SARDINES BAKED IN SORREL LEAVES

ca 200 BC: ” The following wild vegetables should be boiled — beet, mallow, sorrel, nettle, orach, bulbs, truffles and mushrooms. (Diocles Carystius, Health, book I, C. 59) 

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If you’ve ever been to Athens’ Varvakeios Central Market, you’ve seen them at the fish department’s entrance, selling fresh cut herbs and greens, fresh onions and garlics. They are not young, a man and a woman around 70ies. If you’ll buy a bunch of aromatic greens from the one the other will call you to look at her/his goods. Finally you buy from both of them. Their green stuff depends on the season. This time I bought two bunches wild sorrel… and sardines from the market.

About 25 species of sorrel (Rumex acetosa L) are grown in Greece and many of them are edible. Ancient Greeks believed that sorrel was especially beneficial in lepra and issues blood. They also recommended it as an appetite and digestion stimulant and a good complement to fatty meals and fishes.

Traditionally, it is cooked like spinach and vine leaves. Its sharp, fresh taste makes it a good foil for dolmades and an excellent ingredient for pies, omelletes etc. In past, when lemons were very expensive, the lemon flavor of sorrel was a good substitute for lemon juice. People kept sorrel leaves out of season, pressing them tightly with salt in sealed bottles or air drying them. Though they are very popular in rural Greek cooking, today are collected mainly by elderly women.

 The recipe for sardines rolled in leaves was brough in Greece by Greek refugees from Asia Minor, in the early 1920’s. Sardine was an importan staple food for those living on the Bosphorus coasts. The original recipe calls for vine leaves. In Crete and Epirus, vine leaves are often replaced by sorrels. If you are familiar with this herb you can imagine how fresher makes the sardine’s taste.

16 sorrel leaves , blanched
8- large fresh sardines, scaled and gutted
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
lemon juice
olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

If you like debone the sardines. Remove the head and tail and slit the sardine with a sharp knife, from the belly towards the spine. Open the sardines like a book and pull of the spine gently. Salt and wrap them with the sorrel leaves. If your sardines are large you’ll need 2 leaves for each one. Preheat oven to 350. Place fishes an baking pan. Drizzle with additional olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve them with chopped onions on the top.

Sorrel is high in vitamin A and contains some calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. It has high levels of oxalic acid like spinach, which is reduced if the plant is cooked. However, people with rheumatisms, arthritis, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their food.

Sardine on Foodista

Sorrel on Foodista

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QUINCES STUFFED WITH GROUND MEAT (KYDONIA GEMISTA ME KIMA)

  • With the autumn still in, quinces are in eating season….   And yes, I love quinces. Despite their declining in favour in modern times, I love their fine taste, the way they go into both savory and sweet dishes. Baked, cooked or poached they reveal a devine aroma and take a beautiful deep pink color.
  • The high acidity of quinces (gr. pl. kydonia ) counteract the greasiness of the foods, so they are ideal for fatty meats. KIDONATO, a dish that involves quinces and pork, lamb or veal was common in past. It was prepared mostly by the Greeks who lived in Constantinople, it could be found all over Greece though.This particular combination of meat and fruit appears to be derived from the Persian cuisine via Ottomans. In Persia the marriage of sour fruits, such as quince, and meats is found in many traditional dishes. Also, Persians stuffed the peeled and cored quinces with meat and transformed them into dolma. It seems that the Ottomans adopted these recipes in the 15th century. The following recipe of stuffed quinces is wonderful as a first dish. It  maps a little piece of personal history too.

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In the year 1890, my grandfather left his family behind in Ottoman occupied Crete in order to study at the University of Athens. Having 2 older brothers already studing, 6 younger brothers and sisters in Crete, but not having a rich father, he soon started looking for a job. And indeed, he found the perfect job for a student. He was employed as a dog walker by the dioikitis, the chief officer of the National Bank of Greece.

Living in the house, he saw that the kitchen was the perfect place for night reading, after the cook and the servants were not rushing around to prepare meals and the sound of clattering pots and dishes had been disappeared. Besides, the cook was very fond of the boy and soon wrapped him up in the blanket of care. My grandfather could count on him to have coffe and cookies or a meze or fruits on the table, while was reading.

The daily diet of dioikitis and his family was based on traditional Greek food but the elegant banquets were based on French cuisine according to the upper class’s food fashion.  However, both categories were blended with some Eastern elements. Because the cook was French in culinary training but Constantinopolitan in origin and the dioikitis enjoyed his cooking. What a surprise for the guests to find savory stuffed quinces (kidonia gemista), a fruit dolma, on the menus of the elaborated banquets given by dioikitis!

