A lamb offal dish for daring souls

Κυριακή, 3 Μαΐου, 2015

Spring time is a good time to cook dishes with lamb offal.

I buy lamb which less than one year old, and weigh no more than 12 kilograms.

Of course you can buy offal separately if you wish.

The most typical dish we cook is a lamb offal soup the night before Easter. I like this dish, but I wanted to try something new this time.

 

Lamb offal - marinated and ready to cook

Lamb offal – marinated and ready to cook

So  I marinated the offal (liver, lung, heart, sweetbreads) in red wine and oregano just to moderate the strong odor of the material, and then diced it finely.

I prepared a mix of fresh onion, fresh garlic, parsley, dill, fresh oregano, pickled hot peppers and placed it in a big pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. If you like, you can add some sultana raisins for sweetness and pine kernels for texture. After the greens started sweating, I threw in the diced offal and let it cook for about five minutes. After that I took the offal out of the pan, added the juice of one lemon to the mix (it needs the acidity to counter the intensity of the offal) and slowly reduced the liquids of the greens so that the mix is juicy with being runny.

In parallel, in a pot I prepared sticky rice with salt and added at the last minute of big dollop of butter.

Lamb offal with sticky rice and yogurt

Lamb offal with sticky rice and yogurt

I served the rice and offal in separate partitions of the plate, and added some strained yogurt because it adds a feeling of smoothness which I enjoy after the encounter with the intensity of the offal. The red bits that you see on the plate are chili pepper flakes.

Lamb offal - detail

Lamb offal – detail

The rice and yogurt work well together to enhance and promote the offal, which dressed in its green glory is hot, aromatic and powerful. The tricky part of the dish is the offal – greens ratio. Too little offal and you have a warm funny tasting green salad. Too little, and you are over powered by the offal.

Monemvassios 2006

Monemvassios 2006

I served the dish with a red wine from the area of Monemvasia on the Peloponnese, called «Monemvassios 2006«. It is a blend of St. George’s red and Mavroudi. I liked its balance and moderate intensity.

 

 

 

Vegetables from Marathon Greece, and more…

Κυριακή, 21 Δεκεμβρίου, 2014

«Gastronomy begins in the (market) stalls» old saying

In the middle of Greek winter, and as we are bracing ourselves to elect or not elect a new President of the Greek Democracy (?), surrounded by a multitude of enemies and hostile elements, I reminisce about how good the vegetables are in my hometown, Marathon, Greece. This is a natural reaction from a psychological point of view. When you drown in your own blood and bodily fluids, you need an uplifting element to cheer you up. As the Monty Python song goes, «always look on the bright side of life».

Most of the vegetables presented here are from Marathon. There are a few exceptions which will be noted. They are included because on the one hand they are important, and on the other hand it is always good to violate a rule, especially one that you have set.

Vegetables are presented first, and then a relevant dish, if available.

A reminder regarding Greek cuisine is due here. What I know as Greek cuisine belongs to the «pastoral» tradition. Simple food, prepared with few means and always with local ingredients. I am not – because I know nothing about it – talking about the cuisine of Ancient Greece, or the cuisine of Byzantium.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Cucumbers came to Greece from India, where it was known since 3000 BC.

Marathon’s cucumbers are very tasty. They are not as big as the cucumbers from the rearby area of Kalyvia Attika, but size is not everything. Their skin is so thin and soft that there is no reason the peel it off. Assuming that you know the producer and you know that they do not use substances that might make the skin harmful.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes

The tomato came to Europe from Central and South America on 1544 and to Greece on 1818.

Their taste and aroma of Marathon tomatoes is unsurpassable. My friend Michalis, the producer from whom I purchase most of the vegetables, has explained to me that it is the combination of two distinct factors that make the Marathon tomatoes unique. The soil and the water. As a matter of fact, the tomatoes growing on the slopes of the hills are more tasty than the tomatoes on the flatland.

Red Radishes

Red Radishes

Red radishes are super boosters of the body’s metabolism. We eat them raw, with a touch of salt. Nothing else.

Rumours that radishes are aphrodisiac have not been substantiated by scientific research. To be on the safe side, keep eating at least three or four red radishes prior to your main meal every day, and you might be the lucky winner! The important thing is to be ready when opportunity knocks.

Beetroot from Marathon, Greece

Beetroot from Marathon, Greece

Marathon beetroots are incredible. Not just the roots but also the leaves.

beetroot2

Sliced and dressed beetroots

I boil the roots, slice them, season with chopped garlic, apple vinegar, salt and pepper. Absolutely delicious!

Boiled beetroot leaves

Blanched beetroot leaves

I blanch the leaves because they are very tender and serve with a lemon and olive oil dressing.

Zucchini

Zucchini

Zucchini have been in Greece since the ancient times.

What you see above are the «regular» zucchini, length up to 8 centimeters, diameter less than 1 centimeter.

