With Garden Castoffs and Leftovers

I have almost forgotten the last time I thought of a dish first, and then went to buy the necessary ingredients.

The radish seeds we planted once grew tall, with lush leaves but no radishes. ‘There was some problem with the seeds,” said our friend at the nursery when I asked him if the reason was my planting too many in a small space.

 

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 “Take them out and throw them to the neighbor’s sheep,” he said, offering to give me new, guaranteed radish seeds. But the greens looked wonderful, tender, crunchy and somewhat spicy, so I braised them with garlic, adding slices of the delicious, smoked local sausage I got from Yiannis, the butcher at the port. I complemented the dish with some of the half-cooked wheat berries or farro (see the Note HERE) that I keep in the freezer. We loved this dish of greens and grains, flavored with pepper flakes and turmeric, and drizzled with lemon juice.

I probably will never be able to make the exact same one again, though, as I doubt that I will be able to grow this kind of mock-radish greens anytime soon. See the easy recipe for Risotto with Greens though, which you can make with spinach, chard, or with red beet stems and leaves that make an impressive deep red risotto.

 

This is an example of how I choose what to cook every day, looking first at the garden, then opening the cupboards, my fridge and the freezer to decide what I could use to supplement the fresh produce and create an interesting and wholesome meal.

I chop and freeze the beet stems and use them to make the bright red Beet Risotto, a Variation of my basic Risotto with Greens.

 

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Grain Risotto with Kale or Cabbage

I love to make risotto with our Mediterranean wheat berries (farro) or with pearl barley. I use the grains on their own or complemented with some rice; in these combinations I prefer to add the long, basmati rice instead of Arborio or medium gran rice.

The cooking is a variation of my usual risotto with leafy greens, but on this occasion I prefer to cook the grains with a more substantial green, like kale or cabbage. 

A few years back we managed to grow some Russian, as well as Tuscan Kale in the garden; but unfortunately we have not been able to grow these wonderful greens again, so I use cabbage for my hearty grain risotto.

See also Kapuska: Cabbage with Ground Meat and Cabbage.

 

 

 

Serves 4-6 (more…)

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Chickpeas with Orange, Lemon and Squash

There are countless variations of slow-cooked chickpeas all over the Mediterranean. Most are vegetarian, like this one, inspired by a dish Stelios Tylirakis prepares in his wood-fired oven at Dounias tavern, high in the mountains above Chania, Crete.

In Crete chickpeas are commonly flavored with bitter (Seville) orange, while in most other islands lemon is used. I think orange peel is a wonderful substitute for the bitter orange, along with some lemon juice. This simple chickpea dish, like the one without squash, should be made with the best quality, preferably organic dried chickpeas, not the canned ones. Their flavor is so much more interesting. 

I add mustard, something I learned from my mother who claimed that it made all pulses more digestible. I’m not sure it does, but it certainly deepens the flavor of the beans and chickpeas.

 

I start describing the long, old fashioned oven-cooked method, and then I add my way of making the dish fast, with pre-cooked, frozen chickpeas without losing its original flavor and texture –by the way I, as most Greeks, like the chickpeas meltingly tender, somewhat mushy, not chewy.

 

I developed this recipe for EATING WELL magazine; part of a piece about the healthy Cooking of Crete (March 2020).

 

 

Serves 6-8 (more…)

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Bulgur Pilaf with Eggplants, Peppers, and Tomatoes (Hondros me Melitzanes)

This pilaf is often made not with plain bulgur (hondros in Crete) but with xynohondros, the traditional tangy ‘pasta’ of Crete, which is prepared early in the summer by simmering cracked wheat in goat’s milk that has been left to sour for 3-4 days. Tablespoons of the porridge-like mixture are spread on cloths and left in the sun, turned over a few times, until bone-dry. Usually the pieces are crumbled before drying completely, to facilitate the cooking. Kept in cloth bags xynohondros is used all year round for pilafs, soups, and added to stews with vegetables, meat or poultry.

To imitate the xynohondros flavor I suggest you serve the pilaf with dollops of yogurt and/or crumbled feta.

 

I developed this recipe for EATING WELL magazine; 

part of a piece about the healthy Cooking of Crete (March 2020).

 

 

Makes 4 servings   (more…)

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Bulgur Salad with Nuts, Spices, and Tomato Paste Dressing

My recipe is inspired by the Syrian Jewish Bazargan, yet one more wonderful dish introduced to the world by the unsurpassed Claudia Roden in her 1968 classic Book of Middle Eastern Food, that she later updated.  

I am surprised that we don’t find this irresistible bulgur ‘salad’ along with the ubiquitous hummus and the other Mediterranean-inspired prepared foods offered at the counters of the gourmet supermarkets.

Bazargan is traditionally eaten together with other meze; but it is filling and very satisfying, so we often eat it as main course during  our summer lunches, accompanied by a simple tomato or cucumber salad.

 

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Assertively spiced with cumin and seasoned with tangy tamarind, bazargan makes a terrific appetizer especially if you serve it elegantly on lettuce leaves, or on toasted pita bread. Once you’ve tasted it, you will want to keep eating it until every last grain has disappeared…

 

Make sure you listen to the latest long, wonderful interview of the incredible Claudia Roden! She is such an inspiration for all of us!

 

Makes 6-8 servings, 10-12 as appetizer  

 

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