My grandfather, for his part, encountered the novelty at the home of dioikitis and could not resist to cook it some years later, when he returned to Crete. You see, the cook had patience to teach and my grandfather was getting joy from cooking. And he did not only become brilliant with food but he also teached his children, so they all grew up in an atmosphere in which cooking is a pleasure for both males and females.

 

 QUINCES STUFFED WITH GROUND MEAT

 

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6 large quinces similar in size

400 gr ground meat (lamb or beef, or both of them)

1 tbsp rice

1 cup grape juice

100 gr. almonds, chopped and blanched

1 ½ tbsp raisins

4 tbsp butter

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

salt & pepper

Wash the quinces under cold running water to rub off any fuzz and peel them. Cut off the tops and hollow out, leaving 4 cm pulp on all sides. Save tops and set the quinces aside. Brown the ground meat in 2 tbsp butter. Add 2/3 cup grape juice, rice, salt, pepper, cloves, cinnamon. Mix thoroughly. Cook until the liquid is absorbed. Let the stuffing cool and fill the fruits with it. Replace the tops and place in greased baking dish. Pour 2 tbsp melted butter over the quinces. Combine 2/3 cup water with the remaining grape juice and pour into the baking dish. Cover and place in preheated oven ( 190°C, 50-60 min.) Check to see if fruits are done. Serve them, while still warm.

UPDATE: November 16, 2008.

Here are two great quince recipes posted by two fellow bloggers:

A) Beef stew with quince (Kydonato kreas), by Food Junkie

B)Poached quince with manouri filling, by Kalofagas.

FAVA STUFFED CYCLAMEN LEAVES

    • Fava occupies a special place in Greek diet since ancient times. In the past, it was the poor man’s meat and one of the basic Lenten dishes. During religious fasting periods amounts of this puree was consumed particularly in the orthodox monasteries. As the monks avoid the olive oilduring periods of fasting, their fava was served with sesame oil. Today it is served in a tahini substance. Fava is also a favorite dish in the menu of tavernas since Byzantine years. From tavernas it finally made a triumphant entrance to the haute cuisine.

    • Fava comes from the Latin word faba = bean. But when the Greeks say fava they refer to the dried or fresh seeds of Vicia faba (broad beans) or the dried seeds of Pissum sativum (peas) or the yellow shelled lentils or the seeds of Lathyrus (grass peas). They also refer to the variety of pulses that are made from them.
    • Kyaminon etnos, a pulse soup made of broad beans, was a common ancient dish. Fava from peas was a favorite food during the years of ottoman occupation. However the fava from Lathyrus is the most delicius pulse of all.
    • Lathyrus has played a key part in the Aegean and Cretan gastronomy. Its history goes back to prehistoric times. Lathyrus sativus, the cultivated grass pea, and its progenitor Lathyrus cicera have been found in archaeological sites from Santorini and Crete, dating to 1500 B.C. and to 1480-1425 B.C. respectively.
    • Lathyrus seeds contain a neurotoxin, beta-N-L-alpha-beta-diaminopropionic acid, or ODAP. This can cause permanent paralysis if a person eats too much lathyrus, which happened in time of hardship when little else was available. The neurotoxin is destroyed by cooking, so the well – cooked grass peas are absolutely safe.
    • The bulk of lathyrus -fava production comes from Aegean islands and Crete, however Santorini fava is considered unique as originates from the variety Lathyrus clymenous. It has a slightly sweet flavor, a velvet taste and a really high price. Dry climate and volcanic soil rich in potassium, magnesium and iron provide the perfect conditions for the cultivation of this legume.
    • In nowadays lathyrus fava is usually associated with the local cuisines of Aegean islands where is served in various different ways: with chopped onions, fresh parsley and virgin olive oil; accompanied by dried octopus, or sardines or lakerda (cured mackerel); sauted with fried ‘kavourma’ (smoked pork); as patties (favokeftes). The leftover fava can be mixed with other ingredients like sauted onions or sun dried capers cooked in a tomato sauce. In these cases it’s called pantremeni (married).
    • Fava can also find its way into the filling of a very distinctive dolma which is made with cyclamen leaves.

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  • Cyclamen is a widespread genus of flowered plants, which in its various species and subspecies grows from southern Spain to Iran and from North- Eastern Africa to Palestine. Cyclamen Graecum is a subspecies with beautiful heart-shaped leaves. Its wild distribution includes Corfu island, the southern parts of Sterea, most of the Peloponnese, the Saronic islands, Crete, Rhodes, the islands of Eastern Aegean, the Sporades, parts of Cyprus and the south coast of Turkey.
  • The dolmades with cyclamen leaves are found in the islands of Dodecanese. The following preparation  is from Symi island. A similar recipe is common in Rhodes, though it contains lentils instead of lathyrus. Of course one can prepare these dolmades using vine leaves even if their taste is altered.

