Sun dried tomato paste- My precious.

Sun dried tomato on a slice of bread…
.. or how a poor man’s food can turn to  a delicious and provocative appetizer. All I- and you- need are: sun dried tomato paste (I make it every year), homemade bread and virgin olive oil. In case you want to make your own tomato paste, here is the recipe:
4 kilos tomatoes
4 tsp salt
If you like add 2-3 garlic teeth. Hot peppers are also coming into season. Although it is not traditional take the liberty of adding 1  pepperoncini
For storing
sterilized glass jars
extra virgin olive oil
Puree the washed and skinned tomatoes in a food mill or food processor or a blender. Transfer to a pot. If you’ll use garlic its time to crush it, if you like pepperoncini add it in the blender with a little tomato – liquid. Transfer to the pot, add the salt and bring to a boil (2-3 minutes).
Let the mixture cool down. Line a bowl with cheesecloth and pour the mixture into it. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth together, tie them with a string and hang it to drain for one night. Unwrap the cloth and spread the mixture 2 cm thick on baking dishes. Put out in the sun for 2-3 days. Protect the paste from insects with a piece of cheesecloth or netting.
Transfer the dishes in the oven and bake for about 3 hours (50°C). Transfer the paste into sterilized glass jars, cover with virgin olive oil, let it cool down and store in the refrigerator. 
Yes, it is delicious. Bon appetit!
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Snails, Artichoke, Carrot and Fresh Pea Stew.

Delicate hearts hidden behind thorny leaves (the Cretan spiny artichokes) ~ fresh tender peas ~ sweet carrots ~ scallions and fresh garlic ~ wild fennel:
a telltale sign that spring has arrived.
Pair with snails and you’ll have a great dish.
Hard to believe that this ode on spring’s most delicious vegetables and flavors is a lenten dish.

But,

don’t bother yourself if you have the frozen or canned version of the main ingredients.

Clean four artichokes halve and rub them with lemon juice to prevent browning.
Blend half a head of fresh garlic (minced)
with one onion (chopped)
and four scallions (chopped);
sauté them in a little bit of olive oil until they are the color of gold.
Add one red, juicy tomato (chopped).
And sixty cleaned snails.
Pour in about two cups of water and 1/3 cup of olive oil.
Season with salt and pepper
and bring to a boil.
Then reduce the heat and after ten minutes add  two cups fresh peas followed by one large carrot cut in pieces. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the artichokes and two tablespoons wild fennel and cook until all vegetables and snails are tender.

Artichokes cooked with broad beans
Artichoke pie

PUMPKIN RECIPES with a twist

Pumpkins. Curcubitae!!!
Round, oblong, or violin-shaped, yellow, orange, yellow-green, green, smooth or grooved pumpkins. There are many varieties, from mini to maxi. One of them, Lagenaria siceraria (bottle gourd), was widely grown in Greece from ancient times for its use as vessel or utensil. It is interesting that this curcubita “is generally considered to be the only cultivated plant common to both hemispheres prior to 1492’.

What a pity that today we don’t give pumpkin the appreciation it deserves; however, in past it was a popular ingredient in the cuisines of rural Greece.

But
I am not going to talk about the fried savory or sweet pumpkin slices that were such a hit with children.
I will not talk about the delicious pumpkin and cheese pies; or about baked pumpkin, croquettes, rice and pumpkin dolmathes or pumpkin cooked with trahana.
I will not even talk about my favorite pumpkin al saor (ala savoro) or about the flavorful stew of the cuisine of the poor: pumpkin, chestnuts, onions, one or two potatoes, a cinnamon stick, a bay leaf, a small piece of orange peel … what delicious delicacy!
And
I will leave aside the spoon sweet, the compote, the ‘naked’ pumpkin pie** and the crispy phyllo pies, despite the fact that I am a big fan of a Peloponnesian pie filled with pumpkin, spinach, walnuts, flavored with cinnamon and honey.

