There is nothing my mother in law likes more, than to be in her kitchen creating food for her family. After a serious illness over the last few months, it has been wonderful to see Ma feeling just well enough again to be back in the kitchen doing what she loves best - cooking. When she is not cooking, then there is nothing more that we like to do together more, than talk about food and recipes. Yesterday, Ma shared with me two of her recipes, octopus pilafi, a traditional Greek Lenten dish and her own, more revolutionary (and certainly not traditionally Greek), chilli puree.
My lovely brother in law recently shared with me a story about Ma's discovery of chilli. It was about 20 years ago and after a period of experimenting, she hasn't looked back since! Ma loves chilli for its reported health benefits as well as the heat and flavour it brings to her dishes. However, as it is not a traditional Greek ingredient, Ma uses it sparingly in the form of a milder chilli puree made from the less hot, long red chilli peppers. The puree allows Ma to more readily control the heat in her dishes and removes the element of the seeds, which she believes are difficult for the stomach to digest. If you are not a fan of chilli, you can simply just leave it out of the pilafi and it is equally as delicious.
Ma's octopus pilafi (χταπόδι πιλάφι | συνταγές μαμάς)
Serves 4-6; preparation 45 mins and cooking time 1 hour
1 octopus (about 1 kg)
3 brown onions (finely chopped)
3-4 fresh tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon of good quality tomato paste (I use Greek brand Kyknos)
1 wine glass / 100 ml of white wine
500g rice ('bonnet rice would be used in Greece, or for a healthier alternative you could use brown basmati rice)
2 bay leaves
2 pieces of cinnamon
5 wine glasses / 500 ml of hot water
Chilli puree to taste (optional - see recipe below)**
salt and pepper to taste
1. Thoroughly wash the octopus, clean it by removing the teeth and eyes, and cut into small pieces.
2. Boil a little water in a pan and add the octopus for around 10 minutes. Strain any of the water that has not been absorbed by the octopus from the pan and set the octopus pieces aside.
3. Pour a little olive oil into the pan, add the chopped onion and sauté along with the octopus pieces. Add the white wine and let the alcohol cook off.
4. Briefly blanch the tomatoes in boiling water, peel them, rub on a grater and pass through a colander. Add the fresh tomato to the pan along with the tomato paste. Only just bring to the boil and then add the 5 glasses of hot water. Add the bay leaves and cinnamon. Boil all together until the octopus is tender.
5. While the octopus is boiling, clean the rice well to remove the excess starch. Pour the rice into the pan. Stir and let the rice just simmer until tender, around 20 minutes, the rice should have absorbed all of the sauce. Season to taste. Serve hot or warm. You can add freshly chopped parsley and ground black pepper, if preferred.
Ma's chilli paste (puree)
2 kilos of fresh long red chillies
1. Remove the stems and seeds from the chillies.
2. Pour water over the chiles to cover and the bring to boil over medium heat for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the chiles and puree them thoroughly in a food mill to a very smooth paste.
4. The paste can be stored, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.