Friday, April 18

Greek Easter Traditions: Koulourakia & Kokkina Avga



Once again, I can't believe how quickly Easter has arrived this year. It seems like Christmas has only just finished and another celebration is upon us already. In Greece, at the end of last year, I was given a recipe for koulourakia, a traditional Greek Easter biscuit, made to be eaten after Holy Saturday. I have really enjoyed the koulourakia that my mother in law makes each year, and this year I was excited to have an attempt at making my own. Traditionally, koulourakia are made on Holy Thursday, along with red eggs (kokkina Avga) and Tsoureki, Greek Easter Bread.







Koulourakia are a butter based cookie, and come in certain traditional shapes (including a braid, a figure eight, a 'lifebuoy' circle and an s-shaped 'snake' cookie with two swirls at either end). The have a very subtle sweetness and a hint of vanilla. The recipe I was given for Koulourakia used (very non traditional) margarine and lots of lemon zest and juice. We haven't been able to try them yet - we are waiting for Easter Sunday, however Mr K has guaranteed that they smell right and look right!! I'll have to give you a post-script on the actual taste! If you decided to make some Koulourakia for your Easter they are best enjoyed with morning coffee or afternoon tea. Dunking is encouraged!







Koulourakia Paskalina

3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup, organic caster/superfine sugar
125g margarine
3 dessert spoons vanilla extract
1 large lemon, juice & zest
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1/2 kg of plain flour
1 extra egg for glaze

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 200C and line two large baking sheets with baking paper.
2. In a mixer (or with a handheld mixer) beat together margarine and sugar until very pale and fluffy.
3. In another bowl, beat egg yolks until smooth. Gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture, mixing well.
4. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
5. Combine both mixtures by folding in the egg whites. Then add the vanilla, lemon juice and zest.
6. Dissolve baking powder & soda in the milk.
7. Sift flour.
8. Gradually add milk mixture and flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating each and knead into a dough.
9. Take about a teaspoon & a half of dough and roll into a 20cm long sausage on a floured board. Form into desired shape and place in lined baking sheet.
10. Mix egg with 2 teaspoons of water and brush onto cookies, bake for around 20 mins until golden. Remove from oven and leave on baking sheets to cool for 10mins before placing on a cooling rack.



Kokkina Avga

1 sachet powdered red dye for eggs
1 cup boiling water
Warm water, to cover
12 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup white vinegar
Olive oil, to polish

Method
1. Carefully scrub each egg under cold running water to remove any dirt. Using a sponge dipped in water, moisten the herbs and stick to the eggshell. Place egg in a piece of clean stocking and secure at each end with a knot or string.
2. In a separate bowl, add dye to 1 cup of boiling water and mix well to dissolve.
3. Place the eggs, in a single layer and cover in warm water. Rest for 10 mins.
4. Add dye to eggs and water. Place on the heat and bring to the boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for 15 mins.
5. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of white vinegar.
6. Using disposable gloves, lift each egg out of the dye and place in egg cartons to cool and dry. Once cooled completely, remove stocking and use a clean cloth with olive oil to lightly oil and polish the eggs. Return to egg carton and set aside to dry before handling.




Following tradition, in our house we place the first-dyed red egg at our iconostasis (place where icons are displayed) to ward off evil for the coming year. The rest of the eggs will be used on Easter Sunday for the game of ‘Tsoungrisma’ (meaning clinking together) which involves picking your egg of choice from the basket, holding it in your first and clinking the ends of your egg against each other person's egg. The winner is the one person whose egg survives intact and they are guaranteed good luck for the year ahead.



Saturday, March 29

French feast: chicken with 40 cloves of garlic


There is something so wonderfully cosy and traditional about serving chicken for a Sunday lunch. The idea can sometimes be a bit intimidating, when all you want to do is relax with family and friends. However, there are so many recipes which are seriously easy - and this is one of them.



I first learnt to make this dish in the French town of Ceret. At the Saturday morning at the market, I was completely seduced by the huge displays of creamy, white garlic with its soft papery skin. Although the 40 cloves in this dish sounds rather overpowering, the final result is not. The garlic is slowly caramelised in its skin as it cooks and becomes sweet and creamy, with no fiery pungency. As the chicken is pot roasted, the chicken is also wonderful juicy - with none of the worries of dryness, that often come with straight out roasting. The added bonus of the dish is also that it will leave your kitchen smelling amazing!

Sunday, March 23

Greek inspired brunch

 
The quote, "Saturday mornings are for mimosas and brunch" summed up my weekend perfectly. A catch up with my girlfriends was long, long overdue and the date was set for brunch in my garden, in the Autumn sunshine. To sustain our excited chatter about new houses, dating stories, work successes, family and planned overseas adventures, we had strawberry mimosas and lots of little Greek style mezedes - with a 'breakfasty' twist.

