11 October 2014

Kefalonian Hortopita (χορτόπιτα)

 

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for one my favourite Greek dishes, Hortopita (χορτόπιτα) or wild greens pie. In that recipe I used some store bought phyllo and I promised a follow up recipe for homemade pastry. I am still to get a lesson from my lovely mother in law - but in the interim, I have a recipe to share from my travels in Kefalonia.

 

Last year we stayed in Kefalonia for a couple of weeks in a little village near Klismata Beach. While staying there, thanks to Mr K's beautifully fluent Greek, we befriended Stavros and Anna who owned a small taverna and supermarket nearby our villa. This is Anna's recipe for hortopita, which I recently found in my travel notebook. I love keeping a travel notebook, the one from this trip to Greece was packed with watercolour and gouache sketches, recipes, business cards - as well as lots of labels from new season olive oil and wine.

 

 

Anna's recipe is completely vegetarian and does not use any cheese, so it is perfect for fasting. It makes a very aromatic pastry and the texture is very light and crumbly. The texture reminds me a little of my Nana's famous apple pie pastry. Mr K enjoyed Anna's pastry, but his mum's silky olive oil rich pastry is still his favourite. So watch this space...there'll be another hortopita recipe soon, especially while our garden is overflowing with vibrant springtime greens.

 

 

Anna's Kefalonian Hortopita (χορτόπιτα)

1kg mixed wild greens (I used radiki, leeks, scallions, sorrel, dill and fennel tops)

1/2 cup Greek olive oil

1/2 cup Greek Carolina rice (parboiled 5 mins)

Salt and pepper to taste

pastry

1/2 kg plain flour

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 cup white wine, warmed

1/2 cup olive oil, warmed

Method

For the pie:

1. Wash the greens well and leave them to completely drain (overnight is preferable, but a few hours will do).

2. preheat oven to 190C (I don't use a fan forced oven, so you may need to drop the temperature by 10C if you do).

3. Slice the drain greens finely and sprinkle with salt. Let them stand for an hour and then squeeze out any excess water. Mix the greens in a bowl with olive oil, rice and season well with salt and pepper.

4. To make the pastry:

sift together flour, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. Pour in the warm oil. Rub the oil into the dry ingredients to make a sand/breadcrumb texture. Make a well in the centre and then pour in the warm wine. Mix well until you have a soft pliable dough. Add more wine if you need too. Roll out two very thin rounds/squares of pastry (they should fit comfortably in a 30cm baking pan).

5. Place one piece on the base of well oiled baking dish. Spread filling over and top with the other piece of pastry. Fold over surplus edges and make a few air slits. Brush with olive oil and bake for around 1 hour.

 

 

And tell me friends, do you keep and notebook when you travel and if you do, what is it filled with?

 

 

5 October 2014

In my kitchen October 2014



Welcome to another month in my kitchen. Thank you so much to the very lovely Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for continuing to host this wonderful and inspiring series. I am such a stickybeak - I love seeing what is on offer in kitchens in Australia and around the world.

This time last year I was in beautiful Greece - and collecting lots of inspiration for my 'in my kitchen' posts. I am (sadly) not in Greece this month, but the gorgeous unfolding Sydney springtime is truly delightful. This month, I thought I would share with you just a few of the staples that I always have on hand in my kitchen in Sydney - which mean that the flavours of Greece are just a step (and not a 24 hour flight) away.

In my kitchen this month, I have got over my fear of frozen vegetables. I have never been a fan - always preferring fresh and making an exception only for peas. Plus the range of frozen vegetables on offer in Australia are always just so plain dull. In Greece, there is such a better and varied range of frozen vegetables - and two of them have made their way to my Sydney kitchen - okra and artichoke hearts.




These large goodie bags are a godsend. I often work until late in the evening and have to do a fair bit of domestic travel for work. These delicious veggies mean that I can make traditional Greek "ladera dishes", like Artichokes "city style" (Αγκινάρες α λα πολίτα) (one of our favourites) for dinner after stepping off a plane from Canberra or Melbourne. The artichokes are huge and very sweet - I have to say that they are pretty incredible and unlike the artichokes I have bought in Sydney. I'll been keen to make some proper comparisons when the bounty of springtime artichokes hit the market here in Sydney soon.