Today
I would like to share with you two recipes that hold my attention.
The first one is a recipe for anchovies and pumpkin and the second one is for pastry triangles filled with pumpkin cream.

Anchovies served on pumpkin slices

The recipe is taken from Cretan Gastronomy and it belongs to Yiannis Apostolakis the thoughtful chef of Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania. However, I changed some things.

1 / 2 k. fresh anchovies, bone and head removed
Juice of 1 – 1 ½ medium lemons.
1 tbsp vinegar
Sea salt
Black pepper
Virgin olive oil
300 gr. pumpkin cut in slices

Place the anchovies in a stainless pan, pour the lemon juice over them, cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Drain and discard the liquid.

Lay the slices of pumpkin in a lightly oiled roasting tin, pour over a light oil, grind over sea salt and black pepper and roast until they are soft and tender.

Lay the anchovies in another oiled roasting tin, grind over sea salt and roast until they are ready.

Serve them over a small bed of pumpkin slices, drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.

Pastry triangles filled with pumpkin cream 

The second recipe is inspired by the pumpkin bougatsa of Demetra Lambros.

My house is near a pastry shop that makes not fantastic desserts, however its trigona Panoramatos are remarkable. These triangle – shaped* pastries are filled with a delicate creamy custard. Moreover, the pastry shells are  also sold as empty ‘pockets’ . The only thing we have to do is fill them with home-made custard cream. So, I thought it would be a good idea to fill them with a pumpkin cream.
The trigona filled with pumpkin cream were beyond delicious!!

Empty trigona

7 triangles (pick up the recipe here)
3 1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
7-8 tbsp corn starch (may need more or less it depends on how ‘wet’ the puree is)
I used somewhat less than 1 / 2 cup of sugar (it depends on how sweet the trigona are)
a vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
4-5 roasted almonds for each trigono.

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out its pulp. Put 1 cup of milk, the vanilla pulp and the vanilla bean in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Cook until mixture begins to steam.

Put pumpkin puree and 1 cup of milk in another sauce pan over medium – low heat. Cook, stirring, until mixture begins to steam. Remove from the heat and leave aside. When cool put it into a blender and blend until very smooth.

In a bowl blend corn starch, sugar and 1 cup of milk. There should be no lumps. Remove bean pod from the milk. Add pumpkin puree, cornstarch mixture, cinnamon stick and remaining milk to the pot. Cook stirring.

Once it begins to thicken reduce heat to very low and transfer a part of the cream to a bowl. You will use it as a sauce.
Cook, stirring constantly, the remaining cream until thicken. Remove from fire. Remove cinnamon stick and discard. Cool.
Use a pastry bag to fill the trigona. Place three almonds in each trigono’s ‘mouth’.

Serve the pumpkin trigona with pumpkin sauce.

Pumpkin bougatsa and pumpkin galaktoboureko.

.

* Trigono (sing.) = triangle
** A pie which don’t have crust.

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

BOURANI, A CELEBRATION OF FERTILITY

A wild, Dionysiac festival of fertility, found under the misleading name bourani, marks the beginning of Lent in Tyrnavos. Bourani  is a thick, oil-less, spinach-based soup served on Clean Monday.  During the cooking of the soup the bourani- people tease each other with phallic symbols, while huge phalluses are taken in a procession  through the town and male dancers rub against ground with different parts of their bodies singing “dirty” satirical songs, such as the “How do the Devil’s monks grind the pepper?”. Pepper is a frequent metaphor for sex in the Greek folk poetry.

Passers – by are grabbed and  rocked over the pots of the boiling bourani. They must give the soup a stir, drink tsipouro and kiss the model phalluses before they are let go.   Anyone who kiss the phallus is rewarded with ash on the face. The ash indicates – you’ve been done, you are free to go. Until World War II, only men participated in the festivities and many of them  masqueraded as women. Today, even children take part in bourani.

Of course, Clean Monday is the only time such behavior is permitted.

