The Turkish and Greek ashure, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a delicious, sweetened grain risotto with nuts and fruit, both dried and fresh.

Ashure is probably the continuation of polysporia the mixture of grains symbolically offered by ancient Greeks and other Eastern Mediterranean people to their gods, especially Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of agriculture, much like kollyva which in ancient Greek the meant “small coin” or “small golden weight,” as well as “small cakes.” The Turkish and Greek ashure or assourés, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a similar age-old sweet.

The frail-looking trees have adapted perfectly to the dry climate of the islands.

At last people started to package and sell the local, small but delicious almonds! Keans say that almond trees, much like the olive trees, blossom bountifully every second year, and last summer we did have something of a bumper crop.

But until recently very few bothered even for their own use to harvest the fruits of the trees that grow all over the island.


The very labor-intensive work of harvesting, peeling the semi-dried outer green peel, and then cracking the hard shell to get the kernels was not worth the effort; imported California almonds were so cheap…

The frail-looking trees are never irrigated and they have adapted perfectly to the dry climate of the islands. They probably produce fewer, but very tasty almonds if compared with the California trees that consume so much precious water.

Warm porridge mixed with yogurt in the morning, a staple in my breakfast routine, goes back more than 25 years. (Before that I used to start my days with toasted bread and cheese, as I never liked sweets for breakfast.) To flavor my porridge, I used a good pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes – a sweet-smoky, sun-dried and mildly hot Mediterranean pepper. I discovered this deeply-flavored condiment around the time I made the switch to oats, and I couldn’t get enough of it. 

To make the porridge, I used rolled oats since it was the only kind available here. Tins of Quaker Oats became quite popular in Greece in the 1960s, and mothers all over the country prepared kouaker (pronounced koo-Ah-kehr), the word that came to mean ‘porridge’ in Greek. It was usually served sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar or drizzled with honey. 

This piece was written and posted at Team Yogurt.

Based on the iconic Albanian dish of baked lamb with rice, I came up with a meatless version for my book Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts. The recipe didn’t make the final cut, and my friend Cheryl Sherman Rule cooked, fine-tuned and photographed it for Team Yogurt.


Photo by 
Cheryl Sherman Rule

Having eaten the delicious, creamy Albanian Elbasan or Tave Kosi my neighbor Ela prepared for us, I was determined to come up with a vegetarian version. Ela cooked lamb shanks on the stove with a little water and a quartered onion, then boned the meat and cut it into bite size pieces, discarding all fat. She left the broth to cool completely and skimmed it, getting about 1 cup broth which she mixed with her homemade yogurt that has the consistency of thick cream. She sautéed onions and cooked the flour in a mixture of olive oil and butter before adding the yogurt and eggs. She sprinkled the rice directly to the pan, with the meat, then poured in the broth-yogurt liquid. She was very careful not to over-bake and dry the food, letting the pan set at room temperature; this made her Tave Kosi so special. Mushrooms, both dried and fresh, together with peppers create a very different, but also flavorful base for the creamy yogurt-baked rice.
Instead of peppers, you could make it with diced zucchini, eggplants or any other seasonal vegetables.

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.

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