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.

Since first trying the dish at Mrs K's table, I've seen fakes soupa served in a number of different ways - depending on the Greek household and where in Greece the family comes from. Some have carrots, celery, cumin or chili added. While the ingredients may change, this dish is nearly always served with a splash or two of red wine vinegar. Olives, pickled peppers or vegetables are also often the usual accompaniments.

Traditionally, this soup is made with brown lentils and it can be made with or without fresh tomatoes, or a little Greek tomato paste being added. I add just a touch of the really lovely preservative free tomato paste from Santorini. It is really special and worth while seeking out.

 

 

Fakes Soupa (φακές σούπα)

Ingredients:

* 500g small brown lentils, rinsed and soaked for about 2 hours

* 1.5 litres of water

* 1 medium red onion, very finely chopped

* 1/2 cup of olive oil

* 3 bay leaves

* 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

* sea salt

* freshly ground pepper

* red wine vinegar to serve

* 1 tsb of Greek tomato paste (optional)

Method:

Step 1. In a heavy pot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and gently fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, bay leaves and tomato paste and stir to combine. Then add the lentils and water.

Step 2. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat and add the remaining oil.

Step 3.Reduce the heat and simmer partially covered for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until lentils are done.

Step 4. Remove from the heat, take out the bay leaves, stir in salt and pepper.

Step 5. Serve with vinegar on the side, added to taste.

 

27 July 2014

Anna's Garlic Spaghetti (σκόρδομακαρόνια)

 

Garlic spaghetti, called skordomakaronia, is a dish I always associate with Greek summer holidays. Last year, after a gruelling 36 hour journey Mr K arrived at his mother's home island of Zakynthos, to meet his parents. The first dish his mum placed on the table was a big bowl of skordomakaronia, with an extra big helping of freshly grated myzithra cheese. This is comfort food at its best.

 

 

This recipe is courtesy of Anna, who hails from the island of Syros. Anna is married to a good work friend of mine. Every now and again he brings a generous container of this beautiful spaghetti to work for me. What a treat! It is such a comforting dish with fresh, simple flavours. I warn you now - it is very hard to stop at one helping. I had to ask for the recipe, which Anna kindly shared.

 

 

 

Eating this spaghetti, I often find myself dreaming of summer holidays - especially summer holidays on the island of Kyithira. While Anna is from Syros, she and her hubby always return to the beautiful Island of Kythira every few years. Inspired by their holiday snaps (which I just wanted to melt into, when I saw the clear, aqua waters of Kythira) Mr K and I visited a few years ago. It was quite simply paradise. So much so, that when visiting his parents in Greece last year Mr K took them off from Zakynthos to Kythira. And you'll never guess what my mother in law cooked on their first night in Kythira. Yep, you guessed it. Skordomakaronia.

 

 

Skordomakaronia (σκόρδομακαρόνια)

Ingredients:

1/2 - 3/4 packet of spaghetti

1 cup of olive oil (or less if you prefer)

2 whole heads of garlic, sliced crossways into matchstick thickness

1 &1/2 - 2 Tbs tomato paste

1 tsp sugar (or to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

1 can of diced tomatoes (I used 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded and finely chopped)

myzithra cheese, for serving (similar to ricotta forte)

Method:

Step 1. In a deep frying pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and when hot add the garlic cloves and fry them until they get lightly browned. Stir all the time so they do not burn. Then remove the garlic cloves from the pan, with a slotted spoon and place on a plate.

Step 2. In the garlic-infused oil, add the tomato paste, sugar and tomatoes and stir with a fork to incorporate it. Cook until the tomatoes are broken down.

Step 3. Cook spaghetti in boiling water with salt to your taste (al dente or more). Strain it, discard the water, and set aside.

Step 4. Add the garlic to the sauce. Mix well to incorporate and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the strained pasta to the sauce, toss the pasta through the sauce. Serve hot, topped with grated myzithra cheese.

 

While in Kythira we stayed at the very lovely Anatoli Hotel. We also enjoyed Manolis Taverna (pictured above) at Diakofti Beach, for delicious grilled calamari, home cut fried potatoes and beautiful fresh salads, with samphire gathered straight from the beach directly in front of us.

Anatoli Hotel

Agia Pelagia

Kythera 80200

www.anatolihotel-Kythira.gr

 

Manolis Taverna

Diakofti Beach, 80200

t: +30 2736033748

 

Speaking of summer holidays, do you have a favourite place you love to return too and, lovely friends, I would love to know if there is there a special dish that you cook which takes you straight to that place?

