Feb 10, 2015

Sweet raisin buns flavored with cinnamon.




Raisin buns (σταφιδόψωμα), are for the Greeks what croissants are for the French: a sweet doughy breakfast delicacy. Every morning you can find them on sale inlocal bakeries next to bread rings and cakes.
 Raisins and sultanas are great sources of energy for the human body, exactly what you need with a cup of tea or coffee to start your day. For many centuries the small dark currants and the larger blond sultanas have been an essential part of the agricultural economy of the Peloponnese. At the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, in particular, the English would import raisins in exchange for salted cod from the North Sea. As a result of this exchange,salted cod became, and still is,a special favorite at Peloponnesian tables.
 When baking bread for the family, my grandmother would often save a piece of her sour dough to make a small loaf of raisin bread, or feta bread. The contradiction of the slightly sour taste of the bread with the sweetness of the raisins is something I always recall from her cooking. Although my grandmother didn’t use any flavoring, these buns today are usually flavored with cinnamon and can be made either with whole-wheat flour or a gluten free mix.






Jan 7, 2015

Black eyed peas stewed with greens





This post was especially written for Pretty Greek Villas, a site owned by my friends Marie- Louise and Ben. If you are thinking Greece this summer, take a look,for some of the most beautiful villas in the country.

Peloponnesian cuisine is influenced by its sea-girt mountainous topography. Olive oil, wine, grains, pulses, herbs, wild greens, fish, goat and sheep meat, cheese and honey have been staples in local pantries for millenia.  Though olive trees do not flourish at its highest altitudes, still one third of the country’s entire production comes from here because of the quality of the soil and the mild climate. In fact, Peloponnesian cuisine could be described as an olive oil cuisine since generous amounts of olive oil (often added towards the end of cooking) are poured over greens, beans, and all sorts of stews. 
The Northern Peloponnese cuisine has also been influenced by migrations over its long history and so it comprises elements of both the mainland and the islands,.  Most of the dishes fall into the category of one-pot meals in which ingredients are matched wisely to give nutritious and filling dishes, - all based on seasonal production. A characteristic autumn dish in our area is made with beans from the valley of ancient Feneos and greens found in every garden. It is a humble but flavorful dish, elegant in its simplicity. 




Dec 17, 2014

Savory cheese flan, with walnuts and pomegranate sauce

   


  Have you ever wondered what ancient Greek cooking would taste like? If ancient Greeks could have known that people in the future would be interested in their cuisine, they would most certainly have written down everything about their art of cooking. 

During what we now call the ‘classical period’ ancient Greek civilization reached its peak. Tragic plays and Aristophanes’ comedies describe daily life including scenes around a table. Deipnosophists (from deipnon- dinner and sofos- wise) writing about the philosophic discussions taking place in rich people’s houses during gastronomic feasts described the menus in great detail. These sources inform us that Athenians had three daily meals out of which ‘’deipnon’’, late in the evening, was the last and most rich meal of the day. Dinner in modern Greece is still called ‘’deipno’’.

 Their diet consisted of a great variety of fish, meat from both game and stock farming, grains such as barley and wheat and, of course  vegetables, legumes and wild greens. Olive oil played the most important role in every aspect of their daily life, religious, pharmaceutical, cultural, or alimentary. Wine, a genuine Greek product, was consumed daily. Honey, initially collected from tree cavities before beekeeping methods were developed, was their sweetener. Ancient Greeks preferred a rather sweet cuisine similar to Chinese and Far East cooking today. 
Of course many of  the ingredients mentioned above were seasonal and accessed according to the economic and social status of citizens. I have read a few books about the ancient Greek diet and I thought that this Christmas, my inspiration should come from the flavors of our ancient cuisine.

  This savory cheese flan would be an ideal first course for the Christmas season, combining flavors and textures with festive symbolism. It has a mousse-like texture that nicely compliments the crunchiness of the walnuts and the sweet and sour taste of the pomegranate sauce. Pomegranates symbolize fertility and prosperity and have always been connected with New Year’s festivities in Greece. At the moment the New Year arrives, we break open a pomegranate onto the door step for good luck throughout the year. 

I wish a Merry Christmas to all of you.   




Dec 1, 2014

Apples cooked in vanilla syrup

 


 An urge to search for traditional recipes with apples resulted because of a walk we took last week near our cottage. We came across a familiar old apple tree still standing next to the ruins of a house. It has never stopped producing apples yearly for more than six decades now as my mother remembers, with no gardener’s care -  just running water from a spring on the property. We hadn’t explored this corner of the village for a couple of years and we were pleased to find that the tree was still productive and that there were still some apples left for us by the birds who had already taken their share. I love that sense of déjà vu under a tree like this, imagining the repeated ritual of harvesting its fruits. 

Though apples have been cultivated in Greece for many centuries yet, as far as I know, there are no recipes in Greek traditional cuisine like pies and cakes, which call for apples. They have always been the most popular year round fruit in every house pantry, but have been appreciated uncooked as a tasty fruit and a healthy snack.

 Firikia (φιρίκια) a local variety of small, oval shaped apples with an intoxicating, sweet aroma and wonderful taste are the only exception to this rule. Firikia are peeled, halved and seeded, and then slow cooked in vanilla syrup with blanched almonds. This way their taste and aromas get richer and more intense. I love them as a quick dessert, paired with yogurt which balances their sweetness.     






Nov 4, 2014

Fresh quince and filo, mini pies

   



 Housewives and chefs have a shared sense of economy in their kitchens. From the shopping list to the fridge leftovers, food is used wisely and nothing gets wasted when it can still be used in cooking. 
     At our house, the leftovers from the tomato salad we had for lunch would be the base for the tomato sauce in the dinner stew, and the cooked greens I never loved as a kid would turn into a delicious omelet that I would, unsuspiciously, happily eat. But my favorite edition of this cooking trick occurred when my mother would make cheese pies with filo pastry and she would save a couple of sheets to stuff with the last spoonfuls of any jam that had been forgotten in the fridge. The crispiness of the baked filo and the aroma of the hot jam always created a yummy surprise treat because the filling was always different.
    You can make a light last minute jam with any seasonal fruits available, and then make sweet filo pies. I made a fresh quince jam and the taste was superb, not very sweet and full of quince and vanilla aromas.