23 July 2014

Lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες)

 

In Greece, it is said that the best cabbage is found after the first frost. My lovely mother in law was right on cue, making this classic Greek winter favourite, lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες) as the winter chill settled over Sydney this week.

If you love Greek food you would be no stranger to dolmades, made with vine leaves. The homemade version with avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce, not the ones in the can(!), are one of my all time favourite Greek dishes. However, grape vine leaves are best in season from late spring to early summer when tender leaves are plentiful.

 

 

Lahanodolmades are a lovely winter version of the regular vine leaf dolmades. Tender winter cabbage is filled with ground beef and rice and the dolmades are covered with a avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce. The avgolemono sauce is another great way to use the best fruit and vegetables in season - with all of the gorgeous citrus available at this time of year, particularly home-grown lemons. I was recently given a large bag of home-grown lemons as a gift, and they smell incredible. There is no comparison with store bought lemons, with their waxy coating inhibiting the beautiful lemon aroma.

I think my own Irish ancestry must hold at least some of the key to the reason why I love my mother in law's lahanodolmades so much. Cabbage is used so frequently in Irish cooking and I think my genes often crave it! You can understand why I was so thrilled to come home from work this week and find that my mother in law had left a lovely big warm bowl of lahanodolmades in my kitchen.

 

 

Mrs K recommends selecting a large cabbage for lahanodolmades. The whole head of the cabbage needs to be intact, but the leaves need to be rather loose. If you have any leftover cabbage you can make a number of other Greek dishes, including lahanorizo, a rice pilaf with cabbage.

Mrs K uses the same stuffing for her lahanodolmades that she uses to make regular dolmades. By way of comparison, her stuffing for yemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers) is nearly always vegetarian, taking account of the need for "lightness" in summer cooking. If you wish to make a vegetarian version of the lahanodolmades, or for fasting, Mrs K suggests leaving out the meat from the stuffing mix and upping the herb quantity, using only a lemon-oil sauce and skipping the egg. And, for extra special occasions, Mrs K also suggests that you can add some pine nuts and currants to the meat stuffing (or the vegetarian one), perhaps even a pinch of cinammon. The other tip Mrs K offers is to always make your own ground meat, or select the meat for your butcher to mince. Mrs K never buys store made mince or ground meat.

Mrs K's Lahanodolmades (λαχανοντολμάδες)

Ingredients:

For the rolls:

* 1 medium whole green cabbage

* 250 grams of ground beef (or lamb)

* 250 grams of ground pork

* 1 whole egg

* 3/4 cups of short-grain rice

* 3 stalks of fresh dill, finely chopped

* Salt and pepper to taste

* 1 medium onion, finely chopped

* 1 tablespoon of olive oil

* 3/4 cup of olive oil

* 1 onion, sliced in rings

* 2 medium carrots, sliced in thick rounds

* 2 stalks of celery (leaves only)

* water or vegetable or chicken stock

* 1 small dried chilli pepper

For the sauce:

* 2-3 eggs yolks

* 1 tablespoon of water

* juice of 2-3 lemons

* broth from the dish being cooked

Method:

Step 1. Remove the outer layers of the cabbage and discard. Turn the cabbage head over and using a sharp knife cut out as much of the core (stem) as you can.

Step 2. In a large pot, boil enough water to submerge the cabbage head. Boil the entire cabbage head until the leaves are tender and can be removed easily (about 15 mins).

Step 3. In a bowl, mix the ground beef, pork, egg, rice, dill, finely chopped onion, a little oil and water, and knead to mix thoroughly. Form into rounds, a little larger than golf balls and the roll out into small logs.

Step 4: Using the large outer leaves of the cabbage, lay them out flat and place the meat mixture in the leaf and roll up the cabbage leaf. Repeat.

Step 5: Using a large casserole pot, line the base with carrot and onion slices, celery leaves and any leftover cabbage leaves.

