Winter has arrived here in Sydney and it is that time for Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial's "In My Kitchen" feature, where bloggers from around the world share their latest kitchen discoveries. For many many months now, I have been following the wonderful blog, The Foodie Corner, from Greece. On her blog, Eleni has featured many dishes made by using a slow cooker. After months of thinking about it.... and convincing Mr K that I could find a space for a 6 litre slow cooker in our rather limited kitchen storage, I finally purchased a slow cooker and started experimenting! So in my kitchen this month, I thought I would share with you a couple of the Greek recipes (and one not so traditionally Greek) that have been a success using my new slow cooker.
As you may recall from one of my last posts, there has been some discussion about what constitutes "fassolatha", a bean soup - which is pretty much the national dish of Greece, in our house. My lovely husband had been craving a chickpea soup called Revithosoupa (ρεβιθόσουπα), which he ate regularly growing up. However, he had been calling the chickpea soup "fassolatha" which it wasn't. Fassolatha is a soup made with white beans, not chickpeas. Having sorted the chickpeas from the whitebeans and carefully recorded my mother in law's recipe and made revithosoupa a few times, I thought it was time now to make her fassolatha.
You will find fassolatha on the table nearly once a week in a Greek household, particularly during the Lenten season. The dish well represents the 'Mediterranean diet' and the way of Greek cooking, featuring legumes, vegetables and olive oil. There are many variations of this dish – each specific to a region of Greece. Fassolatha can also be made "white" with lemon (perfect at the end of winter citrus season) or with fresh tomatoes and/or tomato paste. Whichever way you make it, fassolatha is nearly always served with olives and when not fasting, feta cheese - or as Elenna from Foodaki suggests, with spicy sausage.
2 cups dried white beans
1 cup of olive oil
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
400g fresh tomatoes, grated
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk of celery with leaves, diced and leaves chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 small green pepper or capsicum, diced
1 small hot dried red chilli pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Before you start: if you are not using a slow cooker, soak the beans overnight in 6 cups of water.
1. Add a little oil to a pan and gently heat, add the onion, leek and green pepper and cook until onions are translucent and pepper is sweet. (If you are not using a slow cooker, cook the mixture in a large soup pot).
2. If you are using a slow cooker, transfer the onion mixture to the ceramic dish in the slow cooker.
3. Rinse and drain the beans, also add to the ceramic dish in the slow cooker, along with carrot, celery, remaining olive oil, grated tomatoes, tomato paste, chilli, salt and pepper and 1 litre of hot water. Place slow cooker on high setting and cook for around 3 hours.
4. If you are not using a slow cooker, add the pre-soaked beans and all of the remaining ingredients in step 3, to the onion mixture in the pot. When full boil resumes, reduce heat, cover, and simmer on low heat for about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
If you are using either the pot or slow cooker, the beans should result in the same way - soft and creamy, but not to the point of falling apart. The beans may need to be cooked a little more in either method, depending on the quality of the beans. During the cooking time, you may need to add more water, a cup at a time. Fassolatha should not be a thick purée, but at the same time not not watery.
Tip: To make "white" fassolada (without tomato or tomato paste) cook as above, leaving out these ingredients and just before serving, stir in the juice of 1 lemon.
We rarely eat a lot of meat during the week at Casa Mulberry, saving it for special occasions or long weekend lunches with family and friends. Looking for a fun dish to share at the table - these Greek meatballs with leek and celery, made in the slow cooker, have been perfect for casual lunches with friends and make quite a good Greek feast served alongside a saffron rice pilaf and a big bowl of Horiatiki or "Greek" salad. The dishes can be placed on the table and everyone can help themselves. This recipe was given to me by the lovely Katerina, who lives in village of Klismata in Kefalonia, during our visit to the Island last year. Since I had a little bit of holiday time on my hands, while we were visiting Klismata, I sketched out the ingredients for this recipe - rather than the usual written method.
This recipe uses an ingredient called Trahana, which is a traditional sun-dried grain product made by combining cracked wheat, bulgur, or flour with buttermilk or yogurt (which makes the "sour" kind), or with whole milk (to make the "sweet" kind). Outside of Greece, you can buy trahana from some fruit and vegetable stores or delicatessants, or specialty Greek food shops. You can also make your own, but if you like, you can replace the trahana in this recipe with rice.
Greek meatballs with leek and celery (Κεφτέδες με πρασοσέλινο)
1 kg minced meat lamb and beef mixed
2 chopped onions
3 tablespoons trahana soup
1/2 bunch parsley, minced
2 tablespoons Mint, minced
1 tablespoon butter
For the vegetables:
3 medium leeks, cut into 4 inch lengths
4 sprigs celery, cut into 4 inch lengths
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
1. Combine minced meat with onion, trahana, herbs, pepper and egg until well combined. Then refrigerate for half an hour. Shape small round meatballs, golf balled sized.
2. Sauté olive oil in a pan with leeks and celery until they are soft.
3. Add the vegetables to the base of the ceramic pot of the slow cooker along with salt, spices and tomato paste dilluted in a little hot water.
4. Add the meatballs, on top of the vegetables, gently pour hot water to cover by 2/3.
5. Cook on low setting for three hours. If needed, add water. Just before the end, add the butter and gently toss through.
Last but not least, I have also used the slow cooker to make some desserts. My mulled wine poached pears, with chocolate sauce have been the biggest hit so far! The dish is certainly not a traditional Greek recipe, but it is perfect for winter. To make this dish, I used the "mulling spices" from Williams Sonoma, which opened here in Sydney last year.
8 medium Bosc pears, peeled and left whole with stem intact
3 cups red wine
1 cup non alcoholic apple cider
1 tablespoons of organic caster sugar
1 tablespoon of Williams Sonoma mulling spices (or 1 whole vanilla bean, 2 cinnamon sticks, 6 cloves, 6 all spice berries, ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg and zest of one large orange)
For the dark chocolate sauce:
100g good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids) roughly chopped
100ml pouring cream
1. Place pears in the slow cooker
2. Add all the other ingredients and pour wine mixture over the pears.
3. Cook on the high setting for about 3 hours. If the pears are not fully covered by the wine mixture, you may need to turn them over once during cooking, to make sure they get a deep red blush evenly.
4. Gently Remove the pears from the slow cooker and set aside. Transfer the liquid to a saucepan and simmer on the stove top until the wine mixture is reduced to about half.
5. For the chocolate sauce, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a seperate pan of barely simmering water until completely smooth. Then heat all of the remaining ingredients in a seperate small saucepan until evenly combined. Remove from the heat and stir through the melted chocolate.
6. Place each pear in a serving dish and divide the wine sauce between the dishes. The the chocolate sauce over the pears.
Tip: you can also add some prunes to the pear mixture in the slow cooker. You may also want to serve extra chocolate sauce in a small jug, along with the pears.
Celia's blog to have a look at what is happening in the many kitchens from around the world this June! ...... And I would love to know, lovely friends, do you use a slow-cooker and what is your tried and tested favourite slow-cooker dish?