26 July 2014

Nana's passionfruit sponge cake

 

It was Monseiur Zen's birthday this week. The tradition in our family has always been that you can request your favourite cake on your birthday. When I was little, I always asked for the 'Gingerbread House' from the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. I loved that book. I would lovingly turn the pages throughout the year, carefully deciding which cake I wanted. Despite all my dedicated year-long research, I always asked for the same cake, much to Madame Zen's delight (not). To their credit, mum and dad, for a number of years, spent an agonizing birthday party eve, trying to construct the said cake. Mum recalls it was a two person job and that just when you were nearing the end of construction, the roof was prone to collapse like a pack of cards - and she had to start from scratch again.

 

 

 

Thankfully, dad didn't chose the infamous 'Gingerbread House' cake for his birthday this year. Instead, he asked for the passionfruit sponge cake from his own childhood. My nana would frequently make this cake for special occasions, particularly so after she purchased her very first 1950s Sunbeam Mixmaster. In photos from family birthday parties in the 50s and 60s, there is always picture of the 'buffet' adorned with a range of dishes and there is always a passionfruit sponge, sitting serenely tall among the desserts (just like nana and her friend's glamourous 70s hairstyles). Clearly, nana was a big fan of the passionfruit - one of her other classic and well remembered recipes being her Apple Charlotte with passionfruit icing.

 

 

I have to admit to having never made a sponge cake - until this week. It seems to be something that was passed over in 1990s school home economics classes - in favour of cheese and spinach triangles and 'submarines' (truly awful savoury mince and tomato sauce horrors). I had my nana's recipe, which I thought best to cross reference with my mum's own recipe book. Thankfully, they were both pretty similar.

 

 

Nana's passionfruit sponge cake

Ingredients for sponge:

4 eggs

3/4 cup golden castor sugar

2/3 cup plain flour

1/3 cup cornflour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

Ingredients for filling:

1 cup cream

2 passionfruit, pulp

Ingredients for icing:

1 cup icing sugar

1 teaspoon of butter

2 passionfruit, pulp

Method:

Step 1: Preheat oven to moderate. Grease two round sponge / sandwich tins (20cms). Put eggs into the bowl of a mixmaster, beat until eggs are thick and creamy. Gradually beat in sugar, until it has dissolved.

Step 2: Sift dry ingredients a number of times to ensure they are well combined. Using a metal spoon, fold dry ingredients quickly into egg mixture. Make sure all dry ingredients are mixed in.

Step 3: Pour mixture evenly and equally into prepared tins. Bake in moderate oven for 25mins (cake should shrink away from sides of tin and top should bounce back when lightly touched).

Step 4: cover to wire cooling racks with a clean tea towel and turn cakes out of tins, as soon as they are removed from the oven.

Step 5: Whip cream and fold through passionfruit. When cake is completely cooled, spread with whipped cream. Put second cake on top of cream.

Step 6: To make icing, sift icing sugar into a bowl, add butter and enough passionfruit pulp to mix into a thick paste. Put bowl over simmering water and stir until a thin consistency. Spread over top of the cake and allow to set.

So tell me lovely friends. Do you remember the Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book and did you have a favourite birthday cake?

 

 

23 July 2014

Lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες)

 

In Greece, it is said that the best cabbage is found after the first frost. My lovely mother in law was right on cue, making this classic Greek winter favourite, lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες) as the winter chill settled over Sydney this week.

If you love Greek food you would be no stranger to dolmades, made with vine leaves. The homemade version with avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce, not the ones in the can(!), are one of my all time favourite Greek dishes. However, grape vine leaves are best in season from late spring to early summer when tender leaves are plentiful.

 

 

Lahanodolmades are a lovely winter version of the regular vine leaf dolmades. Tender winter cabbage is filled with ground beef and rice and the dolmades are covered with a avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce. The avgolemono sauce is another great way to use the best fruit and vegetables in season - with all of the gorgeous citrus available at this time of year, particularly home-grown lemons. I was recently given a large bag of home-grown lemons as a gift, and they smell incredible. There is no comparison with store bought lemons, with their waxy coating inhibiting the beautiful lemon aroma.

