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 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.
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 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.
Marathon beetroots are incredible. Not just the roots but also the leaves.
I boil the roots, slice them, season with chopped garlic, apple vinegar, salt and pepper. Absolutely delicious!
I blanch the leaves because they are very tender and serve with a lemon and olive oil dressing.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another variety, much more common in Greece, is «tsakonikes», originating in the area of Leonidion on the Peloponnese, some 150 km south of Marathon.
These are the best for preparing one of the best dishes of the eastern Mediterranean, «imam bayildi«.
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.
Slicing and frying the freshly cut eggplants and peppers in virgin olive oil produces a simple meal, yet an unforgettable one.
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.
The bitterness and acidity of the pepper blend almost perfectly with the sweetness of the stuffing. It is a perfect dish for imperfect humans.
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.
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.
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.
Next come runner 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.
The deconstructed dish is a delight.
String beans are my favourite, but they are quite tricky when you boil them.
Our last vegetable of the day is okra.
This baby okra came from Veroia, in the North of Greece near the burial area of King Philip, the father of Alexander the Great.
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.
Σάββατο, 23 Νοεμβρίου, 2013
With considerable delay, I publish today one of the absolute delicacies: crispy stuffed zucchini flowers.
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.
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.
After stuffing the flowers I dip them in water and dust them with flour before dipping into the batter mix.
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.
Served and ready to be enjoyed!
I slice them in two halves with a knife, and subsequently eat them with my hands. Totally different sensation.
I do not know about you, but I am good for a little more!
Πέμπτη, 4 Ιουλίου, 2013
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.
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.
The focus of the dish is the green bean. To extract maximum natural flavor I sliced them very thin.
To maintain the natural flavor, I only blanched them for two minutes.
Lets return to the tomato sauce.
When the tomatoes get soft, I add chopped basil and then put them through the sieve to remove 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.
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.
I let the beans relax and add garlic cloves and fresh onion stems in a pan with olive oil in low heat.
After half an hour I have delicious soft garli cloves, and onions. that maintain their original shape and have maximum flavor.
I keep the olive oil infused with the garlic and onion flavor on the side and start building a stack..
Bottom layer is the onions and the galic, then the green beans, and on top the sauce.
Enkoy with a robust white like asyrtico or a fine medium bodied red like a pimot noir.
Κυριακή, 23 Ιουνίου, 2013
«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.
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.
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».
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.
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
Enough written, enjoy it with a robust white wine.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I let them rest for 20 minutes, and then served with fresh bread and white wine, preferably asyrtico of Santorini.
Τετάρτη, 13 Φεβρουαρίου, 2013
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 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.
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.
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.
While this is happening, I saute onions and garlic in olive oil, and this is the beginning of Stage 2.
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.
Serve and eat immediately. I like ot sprinkle over the dish chopped coriander.
Enjoy it with a robust white, I prefer assyrtico from Santorini.
Κυριακή, 9 Δεκεμβρίου, 2012
I have been invited to lunch and the hostess asked me to prepare something sweet for the conclusion.
A good friend was telling me a few days ago about «ravani» or «revani», a semolina sponge cake dressed in syrup.
All of a sudden, the decision was made: Ravani for desert!!!!!
Ravani is the name we use in the south of Greece. The same cake is called revani in the north, and this is the name used in Tukey.
However, one should not hasten to add «country» labels to a cake that belongs to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The cake in Egypt comes with the name «Basbousa». From Egypt it has travelled west, so we find it in Lybia, and other countries in North Africa.
A well-travelled cake by necessity comes with many variations.
I chose to prepare the variation that is popular in the northern Greek Town of Veroia.
150 grams of sour sheep’s yogurt
325 grams of white flour
150 grams of semolina
100 grams of sugar
1 teaspoon of baking powder
vanilla to your taste
For the syrup
3 cups of water
3 cups of sugar
1. I do not like the cake to be very sweet, so I did not use all the sugar, both in the cake and in the syrup.
2. I love pomegrenate, so I added some juice.
Prepare the syrup and let it relax for 30 minutes.
Mix all the dry indredients by hand.
Mix the eggs, the yogurt and the pomegrenate juice until you have a uniform mix.
Bring the two mixew together and work them by hand until you have a sticky but semi-liquid mix.
Preheat a (add some butter so that it does not stick) baking tray in 180 degrees Celcius.
Place the mix in the hot tray and spread it evenly.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Cut in pieces and pour over the (cold) syrup.
Let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Serve and enjoy!!!