I also love this brand of okra. Okra, is called bamies (μπάμιες) in Greek. You either love it or you hate it. Which camp do you fall in? If you are of the later camp, this recipe might just change your mind. This dish belongs to the stable of "ladera" dishes. Ladera dishes are simply dishes cooked in olive oil, usually with garlic and tomatoes. They are a cinch to prepare.

The only difficult task in the dish really is preparing the okra itself - and this work is happily taken out of the equation with frozen okra. However, if you are using fresh okra it requires a little bit of attention, trimming around the pointy end - but not breaking through the skin and then standing for a little time in rose wine vinegar. In the summertime, when fresh okra is at its peak and we usually have some homegrown, I like preparing the okra before heading into the office for the day. There is really something quite therapeutic and satisfying about it. Kind of like getting in touch with your village roots before a city commute. Another way of preparing the okra in this dish is to fry it in olive oil before adding the tomatoes.

If you like to make the dish more substantial, you can also add some potatoes for a vegetarian main course. If you prefer meat dishes you can also add some braised veal - or as a lovely Lebanese cab driver told me the other day, you can also add lamb. I find cab drivers are such a amazing source of culinary knowledge and inspiration. This gentleman was probably in his late 60s and was happy to write down the recipe for me - even after I had reached my destination and paid the fair. He also insisted on not standing the okra in vinegar and using the frying method to prepare it. I am keen to try this recipe with some spring lamb soon, but for now, I'm happy with the okra as the star of the dish!




Bamies Ladera (μπάμιες)

Ingredients:

500 grams of fresh okra
2 tbsps of rose wine vinegar
1/2 a cup of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 fresh tomatoes, grated or pureed
salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. If using fresh okra, wash the okra and trim the pointy end. Be careful not to cut through to the skin itself.

2. Place in a bowl and gently toss through the red wine vinegar. Let the okra stand for around an hour and then rinse and drain well.

(If using frozen okra, you can skip steps 1 & 2)

3. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and sauté the onion until translucent.

4. Add the okra, then the tomatoes and season to taste. It is best to shake the pan to combine the ingredients, or very gently stir through - you don't want to break any of the okra.

5. Bring the boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for around 40 minutes.

6. Once the okra is tender serve with some wedges of feta and crusty bread.




In my kitchen I have homegrown lemons and squeezy bottles of rose wine vinegar from Greece. The acid balance is so important in Greek cooking and if you are not juicing lemon over a dish - then you are giving it a good squeeze of vinegar. I bought my latest bottles of rose vinegar from the excellent Athena Delicatessen at the Oakleigh Market in Melbourne. You can read more about my trip to a Oakleigh here.

Greek feta, usually the Epirus or Dodoni brand are always in my kitchen - along with a huge barrel of kalamata olives. A small bowl of feta and olives are served up at very nearly every Greek meal - especially those that are vegetarian. Greek rigani also perfumes my kitchen, however it is used more sparingly in Greek cooking and only in grilled or oven baked dishes - such as whole snapper grilled on the BBQ with lots of lemon, garlic and rigani.




Greek rice is something I have only recently been able to purchase. Considering how many yemista (γεμιστά) "stuffed" dishes there are in Greek cooking - it's a pretty important staple to have in the kitchen. You can buy Greek rice in Melbourne at the Athena Deli or in Sydney at Earlwood wines. It really does make such a difference using the right rice for the right dish. I use the Kitrino (κίρτρινο) or Bonnet (μπονέτ) rice to make pilaf, such a saffron pilaf or for rice side dishes such as spanakorizo. The karolina (καρολίνα) rice is best for yemista dishes like stuffed tomatoes. I am looking forward to buying some Glacé rice soon (γλασέ) to make some cooling and comforting summer sweets like chilled rizogalo.