Step 6: Lay the stuffed cabbage rolls, fold side down, on top in snugly packed layers. Place an inverted plate on top to hold them down when cooking.

Step 7: Add water or stock to cover, the chilli pepper and bring to a boil. When boil is reached, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the leaves are tender and the filling is cooked.

To make the avgolemono sauce:

Step 1: A few minutes before the cabbage is done, make the avgolemono sauce. Whisk the egg yolks and a tablespoon of water.

Step 2: Stir in 1/2 cup of liquid from the pot and lemon juice whisking until smooth (you can add some cornflour if you would like a thicker sauce).

Step 3: Remove the plate, remove cabbage from heat and pour in the egg-lemon sauce. Hold pot by the handles and shake gently to distribute.

Step 4: Serve warm with a few spoonfuls of the sauce over the cabbage.

 

 

20 July 2014

Athens Central Market & a vegetarian feast


Very, very new season garlic appeared at the market today. I was thrilled to see the garlic and the promise of spring it brings. The season of artichokes, broad beans, sweet baby peas and juicy asparagus is just around the corner. Spring must really be the most delightful season for vegetarians! While there was super fresh and juicy garlic at the market, sadly I am going to have to wait a little longer for the other delights of spring until the chill of winter has defrosted. This is where my trusty bag of frozen peas stepped in. I hardly ever use frozen foods, but peas are the one staple that are always in my freezer - combined with the new season garlic, spring was just at a moments reach.




As soon as I saw the fresh garlic at the market, I immediately started craving a beautiful vegetarian dish, called 'biselli (pea) - arakas laderos' (μπιζέλια - Αρακάς λαδερός) which I first tried in one of the eateries in Athens Central Market. This delicious vegetable stew calls for peas, carrots, fresh tomatoes, onion, fresh garlic, and dill.




The market is known as the 'Varvakios Agora' (Βαρβάκειος Αγορά) and like many markets in Europe, it has a number of casual 'workers' tavernas. They are located near the meat market and there is also one other underground taverna near the vegetable market. When I lasted visited Athens, Mr K and I chose to eat at the Eiprus taverna, where all of the dishes for the day are laid out under the glass counter for easy viewing. The cooking is very traditional, home style Greek cooking. The dishes change from day to day, depending on what is in season - and when the dish runs out, it's done for the day! This is one of the reasons why I love market tavenas - you know everything is fresh and in season, straight from the stalls and sellers right in front of you.

The atmosphere of Eiprus Taverna is incredibly relaxed and welcoming - I was even invited behind the counter and into the kitchen to take a closer look at the offerings for the day. After wandering through the meat market - I was happy to opt for fish and vegetable dishes. We tried some small fried fish, okra slow cooked in tomato sauce and this lovely pea stew. It has stayed in my memory ever since. However, should you be so inclined the taverna also offers an impressive range of meat and offal dishes - from slow roasted lamb with plenty of lemon and rigani to a tripe soup, for which the taverna is famous - apparently a tried and tested hangover cure!







In terms of the market itself, my favourite area is definitely the fish market, which is full of colourful sellers - who really know how to put on a show to get your attention. There is a huge variety on sale, including giant octopus tentacles and my favourite, sea bass. My tip when visiting the market is to wear closed in shoes - like all fish markets the ground is really wet and you'll want to avoid having slimey feet for the rest of the day. Surrounding the fish market on each side is the meat market and across the road are the fruits and vegetables. There are also lots of dairy shops selling cheese, milk and yoghurt, plus shops selling wine, spices, herbs, olives, olive oil and more - even live chickens.







This recipe comes from the tradition of 'lathera' cooking in Greece, which is basically vegetarian dishes cooked in olive oil, with a combination of herbs and tomato.The term 'lathera' comes from the word lathi, Greek for oil. It is a firm staple of regular household meals (being Lenten friendly) and one of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is so good for you - Lathera, dishes provide the advantage of consuming large amounts of vegetables effortlessly. The olive oil itself is also rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. Importantly, it interacts with other ingredients increasing the absorption of vitamins and antioxidants from the vegetables.

