Creamy Eggplant Puree (Hünkar Beğendi)

This is my take on  Hünkar, which  is traditionally prepared with sheep’s milk butter; but I find that this olive oil variation can be equally sumptuous. Cheese plays a very important role in my version and can alter the taste dramatically: Gruyere and cheddar make a richly sweet dish, but smoked cheddar or provolone combined with Feta adds a spicier note.

 

 

An Ottoman Sultan, a French Princess…and Hünkar Beğendi – all the necessary ingredients for romance, intrigue, and culinary invention.  According to legend this rich and creamy eggplant puree was created in the 18th century by one of the Sultan’s cooks.  The occasion was a dinner given in honor of a French Princess visiting the palace of the Ottoman ruler in Istanbul. The French were known for their love of vegetable purees, so the cook paid homage to the Princess by presenting an Oriental version, using the Empire’s most admired vegetable.  The dish was a great success.  We know less about the Sultan’s pursuit of the Princess…

 

In Turkey and in Greece hünkar traditionally accompanies a tomato lamb or beef stew. I love it on its own, or topped with my  Basic Tomato Sauce. You can also serve it with braised kale or other hearty greens. Hünkar makes a great appetizer: serve it with toasted pita triangles to scoop-up the creamy puree or spread it on toasted, garlic-rubbed multi-grain bread.

 

Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

 

 

Serves 4 as a main dish, or 8-10 as an appetizer (more…)

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The Green, Winter Greek Salad

Inspired from the traditional Lesbos winter salad as I adapted it from the recipe in my book The Foods of the Greek Islands.   Greek Salad is seasonal here; in the summer tomatoes are its basic ingredient but in the winter it is definitely green.

 

 

Greek Salad is seasonal here; in the summer tomatoes are its basic ingredient, but in the winter it is definitely green.  From the first October rains up until the end of April, the greengrocers of Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos, used to sell each head of romaine lettuce tied together with two or three sprigs of borage (often with its little blue flowers), two or three scallions, several sprigs of peppery arugula, four or five sprigs of dill or fennel fronds, a few sprigs of peppery wild cress and either fresh mint or a little wild celery. Once home, these essential ingredients for the local green winter salad are thinly sliced and tossed with a simple vinaigrette.

It’s important to cut the greens at the last moment and to slice them very thin. If they are coarsely cut, the salad will taste different.

 

 

Makes 4 servings (more…)

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Butternut Squash Soup with Yogurt

This is the soup I make often varying the ingredients slightly –with more onion or leek, sometimes adding chopped, dried mushrooms instead of the chicken broth. The topping also may vary; once I made a kind of caper-scallion-chard pesto instead of the fried peas.

Just toasted pine nuts with chopped cilantro are also a fine, simpler topping for this comforting winter soup.

 

Serves 6-8  (more…)

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Braised Green Beans and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce (Fassolakia Ladera)

Stringless green beans became widely available in Greece only in the last few years. As far back as I can remember, before we could cook this very popular summer dish we had to slave for hours trimming each one of the flattish beans – a kind of runner bean – that we cooked.

My mother often added sliced zucchini (see variation) when she wanted to save time, trimming fewer runner beans but still making enough food for all four of us. Fassolakia ladera, made with any kind of green beans, even with frozen ones, is an amazing dish! The potatoes take on a wonderful flavor cooked together with the beans in a rich tomato sauce, and I can’t resist eating them while still warm.

Sprinkle with the reserved parsley and serve warm or at room temperature, if you can wait, with crusty bread and Feta cheese.

 

Serves 4-6  (more…)

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Oven-roasted Summer Vegetables, Briami

We often roast the vegetables in the wood-fired oven and they become even more delicious and smoky. But even in the conventional oven, with the addition of some pimenton –the Spanish smoked pepper– if you like, this is a glorious and extremely easy dish to make.

When we were kids, before we had an electric stove with an oven, my mother used to get to our neighborhood’s bakery a pan of mixed vegetables well-doused in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano and other herbs. It was roasted in the communal oven, after the breads were baked, and we collected it just before lunch. Especially practical on summer days when we went swimming, as the baker was left to cook our lunch!

Serve it either warm or at room temperature, preferably with the addition of feta cheese, and fresh, crusty bread! These days we may just roast eggplants and peppers, omitting the potatoes if we want to serve the vegetables with rice or bulgur (see the Variation).

 

(more…)

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