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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
1 tbsp vinegar
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.
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!!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 …
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.
I placed them on a bed of tomato/olive oil/ chopped garlic sauce and baked them at 180 C for about 20 minutes.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
Here is another variation of artichoke pie.
ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ.
” 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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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”.**
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.
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.
Theodora. Mosaic at San Vitale in Ravenna. ca 546 CE
Fleeting glimpses of low cut slippers…
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?
Queen Amalia, ca. 1850
(Philibert Perraud, ΦΑ_1_658, PhotoArchive, Mpenaki Museum)
A precious new pair of shoes, just after World War II.
New shoes by Voula Papaioannou (PhotoArchive, Mpenaki Museum)
This is the one who got the perfect legs for such fire red velvet shoes.
A shoe that is not made for walking and certainly doesn’t make every man pay close attention at women’s legs….
Though, if prepared with thoughtful care, it offers an unforgettable pleasure…
AUBERGINE LITTLE SHOES (Melitzanes papoutsakia)
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
1 2/3 cups milk
3 tbs all purpose- flour
2 tbs butter
sea salt to taste
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).
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.