CHICKEN WRAPPED IN DOUGH

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Two years ago, I visited with 4 friends the archaeological site of Eleftherna, at the northern foot of mountain Psiloritis (Rethymno, Crete). The day was very hot and the walk into the history brought us thirst and hunger. At the taverna we crawled in, we ordered drinks and something to eat. Having myself participated in the excavation for 5 years, I felt glad to see again the old lady who owned the place.

Since it was Sunday, she had almost boil a whole free-range chicken to make a pilaf. I was surprised when I saw her kneading dough, stuffing the chicken with rice and onions and wrapping dough up and over it. Rethymno, unlike Western Crete and other parts of Greece, has no tradition of meats wrapped in dough. The dear lady explained the reason she made this ‘pita’ was because she liked the challenge of creating an unusual and special dish, as a sign of hospitality.

Since that summer I have made the recipe again and again, though not exactly the same. One major change to it from the original is the use of tea, instead of water, in the dough. Brewed tea leaves are added to it as well, giving chicken and dough a slightly bitter, spicy flavor. It’s true that the recipe is not really traditional, but I love it because it’s gorgeous in taste.

 

Ingredients: 

1 whole chicken

Dough:

2 cups of black chinese tea

1 tbs. spent leaves from the brew

flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking (around 5 cups)

black pepper

Stuffing no 1:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

½ cup rice, Greek Carolina or Arborio

1/3 cup mushrooms, finely chopped

salt

pepper

Stuffing no 2:

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic teeth, finely chopped

1 tabs. mustard

1 tbs. ground cinnamon

2 tbs. red wine

salt

black pepper

Prepare the dough:
Put the tea into your blender or food processor with the tea leaves and blend.
Put the mixture in the fridge for some minutes.
In a bowl combine as much flour is needed (around 4 ½ cups), salt and black pepper. Once the tea is cooled add it to the flour. Knead well on a floured surface. If the dough is too dry add some water or more tea, a little at a time.
Roll it back into a ball, put it into the bowl, put a towel over it and let it aside.

Remove giblets from the chicken and reserve for another use. Wash the chicken, then paper dry.

Mix the ingredients for the stuffing no 1 and put it into the cavity of the chicken. Secure tail end with small wooden skewers.

Mix the ingredients for the stuffing no 2. Push your fingers under the skin of the chicken until you’ll make a little pocket under all the skin.

 Push the stuffing, filling all the space out.

Roll out dough, large enough to wrap the whole chicken. Place it onto the center of dough. Fold dough up and over it, pressing ends together to seal.

Place chicken in a shallow greased baking pan. Bake in oven (in a slow heat) for around 2- 2 1/2 hours.

 Crack the dough and serve.

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This is my entry for Meeta’s Monthly Mingle: Coffee and Tea 

 

 

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A FULL MOON DINNER

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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.

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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.