eat!

Last year a friend of mine, a Greek-American retired archeologist who lives permanently in Kea and travels often with her husband all over Greece, brought me a bag of mung beans from the north, thinking that she had discovered a new kind of indigenous bean. She hadn’t seen them in the market before as they seem to be half-forgotten now after they created a sensation in the ‘80ies. My friend, like many others, didn’t know that this ancient Asian bean called rovitsa (pron. rov-EE-tsah) in Greek was “recently moved from the genus Phaseolus to Vigna,” according to Wikipedia, and was first domesticated in Mongolia where it occurs wild. In Punjab and other parts of India archaeologists have found evidence of cultivated mung beans dating back 4,500 years!

To make flavorful and attractively colored breads and biscotti I often add carob, greens or squash and tangerines to my basic dough along with olive oil. The addition of beets makes delicious baguettes and buns but does not, unfortunately, create red or even pink bread…


Beets stain all the surrounding vegetables that complement them in salads; they make a dark red borsht and an equally impressive beet risotto, but when reduced to a pulp and added to flours and water the resulting vivid pink dough loses completely its color when the bread is baked. Occasionally a faint pinkish crust remains but the inside of the bread is quite ordinary, and you have to eat it to taste the sweet earthiness of the beets.

You do not necessarily need to roll your own phyllo if you want to make an authentic Greek or Eastern Mediterranean pie. You can opt for the crustless version, adapting this basic recipe using any seasonal vegetable: a combination of sautéed leeks and carrots in the winter, or eggplant and peppers in the summer, for example.

The traditional ‘naked pies,’ the ones that are not wrapped in phyllo as most vegetable pies are, often include cheese --crumbled feta in most cases-- but there are traditional vegan variations like the hortopsomo (literally ‘green bread’) of Epirus and southern Albania. In it the greens and herbs are bound together by cornmeal. My favorite ‘naked pie’ is the one we make in the summer with zucchini, of which we often have an overwhelming abundance in June, fresh from our garden.

It has become our trademark dish at Kea Artisanal; our guests rave about it, and so we thought we give you Costas’ detailed description. You need to have a fig tree nearby as there is no substitute for the fig leaves which protect the fish but also caramelize over the charcoal fire imparting a wonderful flavor and aroma to the delicate flesh…


“…the best way to present this fish I mean, then in fig leaves with not too much origano is the way. No cheese, no fancy nonsense. Simply place it with care in the fig leaves and tie them with rush-cord from above. Then put into hot ashes and use your intelligence to work out the time when it will be roasted: don’t let it burn up…”

Archestratus, The Life of Luxury: modern English translation
and commentary by John Wilkins & Shaun Hill (PROSPECT books)

Sesame halva is one thing, but quite a different and very popular Greek as well as Eastern Mediterranean sweet --also called ‘halva’-- is made with flour, semolina, corn or other grains toasted in butter or olive oil and steeped in syrup.

Halvas simigdalenios (semolina halva) is the Greek version of this simple old sweet. In our halva the grains are toasted in olive oil instead of the butter used in Turkey and the Middle East. I have also come across an old frugal confection of olive oil halva made with chickpea flour instead of semolina. The simple, yet enticing sweet is often prepared during Lent as it is vegan with no eggs or dairy. Halvas simigdalenios used to be the free dessert offered at Greek taverns; but now it is replaced by the simpler yogurt topped with commercial preserves or jam that requires no cooking.

Halva (or halvah) means ‘sweetmeat’ in Arabic and it can refer to several desserts. This different richer halva is also popular in Iran, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf. The grains are sautéed in butter and then moistened with sugar or honey syrup to make a soft buttery confection. In the 1862 Turkish Cookery Book by Turabi Efendi are listed several such helvãssi. Greek-Turkish author and researcher Marianna Yerasimos in her marvelous book 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine has recipes for a few such sumptuous halvas. Unlike tahin helvãsi (sesame halva) which the Ottomans considered poor people’s sweet, according to Gerasimos, these grain confections are often moistened with elaborate syrups combined with milk and enriched with almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and other nuts.

With fried green peppers and parsley, my spread is playful and addictive.

Every Greek cook, as every cook around the Mediterranean, has her or his version of melitzanosalata (eggplant spread). This is the one I usually make and have published in my book Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.
I have seen in some Greek and Middle Eastern taverns the smoky spread served inside the charred skin of the eggplant. I tried it, but find it quite difficult to grill the eggplants so that the skin is well blackened but still firm enough to hold a filling. You can try, if you like.


But whichever way you present it, the flavor of this spread is playful and addictive.
You can even lighten it, if you like, adding a couple of tablespoons of thick yogurt, just before serving.
Serve as an appetizer with toasted bread, or crudités. It is also good on baked or steamed potatoes, and on steamed or grilled fillets of fish, as well as with chicken breast.

Yet one more ingenious Mediterranean way to combine the garden’s vegetables with eggs and make a hearty, fast and enticing dish!

Usually it is served as an appetizer but it is quite filling and I prefer it as a main course for lunch or dinner, complemented with good bread –my own, of course.
Shakshouka means "a mixture" in Arabic slang, and the dish is believed to be of Tunisian origin. Another theory is that chakchouka derives from a Berber word used for vegetable ragout. According to a cookbook about the cuisine of Jerusalem the name’s origin is the Hebrew verb leshakshek (to shake).

Whatever its roots, the dish is served all over the Middle East, and recently all over the world!


PHOTO BY ANASTASSIOS MENTIS

The best shakchouka I’ve tasted was served in a restaurant called Doctor Shakchouka, in Jaffa, Israel. The owner brings the dish to the table in the skillet in which it is cooked, and diners dip big pieces of crusty bread into it, devouring them instantly.

Last week, for the first time, I made my own concentrated sour grape juice. I have written about it before, as I became addicted to the Lebanese dark and syrupy condiment that I can no longer get…

From the very old and robust grape vines that engulf the fence of our property in Kea we gather and stuff tender grape leaves in May for our trademark dolmades. But the dark grapes our vines produce later in the summer, although sweet, are filled with seeds and difficult to swallow. Plus we hardly ever manage to harvest them when they ripen, since wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Come harvest time we just find bunches of rotten half-eaten grapes.

The night before I planned to start the process, Costas gathered all the green bunches from the vines.

Ever since I was a child and my mother occasionally made thick syrupy, concentrated lemonade --which I didn’t particularly love-- I had never tried to make my own. When my dear friend Barbara Abdeni Massaad visited us in Kea and saw our lemon trees brimming with fruit, she pointed me to a very different lemonade recipe…


First and foremost this lemonade is not boiled, like my mother’s, and so retains its fresh fruity flavor. In her beautiful, extensively researched and documented book Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry, Barbara writes that she got the recipe for the ‘out of this world’ lemonade from Dolly Shammah, a Syrian lady originally from Aleppo.

This fragrant liqueur is a variation from a recipe for Thyme Liqueur that I got from the south of France and is part of my new book. Since I still have tons of lemons, and also because my Lemon Liqueur is so popular with our friends, I came up with this fusion of the two flavors that I think are the epitome of the Mediterranean Summer!


The French believe that thyme tisane is an excellent digestive and the perfect treatment for a hangover. But I suggest thyme not for its medicinal properties, but because its aroma, especially complemented with the lemon peels and with a bit of help from the alcohol, will transport you to the rugged hills overlooking the dark-blue sea—and if that is not therapeutic, I don’t know what is.

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