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.

cyclamen-graecum 

  • 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.

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A FULL MOON DINNER

full-moon-historyofgreekfood1 

What happens when 1 Archaeovotanologist, 1 Archaeosteopathologist, 1 Prehistoric Archaeologist and me, decided to prepare a dinner in the spirit of creative anachronism on the 18th of July full moon? Well, we used our knowledge of historical and traditional Greek food, dug out Athenaeus and Roman cook books, started looking through them and… voila! A wonderful dinner with recipes coming from different periods… made by us, with a little help from husbands wives and kids.

We had pork ribs in ancient Greek way, Byzantine sausages, pea pure and ‘cheesecake’ from ancient Samos island. Oh, and a Greek salad made by the kids. Kids put their personal touch to the ‘cheesecake’ too.

pork 

Instead of a roast suckling pig, that was the first thought, we had pork ribs. They were simply rubbed with Nam Pla sauce and grilled on the barbecue. The Vietnamese Nuoc Mam or the Thai Nam Pla fish sauce  can be used as an alternative to the ancient Greek garos. This sauce was one of the dominant flavours of ancient Greek and Roman cuisine and a common trade item in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It was made by mixing small fishes or the discarded parts of fish with salt and allowing them to ferment under sun. The salty, fishy liquid that was drawn off after weeks was the garos. The solid product was called alix. Garos and alix were a way to add salt in cooking and were widely used until 16th century.

 saucages

We made the sausages with the help of a sausage grinder and then grilled them on the barbecue. Even if we did not cut the pork into minced meat with a knife as should have done (the grinder was introduced in 19th century), the sausages were fabulous. The recipe will be presented step by step in a next post.

The fresh peas or broad beans puree is a traditional dish from Rethymno (Crete). It is served garnished with chopped onions and sprinkled with lemon juice, virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper. We used a recipe given by the grandmother of one of our companions at dinner. She had grown up in Santorini but got married in Rethymno. The recipe asks for tsagala, as the unripe almonds are called, but we used blanched ones. This mashed pea dish is probably the grandmother’s personal combination of three culinary traditions. Mashed fresh peas or broad beans indicate Rethymno, capers indicate Santorini and raw almonds indicate the Minor Asian culinary heritage.

greek-salad 

The kids made a Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, wild arugula and olives preserved in bitter orange juice. It was topped with fresh goat cheese (myzithra) and sprinkled with virgin olive oil, sea salt and homemade verjuice.

The bread was a luxury and a staple in ancient and Byzantine Greek food. We made plain unleavened bread with wheat flour, water and a pinch of salt. (We kneaded the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth, elastic and no sticky and divided it into balls. We flattened them into discs with a rolling pin.) We have an oven next to the house, however we baked the pites on a heated stone.

And last, but not least, the ‘cheesecake’. The dessert course was known to ancient Greeks as ‘second plates’. A wealthy Greek host should demonstrate his generosity and wealth with a variety of ‘second plates’ such as cakes, sweetmeats, cheese, nuts etc. Cheese was eaten by its own or served with honey or baked into all manner of cakes and pies. In ‘The Deiphosophists’, a 15-volume anthology by the Greek scholar Athenaeus (c.200 AD) from Naucratis (Egypt), there is a large collection of sweet creations and cheesecakes. The recipe of our cheesecake is found in that anthology. The making of cheese cakes and pies is characteristic of ancient Greek and Roman pastoral societies. Of course, each society developed its own recipes, according to cultural taste and period technology. Romans spread them across Europe, so the origin of modern cheesecake is grounded in these cakes. The American cheesecakes derive from the recipes that were brought to New World by the first groups of European settlers.