I think my own Irish ancestry must hold at least some of the key to the reason why I love my mother in law's lahanodolmades so much. Cabbage is used so frequently in Irish cooking and I think my genes often crave it! You can understand why I was so thrilled to come home from work this week and find that my mother in law had left a lovely big warm bowl of lahanodolmades in my kitchen.

 

 

Mrs K recommends selecting a large cabbage for lahanodolmades. The whole head of the cabbage needs to be intact, but the leaves need to be rather loose. If you have any leftover cabbage you can make a number of other Greek dishes, including lahanorizo, a rice pilaf with cabbage.

Mrs K uses the same stuffing for her lahanodolmades that she uses to make regular dolmades. By way of comparison, her stuffing for yemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) is nearly always vegetarian, taking account of the need for "lightness" in summer cooking. If you wish to make a vegetarian version of the lahanodolmades, or for fasting, Mrs K suggests leaving out the meat from the stuffing mix and upping the herb quantity, using only a lemon-oil sauce and skipping the egg. And, for extra special occasions, Mrs K also suggests that you can add some pine nuts and currants to the meat stuffing (or the vegetarian one), perhaps even a pinch of cinammon. The other tip Mrs K offers is to always make your own ground meat, or select the meat for your butcher to mince. Mrs K never buys store made mince or ground meat.

Mrs K's Lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες)

Ingredients:

For the rolls:

* 1 medium whole green cabbage

* 250 grams of ground beef (or lamb)

* 250 grams of ground pork

* 1 whole egg

* 3/4 cups of short-grain rice

* 3 stalks of fresh dill, finely chopped

* Salt and pepper to taste

* 1 medium onion, finely chopped

* 1 tablespoon of olive oil

* 3/4 cup of olive oil

* 1 onion, sliced in rings

* 2 medium carrots, sliced in thick rounds

* 2 stalks of celery (leaves only)

* water or vegetable or chicken stock

* 1 small dried chilli pepper

For the sauce:

* 2-3 eggs yolks

* 1 tablespoon of water

* juice of 2-3 lemons

* broth from the dish being cooked

Method:

Step 1. Remove the outer layers of the cabbage and discard. Turn the cabbage head over and using a sharp knife cut out as much of the core (stem) as you can.

Step 2. In a large pot, boil enough water to submerge the cabbage head. Boil the entire cabbage head until the leaves are tender and can be removed easily (about 15 mins).

Step 3. In a bowl, mix the ground beef, pork, egg, rice, dill, finely chopped onion, a little oil and water, and knead to mix thoroughly. Form into rounds, a little larger than golf balls and the roll out into small logs.

Step 4: Using the large outer leaves of the cabbage, lay them out flat and place the meat mixture in the leaf and roll up the cabbage leaf. Repeat.

Step 5: Using a large casserole pot, line the base with carrot and onion slices, celery leaves and any leftover cabbage leaves.

Step 6: Lay the stuffed cabbage rolls, fold side down, on top in snugly packed layers. Place an inverted plate on top to hold them down when cooking.

Step 7: Add water or stock to cover, the chilli pepper and bring to a boil. When boil is reached, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the leaves are tender and the filling is cooked.

To make the avgolemono sauce:

Step 1: A few minutes before the cabbage is done, make the avgolemono sauce. Whisk the egg yolks and a tablespoon of water.

Step 2: Stir in 1/2 cup of liquid from the pot and lemon juice whisking until smooth (you can add some cornflour if you would like a thicker sauce).

Step 3: Remove the plate, remove cabbage from heat and pour in the egg-lemon sauce. Hold pot by the handles and shake gently to distribute.

Step 4: Serve warm with a few spoonfuls of the sauce over the cabbage.

 

 

20 July 2014

Athens Central Market & a vegetarian feast


Very, very new season garlic appeared at the market today. I was thrilled to see the garlic and the promise of spring it brings. The season of artichokes, broad beans, sweet baby peas and juicy asparagus is just around the corner. Spring must really be the most delightful season for vegetarians! While there was super fresh and juicy garlic at the market, sadly I am going to have to wait a little longer for the other delights of spring until the chill of winter has defrosted. This is where my trusty bag of frozen peas stepped in. I hardly ever use frozen foods, but peas are the one staple that are always in my freezer - combined with the new season garlic, spring was just at a moments reach.

