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!

 

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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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Quince Preserves (Kydoni Glyko)

Quince is one of the most popular Greek spoon sweets. It is served as a dessert topping for yogurt in taverns all around the country. Tourists love it, though unfortunately most restaurants use cheap commercial preserves.

By cooking down the cores and seeds that contain most of the pectin, and adding their rich broth to the sweet, we can make our own quince preserves with less sugar and more fruity flavor and aroma. I prefer to fill small jars—once opened, the contents are difficult to resist. At least with small jars you might pause before breaking the seal, but then again you might not!  By adding spices, I turn some of the spoon sweet into an unusual relish (see Variation).

 

Makes 3 1/2 pints (1.5 L) or 6 one-cup (250 ml) jars (see Note) (more…)

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Yogurt, Olive oil, and Feta Drop Cookies (Koulourakia Almyra)

My mother used to made a version of these, with more flour together with the yogurt and olive oil, so that she could shape flat disks and fill the half-moon tyropitakia (turnovers) with feta mixed with eggs and chopped mint.

I just thought that I could probably whip up a savory cookie that contained the cheese and mint, and here is my version.  You can halve the recipe, but keep in mind that you can freeze these savory koulourakia and even if you don’t warm them up a bit before serving, they are still delicious.

 

Makes 40-45 cookie (about two-inch) (more…)

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