1 November 2014

Ma's artichokes stuffed with rice and herbs (Αγκινάρες γεμιστές με ρύζι)

Quite frankly, I am in love with artichokes. They are so beautiful to look at that I am prone to putting them in vases and then capturing them on paper in watercolours. While I adore their thistle-like beauty, it is their complex flavour and texture that I really love. Artichoke hearts are dense and velvety, and their green flavour profile sits somewhere between a mushroomy broccoli stalk with a hint of asparagus. When they come into their season in spring - I just want to eat them every single day.

A couple of years ago, when Mr K and I were in Rome on a hot spring day, we found ourselves enjoying a simply magical lunch of 'carciofi alla guida' - deep-fried whole artichokes - eaten hot, doused with big squeezes of lemon and washed down with a very, very chilled acidic local white wine. We often find ourselves reminiscing about just how good those artichokes were (you can read more about them here).

The love of the artichoke spreads far and wide through the Mediterranean. When travelling in Provence, we have bought huge bouquets of small purple artichokes at the spring markets and cooked them simply in a heavy pot with local white wine, lots of big juicy chunks of tomato, local olive oil, a sprinkling thyme or herbs de Provence and loads of garlic (you can find the recipe here).

In Greece, the artichoke is also very, very well loved. Being a spring time favourite, it is often paired with spring lamb and broad beans and plenty of lemon (find the recipe here). Lemon is also the key flavour in the classic Greek dish Aginares a la Polita or Artichokes City-Style where artichokes are slowly cooked in an oil and lemon sauce with lots of dill, carrots (which mimic the sweetness of the artichoke) and potatoes (find the recipe here). Another favourite is to stew artichoke heats with lots of peas, broad beans and onions.

I love all of these artichoke dishes, but one that holds a real place in my heart is my mother in law's stuffed artichokes. It is one of the first dishes that she ever cooked for me and I can still remember what a revelation it was. I had eaten artichokes growing up - my grandfather used to grow them occasionally in his terraced vegetable garden that caught the sea breezes from North Cronulla Beach - in the days when Cronulla was a seaside village and not overrun with apartment blocks.

Before she passed away, my grandmother had told me many stories of life in wartime Sydney. She recalled how important home vegetable gardens were, during times of rationing and recounted her own father's vegetable garden in 1940s Cronulla and her grandfather's wartime vegetable garden in Wentworth Falls. Nana's recipe clipping book, an old school exercise book with faded grid paper, has two recipe clippings from wartime cookery pamphlet for globe artichokes.

The first said:

Artichokes are cooked in the following way. Peel and boil until tender, them strain and roll in a mixture of breadcrumbs and chopped parsley. Fry quickly in deep fat and serve at once.

The second clipping said:

...To prepare, remove all the hard outer leaves. Cut off the top of the bud. Drop the artichoke into boiling water and cook until tender, this will take thirty to fifty minutes, then take up and remove the choko. Serve either hot or cold with salad dressing. If eaten hot, melted margarine also makes a delicious sauce...

My great grandafter's wartime garden in Wenthworth Falls

While I had nibbled on home-grown simply boiled artichokes, I had never eaten anything like Ma's stuffed artichokes. She had carefully removed the really tough outer leaves and the spiky purple inner leaves and what she calls 'the lint' to create a 'cup' for rice that had drawn in all of that green herbaceous flavour from the artichoke and was spiked with garlic, hot chili, sweet tomatoes and the aniseed flavour of dill. A rich layer of Greek olive oil (from her family trees in Zakynthos) bought all of these flavours together and then there was the melting texture of the odd broad bean - some still in the pod, which had been thrown in for good 'springtime' measure. Most importantly, you could taste the love and care that Ma had put into creating this meal - and certainly her respect for such beautiful springtime produce.

Ma and I talking food in the garden 

Ma shared the recipe with me recently while we were sitting in her garden, under the dappled shade of the mulberry tree, and talking food. Greek food is so seasonal and linked to health. Ma is a firm believer that the seasons provide exactly what the body needs and she was keen to ensure that I had moved from cooking 'winter fuel' - hearty bean soups and legume casseroles to start making lighter springtime dishes like lamb fricassee cooked with spring greens and egg-lemon sauce, wild greens pies, simple broad bean dishes and of course, her beloved stuffed artichokes.

I love watching Ma when she talks about food. Her eyes twinkle and she animatedley mimes each step of the recipe for me while I make mental notes and write it down. Each steps is punctuated with 'katalava?' - do you understand. I nod and usually say 'katalaveno' - I understand and Ma helps me practice saying all of the Greek names for the ingredients and methods in the recipe. I love these little moments with Ma. While we were talking, Mr K was bouncing through his dad's garden - listening to us and loudly offering a little translation here and there - jumping from Greek to English and English to Greek without missing a beat, while he plucked small tender broad beans from the the tall rows my father in law had planted - some went into a box and some into his mouth. He also picked big bunches of radiki and other spring greens and then washed them all under the garden hose for his mum. "He is a good boy" Ma said with her twinkling eyes and I happily agreed.

 Ma's artichokes stuffed with rice and herbs 

(Αγκινάρες γεμιστές με ρύζι)

8 fresh artichokes

1 red onion, finely chopped or grated

1 & 1/2 cups of Greek carolina rice

1 bunch of dill, finely chopped

2 ripe fresh tomatoes, grated

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 cup of olive oil

salt and pepper

Dried chili flakes, or whole dried chili pepper, to taste (optional)

Fresh broad beans and some podded and small ones left in the pod (optional)

1 bowl of water, with the juice of 1 lemon squeezed in for preparing the artichokes


Step 1. Peel the artichokes and remove the hard outer leaves and stalks, so that the base is flat. Gently prise the artichoke open and remove the inner purple leaves and the 'lint', creating a cup for the rice. Place the prepare artichokes in the bowl of lemon water to stop them going brown.

Step 2. Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in a frypan and add the chopped onion.  Saute for a few minutes until translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and the rice. Stir to coat all the grains of rice in the garlic-onion oil. Cook for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes, dill, salt, pepper and chili (if using). Mix again. Remove from heat.

Step 3. Place the artichokes in a pot, so that they sit upright closely together and fill each artichoke with the rice mixture. Fill the pot with water, to just under the tops of the artichokes and sprinkle over remaining oil. You can also add some more grated tomato at this point too, if you wish. You could also add the broad beans to at this point, if you wish. Cover the pot and let it simmer on a low heat until the artichokes are tender and the rice is completely cooked, around 45 mins to an hour. All of the water should also cook out, so that you are left with a thick sauce. 

26 October 2014

Pavlidis Ygeias Dark Chocolate Semifreddo & ouzo soaked strawberries

I have a very dear friend who is a serious chocoholic. A few weeks ago, my lovely friend was joining us for lunch and I knew I had to make something with chocolate and as the weather was becoming much warmer, it had to be my homemade chocolate semifreddo.

25 October 2014

Simple mezedes: slow cooked florina peppers

Brilliantly versatile, punchy and sweet - I love florina peppers and their intense flavour. This simple meze dish is one of the most luscious things you can make from a few humble ingredients. You simply slow cook red onions - and plenty of garlic and then add the peppers until you have a meltingly rich sauce.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!!

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.