Biselli (pea) - Arakas Laderos

(μπιζέλια - Αρακάς λαδερός)

Ingredients:

500 grams fresh or frozen peas (no need to thaw, if frozen)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 head of fresh garlic & green stem, finely chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
4 ripe tomatoes, pureed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 cups boiling water
Salt and black pepper, to taste
½ cup dill, finely chopped

Method:

Step 1. Heat the olive oil in a pot and sauté onion until translucent and soft. Add garlic, carrots and peas, stir to combine.

Step 2. Season to taste and add tomato purée, paste and water. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 3. About 20 minutes into the cooking time, add the dill and mix.





If you prefer, you can add some potatoes to the peas, for a more filling dish. However, today I decided to extend our vegetarian feast by making some fava (φάβα). Favs is made from onion and yellow split peas and is a super easy dish to make - I love it's pretty warm yellow colour. In addition to a general vegetarian feast, fava is a great match for Horta (leafy greens) and small fried fish. I served the fava and pea stew with some slices of country style bread, rubbed liberally with garlic, feta and some kalamata olives.


Fava (φάβα)

Ingredients:

70gr olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
250gr yellow split peas
1.5 litres of water
salt and pepper, to taste
1 small lemon, juiced
Capers & sliced red onion for garnish

Method:

Step 1. In a pot over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the chopped onion. Season with salt and cook until the onion is translucent.

Step 2. Add the fava and water reduce to a very low heat and cook for 30 mins - 1 hour, stirring frequently ( add more water if the fava begins to thicken too much before being properly cooked).

Step 3. When the fava is cooked, remove from the heat and using a stick blender (after allow to cool slightly) blend to a smooth purée. Add the remaining olive oil and lemon juice while mixing and season to taste.

Step 4. Serve fava warm or cool, topped with red onion and capers. Drizzle with olive oil and some more lemon juice.




Athens Central Market, Varvakios Agora (Βαρβάκειος Αγορά)

Athinas & Evripidou, Omonia, Athens

Open: Monday to Saturday, 08:00 to around 18:00pm

18 July 2014

Paximathakia (παξιμαδάκια)




These beautiful, cinamon and clove spiced cookies are the Greek version of biscotti. Where the Irish drink tea to sooth the soul, paximathia and a small cup of strong, sweet Greek coffee have the same ability to calm and melt away stress.




Paximathakia are often made in Greek homes and kept in the biscuit tin for when friends and family call in. As they contain no butter or eggs, paximathakia are also often served during the Lenten season. Traditionally, they are also sometimes served as a part of the Makaria (Mercy Meal) , following the passing of a loved one, as a sign of fasting and mourning that the departed has left this life. On this occasion Greek coffee is sometimes replaced with small glasses of Metaxa brandy.




This paximathakia recipe is based on the one given to me by my mother in law, made in the traditional Zakyinthian way with olive oil, the juice and zest from homegown oranges, and Zakythian currants. I have added my own twist by adding some apricots and roasted hazelnuts, in place of the more traditional almonds.



Paximathakia (παξιμαδάκια)

Ingredients:

180gr olive oil
150gr sugar
100gr orange juice & zest
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
¼ cup Zakynthian currants
¼ cup dried aprictos, finely chopped
¼ cup cognac, brandy or metaxa
½ tsp bicarbonate soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
500gr all purpose flour (or half white, half wholemeal)
Sesame seeds

Method:

Step 1. In a small bowl, combine the currants and apricots, pour over the cognac or brandy and leave to soak until the currants are plump.

Step 2. Preheat oven to 180C. In a large bowl add the olive oil, orange juice, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, nuts, currants, apricots and cognac/brandy and mix them with a whisk wire until they are combined.