In my kitchen, there is Greek coffee - our new favourite brand Laiko from Cyprus and a briki, which is used to make the coffee. Mr K still finds it amusing that I owned a briki and made Greek coffee as a single girl, long before I met him. He found it quite amusing that an 'Aussie' girl who had never been to Greece would have her own briki. I think my love of Greek coffee was inherited from my dad, who worked for a Greek family company for over 20 years and had a Greek coffee every morning. In my kitchen now, neither Mr K or I could function without having a small cup each day. My dad also still has a briki and likes to make a regular cup. I like my Greek coffee with cinnamon and in terms of sweetness I vary more to preferring mine somewhere between sketos (σκέτος) with no sugar and metrios (μέτριος) - medium sugar. Mr K is firmly in the metrios camp.



In my kitchen, there is also Greek clove and cinnamon tea and spearmint tea. Greek coffee is usually a morning affair (unless we are on the way out the door to a party - and then Mr K usually has the briki simmering) and these lovely herbal teas are the perfect finish to a meal in the evening. If I am opting for the clove and cinnamon tea - then I usually add just a little touch of honey. Most recently, I bought some Thyme honey from Crete (on the recommendation of our guide, Victoria, on our tour of Okaleigh) and I am absolutely loving its herby sweetness. It is incredibly aromatic.



In my kitchen, I also have an iconostasis, a practice I have inherited from my mother in law. It is a place in Greek homes, where icons are placed - a little holy corner. The icons often represent the Saints that family members are named after. This year for my birthday, Mr K bought me a really beautiful icon of my saint. It was such a sweet and thoughtful present which now joins his icon and a few others. I always have fresh flowers on our iconostasis and family photographs including my grandparents. For me it is a little way to have my grandmothers, who inspire my cooking in the kitchen with me - for a little bit of guidance and wisdom here and in life generally. I find it really touching that whenever my mother in law visits our house, she stops by the icons to offer a little blessing. All I need to add to our collection is St. Euphrosynos - the patron saint of cooks and chefs. Many Greek homes have an icon of this saint, or alternatively a picture or painting of the "Last Supper". My mother in law has both and the last supper hangs on the dining room wall, presiding over all family celebrations and meals.

I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse in my kitchen this month and I wonder what is in your kitchen? Perhaps you would like to join in Celia's great series and share a little insight into your kitchen this month.

4 October 2014

Top 5 Broad Bean (κουκιά) Recipes

 

Broad beans have to be one of my favourite spring time gifts from the garden, they are full of protein and iron - so excellent for those who prefer a more vegetarian diet.

They are also a good source of B vitamins, including thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin C. Most importantly of all, the are absolutely delicious, I love their fresh raw-grassy flavour.

While in Australia we refer to "broad beans" in the US they are referred to as "fava beans". This causes some confusion - as in Greece, "fava" is the term used to describe a beautifully creamy dish made from yellow split peas. So in Greek, if you are talking about broad beans they are called "koukia" (κουκιά).

In Greece, fresh broad beans are a real culinary highlight and springtime favourite, especially during Lent. Sometimes they are boiled and added to horta to make a warm salad or they can be eaten raw in in a fresh salad, sprinkled with a little olive oil and some nice big chunks of salty Kefalograviera cheese. Out of the Lenten season the flavour of broad beans goes very well with meat, particularly spring lamb.

 

 

If you don't have broad beans growing at home - now is the time to buy them at the market, as they are varying between about $4-$6 a kilo. As a guide, 1 kg of broad beans provides about 1 cup of shelled beans. When selecting your broad beans, it always best to look for firm, bright green, smaller younger pods, as they have the more tender beans - they should look full but not over-bulging pods. If you happen to be on the side of the world where the autumn leaves are starting to turn, but you feel like a big grassy-green hit - frozen broad beans can be substituted in some of the dishes below. Before sharing with you my top five favourite broad bean recipes, here is a really quick and easy fresh salad for young tender broad beans.

