Cabbage Salad in Orange-vinegar Dressing

Cabbage is associated with winter in Greece. “You can’t have tender, sweet cabbage before the winter cold,” a farmer in Kea told me one October morning. The trick to turn almost any cabbage into a good salad is to “knead” the finely shredded leaves with salt and lemon juice. Here, instead of lemon a combination of orange and white ‘balsamic’ vinegar is used. The cabbage and carrots wilt and shrink, becoming juicy and delicious.

I tasted this salad recently at Ourania’s Tavern, on Samos island, and was fascinated. Ourania, the owner and cook, told us that the longer you leave the salad in the fridge, the better it gets;  she was right,  of course. 

 

 

4 to 6 servings

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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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HORTA, the Edible Wild Greens

We keep an overused, slightly rusted, wood-handled Opinel knife in the glove compartment of our car. It is there because we never know if and when we will spot some gorgeous edible greens during our rides around the island. Greeks probably foraged for horta —wild leafy greens— because they had little else to eat. We continue to gather and eat them today because we love them.

 

Watch the Video-Slideshow of the most important Edible Greens we forage, and more… 

 

 

During the rainy winter months, and as late as early spring, there are plenty of wild greens in the hills and mountains that surround the villages and the big cities. Middle-aged women and men gather them on special excursions. Armed with a knife and a plastic bag or a basket, the horta-gatherers can be spotted from a distance on a steep hill, but also next to a busy highway. A friend once told me that he has seen Greek-Americans gather greens on a sidewalk in New Jersey. These days, though, most city people buy horta from the weekly farmers’s markets; and they have become quite expensive, a real delicacy. (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!

 

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