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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Figs in my Bread!

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These days of fig abundance are here again, and if I am not making fig jam I use the leftover figs, the overripe or the ones that start to dry on our old tree in the back of the house, as stuffing for bread.

Fig Bread cut SMany years ago I had eaten in Paris delicious bread twists with figs and I tried to reproduce them in my kitchen with dried figs in the winter, but the results were not memorable. With dried figs and Rockford cheese I top a savory flat bread that I often serve as meze, before the main meal, and I included it in my last book. (more…)

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Lemon is a Greek perversion

Our lemon harvest is so plentiful this year that I cannot stop making several batches of marmalade, lemon curd, cakes, liqueurs, lemonade, preserved lemons etc. and still I have plenty of wonderful large and fragrant fruits to offer to friends. 

My mother used to keep a couple of juiced lemon halves by the sink, and she would rub her hands often with the lemons, to keep her hands soft and white. Even at the age of ninety-three, after a lifetime of cooking and cleaning, her hands were still silky and beautiful.

We take lemons for granted in Greece; every Greek pantry has a steady supply of lemons which, along with salt, pepper, and olive oil, is considered an essential and basic ingredient. I didn’t give lemons much thought, until some years ago.

I was sitting with my friend, food and music writer Fred Plotkin, at a trattoria in Otranto, a pretty little town in Puglia, on the heel of the Italian boot, the edge of Magna Graeca. It was a blazing hot summer afternoon, and I was very excited because I was finally going to taste fava e cicorie (mashed fava beans and steamed greens), a traditional country dish of the area.

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Slow Cooked Eggs (Huevos Haminados) Decorated with Leaves

Two years ago, with eggs from our neighbor’s hens, I made these onion-skin-colored Easter eggs, most of which I later pickled, because what I like most is pickled huevos haminados, which are simply delicious!

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Sephardic Jews who live in Salonika, and all around the Mediterranean, prepare huevos haminados (baked eggs) as they were called in Ladino, the dialect of the Jews who were expelled from Spain. Prepared on Fridays to serve on the Sabbath, they were originally placed in a covered clay pot filled with onion skins and water and baked in a communal oven, hence the name. Later, the eggs were simmered for hours on top of the stove. The onion skins darken the white shells and give the eggs a distinctive flavor and creamy texture.

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With Lemon Verbena and Lemon

I love lemon verbena, and I insist we keep planting shrubs, although they don’t thrive in our poor soil and dry island climate. They are never lush, with shiny green leaves, as they are supposed to; their leaves are tiny and come in small clusters here and there, on long woody stems. But I keep trying, so, last year we decided to keep one in a large clay pot, instead of planting it in the ground. It seems to be doing a bit better, and so far, looks green and happy.

Lemon verbena is called ‘louisa’ in Greek –like in Spanish– and I find this romantic name better suited to this exquisite, fragrant plant. (more…)

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Strudel-like Quince Pie Rolls

 

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The stuffing I propose has no sugar; the fruit is cooked in sweet wine with raisins and honey. I just sprinkle with light brown sugar and cinnamon as I roll the pies…

More than a year passed but I still remember the wonderful strudel our friend Martina Kolbinger-Reiner baked while she and her husband, Peter came to Kea. They rented a studio flat in Hora for a week and when we decided to have lunch at a friend’s beautiful garden with dishes I would cook, Martina suggested to make a strudel for dessert.

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I am not very familiar with strudels –one or two I had in the past were too heavy with butter and soggy— but I knew Martina’s would be the real thing. I thought that she was going to use frozen phyllo or puff pastry for the casing, but when she brought her strudel I was amazed by its delicate, silky phyllo-like crust.  (more…)

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HORIATIKI, the peasant roots of Greek Salad

It is curious how a salad called ‘horiatiki’ became such a hit in Athens and all over the country. The term may be translated as ‘from the village,’ or ‘peasant,’ a welcome suggestion today as it brings to mind authentic good-quality foods, but when it was first introduced –probably in the 1960ies or early ‘70ies– the country was desperately trying to shed its agricultural, Eastern Mediterranean past, and become urban and European. It was common to dismiss a garment or a conduct as ‘horiatiki,’ not modern and worthy of the new urban middle class.

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Obviously, whoever first combined these basic ingredients created a salad delicious enough to be copied, improved upon and even exported and become a household dish all over the world! (more…)

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A Mediterranean Version of the English Summer Pudding

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This is my variation on the renowned English Summer Pudding. It was originally created and tested for my book, but was omitted, along with other desserts, to make room for more savory recipes and also for the gorgeous Penny De Los Santos’ pictures.

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It is neither Mediterranean nor an old and traditional British dessert.  It seems to have been invented at a health spa at the beginning of the 20th century. (more…)

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The Original 19c. Pasticcio from Syros

Greeks love pasticcio (or pastitsio), a dish of ground meat cooked with onions in a cinnamon-scented tomato sauce which is mixed with macaroni, cheese and béchamel, then baked topped with more béchamel. It is our version of Macaroni and Cheese, a comforting filling dish that mothers bake for their kids even when they are grownups… 

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Although its name is Italian (it means, literally, “a mess”), pasticcio as such does not exist in Italy, but its roots are in the elaborate old timbales—pastry-enrobed pasta, meat, vegetable and egg pies prepared there for special occasions. When I first visited Kythera, the island at the edge between the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, which divides Greece and Italy, I asked around about local dishes; the standard answer I received was “You must find the recipe for the Venetian Pasticcio”. Pasticcio, of course, is a dish prepared all over Greece and if you have visited the country, you have probably seen it listed on the menu of a tavern or restaurant.

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A Leafy Sweet Pie from Provence (Tourte de Blettes)

CHARD-Tourte-INGR---Piece1-This is an unusual dessert from Provence where chard leaves are the main ingredient, complemented by pears and raisins or currants, soaked in Pernod, the anise-flavored liquor. The pastry has yeast, olive oil and eggs, and is scented with lemon zest.

My recipe is based on the Tourte de Blettes posted by Camille Oger. In her very interesting blog Le Manger she collects recipes from France and from Asia. She is an anthropologists interested in the roots and history of the dishes. Her introductions to the recipes are often fascinating, but unfortunately only some of them, the ones from Asia, are also in English while those from France are only in French.

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Chards are used in sweet pies or turnovers in Catalonia and also on the Greek island of Tinos. In my book The Foods of the Greek Islands I have a recipe for the delicious Seskoulopita, the fried chard turnovers. In my head-note I write: “Cooks on the island of Tinos use the leaves of Swiss chard the way Westerners use rhubarb, tucking them into these festive turnovers. Traditionally made for Christmas, these turnovers are fried and sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar.”

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