Spring…

This year we did not get much rain after December on Kea.  The landscape is quickly turning from green to yellow, although it is not yet too warm.  Still, spring is gloriously blossoming, and in shady spots green keeps its hold, and flowers keep surprising us with their elegant shapes and colors.  

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Our Favorite Ancient Vegan Pudding

Asouré (or aşure) also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is an ancient, delicious, sweetened grain risotto with nuts and fruit, both dried and fresh. It is the perfect vegan dessert and we make it often in the spring, especially the days of Lent before Easter.  

 

Read also about kollyva, another version of the ancient sweet. 

 

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Asouré 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 asouré or asourés, also called ‘Noah’s pudding’ in Istanbul, is a similar age-old sweet.

In this the wheat berries are not drained as in kollyva, but simmered with sugar, sometimes, especially in Istanbul  together with beans and/or chickpeas until the cooking liquid thickens.  Nuts and dried fruits are added, and the soupy ashure is served in bowls, traditionally decorated with pomegranate seeds. It solidifies when it cools, like a real pudding.  In Israel and throughout the Middle East I found similar sweets, with the grains cooked in milk and sweetened with honey. Obviously, they all share the same ancient roots. (more…)

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PASPALAS: The Rustic Pork Confit of Kea

Like many foods we grew up with and take for granted, I have somehow overlooked until now the humble fried bits of pork used on Kea as general flavoring for eggs, greens, and any vegetable or bean dish.

 

Kean women prepare it each winter with leftover scraps of pork and fat, after the traditional slaughtering and butchering of the family pig. In the old days, the bits were heavily salted so that they wouldn’t spoil as they were stored in clay jars to be used much like Maggi cubes –a common European food flavoring– throughout the year. Costas calls paspalasthe Kea bacon,’ but unlike bacon it is not smoked and it is already fried when you use it to flavor eggs and other dishes.

 

Read about Pig Slaughtering on Kea as I had described it at the Atlantic.  

 

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The importance of this rustic flavoring became apparent when I prepared it in the kitchen of Zaytinya—Jose Andres’ Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant, in Washington DC. During my annual January visit, a few years back, we were trying traditional winter dishes from Kea and other Cycladic islands for a pork and xinomavro wine feast, and Chef Michael Costa was immediately taken by paspalas’ intense and versatile flavor. We made several batches, using pieces of locally grown pork that the chef and his sous-chefs butchered in the kitchen. Besides the Kean scrambled eggs–also called ‘paspalas’ –we filled jars with the pork confit for future use. Bonnie Benwick, the former food editor of Washington Post got enamored with it, as well as with the eponymous scrambled eggs from Kea, and  made the dish famous in her column!

 

(more…)

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Roasted New Potatoes…without Recipe!

I often feel that the side dishes are more interesting than the meat or poultry that is traditionally served these days. A few years back when we dug out the second crop of potatoes from the garden I couldn’t wait to serve them simply roasted, rubbed with olive oil!

 

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Besides olive oil I sprinkled the new, scrubbed potatoes with salt and pepper—I love to use Maras or Urfa pepper flakes that add deep, fruity flavor not just heat. I scattered a few sprigs of thyme, savory, rosemary or some sage leaves, whatever I could grab from the garden; I also added one or two onions, quartered, and two whole heads of garlic halved horizontally, tossing everything in a bowl with olive oil. Onion and garlic add their flavor to the new potatoes as they roast together on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This detail is very important: cleaning the pan afterwards is a breeze; otherwise the roasting vegetables caramelize and stick to the metal so it needs soaking and quite a bit of scrubbing… (more…)

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‘Fava’ and the History of the Humble Lathyrus Pea

Santorini Fava is served as meze at taverns throughout Greece and few suspect its long history and roots…

A somewhat spectacular variation of the common dish we offered at the 2019 Oxford Symposium Dinner we cooked with chef Michael Costa. He preferred a perfectly smooth fava puree, and added basil leaves to my chopped scallions, herbs, and bitter greens, which made it perfect!  I also like to top fava with sweet-wine-braised capers and onions, a traditional Santorini condiment.

 

Long before Santorini became one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations it was one of Greece’s most destitute islands.  Poor on natural resources and badly exposed to the harsh winds of the Aegean, Santorini’s impoverished but ingenious inhabitants survived on whatever they could forage or cultivate in small terraced gardens on steep rocky hills. (more…)

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