A Rainy Clean Monday!

I did this post two years ago but the weather this weekend seems very similar. Only our peas are not yet ready for picking, and their blossoms are white. But I guess I will cook and bake similar dishes. 

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Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday), the first day of Lent is traditionally celebrated out of doors. During the long weekend people travel to the country to eat, drink, fly kites and dance to the tunes of live bands provided by various municipalities. But this year it seems it will be a rainy or quite windy day, a welcome change for us after a long period of sunny and dry weather, but the city people who will come to enjoy the island will probably feel miserable…

Yesterday the rain and the wind scattered the almond blossoms everywhere. 

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Two years ago the moving feast had happened later, in March.

Just before the rain {two years ago} Costas and I gathered the first sweet peas from the garden; the wind had broken a large branch which we decided to use as decoration for our humble table. I briefly sautéed the peas with garlic, and dressed some of my pre-cooked beans with spicy ladolemono–lemon and olive oil with chopped scallions and Maras pepper. This year our lettuces are prolific and we share them with friends.

(more…)

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Our Fragrant Bitter Oranges

With the fruit, besides my usual marmalade, I make curd substituting lemon with bitter orange juice, and also a fragrant, Campari-like drink (Vin apéritif à l’orange amère) inspired by a recipe from Provence. 

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Fifteen years ago, we planted two navel-orange trees in the southwestern corner of the garden. One is still around in a pitiful state and we have yet to get one full-grown orange from it. The other almost dried up, ‘burned’ by a cold January wind; but grew back from its un-grafted part. Now it thrives as a bitter orange tree, one of the most common, somewhat overlooked trees in Greece, that line the sidewalks in Athens and other big cities.

Our modest tree gives us an abundance of fragrant bitter oranges each winter and I am always on a lookout for recipes to use them up, besides my usual marmalade, of which I make loads every season. This marmalade has become my staple ingredient; I add it to cakes, creams, and breads, both sweet and savory, often omitting sugar, especially in my fresh cheese and yogurt summer desserts. (more…)

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An Unusual Vegan Olive Pie

Around mid-January, as the new olives are almost ready, I try to find ways to use-up the olives of years passed.

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This fragrant Eliopita,  with an unusual, delicious, easy dough of olive oil and orange juice, is the first thing that comes to mind. It is much simpler than the common olive breads, and much more enticing. The original recipe was given to me many years ago by Zoe Evangelou whom I had met at my friend Roxani Matsa’s winery in Kantza. I made the pie several times, and included it in one of my early Greek books. Later, the recipe was revised by  Vali Manouelides, another friend, who instead of the original large loaf, divided the dough and filling to shape smaller logs that were easier to cut and serve as finger food. (more…)

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Chocolates and other Edible Gifts for Yourself and your Loved Ones

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They are appreciated, I think, and in any event, they are less of a problem when you bring to a friend’s dinner party, since flowers are a pain for the hosts forcing them to stop everything and try to find a vase…   

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As soon as the weather cools significantly I prepare my first batch of rustic chocolates. We keep them in a jar and we eat one or two pieces after lunch, offer to friends who drop by, or give them as gifts. When the jar is almost empty, I make more, exactly as I do with my savory crunchy cookies that I keep in a similar jar.

I published the basic recipe for the chocolates in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, since my friend Vicki Snyder insists that every cookbook, no matter what its subject, should include a chocolate dessert. But I have the habit of changing and enriching my recipes, even after I have published them, so here is my updated version of the very easy chocolates I make over and over. This time, as I anticipated preparing a few gift boxes, I doubled the recipe, melting 3 pounds of bitter-sweet chocolate, in two separate bowls, otherwise it takes too long for the pieces to melt. Costas and I spread the mixture in two pans and left them to harden overnight. If we had cut them after two hours the pieces would be even and square; but this time a few pieces crumbled as we cut the hard mass of chocolate with a large bread knife.

I also add pistachios to my Chicken Liver Pâté which is flavored with thyme, orange and brandy. I am sure your friends will appreciate a jar of this homemade pâté, which is an ideal appetizer, so I suggest you double the recipe.

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We also made quince preserves (page 236 in my book) and since we had extra quince from our trees, I cooked some in sweet wine with honey, as I describe in the recipe for the stuffing of the Quince Pie Rolls, minus the raisins. (more…)

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Veal Stew with Quinces (Moschari Kydonato)

This is my favorite winter stew. Quinces are equally delicious in savory and sweet dishes, and Greek islanders cook all kinds of meats with quince.

On Chios, they pair quinces with free-range chicken; on Crete, with lamb; and on Lesbos, with veal. As with most stews I make on Kea, our local veal shank is my first choice; but I also make pork with quince. I give the meat extra flavor by tying the cores of the fruit in cheesecloth and adding them to the cooking broth.