Step 3. in a separate bowl, combine all of the dry indgredients including flour, salt, baking powder, soda and spices, mix to combine.

Step 4. Graduallty add the dry mixure to the wet mixture until incorporated and an elastic dough forms.

Step 5. Gather your dough and knead it into a ball. Turn onto your work surface and divide into 3 pieces. Form into three loaves. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on some parchment and then place a loaf of dough in it.

Step 6. Place the sheet of baking paper on your baking tray and lay your three loaves of dough on top. Sprinkle the loaves with sesame seeds and press in gentley so they stick to the dough (but try not to squash the loaves).

Step 7. Using a floured knife, cut almost all the way through each loaf in approximately 1/2 inch slices.

Step 8. Place your tray on the middle rack and bake at 180C for 30 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes.

Step 9. With a sharp knife, re-slice along the cuts you have already made, to separate each cookie, then place the the cookies back on the baking sheet, flat on one side and bake at 170C for another 20 minutes or until golden.

Because these paximathakia are made without eggs and butter, they can be stored for several months in airtight plastic containers. Allow to cool completely before storing.

17 July 2014

Prasorizo πρασόρυζο




There is nothing nicer than the smell of leeks, slowly cooking in olive oil. My mother in law has a little Greek book that lists all of the health benefits of various fruits and vegetables. Along with eating at least one tomato per day, she advises to use leeks in cooking as often as possible. The reason for this is that not only do they add to the depth of flavour of a dish but leeks, like garlic and onions, belong to a vegetable family called the "Allium" vegetables. Since leeks are related to garlic and onions, they contain many of the same beneficial compounds found in these well-researched, health-promoting vegetables.




While you might normally associate leeks with Welsh winter cooking, they have a long history in Greek cooking - way to back to ancient times, where the Greeks believed them to cure nosebleeds. Leeks are more common in the cookery of Northern Greece, such as Epirus, Macedonia and Thrace. Aside from a variety of leek and meat stews, one of the more common Greek dishes using leeks is a "prasopita" (πρασόπιτα), a lovely combination of leeks and sheep's cheese all wrapped up in homemade phyllo pastry. This is on my list of family recipes to try soon. However, after a long day in the office - pastry work is not high on my list of culinary tasks. Luckily, that is where today's dish steps in. Prasorizo (πρασόρυζο) is basically a Greek version of a leek risotto, with plenty of lemon and herbs - the difference being that the real star of the dish is the leeks, not the rice itself. If you are familiar with spanakorizo (σπανακόριζο), spinach rice, this dish is basically an alternative version using beautifully flavoursome, slowly cooked leeks instead of spinach.


Along with a bounty of colourful lemons, leeks are one of the nicest treats of winter. This traditional recipe, which combines them both, was shared with me (a few years ago now) while Mr K and I were on our honeymoon visiting the spectacular 14th Century cliff top monasteries in Metaora in Northern Greece. The monks and nuns of the monasteries have a wealth of really spectacular vegetarian dishes, including this one. Prasorizo is wonderfully warming and hearty, and can easily be made on a weeknight served alongside some olives and feta, with a good wedge of lemon. The tip to creating a really flavoursome dish is to slowly cook the onions and leeks for a long time, to bring our the sweetness. Also, make sure to wash the leeks carefully as there is often quite a bit of sand and dirt lurking in the green layers.


Prasorizo (πρασόρυζο)

Ingredients:

* 1 kg of leeks, white part only, cleaned and cut lengthwise into quarters and then 2 inch long pieces
* 1 onion, chopped finely
* 1/2 cup of olive oil
* 3 & 1/2 cups of homemade vegetable (or chicken stock)
* 1 & 1/4 cups of uncooked white rice
* 1 lemon, sliced
* 1/2 bunch of fresh dill, chopped
* 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
* juice of 1 lemon
* Seasoning to taste
* Mizithra cheese, grated to serve

Method:

1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a fry pan and add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the leeks and cook for around 5 minutes until wilted. Do not brown.