What you see below is different. I woke up one morning and discovered in my garden a big zucchini.

Its length was 27 cm and it biggest diameter 10 cm.

zucchini1

I was curious to see how this abnormally big vegetable would taste.

The zucchini are so fresh and tasty that I prefer to eat them as fried sticks, either dressed with salt and pepper, or with a mild tzatziki dip (Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, squashed garlic, olive oil, salt). The «healthy» option is boiled, with olive oil and lemon.

Fried zucchini sticks

Fried zucchini sticks

My fried zucchini sticks are unbeatable. I accept bets and am willing to enter in any relevant competition in any country of the world.As it happened, the «giant» zucchini sticks tasted superb!

Zucchini flowers

Zucchini flowers

Zucchini flowers not only look beautiful, they taste great. The only secret is that they must be fresh, meaning that they have been collected in early morning, and you cook them for lunch. Always open them up to wash lightly, as various flying insects may have penetrated their soft shell.

Zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh white cheese and herbs

Zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh white cheese and herbs

There are two major ways of cooking the zucchini flowers. One is to stuff them with young white goat’s cheese with herbs and fry them, the other is to stuff them with rice and spices and then cook them in vegetable broth. I prefer the dish with the young white cheese, as it is an essay on softness and finesse.

Eggplant

Eggplant

And now we arive at the second of my produce – after the giant zucchini – eggplants! I love eggplants! As you see they are «black».

The eggplant came to Greece in the 12th – 13th century AD from Arabia, through Byzantium.

There is nothing that can describe the aroma of the freshly cut eggplant. This is why I wash them and cook them as quickly as possible. This preserves the flavor and the richness of the taste.

aubergine_grilled_detail

Grilled eggplant

The best way to cook a freshly cut eggplant is to grill it on charcoal, after you coat it in olive oil. If you have the technique, so that the eggplant is cooked but not burned, the result is amazing. The key thing is to slice it at least one centimeter thick.

White aubergines

White aubergines

In the market you can also find white ones, which are supposedly softer and without seeds. The only major difference that counts for me is the skin. The whites’ skin is not bitter. Other than that, I would not know the difference in a blind test where the skin has been removed.

Ομορφες Τσακωνικες Μελιτζανες

Greek Eggplants – Variety «tsakonikes»

Another variety, much more common in Greece, is «tsakonikes», originating in the area of Leonidion on the Peloponnese, some 150 km south of Marathon.

Λυωνω και μονο που σε βλεπω

Imam bayildi eggplants

These are the best for preparing one of the best dishes of the eastern Mediterranean, «imam bayildi«.

Green Pepper

Green Pepper

Here we come to the third of my produces of the summer, green bell peppers! What I wrote above about the aroma of a freshly cut eggplant holds also for the green pepper.

Peppers were imported into Europe from South America in late 15th – early 16th century. It is not known when they came to Greece.

Fried eggplants and peppers

Fried eggplants and peppers

Slicing and frying the freshly cut eggplants and peppers in virgin olive oil produces a simple meal, yet an unforgettable one.

Stuffed peppers

Stuffed peppers

My favourite green pepper dish is stuffed peppers with minced meat. I add pig’s skin (when I have it for extra flavour, oine kerners, raisins, and a touch of rice or bulgur wheat to absorb the liquids.

Stuffed pappers ready to serve

Stuffed pappers ready to serve

The bitterness and acidity of the pepper blend almost perfectly with the sweetness of the stuffing. It is a perfect dish for imperfect humans.

Green peas

Green peas

I now move a bit away from Marathon, some 200 kilometers north, to the island of Evoia, where my father was born. In one of my visits there my good cousin gave me green peas and artichokes. It was late spring.

Artichokes

Artichokes

The combined dish with potatoes (and the stems of the artichokes) is just wonderful. If you exclude the potatoes, this is a dish that the ancient Greeks might have enjoyed.

Green peas

Green peas

When you do not have artichokes, you can still prepare a wonderful dish with green peas, based on the «yahni» cooking style.The dish below I cooked with green peas from the area of Livanates, some 90 km northwest of Marathon, near the ancient town of Thebes.

Green peas with pomodori, onions, chilli pepper, and parseley

Green peas with pomodori, onions, chilli pepper, and parseley

Next come runner beans from Marathon.

green_beans1

Green beans from Marathon

They are so tender, that I eat them raw with salt. When I cook them, I prefer a «deconstructed»  «yahni» dish. Instead of putting all the ingredinets in a pot, I assemble them after each undergoes processing separately.

Sliced runner beans

Sliced runner beans

The deconstructed dish is a delight.

Deconstructed yahni beans

Deconstructed yahni beans

String beans are my favourite, but they are quite tricky when you boil them.

string_beans2

String beans

Our last vegetable of the day is okra.