 

 

As soon as I saw the fresh garlic at the market, I immediately started craving a beautiful vegetarian dish, called 'biselli (pea) - arakas laderos' (μπιζέλια - Αρακάς λαδερός) which I first tried in one of the eateries in Athens Central Market. This delicious vegetable stew calls for peas, carrots, fresh tomatoes, onion, fresh garlic, and dill.

 

 

The market is known as the 'Varvakios Agora' (Βαρβάκειος Αγορά) and like many markets in Europe, it has a number of casual 'workers' tavernas. They are located near the meat market and there is also one other underground taverna near the vegetable market. When I lasted visited Athens, Mr K and I chose to eat at the Eiprus taverna, where all of the dishes for the day are laid out under the glass counter for easy viewing. The cooking is very traditional, home style Greek cooking. The dishes change from day to day, depending on what is in season - and when the dish runs out, it's done for the day! This is one of the reasons why I love market tavenas - you know everything is fresh and in season, straight from the stalls and sellers right in front of you.

18 July 2014

Paximathakia (παξιμαδάκια)




These beautiful, cinamon and clove spiced cookies are the Greek version of biscotti. Where the Irish drink tea to sooth the soul, paximathia and a small cup of strong, sweet Greek coffee have the same ability to calm and melt away stress.


 

Paximathakia are often made in Greek homes and kept in the biscuit tin for when friends and family call in. As they contain no butter or eggs, paximathakia are also often served during the Lenten season. Traditionally, they are also sometimes served as a part of the Makaria (Mercy Meal) , following the passing of a loved one, as a sign of fasting and mourning that the departed has left this life. On this occasion Greek coffee is sometimes replaced with small glasses of Metaxa brandy.

17 July 2014

Prasorizo πρασόρυζο




There is nothing nicer than the smell of leeks, slowly cooking in olive oil. My mother in law has a little Greek book that lists all of the health benefits of various fruits and vegetables. Along with eating at least one tomato per day, she advises to use leeks in cooking as often as possible. The reason for this is that not only do they add to the depth of flavour of a dish but leeks, like garlic and onions, belong to a vegetable family called the "Allium" vegetables. Since leeks are related to garlic and onions, they contain many of the same beneficial compounds found in these well-researched, health-promoting vegetables.




While you might normally associate leeks with Welsh winter cooking, they have a long history in Greek cooking - way to back to ancient times, where the Greeks believed them to cure nosebleeds. Leeks are more common in the cookery of Northern Greece, such as Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. Aside from a variety of leek and meat stews, one of the more common Greek dishes using leeks is a "prasopita" (πρασόπιτα), a lovely combination of leeks and sheep's cheese all wrapped up in homemade phyllo pastry. This is on my list of family recipes to try soon. However, after a long day in the office - pastry work is not high on my list of culinary tasks. Luckily, that is where today's dish steps in. Prasorizo (πρασόρυζο) is basically a Greek version of a leek risotto, with plenty of lemon and herbs - the difference being that the real star of the dish is the leeks, not the rice itself. If you are familiar with spanakorizo (σπανακόριζο), spinach rice, this dish is basically an alternative version using beautifully flavoursome, slowly cooked leeks instead of spinach.


Along with a bounty of colourful lemons, leeks are one of the nicest treats of winter. This traditional recipe, which combines them both, was shared with me (a few years ago now) while Mr K and I were on our honeymoon visiting the spectacular 14th Century cliff top monasteries in Metaora in Northern Greece. The monks and nuns of the monasteries have a wealth of really spectacular vegetarian dishes, including this one. Prasorizo is wonderfully warming and hearty, and can easily be made on a weeknight served alongside some olives and feta, with a good wedge of lemon. The tip to creating a really flavoursome dish is to slowly cook the onions and leeks for a long time, to bring our the sweetness. Also, make sure to wash the leeks carefully as there is often quite a bit of sand and dirt lurking in the green layers.


Prasorizo (πρασόρυζο)

Ingredients:

* 1 kg of leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut lengthwise into quarters and then 2 inch long pieces
* 1 onion, chopped finely
* 1/2 cup of olive oil
* 3 & 1/2 cups of homemade vegetable (or chicken stock)
* 1 & 1/4 cups of uncooked white rice
* 1 lemon, sliced
* 1/2 bunch of fresh dill, chopped
* 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
* juice of 1 lemon
* Seasoning to taste
* Mizithra cheese, grated to serve

Method:

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a fry pan and add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the leeks and cook for around 5 minutes until wilted. Do not brown.

