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!

 

 

Aegina is about a 40-minute ferry ride from Piraeus, the port city six miles southwest of central Athens. Aegina's small harbour is lined with many pistachio stalls, as well as tavernas and a fish market. It is a common weekend mini break destination for Athenians. When he was living in Athens, Mr K would often make the weekend pilgrimage to Aegina to escape to the seaside village feeling, which the island offers. Nothing much had changed since Mr K's time living in Athens and on the days we visited Aegina, the seafront tavernas were filled with Athenians, escaping the afternoon heat with frothy, ice cold frappes or Greek beers.

 

 

Aegina has been producing pistachios since the mid 1800s. The island is dotted with small family run pistacho orchards, filled with the 'koliarati' variety of pistachio, notable for is pale green and rosy tinged flower buds, bursting against the deep green foliage of the trees. Pistachios were not the only delight Aegina offered. The winding alleys of Aegina were also filled with grape vines, heavy with fruit and giant fig trees abundant with fruit.

If you visit Aegina, about 12 kilometres east of Aegina Town, not to be missed is the intricate and immaculately preserved fifth-century BC Temple of Aphaia (identified with Athena). Marathona or Aeginitsa on the west coast also provide gorgeous spots for swimming and Kleidi and Keri near the southern village of Perdika, are a lovely spot for seaside lunching.

 


Pistachio & almond semolina cake, with cinnamon syrup

Ingredients:

Syrup:

1 cup organic caster (superfine) sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

Juice of 2 lemons

Cake:

3/4 cup of pistachios, finely ground

1 cup organic caster (superfine) sugar

1/2 cup self raising flour

1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 and 1/2 cups of fine semolina

1/2 ground almond meal

1 and 1/4 cups of whole milk

125g melted unsalted butter

Organic, unsprayed dried rose petals to decorate

Method:

For the syrup:

Combine sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Add the cinnamon stick and slowly simmer until sugar dissolves (about 5 mins) Remove from heat, allow to cool and stir in the lemon juice. Chill in fridge.

For the cake:

Step 1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and lightly grease and flour a rectangular cake tin. ( I use a Falcon enamelware baking tray 24 x 13 cm).

Step 2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then stir in the ground pistachioes, almond meal, semolina and pistachio mixture.

Step 3. Combine the milk and melted butter in a bowl and gradually add to the flour mixture, stirring until smooth. Pour into the prepared dish, smoothing the surface. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes, or until cooked through. ( to test, use a clean skewer and insert into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean - it's cooked)

Step 4. Remove from the oven and pour over the cooled syrup. Stand until the syrup has been absorbed, then cut and sprinkle over the rose petals.

 

 

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.

 

 

The one bit of preparation that is absolutely essential though is washing the spinach properly. There is nothing worse than getting a big gritty mouthful. Traditionally, Greek Carolina rice would be used for this dish. It is very similar to Arborio rice, which I have used in this recipe. You can also use long grain rice and the dish will turn out just as well. I recently found some Carolina rice at my favourite Greek food shop, Earlwood Wines.

While Mr K's memories of spanakorizo are at the family table after school, my own memories of the dish are connected with Greece itself. On a trip to Greece a few years ago, Mr K and I had ventured on a precarious but absolutely breathtaking drive on the cliff edges (literally, on the precipice) of the Mani. On the drive back to our base at Mavrovouni Beach near Gythio, we stopped in a beautiful little village, which time had forgotten.

 

At the village, we arrived just at the same time as the smiling vegetable seller, his open tray truck piled high with the best of the season, including healthy bright yellow thick skinned lemons, bouquets of dill, spring onions as thick as leeks and huge bright green bunches of spinach and other leafy greens. We purchased a huge basket full of these delights.

When making spanakorizo, I like to use a mix of greens, usually a big bunch of spinach or sliver beet, some English spinach and some beetroot leaves. You can experiment with different varieties and you can also use a variety of herbs. In winter, I prefer to use dill or fennel fronds and in spring and summer, I like to use fresh mint, or sometimes a combination of both dill and mint.