Baby okra from Veroia, Greece

Baby okra from Veroia, Greece

This baby okra came from Veroia, in the North of Greece near the burial area of King Philip, the father of Alexander the Great.

Okra "yahni"

Okra «yahni»

I cook it «yahni», with onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes, chilli peppers and herbs. The okra is so tender, it melts in your mouth. Unforgettable experience.

Here our short journey ends. I hope to have been able to share with you dear visitor and reader some of the unique and distinct vegetables of MArathon and some other areas of Greece.

Crispy Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Σάββατο, 23 Νοεμβρίου, 2013

With considerable delay, I publish today one of the absolute delicacies: crispy stuffed zucchini flowers.

Zucchini flowers to die for!

Zucchini flowers to die for!

It is November, Christmas is coming, and I dream of the Summer and its delicacies!

The whole secret is to have the super freshest of zucchini, cut from the vegetable garden a split second ago!

Time is important, in case you have not noticed, not only in what we do, but also in how we prepare our food. 

Mizythra with coriander and mint

Myzithra with coriander and mint

I stuff the flowers with a soft white cheese mix. I use myzithra from Crete, add salt and pepper and some chopped coriander and mint.

Fresh ricotta would also have been perfect for the dish.

Dusted with flour

Dusted with flour

After stuffing the flowers I dip them in water and dust them with flour before dipping into the batter mix.

Bubbly batter does it!

Bubbly batter does it!

The batter has to be full of bubbles! A bubbly batter does it! Stir vigorously until you have the bubbles that will give lightness to the batter.

Crispy stuffed zucchini flowers served

Crispy stuffed zucchini flowers served

Served and ready to be enjoyed!

Crispy stuffed zucchini flower sliced and ready to be enjoyed - please use your hands!!!

Crispy stuffed zucchini flower sliced and ready to be enjoyed – please use your hands!!!

I slice them in two halves with a knife, and subsequently eat them with my hands. Totally different sensation.

sliced2

I do not know about you, but I am good for a little more!

Green beans (haricot vert) «yahni» is one of the most delicious dishes during the Greek Summer.

Today I cook the deconstructed dish.

The desire for deconstruction was triggered in the open market where I bought the beans. They were so fresh and fragrant and the same time so delicate that I felt the need to maintain the «essence» of the green bean while at the same time enjoying the tomatoes, the onions and the garlic that are the key ingredients of the «yahni» dish.

In what follows I present the preparation of the three key ingredients of the dish as they were prepared and cooked.

Tomatoes in the sauce pan

Tomatoes in the sauce pan

The first key ingredient in a good «yahni» is the tomato sauce. A good tomato sauce is made from fresh tomatoes. I use small tomatoes, of the variety that they use for the canned ones (thicker skin, firm flesh).

The first stage in the making of the sauce is to cut them in half, add salt and pepper, a bit of dry oregano and olive oil, and put them in a sauce pan in medium heat.

Green beans (haricot vert)

Green beans (haricot vert)

The focus of the dish is the green bean. To extract maximum natural flavor I sliced them very thin.

Green beans (haricot vert) thinly sliced

Green beans (haricot vert) thinly sliced

To maintain the natural flavor, I only blanched them for two minutes.

Sliced green bean detail

Sliced green bean detail – before blanching

Lets return to the tomato sauce.

Tomato sauce - stage 2

Tomato sauce – stage 2

When the tomatoes get soft, I add chopped basil and then put them through the sieve to remove the skins.

Tomato sauce - removing the skins

Tomato sauce – removing the skins

What remains will develop intense flavor after it is reduced to a thick juicy sauce.  What you need for that is to add some olive oil.

Tomato sauce final stage: reduction

Tomato sauce final stage: reduction

As the sauce is being reduced, I blanch the green beans. It is important for me not only to maintain the flavor but also the texture. I do not want them to be mushy, but crunchy.

Blanched green beans - detail

Blanched green beans – detail

I let the beans relax and add garlic cloves and fresh onion stems in a pan with olive oil in low heat.

Garlic and fresh onions in olive oil

Garlic and fresh onions in olive oil

After half an hour I have delicious soft garli cloves, and onions. that maintain their original shape and have maximum flavor.

Fresh onions and garlic

Fresh onions and garlic

I keep the olive oil infused with the garlic and onion flavor on the side and start building a stack..

detail2

Bottom layer is the onions and the galic, then the green beans, and on top the sauce.

Deconstructed green beans yahni - served

Deconstructed green beans yahni – served

Enkoy with a robust white like asyrtico or a fine medium bodied red like a pimot noir. 

Bon appetit!

«A fresh sardine is better than stale lobster» Feran Adria, Celebrity Chef. 

Today’s recipe is the result of inspiration. I dedicate it to my Friend M, who loves sardines.