 

26 September 2014

Discovering the heart of Greek Melbourne

Have you ever heard the saying, that people make a place? This is certainly true of the suburb of Oakleigh, Melbourne's real "little Greece." It is just 25 minutes from the CBD and home to many Greek families. It is an evolving suburb that is home to waves of Greek migrants, from the 1950s, 60s and 70s - until today's post-economic migrants. Melbourne is well known as one of the largest Greek-speaking cities outside Greece. While 'Greek Melbourne' still has its roots in Brunswick, Northcote and Richmond, it's true centre is now the vibrant suburb of Oakleigh.

Oakleigh is all about 'real food'. It has the best produce from Australia (and Greece) and it's provodores and restaurateurs are focused on time honoured, home style cooking. Victoria Kyriakopoulos, our guide for the day tells us how at Greek Easter, the centre of Oakleigh - which is peppered with delis, cake shops, fishmongers, souvlaki bars, butchers and the odd christening shop (with big frothy white gowns on display) - is a colourful bustling parade. Whole lambs and baby goats are carried up and down the streets and placed in car boots and the shop windows are filled with beautiful displays of decorated Easter candles called "lambathes" and traditional Easter syrup pastries and biscuits.

 

We are not here for Greek Easter, but we have joined one of award-winning food presenter and author, Maeve O’Meara's Gourmet Safaris - the Greek Safari of Melbourne - which just happens this month to be a part of the 'Flavours of Greece'. The Greek Community of Melbourne’s annual festival of Greek cuisine. As we walk down Portman Street to join the tour, one of the first sights to greet us is a giant lamb on the spit being loaded into a car boot. It may not be Easter, but it is clear one local family will be enjoying a celebration today. One of the local butchers has also set up an outdoor BBQ and older men are lining up for grilled pieces of liver and traditional orange and red wine or leek (loukaniko) sausages. The smell, the musical sound of the Greek language and the warm smiles on the Greek faces that surround us - I feel more like I am in the middle of a village back in Greece. We are certainly in the right place to experience the Greek heart of Melbourne.

 

Meeting at Mezedakia Restaurant, we wandered up the small staircase from Portman Street to be warmly greeted by the lovely Victoria and the huge welcoming smile of Maria Krontiris, the delightful owner of the restaurant. Her smile grew bigger as we started the day with a cup of her very hot, thick, sweet Greek coffee, complete an impressive kaïmaki (or crema) and a large piece of moreish galopita - a creamy semolina custard that is baked until golden, then bathed in sweet syrup. It was hard to stop at one piece, but as Maria said - "make sure you keep room for the delicious lunch I will be preparing for you!" The gorgeous Maria had the same happy glint in her eye - which my mother in law sometimes has after spending hours in the kitchen preparing a feast - and I knew it was wise to take her advice and pace myself for the bounty of beautiful, home style Greek food that was to come, during the day.

 

Maria's galopita
The very lovely Maria Krontiris

Before starting out from Mezedakia for the tour, Victoria (a journalist who had the amazing job for many years writing the lonely planet guides to Greece) shared with us how her love of Greek food - and writing about - had developed. Sadly, Victoria's mother has passed away some years before and she did not have the chance to record her mother's well loved family recipes. Victoria found an old school exercise book, where her mother had recorded some recipes. Not all of the recipes were for her own family dishes and many of the recipes were incomplete lists of ingredients. This had prompted Victoria to search out the recipes for the dishes of her childhood from her friends and family in Oakleigh. After hearing Victoria's story, I knew we were going to be part of a very special experience.

30 August 2014

Aegina inspired pistachio & almond semolina cake with cinnamon syrup


It is birthday cake time in our house again, this time it was Mr K choice as to which cake he preferred. Even though I knew what the answer was going to be, I still asked the question and it was, as expected, semolina cake. Since I married Mr K, I have been on the search for the perfect semolina cake, or one that matches up to Mr K's childhood memories of his lovely Theia Katina's syrupy semolina cake. However, this time Mr K's request for a semolina cake came with a twist, "a pistachio semolina cake would be nice", he said.



