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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Santorini Fava with Caramelized Onions and Capers

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

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.

Inspired chef Dimitris Mavrakis, in Kritamon, his wonderful restaurant in Archanes, Crete, makes fava with a combination of legumes: dried fava beans, split peas and some lentils, and the flavor of the pureed beans is wonderful, even without any topping (see variation).

8-10 Meze servings (more…)

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Youvetsi: Baked Lamb with Pasta in Tomato Sauce

Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands.

This is the basic recipe for the very popular meat and pasta dish. You can prepare it with beef –I very often make it with the local, beef-like, veal shank on Kea (pictured here) but also with free range, gamy chicken (see variations).

Although I think that orzo-pasta works best, you can also find the dish made with hilopites (the small squares, or the flat, ribbon-like traditional pasta).

Makes 8 servings       (more…)

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Figs in my Bread!

FIGS green 014 S

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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Bread Stuffed with Figs and Brown Sugar

Fig Bread cut SServe as dessert, with xynomysithra –the tangy ricotta-like fresh cheese from Chania, Crete. It is great for breakfast with yogurt and fruits, but can also be paired with aged and spicy cheeses. It is wonderful with gorgonzola and kopanisti –the Greek fermented cheese– especially complemented with Vinsanto of Santorini, with Mavrodaphne of Patras or port wine, but also with my aromatic lemon liqueur. (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.

(more…)

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Pickled Huevos Haminados (slow-cooked Eggs in Onion Skins)

1a-eggs-pickle-jar1-smallThe pickled eggs taste better if they are slow-cooked with onion skins. But plain, hard-boiled eggs work well too. Serve as appetizer, drizzled with good, fruity olive oil, sprinkling with salt and pepper, or add to any salad of fresh, boiled or steamed vegetables. They complement beautifully bean, chickpea or lentil soups.

5-eggs-pickle-ingr-small

6 eggs ( 6-12 appetizer portions) (more…)

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