 

Sunday, March 16

Irish Boxty Potato Pancakes

It may be a cliche, but potatoes and Ireland go hand in hand. The humble spud continues to be a staple of the Irish diet and the Irish love of the potato has been carried to many corners of the world with waves of Irish migration.

The Gaelic word “boxty” literally translates to “poor man’s bread,” yet despite this title it has remained a firm favourite for many families, including mine. Boxty hails from the Irish North midlands including Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Fermanagh, Longford, Leitrim and Cavan. The most common form of Boxty is bread - made with finely grated raw potato and mashed potato mixed together. You can see the recipe here. There are many uniquely Irish versions of potato bread, and you can see another recipe here which omits the grated raw potato and includes chives.

 

Thursday, March 13

Feasting while fasting: Revithosoupa I ρεβιθόσουπα

The Lenten fasting season has started. In our house it was marked by Mr K asking, "do you know how to make fassolada?"

During Greek Orthodox lent, you are supposed to supposed to avoid animal products (meat, dairy, fish) until Easter. The only animal products allowed are shellfish, octopus and calamari. Tahini is used as a source of fat. The traditional fasting rules also do not allow the use of olive oil and wine during the week and only on the weekends one can consume them. As such, many stovetop dishes are cooked, which usually have lots of legumes, wild greens, vegetable and pasta or rice. Hence Mr K's question, about the all important fassolada - a hearty soup with lots of beans and vegetables.


I was a bit confused about where to start with making fassolada. All the books I had read and recipes I had collected on our recent trips to Greece suggested that fassolada was made with white beans. Mr K was fairly insistent that it was made with chickpeas.

Saturday, March 8

In my kitchen: March



The intense heat of summer is slowly fading. The cooling of the air, in the late evening and early morning, signals the start of my favourite season, Autumn. One of the reasons why I love March, is because the rich brightly coloured summer produce is at its best. Tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini are bursting with the warmth of a long, hot summer. Lush, ripe figs are just starting to fill the market, along with dark, velvety black currants. The olive oil and wine harvest is on the horizon, only a few short months away. The leaves haven't fallen from the trees yet, but they are just starting to turn. When they do, the market will be filled with similar hues in the form of plump squashes and pumpkins



In my kitchen this March...
...there are many, many jars filled with fresh passata. At the very end of Feburary, the long eggplant shaped roma tomatoes were at their best and it was time for tomato day. This year, Madame Zen joined in the fun - now we both have a stock of 'summer in a bottle' for the winter months ahead. Inspired by my recent Italian travels, I would have loved to have been able to use traditional San Marzano tomatoes for our passata. I have vowed to use them next year and I have the seeds ready to plant when early Spring visits, later in the year. I did however get to use the 'Emanuel 3 il passatutto, food mill, which I bought back from our travels in Puglia, to help purée the tomatoes. It was magnificent.

In my kitchen this March...
...there are also some jars filled with 'druken figs'. Using my grandmother's old recipe, we will have a stock of figs - soaking away in white port - for chilly winter days, when fig season has long passed.



In my kitchen this March...

...there are loaves of homemade olive bread, called eliopsomo in Greek. I was given the recipe for this bread on our recent trip to Lefkada. It is filled with dill, onion and of course, Greek black olives. I used the last of some of the olives we bottled at the end of Autumn last year to fill the dough, before rolling it into a spiral. The dough itself is very simple, just self raising flour, good Greek olive oil and beer. The recipe can be found on my Instagram account @mrs_mulberry.





Sunday, February 16

Greek vanilla cream pudding I κρέμα βανίλια



Nearly every culture has its own version of a vanilla cream or custard. In Greece, it is called a 'krema' and is usually heavily dusted with layers of cinnamon. It is a standard in all Greek homes and is a favourite childhood dessert, along with rizogalo, a rich and creamy rice pudding flavoured with orange zest. It can also be used a a filling for many Greek pastries, like the delectable morning breakfast pastry, bougatsa.


The first time I tried this pudding was during our honeymoon, on the Island of Lefkada. It had been many years since Mr K had tried a krema. The traditional milk shops, which can be found in the streets and winding alleyways of Lefkas Town, sold them in little teracotta and white plastic tubs, for 1euro each along with complimentary dustings of cinnamon. This sort of traditional shop has long died out in Australia. Even the 1950s style milk bar and corner store is close to extinction. On every trip back to Lefkas, I am always happy to see the milk shops are still there and selling the delectable krema and rizogalo! The stores are a beautiful window of history and it is heartening to see that they are still a part of everyday life - frequented by many customers.

