1 November 2013

In my Greek kitchen: November

Fish for sale, fresh from the boat in Argostoli Harbour
 
 
This month, I have been lucky enough to use a variety of kitchens, while traveling through the Ionian Islands, a group of seven islands in Greece. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share with you, this month, some of the tastes and flavours of the Ionian Islands. Mr K and I have spent our time mainly in Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada. These three islands are off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, sitting between Greece and Italy.
 

 

Fish and seafood is incredibly abundant in the islands, and it is enjoyed in the main towns and in all the coastal villages. In the highlands and mountain villages, fish and seafood is bought fresh from the coast in little trucks, where the sellers shout through a loudspeaker, "φρέσκο ​​ψάρι" (fresh fish). In days past, itinerant fishermen made their way up to the villages to sell their daily catch.

Lavraki, grey mullet and rigani for sale in Argostoli Harbour

While staying in Argostoli, the main port town of Kefalonia, Mr K and I frequently bought fish and seafood from the small fishing caiques, which sell directly from boxes on the quayside. I have written more about the fishermen of Argostoli here. It was a beautiful thing to see whole fish, being cleaned directly in front of you, by the man who had caught it. On our last visit we purchased a beautifully fresh lavraki (λαβράκι) otherwise known as a European sea bass. The lavraki has a bone structure that’s easy to navigate, a buttery texture and a sweet delicate flavor. We also tried a flat head grey mullet, described to us by the fisherman as "kefalos" (Κέφαλος).

The quayside was also dotted with colourful fruit and vegetable sellers. To accompany the fish we also bought a huge bunch of fragrant rigani. Rigani is an important culinary herb in Greece, more flavourful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste. It has a unique, herby scent and you will find that most Greek kitchens have a soft, lingering aroma of rigani. A few years ago, when Mr K and I visited the Pelopennese in spring time, Mr K's paternal uncle had huge bunches, with the delicate papery flowers, freshly gathered and hanging upside down in his cellar for use later in the year. I always use rigani when making a simple Greek salad, or in the case of the beautiful fish we had bought, I add it to a lemon-olive oil sauce to pour over the grilled fish.

Kefalonia is abundant with citrus fruits; local garlic and lemons for sale in Argostoli
 

Latholemono (Oil and lemon sauce)

1 part fresh lemon juice (1/3 cup)

2 parts extra-virgin olive oil (2/3 cup)

1 tsp. sea salt

1 heaped tsp. of rigani

Add all the ingredients into a jar and secure the lid tight. Emulsify the sauce by shaking the jar vigarously. Adjust the seasoning and pour over grilled fish or seafood.

 

Fishmongers in Lefkas Town
 

In Lefkas Town, the main town of Lefkada, we bought seafood from the open window, small fishmongers found in the maze of cobbled passageways. I love the realness of these little stores. There are no bleached floors and neat little fillets here, like back at home. Here you are ushered close to inspect the whole fish, by the seller, who often has a cigarette in one hand. The little stores also usually have a chorus line of elderly men, komboloi in hand, cigarette in the other, keeping a close eye on the fish from the safety of a row of plastic garden chairs or outdoor bench. If you need advice on a particular type of fish or how it is best cooked - these gentlemen are a font of time honored wisdom.

 
 

At one particular fishmonger, we saw what was quite possibly the freshest kalamari I had ever seen. The eyes of the kalamari were luminously clear, rather eerily staring at us. The fishmonger kept prodding the kalamari with a fork, and the pricked skin turned a blushing rose-purple and then faded back to clear, whiteish skin. Later grilled, the kalamari was deliciously sweet and tender, almost like eating a juicy piece of lobster.

 

For small Islands, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada offer some incredible dairy products using sheep and goat's milk. In Kefalonia, from a local dairy seller we purchased a little clay pot of "Prentza". This cheese is not sold widely and the recipe is a very well kept secret among both Kefalonians and Zakynthians. A sort of cheese dip, prentza is made from creamy, salty ladotyri. Ladotyri means "oil cheese". In Zakynthos in particular, feta is steeped in brine to ripen for a couple of weeks, before being drained, dried, and placed in a barrel of olive oil. It is very pungent, similar to a very aged French chevre but more peppery. For the prentza, the ladotyri is mixed with sheep yogurt, thyme, olive oil and lemon juice. Served on slices of thick, brown wood fired bread, it made a wonderful accompaniment to our aperitif - a locally made, light fresh rose wine.

Little tubs of krema or rizogalo were €1 each
 

In Lefkas Town the were two, "γαλακτοκομείο" (galaktokomeío / dairy). They sold tangy sheep and goats yoghurt in little terracotta pots, rizogalo (rice pudding) heaped with cinnamon and scented with orange zest, as well as Mr K's childhood favourite, "krema". A light milk pudding made with a little cornflour. The dairies also sold nuts, handmade phyllo pastry, locally made spoon sweets and honey, as well as a Lefkan nougat, sandwiched between rice paper and filled with toasted almonds and a strong mastic flavour. The little wooden dairy store, which had been first set up in 1948 also sold icons of the saints for the home, candles and incense.

