In my kitchen this month, I am enjoying the rich bounty of late summer produce – tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants from the garden. I am also very excited to be welcoming into my kitchen, over the coming weeks some spectacular autumn produce – figs, pomegranates, chestnuts and more! Thankfully, there are so many wonderful fruits and vegetables in season at the moment, as over the next few weeks the menus in my kitchen are going to be fasting friendly.
As mentioned in my last post, we have just entered the Greek Lenten period of fasting, which is called nistia (νηστεία). In this day and age, many people do not follow a strict fast and there are different ways in which people fast. In our house, we will not be eating meat for the entire period of lent, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, we will be completely vegan – as well as olive oil and alcohol free. Given that we do not tend to eat too much meat generally, the fasting is not too tough. Although limiting our olive oil consumption is a bit of a challenge!! The centuries over which people have fasted in Greece has given rise to a delicious range of fasting dishes, which are called "nistisima" –they contain no meat, eggs or dairy. These dishes are food for the soul - the sort that make you feel good while you are eating them – a delicious and healthy way to detox, or if you are in Greece ‘spring clean’!
The stable of "nistisima" dishes includes everything from a light and refreshing chickpea soup, called Revithosoupa (ρεβιθόσουπα) to Fassolatha (φασολάδα), a hearty white bean and vegetable soup , which is pretty much the national dish of Greece. As the neighbour of my parents in law said to me last night, "if there is not a pot of fassolatha or fakes cooking on the stovetop, you cannot be in a Greek house!" There are also other light starters such as Greece’s famous taramosalata (ταραμοσαλάτα) or dill spiked Black-eyed pea salad (Φασόλια Μαυρομάτικα Σαλάτα). For the main event, there are melting artichokes cooked with lemon and herbs, known as Artichokes "city style" (Αγκινάρες α λα πολίτα) or moreish peas slow cooked in a fresh tomato sauce, called Arakas Laderos (Αρακάς λαδερός). Then there are the Lenten friendly "pitas"- pies made with rustic village pastry filled to the brim with antioxidant rich greens, such as Kefalonian Hortopita (χορτόπιτα) or the equally potent health giving Lenten Onion Pie (κρεμμύδoπίτα νηστεία) . While fish is off the menu, shellfish and octopus are ok. Hence there are dishes for oven baked octopus with plenty of red wine, rigani and potatoes (Χταπόδι φούρνου με πατάτες) and octopus stifado (χταπόδι στιφάδο) – a rich fresh tomato based stew heady with the aroma cinnamon. There are lots of other "nistisima" dishes which you can find on my Greek recipe index.
In my kitchen this month….
There is a new octopus dish to add to my collection of nistisima recipes. It is inspired by the beautiful hamper of products I received from Homer St, as a part of their Instagram photo competition. Cooked slowly on the stove top, the octopus is flavoured with wine and the savoury and tangy warmth of Daphnis and Chloe’s organic wild thyme flowers and finished with a Melion thyme honey glaze. I love the fact that the thyme flowers have been sourced from the beautiful Ionian Islands...I did wonder if they perhaps came from Zakynthos, where my mother in law is from.
Octopus with thyme flowers and honey, with fava (Χταπόδι με θυμάρι λουλούδια και μέλι, με φάβα)
Preparation 25 minutes
Cooking 2 hours and 30 minutes
Serves 4 people
1 medium sized octopus, cleaned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Large glass of red wine
1 teaspoon of dried thyme flowers, crushed
1 tablespoon of thyme honey
The juice of 1 lemon
500 yellow split peas
5 teaspoons of olive oil
2 red onions, medium size, peeled and left whole
Salt and lemon juice to taste
1. Place the octopus in a saucepan and steam over a high heat (with nothing else in the pan) until the octopus releases all of its juices. When the octopus liquids have reduced, add the wine and reduce the heat to very low. Allow the octopus to simmer in the wine and its own juices for around about an hour or until tender.
2. When the octopus is tender, remove it from the pot and set aside. In the pan, add to the octopus and wine juices the olive oil, crushed thyme flowers, lemon juice and honey. Slices the octopus into pieces and then add back into the pan and cook until the sauce has reduced and the octopus is covered in a shiny and aromatic thyme honey glaze.
3. For the fava: Rinse the split peas well and then add to a large saucepan, along with the two whole onions and boil. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Skim any foam off the top and then add the olive oil and a little salt. Continue to simmer over low heat for one-half hour until the split peas are very soft and the mixture is starting to melt together. Use a handheld mixer to blend the spilt peas with the onions until creamy. Stir through some extra olive oil and lemon juice to taste and adjust seasoning.
4. To serve, spoon some fava in the bottom of a bowl and top with pieces of octopus garnished with some extra thyme flowers.
In my kitchen this month….
There is also the classic nistisima dish, Fakes (φακές). Lentils are slow cooked with fresh tomato, a little chilli and bay leaves until tender. You can find the recipe here. As Mrs K advises, you can add as much tomato as you like. She advises a word of caution on the herbs – go easy if you are using fresh bay leaves, as it can cause the dish to become a bitter. For a little twist, I also recently added just a couple of leaves of fresh sage to the original recipe, which added to the depth of flavour in the lentils.
To accompany the fakes, were some of the "toursi" or Greek vegetable pickles I made earlier this year. You can find the recipe for Toursi in my IMK post from January. Having used up my stash of toursi already (they were a big hit in our house) I recently bought some volvoi (βολβοί) which is pronounced vohl-VEE in Greek. These little nutritious powerhouses are the bulb of the tassel hyacinth, which have been cooked and preserved with olive oil, herbs and a little vinegar. Combined with the fakes, they provide a load of rich antioxidants – perfect fasting food. The volvoi bring anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial qualities, while the lentils themselves have a high isoflavone content, are rich in iron as well as having moderate amounts of calcium and potassium.
Volvoi have been eaten in ancient Greece and in Puglia in Italy since ancient times. In fact the Ancient Greeks believed them to be powerful aphrodisiacs – this view hasn’t dwindled and in Greece today volvoi are often placed on the table along with a knowing wink! While they are traditionally part of the Lenten table, volvoi feature regularly on the meze menu along with a good glass of tsipouro or ouzo. The first time I tried these little bulbs was actually in the region of Puglia in Italy, where they are know as "lampascioni." If you are keen to try them here in Australia, most Italian Grocer’s stock them. I got my recent supply from the IGA Lamonica in Haberfield.
In my kitchen this month….
There is also some homemade yoghurt - courtesy of my little French yoghurt machine. Yes, I know I mentioned there being no dairy during lent. While I’ve cut out the cheese, I just can’t let go of the yoghurt totally – but I can handle its absence on Wednesdays and Fridays! I just love the little glass pots and they make a perfect breakfast combined with a drizzle of that lovely Melion Thyme honey and some fresh blackberries which have been spectacular this season – and some figs, which are just starting to come into their own!
I'd love to know what is in your kitchen this month – be it the start of Autumn or the start of Spring! Again, a big thanks to Celia, at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, our lovely host of this fantastic monthly series.