The basis of the pudding is cornflour (or cornstarch) and it is incredibly versatile. You can serve it alongside fruit, with the traditional layers of cinnamon and a little nutmeg. For big kids, you can add chocolate and a splash of hazelnut liqueur.


Sunday, February 9

In my kitchen February

 

 

One of the things I miss so much after returning from our trip to Greece this year are the fresh wild greens, which grow in abudance and are served in just about every taverna. You can see some we ordered in Kefalonia, here. Lucky for me, my beautiful father in law planted some Green Amaranth or Vlita (as they are called in Greek) in early spring. Today he presented me with a gorgeous green bouquet and so it is that this month, my kitchen is blooming with these delicious greens.

 

Tuesday, February 4

More summer fare: Greek herb and zucchini fritters

 

 

These lovely little herb and zucchini fritters are called "Kolokithokeftedes" in Greek. Mr K enjoyed these fritters only ever 'now and again' while he was growing up. On our first few trips to Greece, Mr K introduced me to these delicious mezedes, when we ordered them at various tavernas throughout Greece.

 

The key to making very flavorful Kolokithokeftedes is to be generous with the herbs! I use plenty of dill, as I love the classic fresh flavour it brings to many Greek dishes and lots and lots of mint. At the moment our garden is abundant with a variety of mint types as well as zucchini. These little fritters are such a perfect edible emblem for summer produce. The kefelograveria cheese also gives the sweet zucchini and fresh herbs a lovely salty edge. Use more or less cheese to suit your palate.

Monday, February 3

Greek style stuffed zucchini blossoms

 

Zucchini blossoms would have to be one of the true blessings of summer. The old saying, that you eat with your eyes first, is so apt for these beauties. The warm colour and soft, tissue-paper texture of the zucchini blossoms makes them so inviting to cook with. I love having them in my kitchen during summer and early autumn.

 

In Australia, zucchini blossoms fall into that group of specialty produce. However, they are becoming much easier to find. You can get them at most farmers markets during summer and early autumn. This is such a contrast to Greece, where the zucchini blossoms are commonplace fare - found even in the smallest of fruit and vegetable stands and with the sellers who drive around from village to village. This is because any display of zucchini always has the flowers attached, as a tell tale sign of the freshness of the produce. It is such a shame that we don't have the same practice here in Australia, although the specially grown zucchini flowers that you can by here are absolutley wonderful.

In Greece, one of the more common ways if cooking zucchini flowers is by filling them with herbs and rice, and then slow cooking them in the oven in a light tomato and olive oil sauce. If you are interested in trying zucchini blossoms this way, you can find the recipe here from my recent travels in Kefalonia.

 

 

Back at home in my Australian kitchen, I was inspired to use my beautiful zucchini blossoms in more of a mezedes style, rather than the traditional Greek baked version. The blossoms were filled with a mix of kefelograveria cheese and ricotta ( in Greece I would probably use a fresh mizyithra cheese instead), the classic Greek flavour - dill and a little anchovy to add a salty balance.

Saturday, January 11

Greek stuffed tomatoes with spinach rice

 

Hello lovely friends. Welcome to 2014!! In the last few days I have been reflecting on the positive experiences of the year that has passed. I feel very blessed to have celebrated a 'significant' birthday for my mother in law, mother and Mr K. Also, a significant wedding anniversary for my parents. There were many special times with family and good friends. The arrival of new lives and the joining of beautiful souls in marriage. There was also the exciting discoveries that came with a 'first time' visit to New York, New Caledonia, Puglia in Southern Italy - and of course, new places in Greece!

 

 

2014, will hopefully be even more wonderful, than the year that has passed. New Year's Eve presented a great omen for the coming year when, while I was making a dark chocolate Venetian rice torte, I cracked open an egg to find - a double yolk! Certainly, my garden has lived up to this expectation and it is bursting with bright summer goodness. The heritage Australian and Italian varieties of tomatoes have been particularly abundant - and beautiful.

Monday, December 30

Party food: crab cakes, noodle salad and lemon ice tea



Have you ever been to one of those cocktail parties, where it seems the cocktails were prioritised over the food? You know the scene, guest start loitering near the kitchen doors and pounce on the trays as they are ready. These are two of my favourite nibbles, perfect for new years eve cocktail parties - and guaranteed to have guests pouncing for another bite, simply because the beautiful flavours, not because they are utterly starving. The crab cakes themselves are wonderfully light - and the noodle salad provides something with a little substance, as well as being largely vegetarian friendly. The lemon iced tea, filled with colourful summer flowers from the garden also provides a nice alternative to the usual soft drinks and mocktails for those (unfortunate few) who have to be the designated driver!