2. Add the remaining olive oil and two cups of stock to a separate saucepan, add the leeks and onion and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

3. Add 1 1/2 cups of remaining stock and return to a boil. Cover the leeks with a layer of rice and season, then add a layer of sliced lemons over the top of the rice. Cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, peel off the lemons and stir in chopped dill, oregano and an extra squeeze of lemon juice (if desired). Cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel and place the lid of the pan on top, and let stand, covered, for 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

5. Serve in bowls, with an extra wedge of lemon and a grating of myzithra cheese. You could also serve alongside a bowl of olives and feta.



12 July 2014

Kalitsounia (καλιτσούνια)




My love affair with Kalitsounia started when Mr K and I visited Crete a few years ago. Kalitsounia (καλιτσούνια) are small pies, either filled with sheep cheese and drizzled with honey for a sweet dessert, or filled with cheese, herbs and/or greens and onion for a savoury snack. These little pies are unique to Crete and the island has become famous for them.





Kalitsounia are traditionally served at Easter time and filled with two cheeses unique to Crete, along with some mint. There are also two popular kalitsounia shapes for Easter, a square and a 'little lantern'. Beyond Easter, kalitsounia are often served at big family gatherings and parties. They can also either be baked or fried.







If you are visiting Crete, kalitsounia can be found in baker's shops and tavernas all year round. In Chania, some of the best Kalitsounia can be found at the Central Market. The Municipal Market of Chania is in the heart of the city and dates back to 1913. The market is full of fresh local produce, cheeses, meats and seafood and specialities unique to Crete such as mountain teas, spices and dried figs, honey and sweets. If you purchase some kalitsounia, olives, fresh tomatoes, bread and a small bottle of locally made rose or red wine - you have the perfect makings for a picnic on one of the many spectacular beaches close to Chania.


9 July 2014

In my kitchen July: skordalia σκορδαλιά and stifado στιφάδο


It only seems like it was a few weeks ago that I was indulging the first harvest olive oil of Greece (known as Αγουρέλαιο or Agoureleo) and Italy (known as olio nuovo) (you can read more about that adventure here)... and now it is time to enjoy the Australian offerings. Into my kitchen this month, Mr K proudly bought a beautiful bottle of Cobram Estate ‘First Harvest’, the very first extra virgin olive oil from the 2014 harvest. The olive oil is a vibrant green and has a very rich taste - and left a very, very peppery burn on the back of the throat. It is an absolutely amazing olive oil and full of intensity. I want to use the oil generously, but only where it can really shine and not have to compete with other flavours, or even worse, fade into the background. As such, the oil has featured mainly on small pieces of toasted rustic homemade bread - with just a pinch of Greek 'fleur de sel'. The basic but the best type of "bruschetta" you could ever have. Today, I made one further concession. Adding the lush green oil to make a light, creamy skordalia.

The skordalia was inspired not only by the bright green oil, but the abundance of beautiful citrus in my kitchen this month. Recently, Mr K and my father in law went on a little road trip, down past Wollongong, which is about an hours drive out of Sydney. They visited the house, of a very old family friend Aggeliki who was from the Island of Corfu in Greece. Sadly she passed away many years ago. Aggelik's lemon tree still grows and was abundant with large yellow lemons. Mr K bought some home to our kitchen, which was filled with their zesty, fresh scent. The lemons held so much juice, which flowed freely and took little effort to extract. While juicing the lemons, I thought of Aggeliki, who I had never met, planting the lemon tree by her house that overlooked the lake. Together with the oil, garlic and potatoes, the lemons made a very light and fluffily skordalia, full of the peppery bite of the garlic and the first harvest oil. Mr K proclaimed it to be the best skordalia I had made yet and I am sure that Aggeliki, and the lemons from her well loved tree, most certainly had a hand in its success.