Lovely Lefkas nougat was only €2 euros for a round
Delicious fig spoon sweets, with a rich honey syrup - perfect with tangy goats yoghurt for a luxurious breakfast
 

The delicatessen style stores in the islands were also filled with treasures. A particular favourite was the small bottles of pickled rock samphire (kritamo). Ancient Greek philosophers recommended eating kritamo for its detoxifying and antioxidant properties. The samphire we bought from the deli had been balanched and steeped in wine vinegar. It is delicious by itself with a small glass of ouzo, mezedes style, or even served alongside grilled fish. I like to add it to a Greek salad for an extra zesty flavour, a good option if you want a break from feta, but still want a tangy, salty addition to your salad.

 

Rock samphire and vine leaves

Horiatiki Salata with rock samphire
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into small half rounds

2 medium ripe Heirloom / beefsteak tomatoes

1 medium red onion, halved and cut into slices

A handful of Kalamata olives in brine, rinsed and drained

2 Tbsp extra-virgin Greek olive oil

1 Tbsp of Greek rose wine vinegar

1 Tbsp pickled rock samphire

2 tsp rigani

1. Cut tomatoes into 3 or 4 wedges, depending on its size. Place in a serving bowl.

2. Add onion, cucumber, olives, vingar and olive oil and gently toss.

3. Place rock samphire on top and sprinkle the salad with oregano.

For a little vegetarian feast, we combined the horitaki Salata with a large bowl of Horta - using a variety of radikia, called italika. Boiled and eaten with a dressing of olive oil and lemon, it was surprisingly good. I also gently blanched the preserved vine leaves and wrapped little slices of haloumi and tomato in them, before grilling on the barbecue.

Our journey in Greece will continue onto the mainland for a few days, before we move onto a few weeks in southern Italy, where I hope to share with you a visit into some Italian kitchens next month. As always, big thanks go to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting this great monthly feature. Until next month, have a wonderful November whichever side of the world you live on and be sure to drop by Celia's wonderful blog!!
 
Ps. We have listened to some great vintage Greek music, in our Greek kitchens this month, for a glimpse of some vintage tracks see this link.
 

31 comments:

  1. This is a truly beautiful post Mrs Mulberry! A true feast for the eyes and the colours are delightful. I especially love the sound of that cheese dip on the bread. My kind of food. I hope we see some more photos and stories from your travels :)

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    1. Thanks so much Jane, I will defn be posting more stories soon ; )

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  2. ooooh you've just taken me on the most delightful journey! What an incredible area of the world!

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    1. Thanks Lisa. It surely is - will be planning my next trip back as soon as possible ; )

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  3. Oh my, I felt like I was right by your side and I'm definitely making that sauce!

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  4. Thanks Maureen, hope you enjoy the sauce. Perfect for summer grilling!

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  5. Sounds like you've been having a glorious time in Greece! I really must seek out some rigani to use in salads. The fish sounds wonderfully fresh too! :D

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    1. Thanks Lorraine! If you are near to Earlwood - you can pick up some lovely rigani from the Greek delis there ; )

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  6. Ella, when are you going to compile a book?!!

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  7. Gorgeous post - your photos are spectacular!

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    1. Hi Marianne, thanks for stopping by and your kind words.

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  8. Goodness, where to start! So many beautiful photos and mouthwatering things on your post, Ella! Thank you for sharing them with us, it sounds like you're having a fabulous time! :)

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  9. This was better than any travel/gourmet magazine spread I've ever seen! Thank you for the glorious pictures and the recipes! I read and salivated my way through your post this month- again, thank you.

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  10. Hi Ella, Absolutely fab photos. I just love Greece and your photos show it to perfection. They bring back frond memories.

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  11. G'day Ella! Stunning photos that captured my eyes right away!
    Reading your blog post today MADE my day!
    Cheers! Joanne
    Viewed as part of Celia's IMK

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  12. Again, I just adore all the colour in your photos. Amazing!

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  13. Beautiful food and pictures! That salad looks amazing.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  14. What a stunning series of photos

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  15. wow, I'm jealous and can almost feel the Greek air on my skin looking through your photographs. What a sensational roundup. Thanks for sharing. Leah

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  16. You should be paid by the Greek National Tourist Organisation, seriously. Amazing photos, thank you for sharing. And what a fab idea to combine fig spoon sweet with goat's cheese! Spoon sweets are just a tad too sweet for me, but this would even things out magnificently! I also love your veggie dolmadaki :) Great post.

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  17. Thanks so much for your lovely words Eleni ; )

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  18. This was simply superb... descriptive, enlightening, entertaining. Reading your IMK post was like going on vacation... and I want to go back and do it all over again. Thank you!

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Thank you for your comments, I really appreciate every single one!