 PEA PUREE

puree

1/2 kilo frozen peas of fresh peas

 1 large onion, finely chopped

 1 tb capers

 1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped

 1/2 tsp fresh mint, finely chopped

 1/2 cup cucumber, finely chopped

 1 ½ tb tahini

 lemon juice, as much as you like

 salt

 freshly ground black pepper

 1/3 cup virgin olive oil, or as much as you like

 Fill a pan with plenty of water, add the peas together with little salt and cook them until very soft. Pour off the water and drain them well. Press them with a fork until becoming mushy and leave them aside to cool. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Add the onion, cucumber, capers, almonds, mint, tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Stir well and keep in refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving. This puree will become a wonderful dip if you’ll try running all the ingredients through a food processor with the knife blade.

CHEESECAKE 

cheesecake

“Take some cheese and squeeze excess moisture from it, grate it, put in a bronze sieve, strain it, add honey and flour made from spring wheat and heat them together into one mass.” (Athenaeus)

 1 k. soft fresh cheese well strained. We used fresh myzithra but ricotta is a good alternative to it.

½ cup of thyme honey

 ¾ cup of wheat flour

 Put cheese, honey and flour in a bowl and stir until well mixed. Heat the mixture together into one mass. Transfer it to a plate, cool completely and serve.

The kids escaped our attention and garnished the cake with some homemade strawberry marmalade. It was not bad, however we all agree that the ancient recipe tastes better.

3kids-historyofgreekfood1

Eating lupines

800px-lupinus_albus

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lupinus_albus.JPG

 

“For our best and daintiest cheer,

Through the bright half of the year,

Is but acorns, onions, peas,

Ochros lupines, radishes,

Yetches, wild pears nine or ten,

With a locust now and then.’’

Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Deipnosophists, (Alexis, book II, g 44, p. 90) p. 1126, transl. J. A. St. John. www. digicoll.library.wisc.edu.

 Lupines, the beautiful wildflowers, are of the genus Lupinus and belong to the pea family or Fabacae. The name lupine or lupin is derived from the Latin word lupus which means  wolf. They have got the name because both lupines and wolves are sheep killers. Though the lupine plants fertilize the soil and the beans  provide nutritious food, they also contain an alkaloid which, depending on the circumstances, provides medicines or cause poisoning. The results of lupine poisoning are dizziness, depressed nervous system and heart, labored breathing, convulsions, coma, and death.  Due to slight poisoning effects, the lupines became the special food that was offered to the pilgrims of Nekromanteion (oracle of the deceased) at Acheron river, in order to prepare them to communicate with the dead.

Since the species chosen for cultivation have low levels of alkaloids, which can be removed by boiling, lupine is a valuable food, rich in proteins and oils. The white lupine, L. albus, has been cultivated in Meditettanean area for several thousand years. In Classical and Byzantine years, boiled or roasted lupine beans were selled by street vendors as a snack. They had a special role in Cynic’s diet and were appreciated by few unconventional Saints, such as Symeon salos (the fool). Since Cynical ideal for a self – sufficient life calls ascetic diet and inexpensive sources of food, it is not surprising that legumes in general, and the lupine especially, hold an important place. As for Symeon, the eating of huge quantities of lupines (θέρμοι, thermoi)  and other foods, was part of his bizzare behavior  in order to avoid be honoured by men on account of his powers.  Though the role of lupines was essential in starvation years and both beans and  flour saved many people from death,  their value was always greatly underestimated. Therefore they were regarded as food for the less fortunate, for farmers and cattles.  

  • Untill 1970, the farmers of Peloponnesus and Crete used to boil the raw lupines in mess kettles, by the sea, or by the rivers. Then they soaked them in seawater, or in riverwater for 8 –10 days, till the water wash away their bitterness, and they laid them out to dry.
  • Raw lupines are tasty and for a long time were enjoyed as typical Lenten appetizer. In nowadays they tend to disappear from the diet, however they can be  found in jars  in some markets during the fasting period before Easter.
  • In Europe since 1997 lupines and lupine flour are officialy considered as traditional food.

Update

Lupines are eaten as a snack, sprinkled with salt and black pepper. In Crete they are served as meze for tsikoudia (raki), together with  barley rusk soaked in a little water, and olives.

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