‘Fava’ and the History of the Humble Lathyrus Pea

Santorini Fava is served as a 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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A Festive Winter Lunch

Since we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in our part of the world, and all over Europe, turkey, duck, occasionally goose, and on Kea usually rooster, is the central dish we serve for Christmas.  

 

 

I, too, cook poultry for our friends and us, and instead of potatoes I roast pieces of quince, carrots and maybe some yams and/or mushrooms. A very satisfying baked polenta –from David Tanis’ brilliant recipe— will accompany the bird, and I will probably begin with a salad of roasted butternut squash with a tangy tahini-garlic-lemon sauce, and/or braised red and white cabbage with cranberries. 

 

 

Preparing and Roasting the Bird: I start at least two days before the feast. I get the bird well in advance, as in most cases it has to be ordered since I like to get local meats and avoid the frozen turkeys. I ask my butcher to spatchcock the turkey or rooster I plan to roast. The technique looks much easier than it actually is, especially if you deal with a big bird and you have not particularly strong hands, as is my case. I reserve the backbone to boil along with the neck and the gizzards, to make the stock that I will use for basting and for the vegetables in the pan. 

I rub the bird inside-out with plenty of sea salt and a fair amount of coarsely ground black pepper, along with dried oregano, cumin, allspice, and ground coriander seeds.  Don’t be stringy, use at least 1/2 cup of this spice mix, or of my aromatic Aegean Herb & Spice Mix. Place the bird cut-side up in a pan lined with kitchen towels, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day turn the bird upside down on the pan, usually adding more spices, and store in the refrigerator again until the day you plan to roast it. On that day you need to take it out of the fridge 3-4 hours before you put it in the oven to bring it to room temperature. (more…)

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PAXIMADIA: barley biscuits’ past, present, and future…

 

I revisited paximadia last week because my friend Defne Koryürek from Ayvalık, on the other side of the Aegean, organized an e-workshop as part of the two-day interdisciplinary conference on Food Futures. She used my basic recipe for her lively presentation, and she invited me to take part and speak about the history and uses of paximadia, or peksimet as they call them in Turkey. It was a lovely experience that made me re-think paximadia as an ideal sustainable staple. It is time to revive the way our ancestors used this crunchy, twice-baked bread not just to accompany cheese and meze spreads –as I had suggested in the article I did for Eating Well magazine —   but also instead of pasta in broths and soups, and of course in salads.  

 

 

When, in the fifties, Ansel Keys and his colleagues studied the eating habits, the state of health, and life expectancy of various peoples in seven countries, they decided that the inhabitants of Crete were faring best of all. Paximadia (barley rusks) in those days were the staple food of the Cretans. But when their traditional eating habits became the model for the now famed Mediterranean diet, the barley biscuits were translated into “whole wheat bread” for the unaccustomed and refined Northern Europeans and Americans. Barley flour has now completely disappeared from the shelves of the supermarkets in big cities, and one can only find it in health food stores or at wholesale distributors of animal fodder. But on Kea as on other islands we can get a pound or two from the local bakeries which still bake the traditional hard and dark paximadia.

 

1-Barley-Paximadia

Paximadia–barley rusks–in various shapes from the Greek islands and Crete.

 

An old man from Mykonos told me that in the old days merchant ships preferred his island as a stopover because sailors loved to stock up on paximadia from the local bakeries made with a combination of barley and wheat flour. Similar biscuits are baked in most islands of the Aegean and the ones from Crete are still the most popular throughout Greece. One can get various kinds of Cretan paximadia in food stores and supermarkets. Although people belonging to the generation that traditionally fed on this kind of dried bread has either died or switched to more refined foods —like fluffy supermarket, crustless, sliced bread– there is a new generation of consumers who have tasted paximadia during their summer vacations in the islands and loved them. Once back in the city they started to look for them in their local bakeries, so now in most Athenian neighborhoods one can find darker or lighter paximadia, baked using mixtures containing more or less barley flour in addition to the wheat flour that makes lighter and crunchier biscuits, which need no soaking.