A few days ago, Mr K had been looking at some of our photos from a trip we made to the Greek Island of Ageina. Perhaps this had inspired the request for a pistachio cake, as Aegina is famous for growing some of the worlds best pistachios. While on our trip there, I think we nearly ate our own body weight in pistachios, of various forms. My favourite form were the fresh pistachios, cooked and soaked in the local wild thyme honey - best served over thick Greek yoghurt, or a semolina cake!

23 August 2014

Spanakorizo (σπανακόρυζο) and memories of the Mani


Spanakorizo, or spinach rice, is super healthy, very moreish and a hearty winter dish. It can be served as a main or side dish, and is ready in under 40 minutes. It is similar to a risotto (but with more greens than rice), spanakorizo can be accompanied by some feta cheese, a big dollop of sheep yoghurt or even a grating of aged mizyithra or kefelograveria cheese. If you are in need of extra "comfort" you can also enjoy it with a few slices of rustic home-style bread for a full meal. It also benefits from a healthy drizzling of olive oil over the top just before serving.




As a primary schooler, Mr K can remember a big bowl of spanakorizio often being placed before him after a day at school. I can see why. This is a relatively inexpensive dish, especially if you have an excellent crop of spinach growing in your garden. It has beautiful fresh flavors of lemon and dill - and there is little preparation involved.




17 August 2014

Chicken Youvarlakia with Avgolemono (κοτοπουλο γιουβαρλακια με αυγολεμονο)

 

There has been an outbreak of man flu in our house. The only way to contain the outbreak and bring a little warm cheer to the house (especially with the heavy relentless rain in Sydney this weekend) was with this delicious soup.

 

'Youvarlakia' is made with little herb, rice and vegetable filled meatballs, warming home made chicken broth and nourishing avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). Normally the meatballs are made with beef, however I like to make a variation using chicken - so much so that this soup is very similar to the traditional kotosoupa avgolemono, but with meatballs instead of shredded chicken. In some regions of Greece, this soup is made using a tomato base - but I am a much bigger fan of the avglolemono version, which works so well with the fresh dill in the meatballs.

15 August 2014

Chickpea Stew - Revithada (Ρεβυθάδα)

 

A little earlier this year, I posted a recipe for my mother in law's delicious Chickpea Soup, called Revithosoupa. After visiting my in laws this weekend, I suggested to Ma that I was keen to make another dish with chickpeas, a stew called Revithada (Ρεβυθάδα). Ma told me that her version is based on lemon and not tomato. It was very simple to make, with basically just chickpeas, onions and lemon. The lemon being the most important feature of the soup. You will notice in Greek cooking that it is very rare that lemon and tomato meet in the same dish. This rule has been born out of the fear of there being too much acidity in the one dish. It is usually always one or the other! While my mother in law's recipe for revithada sounded delicious, I had also been given a recipe for a tomato based Revithada. Oh the dilemma!! As I had run out of my stockpile of home-grown lemons and I had a basket full of fresh tomatoes, I decided to try the tomato version of this stew - stay posted for the Zakynthian / Ionian island lemon version soon!!

 

 

The tomato version of this stew comes from the Aegean islands. Principally, Sifnos and Kalymnos. In fact, Sifnos is famous for its chick pea dishes, where each "noikokyra" (housewife) would prepare the chickpeas in a large clay pot called a tsoukali (σουκάλι). Traditionally, the chickpea dish was taken to the local bakers (as households did not normally have their own oven) and slowly simmered overnight, in the remaining heat from the oven, which had baked the days bread.

 

 

 

Slowly baked chickpeas are divine. There is none of the waxiness that sometimes comes when they are boiled. The chickpeas in this stew are incredibly tender, making them melt in your mouth. Although I don't have a tsoukali at home, I do have a clay pot, which I use on special occasions to make kleftiko (slowly cooked lamb) and sometimes rabbit. Mr K gave this to me as a Christmas gift, the year we were married and I love to find new ways of using it. Don't worry if you don't have a special clay pot at home, you can use any type of ceramic casserole dish and you could even use a cast iron pot, or if you prefer - a slow cooker. If you are using a slow cooker, just reduce the amount of liquid you add, probably by a third.