The combination of meat with quinces is not new. In the Roman cookery of Apicius we find similar stews, and quinces have been quite common in old traditional Greek cooking. Here, the firm, fragrant fruit, with its appealing tart flavor, is balanced with the sweet wine and the plums, or pearl onions.

This stew can be prepared almost entirely in advance and refrigerated. Then you need only simmer the meat in the sauce for a few minutes and caramelize the quinces just before serving. Accompany with potatoes, especially with David Tanis’ Olive oil and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, or with polenta.

Leftover sauce makes an unusual but excellent pasta sauce, or it can be a great topping for fava, instead of the caramelized onions.

Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands

Makes 4 servings      (more…)

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Quince and Mini-squash Stuffed with Wheat Berries, Nuts and Raisins

This is my suggestion for a glorious vegetarian main course. I bet that even avid meat-eaters will enjoy it. The combination of the sweet, mini squash with the tart quince is perfect!  For the stuffing I adapted the recipe for the Stuffed Quince I have in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts (page 156). But I omitted the tomato sauce.  

The small squash can be an interesting substitute for quince in case you cannot get the fragrant old apple-like fruit, which is the epitome of our Mediterranean winter. I actually envy my American friends because they can get these absolutely fantastic mini butternut squash, or honey-nut-squash as they are called. They were developed by Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University, in collaboration with the visionary Dan Barber.

If you are going to stuff just the squash, I suggest you add some tart apple to the stuffing or spike its sweetness with pomegranate molasses. (more…)

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Eating our way through the North and South of Greece

Highlights from a sixteen-day exploration of the culture and gastronomy of the two wonderful, diverse ends of the country.

PART ONE: The North and Northwest

I arrived in Kavala one day before the official beginning of the trip.  What a wise decision that was!  It gave me more time to spend in Imaret.

This incredible, five-star hotel, is housed in an historic, 1817 building, a masterpiece of late Ottoman architecture.  Hardly a place for those expecting a Ritz-like accommodation, its 26 charming rooms are full of character, one different from the other.  Their appeal is original and uncommon, but quickly grows on you as you get immersed into the charm of this structure which was originally a religious school.

There are pools and serene inner gardens, long marble verandas and arcades that offer spectacular views of the bay of Kavala and the Aegean beyond.  Looking at the bay, I enjoyed my exquisite breakfast as the golden morning sun sparkled on the water, an experience I will never forget!

Caught up in all sorts of everyday chores on Kea, even when we don’t prepare for a program or cook with our Kea Artisanal guests, I haven’t had the chance to travel within Greece for a very long time.  The invitation of Georgeann Morekas and the Baltimore Women’s Guild of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation to accompany them as they explored parts of northern Greece and Crete was a most welcome change.  (more…)

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Eating our way through the North and South of Greece (II)

Spinalonga, Lasithi and Archanes

At Elounda Bay hotel, on the northern coast of Crete, the sea was warm and inviting in the late afternoon as the sun was setting.  We reached this popular southeastern resort of Crete flying from Ioannina, Epirus, to Athens, then to Heraklion, and finally driving through areas I used to know well but found so much changed. (more…)

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Basic Tomato Sauce (Saltsa Domata)

In the winter, when good, ripe tomatoes are not available, use canned, or slice and roast the pale available tomatoes to make them more flavorful. Instead of sugar, I like to sweeten the sauce with currents.  

Beyond pasta, the sauce can be used on flat,  breads complemented with crumbled feta or any other cheese. It is the basis for the vegetarian mousaka, and also for the stuffing for papoutsakia (eggplant slippers), with the addition of chopped, sauteed bell peppers and feta, graviera or any other cheese, with or without walnuts, or other nuts.

Yields about 3 cups sauce, enough for 1 pound pasta          

(more…)

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An Ancient Legume, Revisited

Braised capers are an ideal topping for the local fava, the trademark dish of Santorini. Today Santorini Fava is served as a meze at taverns throughout Greece, usually prepared with mashed, imported yellow split peas (dal), dressed simply with fruity olive oil, topped with sliced onions and dried Greek oregano.

In the old days, though, fava was made from dried fava beans and/or from an indigenous, ancient legume, a variant of Lathyrus sativus (chickling vetch or grass pea), called cicerchia in Italian and almorta in Spanish.

Legumes such as Grass pea, and fava (broad) beans were planted in alternate years, instead of barley or other cereals, in many parts of Greece, especially on the islands where the soil is often very poor. My neighbor, Zenovia Stefa, told me that in the small gardens and terraces around Otzias, where we live, her late father used to plant grass peas (Lathyrus sativus), the legume for which the generic name ‘fava’ is used throughout Greece. (more…)

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