(more…)

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Warming and Envigorating

Our neighbors Stathi and Ela always bring us wonderful aromatic tsai (or chai), the aromatic Mountain Tea, when they visit their southern Albanian village.  Called ‘tea’ by many Greeks and other inhabitants around the Balkans, the tisane is made of the herb we call Mountain Tea and it is the warm beverage of choice!

 

The English/Indian tea we had in our Athenian homes was not common in rural Greece. I remember on our winter weekend excursions, when I was a child, we were lucky to get tsai tou vounou (Mountain Tea) in the morning and not the more assertive, somewhat bitter sage tea, which for us kids wasn’t a favorite.

 

Since ancient times, Mountain Tea has been the favorite herbal beverage of Greeks; in many Balkan countries the word ‘tea’ still refers to this particular aromatic and beneficial herb and not to the well-known Indian leaves. Its delicately aromatic flavor and smell is immediately recognized by all those who remember it from their childhoods bringing back comforting memories.  When a few years ago our neighbors brought us a jar of honey from Albania, Costas was moved when he immediately recognized it as being honey made from Mountain Tea. When he was little, every year around the same time, Urania, an elderly lady dressed in black, would visit their home in Volos, Thessaly, bringing the humble products from her village on Mt Othrys: mountain tea stalks and deliciously sweet mountain tea honey.

 

Mountain tea is refers to the herb Sideritis, which is found in a variety of subspecies. The precious wild herb, which had started becoming rarer and rarer due to over foraging, is now cultivated; and although its taste is different from wild tea, it is still quite aromatic and comfortingly elegant. Many believe that it has many therapeutic and disease-preventing properties, as ancient Greeks had suggested.

 

In Greece today many chefs are reinventing tea, using it in various dishes.  But the wonderful herb is quickly becoming known all around the world: chef Michael Costa at Zaytinya restaurant in Washington DC makes a enticing mountain tea granita which he serves with fresh fruit as a light spring and summer dessert.  In the north of Greece, mountain tea is the main ingredient in a variety of soft drinks under the label Tuvunu which are also available in the US.

 

 

 

 

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Spicy Festive Bread with Orange, Squash, and Raisins

Greek festive, Christmas and/or Easter breads (tsoureki) are similar to Jewish challah but have less fat and more spices.  In this, my newest Vegan version, I began experimenting starting from the Raisin Bread from the island of Mykonos, a recipe that I had included in my very first book The Foods of Greece.

 

This much lighter festive bread is in fact an interesting variety of the traditional raisin bread (stafidopsomo).  It comes from Mykonos, the now cosmopolitan Cycladic island, and was given to me by Anna Sigala, my old neighborhood baker from the days I used to live under the Akropolis.

 

Anna had told me that she learned to make it from her grandmother. Now that Koukaki –the area around Acropolis– has become extremely popular with both locals and foreign visitors, Takis, Anna’s son, transformed the old bakeshop into a much-written about  bakery where tourists line up to get sandwiches, pies, and sweets.

My mother and father hated raisin bread because, for a period during the 1930s, the Greek government made it compulsory for everyone buying any kind of bread to buy some raisin bread, too.  The Ministry of Agriculture had bought all the raisins from Corinth to keep the growers satisfied, for political reasons, and then invented this method to get rid of the surplus.

Later, when this stupid regulation was no longer applied, raisin breads disappeared from the bakeries because no one would buy them.  Only recently, more than three generations later, raisin bread has again become popular.

Athenian bakeries often slice tsoureki and other flavored breads and bake them again, to make delicious, light biscotti; you can do the same with this one, if you have any leftover.

I love it with spicy cheese, like Rockford and Gorgonzola, or simply with coffee or tea; I also use as a base for English trifle or summer pudding, much like my older version of pumpkin and tangerine bread.

 

Makes 3 small loaves (more…)

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