STUFFED CYCLAMEN LEAVES WITH FAVA

 stuffing

 500 gr. grass peas or yellow split peas
1/2 cup short-grain rice
2 large onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup tomato, grated

3 tbs. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
40-45 tender cyclamen leaves
juice of 2 lemons

Pick through the grass peas and remove any pebbles. Transfer to a bowl, cover with water and soak overnight. Next morning drain and rinse them. Combine the grass peas, rice, onions, tomato, parsley, ½ cup olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Pour the juice of 1 lemon. Stir well and taste.

Bring water to a boil and blanch the cyclamen leaves for 30 seconds. Remove and rinse immediately under cold water. Place each leaf on a board (shiny side down) and put ¾ tablespoon of the filling near the bottom of each leaf. Roll up as for dolmathes. Place each dolma, seam side down, in a large steel pan and press tightly to one another. Pour in the remaining olive oil, remaining lemon juice, 1 tsp salt, and enough water to cover the dolmades. Place a plate to weigh them down and to keep them rolled while cooking. Cook at a low heat for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until dolmades are tender and the juice absorbed. Remove and let them cool.

Serve them warm or cold, with thick Greek yogurt.

BASIL DOLMADES (ΒΑΣΙΛΙΚΟΝΤΟΛΜΑΔΕΣ)

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Basil, Theophrastus‘ and Dioskorides‘ ocimom (ώκιμον), lat. ocimum basilicum. The word basil comes from the Greek word vasileus (βασιλεύς)= king because it was believed to have grown above the spot where Constantine the Great and his mother Helen discovered the Holy Cross. And the King of Christians is Jesus.

The plant is originated in tropical Asia and needs sunlight and warmth to flourish. Many varieties are cultivated in Greece, with small or broad leaves. Among them, the curly small leaved basil with the intense aroma is used raw or cooked and the broad leaved variety, which is called also “Italian basil”, is used for dolmades.

Basil is used in the traditional cuisine of Ionian islands and Western Crete, though the sweet and aromatic fragrance seems to be more popular in the past than it is today. Today, the plant is mainly grown for its aroma. Pots of basil appear on the windowsills or verandas, bushes of basil are growing in gardens just like the past, but basil has lost much of its importance in food. However, it is still used over grilled vegetables (Ionian islands) and in the filling for dolmades and stuffed vegetables joins the parsley, wild fennel, and mint (Ionian islands, Western Crete). In coastal areas on the northern Chania and Rethymno (Crete) it is sprinkled over Greek salad as an alternative of purslane. Tomato, cucumber and onion slices topped with fresh creamy myzithra cheese and basil leaves, seasoned with highest quality olive oil and few drops of vinegar, together with some fresh bread, make a perfect, light summer meal. As summer is always a good excuse for pasta dish, raw basil is used as a final garnish in an uncooked tomato sauce.

Until the end of 60ies basil was added at the middle of the cooking of several yiahni (snails; broad beans; potatoes with or without bulgur), or orzo dishes and at the end of the cooking of a tomato sauce that was spread over fried potatoes or vegetables. The leaves of the curly basil chopped into an omelet garnished with fresh tomatoes gave a wonderful flavor and the stuffed leaves of italian basil became the most delicate and aromatic dolmades. It is amazing that basil is less used in modern Cretan cooked dishes because its strong aroma is counted disadvantage, when the industrial type of Ligurian pesto becomes fossilised in daily cooking.

Some maintain that basil leaves should be torn, not be cut with a knife, because metal causes browning. In fact browning is caused both by cut and torn as a result of oxidation by enzymes in the basil itself. However oxidation can be avoided by cutting it at the last minute and consuming it as quickly as possible.

BASIL DOLMADES 

75 washed large basil leaves

2 cups medium grain rice

1 medium tomato, peeled and finely diced

1 small zucchini, grated

2 large onions, grated

1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

2 tbs wild fennel, finely chopped

salt

freshly ground pepper

juice of 2 lemons

virgin olive oil

2 large potatoes cut into thin slices

 Wash the rice and put it in a bowl. Add tomato, zucchini, onions, parsley, fennel and olive oil, as much as you like. Season with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Boil some water and soak the leaves for less than a second, then rinse and lay them on the work surface. Place a small amount of rice at the end of each leaf and fold over it, so that the rice is partly covered.

Fold the two sides of the leaf into the middle and roll the dolma toward the other end. Cover the base of a pan with the potatoes and tightly arrange the filled basil leaves in circles. Sprinkle with lemon juice pour over some olive oil and water to cover. Use a large plate to press these very small dolmades, to prevent them from coming open. Cook over medium heat until the rice is soft and the water has been absorbed. Serve hot or cold, with fine extra-strained yogurt if you like.