Gorgeous White Eggplants

My friend Hara Alexandrou gave me a basket with these wonderful white eggplants she grows in her garden. As I had mentioned before, we have not been able to produce decent eggplants of any kind in our sandy, poor soil, although we tried for years. I roasted slices of these wonderful eggplants simply dressed with plenty of olive oil, sprinkled with coarsely ground coriander, salt, and Aleppo pepper.

 

 

Only once we managed to harvest from our garden a few tiny white eggplants, full of seeds… (more…)

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Green, Winter Salad, and the Flowery, Spring Version

Greek Salad is seasonal here; in the summer tomatoes are its base, but in the winter the salad is definitely green.

The green salad I describe is inspired from the traditional Lesbos winter salad as I adapted it from the recipe in my book The Foods of the Greek Islands.  

In the spring, though, we often add all kinds of edible wild flowers to the basic mix, plus any fragrant sprigs and leaves we find in the garden (scroll down for the VARIATION).

 

 

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.

 

For the spring version we often create “a multisensory food experience,” as Mind Body Green proposes. “When flavor, texture, appearance, fragrance, and beauty come together on your plate—the result is sheer culinary delight.” 

About the very common, slightly bitter dandelion blossoms —Taraxacum officinale — we read that “the golden blossoms are nutritious edible flowers beloved by herbalists, gourmets, and culinary devotees alike. Their bioactive chemical compounds have been touted for diuretic, liver-supporting, and anti-inflammatory benefits, among others. Some research has even found the dandelion plant may increase Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, two valuable types of probiotics associated with gut health, ” the article point out.

 

WORD of CAUTION: Not all flowers are edible; unless you are sure what exactly you are foraging, be careful because many flowers may be toxic! 

 

Makes 4 servings (more…)

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Ashure: Sweet Grains with Orange, Strawberries and Nuts

This recipe is a variation, inspired by the pudding I once had at Hi Life, a fish restaurant in Faliron, south of Athens.  The orange pieces and the fresh orange juice in the grain mixture make a thick, soupy ashure. We love it on its own, or served together with fresh, creamy or aged cheeses, especially with manouri, or any semi-hard goat cheese from Crete or from the Cyclades.

READ more about this ancient dessert. 

 

 

Serves 12-14

 

1 cup farro (see note) soaked in warm water overnight, and drained.

 

Pinch of salt

 

2 cinnamon sticks

 

1/3 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

 

2/3 cup bulgur (fine or medium)

 

2/3 – 1 cup sugar, to taste

 

1/2 cup lemon or orange marmalade (optional)

 

2/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts (toasted if you like) coarsely ground

 

2/3 cup walnuts or pecan, coarsely ground

 

1/2 – 1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, as many as you like

 

8 dried figs, diced with scissors

 

6 dried apricots diced with scissors

 

1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

 

1/2 -1 teaspoon ground pepper

 

Zest and juice from 2 oranges, plus 2 more large oranges, one peeled and diced and the other sliced thinly for topping the pudding

 

1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other citrus-flavored liqueur –I use my own Lemon Liqueur

 

1 cup or more strawberries for topping, or about 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds

 

 

3-ashure-nut-mix-half-s
4-ashure-orange-s

 

In a pot bring to boil 2 quarts of water with the drained farro, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon sticks. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or more, until the grains are tender; be careful not to overcook them. Drain the farro, keeping the cinnamon sticks and the cooking broth; you need 6 cups of it.

In a mixer or blender process the cooked grains with some of the cooking liquid to get a coarse pulp. Transfer to a saucepan and add the chickpeas, if using, the reserved broth (6 cups minus what you used in the blender), the bulgur, the cinnamon sticks, and 2/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or more, until the bulgur is cooked.

 

5-ashure-mix-pot-s

 

Remove from the heat, discard the cinnamon sticks and stir in the marmalade, if using, the almonds or hazelnuts, the walnuts or pecan, the figs, the apricots and the pistachios, keeping 1-2 tablespoons for topping the pudding. Add the ground cinnamon and pepper, the orange zest, the orange juice, the diced orange and the liqueur. Stir gently to incorporate all the ingredients, taste and if you want, add more sugar, stir again and transfer to a large bowl.

 

6-ashure-bowl-1-s

 

Arrange the orange slices and the strawberries, or pomegranate seed on the surface of ashure and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight before serving.

 

NOTE: I used Anson Mills Slow Roasted Farro in the US, both for my Kollyva and for Ashure. The wheat berries we use in Greece are similar to this particular farro, and very different from the American wheat berries, which I don’t recommend.

 

 

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Cauliflower Salad with Rosemary-scented Vinaigrette

I often make this  salad buying two small cauliflowers and using the stems from both, plus a few florets to make my Cauliflower gratin. I steam most of the tender florets and serve them dressed with my fragrant rosemary-scented vinaigrette. In Greece traditionally we used to boil cauliflower and broccoli in plenty of water –the old-fashioned large ones needed considerably more cooking– but these small tender ones taste better steamed, I think.  

 

 

Serves 3-4 (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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