BOURANI

It is really  interesting that a rich aubergine and lamb dish, the Arabic buraniya, was transformed by the Ottomans into various vegetable- meat dishes and vegetarian stews. Quite often vegetable boranis were cooked together with rice or bulgur and then topped with yoghurt. The oil – less bourani of  Tyrnavos, has its roots in those vegetable dishes.

1/2 kg spinach

250 gr. nettles

250 gr. wild sorrel

2 cups of water

optionally 1/2 cup of olive oil

3 tbs of flour

11/2 -2  tbs vinegar

salt and pepper

Add washed, chopped greens to a pot and cook about five minutes, stirring frequently so they don’t stick to the bottom. Add 2 cups of water, salt, pepper, vinegar (and   olive oil).  Bring to a boil and then simmer over low heat  for  1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Add flour to 5 tbs of  warm water and stir well until flour is completely dissolved. Add the mixture to the greens slowly, stirring continuously. Simmer for 5 minutes and serve.

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

AMARANTHS

 
 
 
 

 

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Garden is a place of colors… Garden is a place of battle … Both gardener and plants battle against poor soil, unruly weeds, plant diseases and bad weather conditions. The pleasure of home vegetable garden is painful. But garden is a place of hope.

This week we have amaranths shooting towards sky….

 

Boiling is not the only way to cook them. Cooked with fresh beans, zucchini, tomato, potato, onion, garlic olive oil make one of the best vegetarian summer dishes. Amaranths tossed around in a pan with garlic, chopped onion and olive oil make a vey tasty main course or side dish or a pasta sauce which you will sit at room temperature for an hour or so.

I said room temperature because when you are ready to eat cover them with a tomato sauce made with two large, fresh grated tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves( grated), some olive oil, salt and pepper, left in the fridge for an hour to let the flavor permeate.

Mix with the amaranths and pour over the pasta.

As a variation, some feta cheese can be crumbled into the hot pan. I prefer to have this sauce without cheese though.

 

Amaranth pies.

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ

ΕΔΩ

THE GIFTS OF THE GARDEN.

The quality of soil is of prime importance in growing a successful organic vegetable garden. Unfortunately, our Cretan garden has poor, heavy, tightly compacted clay soil.  To improve it, we  double dig it, amend it with lime,  add animal manure, organic minerals and grow plants -like legumes- that add nutrients into  it.  Vegetables are rotated each year. This  helps them resist  pests and diseases.   

Everyone knows how hard it is to grow organic -and  clay soil makes it harder- totally worth it though. Moreover,  the short duration of vegetable crop  makes us creative cooks while it lasts.

 

This  morning our garden provided those beauties you see below …

 

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The peppers were beautiful  to eat.  I stuffed them with  chopped tomato and  onion, mint,  barley bulgur and raisins. The filling was sprinkled with salt,  ground black pepper and olive oil. 

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I placed them on a bed of tomato/olive oil/ chopped garlic sauce and baked them at 180 C for about 20 minutes.

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I also made a salad of tiny tomato and purslane sprinkled with sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, then sprinkled with virgin olive oil and vinegar. 

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Although melon is full of strong aroma,  the mouth watering and thirst quenching watermelon is perfect for this hot, hot summer day.

But you already know it… 

 

And, of course,  if you grow some lavender, the second better thing is lavender  ice cream!

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FOOD FESTIVALS

In the recent years there is an annual festival for almost every food, be it chestnuts, strawberries, cherries, pies, anchovies, snails etc.
Villages and towns promote the food festivals as a celebration of their local products and culinary tradition, both worth sharing with a wider audience. Τhe truth is that those celebrations have more to do with the desire for regional economic development via events featuring dishes made from local cuisine, than with culinary heritage per se.

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Artichoke festival in Iria (Peloponnesos)

In May  a plethora of artichoke festivals takes place throughout Greece, and particularly in Crete, Peloponnesos and Tinos, the areas where the finests examples are found.
Dozens of people prepare and cook artichokes for the hundreds of visitors who could sit at the dining tables.