9 August 2014

Union Square Greenmarket & Dill pickle, caper salad from Syros



The Union Square Greenmarket, is one of NYC's best food markets, open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday from 8am until 6pm. We visited on a Friday and it was quite simply a visual feast. Madame Zen, who I visited the market with, would have been happy to sketch scenes of the market for hours. There was a really wonderful seasonal bounty of fresh produce and flowers on display, as well as farm house cheeses, breads, jams, wine, ciders, maple syrup and more.



The market is located in one of the city's great public spaces. There was a remarkable diversity of native New Yorker's and tourists enjoying the market on the day we visited. Unlike the hot summer markets of Provence where there is a relaxed seriousness to the shoppers (with food being a national sport in France, there is always a degree of seriousness at the market - the relaxed atmosphere is usually due to the heat), there was an energetic, warm and welcoming atmosphere at the at the Union Square Market. Perhaps it was spring and the promise of summer in the air, or the pervasive aroma and beauty of the springtime peonies.


6 August 2014

Hortopita (χορτόπιτα)

 

I have a confession to make. I've become addicted horta. As you may know, horta is a generic term for a variety of wild greens which grow in Greece and are used in mainly hot and cold salads.

Ordinarily, after collecting and cleaning the various greens, I would simply boil them in water and then serve with lemon and olive oil.

This week, my father in law's garden provided a big basket of various greens. I also bought two big generous bunches of dandelions (known in Greek as radiki) from the Marrickville organic market - for the bargain price of $2.00.

 

 

To relieve Mr K from the monotony of my horta addiction, I decided not to serve the usual "hot salad" but instead used the greens to make a delicious savoury wild greens pie, called "hortopita" (χορτόπιτα).

Hortopita (χορτόπιτα) is traditionally made in the spring when wild greens are young and tender. Given that we have had such a mild winter and with a few warmer days recently, the greens in my father in laws garden are growing like it is the start of spring already.

3 August 2014

In my kitchen August

 

In my kitchen this month is a lovely aqua picnic basket, filled with delicious treats sourced from around my local area. Although it is still winter, constant clear blue skies combined with a big warm jacket have made the most perfect conditions for seaside picnicking.

 

 

The first essential for my picnic basket was a large rustic loaf of bread. I bought the bread from our local baker, Yanni's Bakery. There were a range of delicious breads on sale including an olive bread, lagana bread and large round loaves of Horiatiki psomi (Χωριάτικη Ψωμί). It was a hard decision to make, but I settled on the Horiatiki and it was delicious sliced into large wedges and spread thickly with lemon filled taramasalata. Some thick, sweet Thassos olives from the local deli, all crinkly and glossy from being dried in the sun provided a salty contrast. You have to get in early Yanni's. Too late and all of their delicious breads have been snapped up by discerning yiayias.

2 August 2014

Whitebait, marida (μαρίδα)

 

The best way to eat whitebait is by the seaside on a Greek island. In Greek, whitebait are called marida (μαρίδα). They are enjoyed after being dredged in flour and then fried in hot oil until just golden. Sometimes they are eaten as meze with a glass or two of ouzo, or as part of a main meal, along with a large bowl of fava and some horta (boiled wild greens) - and a glass of wine. To eat them, you pop the whole thing in your mouth and eat it like a little french fry. If you don't like the heads, you can snap them off when you eat them.

 

 

 

The last time I enjoyed marida by the sea, was on a visit to Lefkada. After a morning spent shopping in the town, we could not resist the impossibly fresh seafood that had just been caught and was on sale in the town's fishmongers. The little shop fronts, made out of corrugated iron, were completely open. The fish and seafood, on sale, was not protected behind a sterile sheet of glass. It was open to the sea air, beautifully glistening on a tray of marble and crushed ice.