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!

 

(more…)

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Chocolate-Olive-oil-almond-and-ginger Cake

‘Eat olive oil and come tonight’ (Φάε λάδι κι έλα βράδι) as the old Greek saying commended, pointing out the lightness, as well as the aphrodisiac properties of our indispensable ingredient. Both our savory and sweet dishes and treats are better with olive oil, I think, and I am not alone; this truly sumptuous cake is based on Nigella Lawson’s popular recipe

 

 

The glaze is based on  Smitten Kitchen’s  vegan olive-oil chocolate cake, but I prefer to use honey instead of corn syrup. I love to top the cake with crystalized ginger, but you can use candied orange slices if you prefer. 

Serve with cream and fresh strawberries or sliced oranges, preferably the spectacular-looking blood oranges, if you can get them. 

 

 

For a 9-inch cake (more…)

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Roasted New Potatoes…without Recipe!

I often feel that the side dishes are more interesting than the meat or poultry that is traditionally served these days. A few years back when we dug out the second crop of potatoes from the garden I couldn’t wait to serve them simply roasted, rubbed with olive oil!

 

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Besides olive oil I sprinkled the new, scrubbed potatoes with salt and pepper—I love to use Maras or Urfa pepper flakes that add deep, fruity flavor not just heat. I scattered a few sprigs of thyme, savory, rosemary or some sage leaves, whatever I could grab from the garden; I also added one or two onions, quartered, and two whole heads of garlic halved horizontally, tossing everything in a bowl with olive oil. Onion and garlic add their flavor to the new potatoes as they roast together on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This detail is very important: cleaning the pan afterwards is a breeze; otherwise the roasting vegetables caramelize and stick to the metal so it needs soaking and quite a bit of scrubbing… (more…)

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A Festive Winter Lunch

Since we do not celebrate Thanksgiving in our part of the world, and all over Europe, turkey, duck, occasionally goose, and on Kea usually rooster, is the central dish we serve for Christmas.  

 

 

I, too, cook poultry for our friends and us, and instead of potatoes I roast pieces of quince, carrots and maybe some yams and/or mushrooms. A very satisfying baked polenta –from David Tanis’ brilliant recipe— will accompany the bird, and I will probably begin with a salad of roasted butternut squash with a tangy tahini-garlic-lemon sauce, and/or braised red and white cabbage with cranberries. 

 

 

Preparing and Roasting the Bird: I start at least two days before the feast. I get the bird well in advance, as in most cases it has to be ordered since I like to get local meats and avoid the frozen turkeys. I ask my butcher to spatchcock the turkey or rooster I plan to roast. The technique looks much easier than it actually is, especially if you deal with a big bird and you have not particularly strong hands, as is my case. I reserve the backbone to boil along with the neck and the gizzards, to make the stock that I will use for basting and for the vegetables in the pan. 

I rub the bird inside-out with plenty of sea salt and a fair amount of coarsely ground black pepper, along with dried oregano, cumin, allspice, and ground coriander seeds.  Don’t be stringy, use at least 1/2 cup of this spice mix, or of my aromatic Aegean Herb & Spice Mix. Place the bird cut-side up in a pan lined with kitchen towels, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day turn the bird upside down on the pan, usually adding more spices, and store in the refrigerator again until the day you plan to roast it. On that day you need to take it out of the fridge 3-4 hours before you put it in the oven to bring it to room temperature. (more…)

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