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.
These large goodie bags are a godsend. I often work until late in the evening and have to do a fair bit of domestic travel for work. These delicious veggies mean that I can make traditional Greek "ladera dishes", like Artichokes "city style" (Αγκινάρες α λα πολίτα) (one of our favourites) for dinner after stepping off a plane from Canberra or Melbourne. The artichokes are huge and very sweet - I have to say that they are pretty incredible and unlike the artichokes I have bought in Sydney. I'll been keen to make some proper comparisons when the bounty of springtime artichokes hit the market here in Sydney soon.
I also love this brand of okra. Okra, is called bamies (μπάμιες) in Greek. You either love it or you hate it. Which camp do you fall in? If you are of the later camp, this recipe might just change your mind. This dish belongs to the stable of "ladera" dishes. Ladera dishes are simply dishes cooked in olive oil, usually with garlic and tomatoes. They are a cinch to prepare.
The only difficult task in the dish really is preparing the okra itself - and this work is happily taken out of the equation with frozen okra. However, if you are using fresh okra it requires a little bit of attention, trimming around the pointy end - but not breaking through the skin and then standing for a little time in rose wine vinegar. In the summertime, when fresh okra is at its peak and we usually have some homegrown, I like preparing the okra before heading into the office for the day. There is really something quite therapeutic and satisfying about it. Kind of like getting in touch with your village roots before a city commute. Another way of preparing the okra in this dish is to fry it in olive oil before adding the tomatoes.
If you like to make the dish more substantial, you can also add some potatoes for a vegetarian main course. If you prefer meat dishes you can also add some braised veal - or as a lovely Lebanese cab driver told me the other day, you can also add lamb. I find cab drivers are such a amazing source of culinary knowledge and inspiration. This gentleman was probably in his late 60s and was happy to write down the recipe for me - even after I had reached my destination and paid the fair. He also insisted on not standing the okra in vinegar and using the frying method to prepare it. I am keen to try this recipe with some spring lamb soon, but for now, I'm happy with the okra as the star of the dish!
Bamies Ladera (μπάμιες)
500 grams of fresh okra
2 tbsps of rose wine vinegar
1/2 a cup of olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
6 fresh tomatoes, grated or pureed
salt and pepper to taste
1. If using fresh okra, wash the okra and trim the pointy end. Be careful not to cut through to the skin itself.
2. Place in a bowl and gently toss through the red wine vinegar. Let the okra stand for around an hour and then rinse and drain well.
(If using frozen okra, you can skip steps 1 & 2)
3. Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and sauté the onion until translucent.
4. Add the okra, then the tomatoes and season to taste. It is best to shake the pan to combine the ingredients, or very gently stir through - you don't want to break any of the okra.
5. Bring the boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for around 40 minutes.
6. Once the okra is tender serve with some wedges of feta and crusty bread.
In my kitchen I have homegrown lemons and squeezy bottles of rose wine vinegar from Greece. The acid balance is so important in Greek cooking and if you are not juicing lemon over a dish - then you are giving it a good squeeze of vinegar. I bought my latest bottles of rose vinegar from the excellent Athena Delicatessen at the Oakleigh Market in Melbourne. You can read more about my trip to a Oakleigh here.
Greek feta, usually the Epirus or Dodoni brand are always in my kitchen - along with a huge barrel of kalamata olives. A small bowl of feta and olives are served up at very nearly every Greek meal - especially those that are vegetarian. Greek rigani also perfumes my kitchen, however it is used more sparingly in Greek cooking and only in grilled or oven baked dishes - such as whole snapper grilled on the BBQ with lots of lemon, garlic and rigani.
Greek rice is something I have only recently been able to purchase. Considering how many yemista (γεμιστά) "stuffed" dishes there are in Greek cooking - it's a pretty important staple to have in the kitchen. You can buy Greek rice in Melbourne at the Athena Deli or in Sydney at Earlwood wines. It really does make such a difference using the right rice for the right dish. I use the Kitrino (κίρτρινο) or Bonnet (μπονέτ) rice to make pilaf, such a saffron pilaf or for rice side dishes such as spanakorizo. The karolina (καρολίνα) rice is best for yemista dishes like stuffed tomatoes. I am looking forward to buying some Glacé rice soon (γλασέ) to make some cooling and comforting summer sweets like chilled rizogalo.
In my kitchen, there is Greek coffee - our new favourite brand Laiko from Cyprus and a briki, which is used to make the coffee. Mr K still finds it amusing that I owned a briki and made Greek coffee as a single girl, long before I met him. He found it quite amusing that an 'Aussie' girl who had never been to Greece would have her own briki. I think my love of Greek coffee was inherited from my dad, who worked for a Greek family company for over 20 years and had a Greek coffee every morning. In my kitchen now, neither Mr K or I could function without having a small cup each day. My dad also still has a briki and likes to make a regular cup. I like my Greek coffee with cinnamon and in terms of sweetness I vary more to preferring mine somewhere between sketos (σκέτος) with no sugar and metrios (μέτριος) - medium sugar. Mr K is firmly in the metrios camp.
In my kitchen, there is also Greek clove and cinnamon tea and spearmint tea. Greek coffee is usually a morning affair (unless we are on the way out the door to a party - and then Mr K usually has the briki simmering) and these lovely herbal teas are the perfect finish to a meal in the evening. If I am opting for the clove and cinnamon tea - then I usually add just a little touch of honey. Most recently, I bought some Thyme honey from Crete (on the recommendation of our guide, Victoria, on our tour of Okaleigh) and I am absolutely loving its herby sweetness. It is incredibly aromatic.
In my kitchen, I also have an iconostasis, a practice I have inherited from my mother in law. It is a place in Greek homes, where icons are placed - a little holy corner. The icons often represent the Saints that family members are named after. This year for my birthday, Mr K bought me a really beautiful icon of my saint. It was such a sweet and thoughtful present which now joins his icon and a few others. I always have fresh flowers on our iconostasis and family photographs including my grandparents. For me it is a little way to have my grandmothers, who inspire my cooking in the kitchen with me - for a little bit of guidance and wisdom here and in life generally. I find it really touching that whenever my mother in law visits our house, she stops by the icons to offer a little blessing. All I need to add to our collection is St. Euphrosynos - the patron saint of cooks and chefs. Many Greek homes have an icon of this saint, or alternatively a picture or painting of the "Last Supper". My mother in law has both and the last supper hangs on the dining room wall, presiding over all family celebrations and meals.
I hope you enjoyed a little glimpse in my kitchen this month and I wonder what is in your kitchen? Perhaps you would like to join in Celia's great series and share a little insight into your kitchen this month.