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Here are some of the most popular dishes: marinated artichokes, fried artichokes, puffy omelettes with artichokes, sausages and potatoes, artichoke pilavs, artichokes ala polita, moussaka, pastichio, stuffed artichokes, artichokes cooked with peas, broad beans,  shrimps, garlic sauce,  yogourt,  fish,  octopus,  lamb etc. etc.

It’s clear that, although the dishes selected are considered by cooks and eaters to have their roots in a very old food tradition, many of them have evolved over the past couple of decades.  
Two of the most favorite methods of preparation  of artichokes  are the stuffed artichokes and the artichoke pie.  
Sauteed artichoke hearts are stuffed with a rich filling of minced meat and cheese and are topped with a thick nutmeg scented bechamel enriched with cheese, before being baked. 
As for the pie, it can be surrounded by a  pastry leaf or  be a crustless pie. In the second version, it  is also called souffle.  
Which is interesting because it is  not really a soufflé- it has neither a roux as its starting point  nor  an egg-white foam-  but, yes,  it is a delectable and delicate “pie”, inflated above the dish by oven heat. 
French and Italian influences can be found in these recipes, which have been developed by urban cuisine between 1935 and 1970.  They are considered part of the traditional culinary heritage, though.   

But “roots”, are both physical and  imaginary, I  say .

 

Artichoke pie (Artichoke soufle, agkinaropita)

a buttered 32x22x7 cm baking dish
1 tb olive oil
1  loaf of white bread, crust removed cut into medium slices
3 garlic teeth, chopped
tsp. of fresh thyme
salt
ground black pepper
12-14  poached fresh artichoke hearts
1 1/2 cup grated Graviera cheese (or Gruyere) mixed with 1/2  cup grated kefalotyri cheese (or Parmesan) 
1 1/2 cup creme fraiche
3 cups of bechamel sauce

Saute garlic in olive oil until until light brown and fragrant.  Make bechamel sauce and set aside.  Lay a single layer of bread slices, sprinkle the garlic and season with thyme, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle 4 tbs of cheese. Spoon a layer of artichoke pieces, followed by some grated cheese and artichoke pieces. Pour  creme fraiche  over artichokes and sprinkle with cheese . Cover with bechamel sauce and bake until the surface turns light brown (preheated oven, 200°C, 30-35 minutes).
There is a variation on the recipe with no bechamel sauce. In this case we use 2 cups creme fraiche.  

Artichoke festival
 

 Here is another variation of artichoke pie.

Artichoke on Foodista

 

ΓΙΑ  ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ.

HEARTS AND BEANS

” Their heart is like an artichoke” Greeks say, describing those who are in love with love and keep a leaf for everyone in sight, like an “I love you…. and you…. and you”.   Here,  the phrase retains the meaning of the original French expression  “avoir un coeur d´artichaut”: to  easily fall in love.

But they also say “Their heart is like an artichoke”  referring to those  who are prickly on the outside, though tender inside, like animated artichokes. It takes much patience and time to peel off their panoply of thorny leaves until you finally have their heart. 

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Just like human  hearts, the delicate hearts of the tough purple flower buds require care. 
Hence, add the juice of one lemon to a bowl of cool water. After cutting off artichokes’ stems to the bottom,  remove the hard outer leaves… keep going- removing leaves until you reveal very soft, yellow ones.  Cut off their tops and use a spoon to remove and discard the choke.  Halve the artichokes, rub the cut surfaces with one lemon cut in half, and place them in the lemon water until you’re ready to cook.  Artichokes brown very quickly and you don’t want to see your hearts changing color.
Of course, don’t throw away the stems. Peel them and cook along with the artichokes.
Of course, don’t throw away the leaves. Eat them one at at time, sprinkled with lemon juice. 

There is a plethora of ways to prepare artichokes. You can cook them, fry them, bake them, roast them, grill them, stuff them, use them in pies etc. or eat them raw~ sprinkled with sea salt and lemon juice. In Crete, the egg-size baby artichokes of the early spring  are  served raw, sprinkled with minced spring garlic,  lemon juice, virgin olive oil and chopped dill.  