 

Back at our beach side apartment, I coaxed our tiny little induction stove into turning an enormous amount of spinach and greens into a tasty spanakorizo. Overlooking the beach as the sunset, we enjoyed our little bowls of green, lemony goodness with glasses of soft dusky pink local rose, little wedges of salty, plump red tomatoes, creamy oil cheese 'ladotiri' and tiny little green olives that had been marinating, since picked, in a mixture of bay leaves, rigani - and more lemon!! Taking in the view, I had to drag out my sketch book and capture this little moment.

 

 

Mavrovouni Beach was a very beautiful part of the world. When the beach was deserted in the early morning, with the morning light sparkling on the water like a sheet of glass, you really could be forgiven for thinking an Ancient Greek god might descend from the hills around the beach - or up from the sea. Whenever I make spanakorizo I think of these moments of calm and contentedness.

 

 

Spanakorizo (σπανακόρυζο)

Ingredients:

1 bunch of spinach, roughly chopped

1 bunch of beetroot leaves (or other interesting Greens), roughly chopped

1 bunch of shallots, sliced

1 leek, sliced into rounds or chopped

½ cup olive oil

1-1/2 cups carolina or aborio rice

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon dill or mint, finely chopped

4 cups vegetable stock or water

salt and pepper

Method:

1. Wash spinach. Remove stems (or if using English spinach - just throw them in), drain leaves well and tear into pieces.

2. In a heavy based pan gently fry onion and leek in oil until soft. Add the spinach or other greens and allow to wilt.

3. Add the rice and remaining ingredients.

4. Cover and cook gently for 15 minutes or until rice is cooked to your preference.

6. Remove from heat, covered the pot tightly with a tea towel and place the lid on top. Allow to stand for 5-15 minutes, before serving with feta or yoghurt, a squeeze and lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and olives on the side.

 

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.

 

31 July 2014

Trahanasoupa (σούπα τραχανά)

 

 

From one traditional Greek soup, to another! I do seem to be on a little bit of a soup theme this week. Perhaps it was the rainy weather that finally arrived, after such a long, dry, blue-sky winter. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the rain. It is going to do wonders for my garden - particularly the recently planted artichokes and broad beans. What is more, rainy weather accompanies a great big bowl of Trahanasoupa (σούπα τραχανά) perfectly.

 

Trahanosoupa is a simple soup made with sour trahana. Trahana is classed as a sort of "couscous/pasta" and is an ingredient is not much known beyond Greek households. It is made from cracked wheat which has been soaked in milk and then (traditionally) dried in the sun. There are two types of trahana: sweet, and sour. Sour goat's milk, buttermilk or yoghurt is used for the sour trahana. You can buy trahana from Greek delicatessens and some fruit and vegetable shops also sell it. If you are feeling very ambitious you can also make your own, as the wonderful Christina has done. Step by step instructions can be found on her inspirational blog, Aphrodite's kitchen.

 

 

For Greeks, trahana is popular not only in winter soups or to thicken recipes, but can also be used a side dish to meat or vegetable dishes, kind of like a Greek polenta. Peter Minakis has a delectable recipe for braised lamb shanks with trahana on his brilliant blog, Kalofagas. Trahana can also be used as an alternative to bread crumbs and I have used it in this way to make some lovely meatballs, which are slow cooked in tomato with plenty of leek and celery.

28 July 2014

Greek Lentil Soup, Fakes Soupa (φακές σούπα)

 

This soup is another dish, common to all Greek homes. Growing up, this soup was on the table almost every week in Mr K's house, especially during Lent. When I first heard it pronounced "fah-KESS" I had to do a double take, as I thought Mr K was swearing! Little did I know, he was just taking about lentils. Although, I have to admit - while I've been working hard to learn more of the Greek language, this word still makes me giggle.

 

 

I absolutely loved this soup when Mrs K first made it for me to try. It is such a hearty and flavoursome dish, I didn't believe Ma when she said it just included the lentils, water and three things - onion, garlic and bay leaves. It has no meat or stock, yet you could be forgiven for thinking it did. The true flavour of the dish comes from the lentils and the aromatics of garlic, onion and bay leaves. It is just another fantastic example of how healthy traditional Greek home food is, and why the Mediterranean diet is so good.