2. Add the remaining olive oil and two cups of stock to a separate saucepan, add the leeks and onion and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

3. Add 1 1/2 cups of remaining stock and return to a boil. Cover the leeks with a layer of rice and season, then add a layer of sliced lemons over the top of the rice. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, peel off the lemons and stir in chopped dill, oregano and an extra squeeze of lemon juice (if desired). Cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel and place the lid of the pan on top, and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

5. Serve in bowls, with an extra wedge of lemon and a grating of myzithra cheese. You could also serve alongside a bowl of olives and feta.



12 July 2014

Kalitsounia (καλιτσούνια)




My love affair with Kalitsounia started when Mr K and I visited Crete a few years ago. Kalitsounia (καλιτσούνια) are small pies, either filled with sheep cheese and drizzled with honey for a sweet dessert, or filled with cheese, herbs and/or greens and onion for a savoury snack. These little pies are unique to Crete and the island has become famous for them.





Kalitsounia are traditionally served at Easter time and filled with two cheeses unique to Crete, along with some mint. There are also two popular kalitsounia shapes for Easter, a square and a 'little lantern'. Beyond Easter, kalitsounia are often served at big family gatherings and parties. They can also either be baked or fried.







If you are visiting Crete, kalitsounia can be found in baker's shops and tavernas all year round. In Chania, some of the best Kalitsounia can be found at the Central Market. The Municipal Market of Chania is in the heart of the city and dates back to 1913. The market is full of fresh local produce, cheeses, meats and seafood and specialities unique to Crete such as mountain teas, spices and dried figs, honey and sweets. If you purchase some kalitsounia, olives, fresh tomatoes, bread and a small bottle of locally made rose or red wine - you have the perfect makings for a picnic on one of the many spectacular beaches close to Chania.


9 July 2014

In my kitchen July: skordalia σκορδαλιά and stifado στιφάδο


It only seems like it was a few weeks ago that I was indulging the first harvest olive oil of Greece (known as Αγουρέλαιο or Agoureleo) and Italy (known as olio nuovo) (you can read more about that adventure here)... and now it is time to enjoy the Australian offerings. Into my kitchen this month, Mr K proudly bought a beautiful bottle of Cobram Estate ‘First Harvest’, the very first extra virgin olive oil from the 2014 harvest. The olive oil is a vibrant green and has a very rich taste - and left a very, very peppery burn on the back of the throat. It is an absolutely amazing olive oil and full of intensity. I want to use the oil generously, but only where it can really shine and not have to compete with other flavours, or even worse, fade into the background. As such, the oil has featured mainly on small pieces of toasted rustic homemade bread - with just a pinch of Greek 'fleur de sel'. The basic but the best type of "bruschetta" you could ever have. Today, I made one further concession. Adding the lush green oil to make a light, creamy skordalia.

The skordalia was inspired not only by the bright green oil, but the abundance of beautiful citrus in my kitchen this month. Recently, Mr K and my father in law went on a little road trip, down past Wollongong, which is about an hours drive out of Sydney. They visited the house, of a very old family friend Aggeliki who was from the Island of Corfu in Greece. Sadly she passed away many years ago. Aggelik's lemon tree still grows and was abundant with large yellow lemons. Mr K bought some home to our kitchen, which was filled with their zesty, fresh scent. The lemons held so much juice, which flowed freely and took little effort to extract. While juicing the lemons, I thought of Aggeliki, who I had never met, planting the lemon tree by her house that overlooked the lake. Together with the oil, garlic and potatoes, the lemons made a very light and fluffily skordalia, full of the peppery bite of the garlic and the first harvest oil. Mr K proclaimed it to be the best skordalia I had made yet and I am sure that Aggeliki, and the lemons from her well loved tree, most certainly had a hand in its success.

16 June 2014

A taste of Florence, old and new





Rediscovering Florence after a few years between visits was a pleasure full of surprises. If you are a regular reader of Mulberry and Pomegranate, it would come as no surprise to you that I revelled in rediscovering Florence in the cooler months of autumn. Florentine food just screams autumn and winter. After hours of walking, rugged up, around the streets, galleries and architectural masterpieces of Florence, you crave the kind of food to warm you from head to toe and make you feel full - preferably consumed next to a roaring fireplace with a glass of Brunello in hand.  In this post, I thought I would share with you a few favourite old classics and new discoveries from the stunning city of Florence.