Tomato skins and basil leaves

Tomato skins and basil leaves

I was preparing a tomato sauce the other day, and had in fornt of me a dish full of the tomato skins and the basil leaves that were left on the sieve after I pressed the tomatoes through.

Fresh sardines

Fresh sardines

On the other bench in the kitchen I had a bag with fresh sardines.

It all came together in a split second.

«Sardines fried in a tomato skin batter».

Sardines in the batter

Sardines in the batter

The batter is made with all purpose flour, baking soda, vinegar, eggs, salt, pepper, the tomato skins and basil mix, and water.

I let the mix rest for one hour in the fridge.

In the meantime, I gut the sardines and take the head off, but I leave the bone.

You could flour them before immersing in the batter, but it also works without.

Sardines fried in a batter of tomato skins

Sardines fried in a tomato skin batter

I fry in corn oil until orange brown.

You will notice that:

1. the sardine’s flesh melts in your mouth,

2. the bone is just a crunchy substance,

3. the acidity of the skin adds a wonderful counterbalance to the sweetness of the fish and the basil

DSCF8978

Sardines fried in a tomato skin batter

Enough written, enjoy it with a robust white wine.

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes: a ticket to heaven

Τετάρτη, 15 Μαΐου, 2013

Today I have a humble but most delicious dish that I consider a ticket to heaven.

And I must confess, I never say no to a ticket to heaven, no matter what the price.

In this case, the price is minimal.

Green peas in their shells

Green peas in their shells

This is not the result of my cooking skills and incredible experience; alas, I have to admit that it is 99% due to the sublime quality of the ingredients.

Green peas

Green peas

The freshest ingredients were grown and harvested in the seaside town of Oreoi in Northern Evoia, Greece, where I spent Easter 2013 with my cousins Kostas and Maria.

Maria gave me the peas and the artichokes as I was leaving to drive back to Marathon.

Artichokes and green onions

Artichokes and green onions

We talk about peas and we think sweet and fragrant. Add «crunchy». They were so fresh that I could eat them all uncooked.

They key to cooking the best ingredients is to preserve their flavor and texture, and only add the minimum of taste enhancement agents.

I added olive oil and butter on a deep pan, and let it melt and mix.

Potatoes in olive oil and butter

Potatoes in olive oil and butter

I then sautéed potatoes (grown in Marathon) to enhance the color and coat them with the oil and butter mix.

On top of the potatoes I grated lemon peel, and added salt and pepperoncino.

Grating lemon peel

Grating lemon peel

After the potatoes got a golden brown color, I added the peas, thinly sliced green onions, fresh coriander, some water and two sliced sun dried tomatoes.

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes in the pot

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes in the pot

I let them come to a boil and then added the artichoke hearts, the stems and the juice of one lemon.

After 15 minutes they were ready.

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes - served

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes – served

I let them rest for 20 minutes, and then served with fresh bread and white wine, preferably asyrtico of Santorini.

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes - detail

Green peas, potatoes and artichokes – detail

Bon appetite!

2012-culture-news-drive-friendly-shoes-mm-1_565x225

The intensity of the previous article has exhausted my intellectual capacities and I needed nurishment to recover my strength and composure.

The answer to the question «what do I cook now?» came – as it always does – from the market.

Musky octopus

Musky octopus

Musky octopus is the poor relative of mighty octopus. And for this reason is a lot cheaper. These days in Athens octopus sells for 14 Euros per kilo, whereas musky octopus sells for 6 Euros per kilo.

Musky octopus tentacles with one row of suction cups

Musky octopus tentacles with one row of suction cups

A key visual difference between the musky octoppus and its mighty relative is that musky has only one row of suction cups in each of its 8 tentacles, whereas the big relative has two.

Βασική διαφορά μεταξύ του και εύκολα αναγνωρίσιμη είναι ότι τα πλοκάμια του Χταποδιού φέρουν δύο (2) σειρές βεντούζες ενώ του Μοσχιού μια (1) σειρά.

Octopus detail: two rows of suction cups

Octopus detail: two rows of suction cups

My cooking method is in two stages.

Stage 1 is the simmering of the musky octopi in their own juice. I just place them in a pot without anything, and let them simmer in low heat for about 45 minutes.

Result of Stage 1

Result of Stage 1

While this is happening, I saute onions and garlic in olive oil, and this is the beginning of Stage 2.

Onions, garlic, and chilli peppers

Onions, garlic, and chilli peppers

When Stage 1 is done, I bring together the octopi and the onion and garlic mix, adding tomato paste, cover the pot and let them intermix for 30 minutes in low heat.

Musky octopus in tomato sause

Musky octopus in tomato sause

Serve and eat immediately. I like ot sprinkle over the dish chopped coriander.

Musky octopus in tomato sauce - detail

Musky octopus in tomato sauce – detail

Enjoy it with a robust white, I prefer assyrtico from Santorini.

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