But. At the farmers market we still have fresh and tender broad beans. And broad beans shine in a dish of artichokes. 

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ARTICHOKES WITH BROAD BEANS, AGINARES ME KOUKIA

7 medium artichokes

3/4 k. broad beans

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 spring onions, finely chopped

2 spring garlics, finely chopped

3 tbs dill, finely chopped

lemon juice

olive oil

sea salt

ground pepper

Remove the broad beans from the tough pods and with the knife string the tender pods.

In a saute pan, heat 2 tbs olive oil and saute the onions. Add the broad beans, and the artichokes (drained), followed by olive oil, fresh onions, fresh garlic, water to cover, dill. Season with salt and pepper, stir well and cook until the vegetables are fork tender. Add lemon juice and remove from the heat. Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.

Globe Artichokes With Fresh Broad Beans on Foodista
 

 

EDIBLE LITTLE SHOES (Papoutsakia, παπουτσάκια)

Is Aphrodite’s raised sandal a tease or is she intending to slap the goat-legged Pan with it, because she is not interested in an erotic adventure with him?

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 100 BC.  National Archaeological Museum of Athens.*

 

Beautifully decorated sandals were traditionally included in bride’s gifts. For jewelry, perfumes and sandals  provided her with the tools to maintain her beauty of the night of her marriage.

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Greek red-figure amphora with Hippodameia preparing for her wedding, ca 425 BC.
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

 

 Homer called Dawn “Eos with pale- rose fingers”  but Sappho dressed her bare beet in golden sandals: “Standing by my bed / in gold sandals / Dawn that very / moment awoke me”.**

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Eos (Dawn) pursuing Tithonus.
(Attic red-figure oenochoe by Achilles painter. 470-460 BC, Louvre Museum.) 

 

And there were sandals with marked soles. Walking the dusty streets, the ancient prostitutes would leave footprints with  ΑΚΟΛΟΥΘΙ / AKOLOUTHI (“Follow me”) written on the ground.

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Tondo of an Attic red-figured cup. (ca 490 BC. British Museum) 

 

Elaborate Byzantine shoes, so brighlty colored but almost hidden by the long draped clothes….
Red was reserved for the Emperor and for women’s footwear in art. 

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 Theodora. Mosaic at San Vitale in Ravenna. ca 546 CE  

 

Fleeting glimpses of low cut slippers…

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Maiden of Livadeia, 1825.
(Dupre’s Voyage a Athenes et a Constantinople ou collection des portraits, de vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.  
commons.wikimedia.org)

 

Did the Queen and the Maids of honour wear boots or small heel silk bow shoes?

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 Queen Amalia, ca. 1850
(Philibert Perraud, ΦΑ_1_658, PhotoArchive, Mpenaki Museum)

 

A precious new pair of shoes, just after World War II.

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 New shoes by Voula Papaioannou  (PhotoArchive, Mpenaki Museum)

 

This is the one who got the perfect legs for such fire red velvet shoes. 

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Bracelet. 

 

A shoe that  is not made for walking  and certainly doesn’t  make every man pay close attention at women’s legs….  

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 Though, if  prepared with thoughtful care, it offers an unforgettable pleasure… 

 

AUBERGINE LITTLE SHOES (Melitzanes papoutsakia) 

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8 small aubergines

4 tbs virgin olive oil

MINCED MEAT- TOMATO SAUCE

300 gr minced beef

300 gr minced lamb

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 medium ripe peeled, cored tomatoes, finely chopped

 5-7  tbs virgin olive oil

2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cinnamon stick

1/3 tsp sugar

sea salt to taste

ground pepper

BECHAMEL

 1  2/3 cups milk

3 tbs all purpose- flour

2 tbs butter

sea salt to taste

ground pepper

3/4 cup grated graviera or Gruyere cheese

  Cut off the stems of the aubergines, then cut in half, lengthwise. With a  spoon, discard the pulp of the aubergine, leaving a shell about 1 cm thick. Salt and leave in a colander for 1 hour to rid of bitterness. Wash well and dry. Brush both sides with olive oil and roast until just soft. (Traditionally they are sautéed  in olive oil).

