Shanklish: Spicy Levantine Cheese

Syrian-born chef Mohammed Antabli makes a modern version of this age-old sun-dried cheese of the Levant, using a mixture of yogurt and feta, then rolls the little balls in spices, and serves them at Al Waha, considered one of London’s top Middle Eastern restaurants. I used his recipe, but varied the spices slightly, following his brilliant way of ‘aging’ these wonderful cheese balls.

Crumble them over salads, like the one with beets and arugula, or slice the log-shaped cheese and serve it on its own as an appetizer, drizzled with good, fruity olive oil.

You can also preserve shanklish in jars, submerged in olive oil, in the refrigerator; it will keep for up to 4 months or more.

Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

 

Detail from a photo by Penny De Los Santos

 

Sun-drying laban—a fresh cheese made by straining yogurt—was one means, before the invention of cold storage, to preserve perishable dairy products. The cheese was shaped into balls and then rolled in an aromatic mix of seasonings—za’atar, red pepper flakes, or a mixture of local herbs and spices—and then dried completely until rock-hard, finally ready for extended storage in clay jars.

These fermented, extremely pungent shanklish balls are a multipurpose spice in their own right. Ground with a mortar and pestle, they can be used to provide different dimensions of flavor to salads and vegetable dishes.

 

For about 32 golf-ball-size pieces, or 2 logs (more…)

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An Eastern Mediterranean Staple: Ksinohondro, Trahana, and Kishk

 This traditional fermented ‘pasta,’ an ancient staple, is made in the summer with coarsely ground grains – wheat or barley – and milk or yogurt.  

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Scroll down to find the basic recipe for the traditional soup or porridge. 

 

The two essential ingredients are transformed into a flavorful and nourishing ‘pasta’ for the winter months. Though I can’t prove it, I have a hunch that early agricultural communities, in different parts of the world, thought up methods to combine and preserve grain and dairy; this is why fermented ‘pasta’ comes in distinct regional variations throughout the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

 

I wouldn’t suggest that you make your own ksinohondro and/or  kishk if there were good-quality commercial alternatives. In Chania, Crete, women sell wonderful homemade ksinohondro at the weekly farmer’s markets of this beautiful city; but unless you know somebody on the island to buy it for you, this delicious, traditional staple is seldom available elsewhere in Greece. On Lesbos island a similar ‘pasta’ is called ‘trahana’ and is often shaped into cup-like forms.   (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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Sykopita: Fig ‘Pie’

Using up the surplus of figs, the over-ripe fruit is mashed and mixed with nuts, spices and liqueur or sweet wine, then shaped as a thin flat cake and dried in the sun, as it was done since antiquity. Now you can dry it in a low oven or in a food dehydrator.

 

 

Wrapped in fig leaves and stored in a dry, cool place it keeps well for months; not in our house, though, as it has become Costas’ beloved snack, along our lightly toasted almonds. Traditionally it is cut into small pieces and enjoyed in the winter accompanied by sweet wine and/or paximadia (twice-baked, savory biscotti).

Similar fig ‘pies’ are made in Cyprus, in southern Italy, Spain, Malta, and all around the Mediterranean with variations in the spicing and the various favorite liqueurs.

 

For a 30 cm (12-inch) about 2.5 cm (1 inch) ‘pie’ (more…)

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