3 March 2015

In my kitchen: March

 

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

 

Ingredients:

 

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

 

For fava:

 

500 yellow split peas

5 teaspoons of olive oil

2 red onions, medium size, peeled and left whole

Salt and lemon juice to taste

 

Method:

 

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.

1 March 2015

Lenten Onion Pie (κρεμμύδoπίτα νηστεία)

 

 

While Greek food is so much about the seasons and homegrown produce, it is also driven by the festival calendar. We recently started one of the most significant fasting periods in the Greek calendar, Great Lent.

 

This period is called nistia (νηστεία) and traditionally requires you to abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, fish (shellfish are ok), olive oil and alcohol. You are also required to limit the number of meals consumed each day. In recent times, many people do not fast for the whole period of lent (Clean Monday until Easter Sunday) but they do still fast in different ways. For many people, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent but will still eat dairy. For others, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent and will also be completely vegan, oil and alcohol free on Wednesdays and Fridays - which are regarded as significant fasting days in the Orthodox calendar year. In addition to this, most people fast strictly during the first and last week of Lent as well as Holy Week, breaking the fast after midnight on Easter Saturday with bowls of mageritsa soup.

25 February 2015

Wild summer greens: Quick skordalia with purslane & horta style warrigal greens

 

 

 

My love for wild greens has not abated this summer. My first love, the sweet green summer vlita (βλήτα), had to vie for attention as my affection for crispy lemony purslane has grown. We have enjoyed purslane slowly braised along with zucchini and vlita in a spicy tomato sauce, as well as a variety of salads - from simple tomato and olive - to a really fresh and punchy traditional Lebanese fattoush, the recipe courtesy of my gorgeous friend, Mama Z. I hope to share the recipe for fattoush with you soon, before the purslane of summer disappears. However, this week I needed a starchy hit - but I had a basket absolutely brimming with freshly picked purslane. The solution - a quick skordalia with purslane (σκορδαλιά με αντράκλα).

 

14 February 2015

Yemista Politika (Γεμιστές Πολιτικά)

 

 

 

Ask any Greek child, what is their favourite dish and I am sure many would answer yemista – a dish of stuffed tomatoes and sometimes eggplant, zucchini or zucchini blossoms and capsicums that are baked in the oven. A childhood love of yemista never fades. The other day Mr K was reminiscing about how the capsicums were always his favourite and he would carefully select them from the big ‘tapsi’ containing the colourful yemista.

 

13 January 2015

Stuffed zucchini flowers with rice, mint & fennel pollen (Λουλούδια κολοκυθιάς γεμιστά)

Like many food bloggers, I am often asked, why do you have a blog? Why do you write about food? Why is it all about Greek food? The simple answer is, when your Greek father in law gives you a dazzling basket of freshly picked, home grown zucchini blossoms – you need to know what to do with them. So much love and hard work goes into home grown produce and I want to be able to treat it with the respect it deserves.

11 January 2015

Kalamari pilaf (Καλαμαρί πιλάφι)


 

Rice pilaf dishes are incredibly popular in Greece and come in varied forms. The most simple pilaf is made with homemade stock, olive oil, lemon and herbs such as bay and cinnamon. Special occasion or ceremonial pilaf, such as the Cretan wedding pilaf is cooked in stock made from quality meat and bones. To enhance the taste of the pilaf, fresh butter is also used in generous quantities. My sister in law's mother, who is from Crete, is well known for her amazing pilaf recipe. I am hoping to learn this dish one day soon. Then there are homely pilaf dishes, which feature regularly on our weeknight menu, such as spanakorizo (spinach rice) or prassorizo (leek rice) - and my mother in law's delicious kalamari pilaf.

7 January 2015

Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί)





There has to be a gazillion recipes for Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί). It is one of those shared dishes amongst Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries and it is very popular in Greece – available on most tavern menus in summer.


The phrase imam bayildi is Turkish for "the priest fainted". It is believed the amount of olive oil used in the dish when first served to the priest was so abundant, it caused him to faint – olive oil being incredibly expensive at that point in time.


4 January 2015

Patzarosaláta: chilled beetroot and garlic yoghurt salad




This has to be one of my most favourite salads - it's a variation on the traditional Greek beetroot salad, patzarosaláta (παντζάροσαλάτα).

In Greece, patzarosaláta, is usually served two ways. The beetroot, along with their greens, are boiled. Once they have cooled, they are sliced and served with a generous dressing of olive oil and wine vinegar. This salad is served alongside a dish of skordalia, feta cheese and bread.


2 January 2015

In my kitchen January 2015



Καλή Χρονια! Kali Xronia – happy new year!!

Καλή Χρονια to Celia, In My Kitchen bloggers and lovely readers! I hope your 2015 is full of good health, happiness.....and loads of new kitchen discoveries and inspiration from all my fellow IMK bloggers.


In My Kitchen this January...

we are enjoying plenty of refreshing summer salads packed with one of my favourite summer greens - purslane. We have a little crop growing in our garden, but my parents in law have an abundance. My mother in law calls purslane andrakla (αντράκλα) - as it is called in her home island of Zakynthos and my father in law calls it by its Peloponnesian name - glystrida (γλυστρίδα). By either name, it is delicious and packed to the brim with potent antioxidants - a happy relief after I enjoyed perhaps a little too much wonderful Christmas feasting. Purslane is lemony tart, but sweet and crunchy all at the same time. It is hard to substitute and if you don't have any growing in your garden, but you might find some available at Farmer's markets.


29 December 2014

Summer dolmádes (ντολμάδες)



The grape vine is probably one of the most used plants in Greek home cooking. Nearly every part of the plant is used, except for the roots. In late Spring, the fresh stems and shoots are pickled in a spiced vinegar and used in salads or served on its own as as a meze (see this link to Kalofagas for a very moving blog post about how Peter's papou made pickled grape vine shoots).

28 December 2014

'Apricot, sour cherry & metaxa delights' & classic rum balls



As I mentioned in my last post, apricot delights and rum balls have long been a favourite holiday treat in our house, courtesy of my Nana. They are perfect to have on hand in the fridge over the festive season when friends or family drop in - but they are also pretty good at any time of the year, especially as a great way to finish off a meal as a part of a petit four or on a fresh seasonal fruit platter.


23 December 2014

Christmas Eve Sweet Treats




This little plate of goodies will be waiting for Santa this Christmas Eve at our house, along with a small bottle of homemade Irish cream liqueur. The White Christmas with plenty of toasty roasted hazelnuts will satisfy Santa's nostalgic leanings and almond shortbreads, kourambiethes will tick the box for traditional Greek Christmas treats.