Sauté the onions in 2 tbs of olive oil. When they soften add the minced meat and sauté briefly. Add the  wine and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, cinnamon stick, sugar, salt and pepper to taste and simmer until the minced meat is tender. Add a little water if necessary.  The sauce should be lightly moist and strongly flavored. Remove from the heat, remove cinnamon stick and stir in parsley and half cheese.
In a saucepan mix the butter with flour over low heat. Stir with a wire whisk. Remove from the heat and add  milk slowly, stirring constantly. Place again over low heat and add salt and pepper.  Stir with the whisk until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the other half of cheese. Allow to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the aubergines on a baking pan and spoon in the filling. Spoon over  1 – 1 1/2 tbs bechamel sauce.  Cook on the bottom oven rank, until the aubergines are soft and the bechamel top is  browned (about 45 minutes – 1 hour). Serve warm.

 

VEGETARIAN VARIATION ON THE MEAT SAUCE

  2 large onions, finely chopped

3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large green pepper, minced

2 1/2 cups tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped

1 cup walnuts, blanched, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/3 cup currants (optional)

ground cinnamon

5 tbs virgin olive oil

sea salt and ground pepper

3/4 cup grated graviera or Gruyere cheese.

In a skillet, heat 2 tbs of olive oil and add the onions and green pepper. Sauté for 2 minutes.  Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, 3tbs olive oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Simmer until sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in currants, walnuts and cheece. Let cool slightly before filling.

 

 *The group of statues bears a solemn votive inscription: “Dionysios, son of Zeno, son of Theodoros of Berytus, benefactor, [dedicates this] on behalf of himself and of his children to the ancestral gods”.

**SAPPHO  A new translation,  by M. Barnard, 1958.

TIME FOR STORING!

Don’t you just love the smell of first rain? It was raining all night and morning yesterday. Chania saw the first rain in four months! The scents of Rosemary, Sage, Lemon Verbena, Thyme, Mint and Lavender filled the air. Autumn has finally arrived.

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In the mean time, the sun dried tomatoes and figs are ready for storing. The old tradition and art of preserving foods is still alive. On the other hand, the last fresh okras of summer will not be hung in the half shade to dry; they will be prepared for freezing.

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They’ ll stay tender if you’ll follow this method: wash them after discarding stem edges and air dry before placing them in plastic bags in small quantities and freeze.

The seeds are well dried and are ready for storage until the next planting season.

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Old Cretan varieties of cucumbers, watermelons, melons, zucchinis, pumpkins, amaranths, beans…. a precious gift that I received from a local farmer. They are saved from plants that have grown in his family garden for four generations. Farmers like him don’t only preserve a heritage, they also preserve genetic biodiversity.

Fish with okra
(Cretan Cooking by M. & N. Psilakis, p. 72-3, Karmanor ed. 2000)

 

1 kilo fish (preferably sea-bass, red snapper or saupe)

1 kilo okra

½ cup olive oil

½ kilo tomatoes

1 or 2 onions

½ cup lemon juice or vinegar

salt, pepper
Clean the fish. Wash the okra, cut off the stems, and put them in a bowl doused with lemon juice or vinegar. Leave in the sun for 2-3 hours (this is so they won’t dissolve in the cooking).

Brown the onion in a pot and add the okra, the tomatoes, salt, pepper and 1-2 cups water and simmer till half cooked. Remove half the okra, place the fish on the okra in the pot and add the other half. Cook for another 20 minutes without stirring the food; only shake the pot from time to time to prevent the food from sticking.

(This dish can also be cooked in the oven).

Okra and tomatoes are a classic match in Crete. They are stewed together or when okra is fried chopped tomato is added too. Combining okra with fish is a characteristic of Cretan cuisine.