16 June 2014

A taste of Florence, old and new





Rediscovering Florence after a few years between visits was a pleasure full of surprises. If you are a regular reader of Mulberry and Pomegranate, it would come as no surprise to you that I revelled in rediscovering Florence in the cooler months of autumn. Florentine food just screams autumn and winter. After hours of walking, rugged up, around the streets, galleries and architectural masterpieces of Florence, you crave the kind of food to warm you from head to toe and make you feel full - preferably consumed next to a roaring fireplace with a glass of Brunello in hand.  In this post, I thought I would share with you a few favourite old classics and new discoveries from the stunning city of Florence.







15 June 2014

A look back at Greek Easter: dark chocolate & almond tsoureki

Greek Easter and regular Easter fell on the same date this year and I felt just a little bit spoilt to have both Mr K's family and my parents, gathered together at one table for Easter Sunday lunch. We celebrated at my parent in-law's house and the sun literally shone on us all this year. I knew that we were going to enjoy a really special day, because the first thing I saw in our own garden at home on Easter Sunday morning was one single, rich, red, velvety bloom from my newly planted Dublin Bay rose. The weather was spectacular, more like spring than autumn and we started the celebrations with a chilled glass of french champagne in my father in law's lush green garden, underneath the lime and mulberry trees.


As always, the menu for Easter Sunday lunch was truly impressive. My mother in law had slow-cooked a small baby goat with lots of lemon, olive oil and rigani - it simply melted off the bone. There were also tender baby potatoes, cooked in the juices of the goat, along with a marouli (lettuce) salad with a tangy latholemono dressing and strands of punchy rocket, which had just been plucked from the garden. For a crunchy contrast there was also a fresh tomato and cucumber salad. My mother in law has only recently celebrated her 81st birthday and I am in absolute awe of her energy and enthusiasm in the kitchen!

9 June 2014

In my kitchen June - Easy Greek recipes for the slow cooker




Winter has arrived here in Sydney and it is that time for Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial's "In My Kitchen" feature, where bloggers from around the world share their latest kitchen discoveries. For many many months now, I have been following the wonderful blog, The Foodie Corner, from Greece. On her blog, Eleni has featured many dishes made by using a slow cooker. After months of thinking about it.... and convincing Mr K that I could find a space for a 6 litre slow cooker in our rather limited kitchen storage, I finally purchased a slow cooker and started experimenting! So in my kitchen this month, I thought I would share with you a couple of the Greek recipes (and one not so traditionally Greek) that have been a success using my new slow cooker.


Fassolatha (φασολάδα)
As you may recall from one of my last posts, there has been some discussion about what constitutes "fassolatha", a bean soup - which is pretty much the national dish of Greece, in our house. My lovely husband had been craving a chickpea soup called Revithosoupa (ρεβιθόσουπα), which he ate regularly growing up. However, he had been calling the chickpea soup "fassolatha" which it wasn't. Fassolatha is a soup made with white beans, not chickpeas. Having sorted the chickpeas from the whitebeans and carefully recorded my mother in law's recipe and made revithosoupa a few times, I thought it was time now to make her fassolatha. 

25 May 2014

Greek pumpkin and feta pie I kolokythopita


The Autumn colours in Launceston, Tasmania are simply spectacular. Last weekend, Mr K and I spent two days, one day in the glorious vineyards of the Tamar Valley - soaking in the beautiful, warm autumn colours and the second at the the misty, prehistoric-looking Cataract Gorge. It was so wonderful to see and feel the season changing, which we rarely get to do in Sydney, with its temperate weather. The colours were so intense and they reminded us both, so much of our recent travels through the vineyards of Tuscany, last autumn.


The cool climate wines of the Tamar Valley were equally as spectacular as the autumn colours. Josef Chromy, Goaty Hill and Holm Oak were particular standouts. Incredible scenery and equally incredible wines, can only result in one thing - a picnic among the vines. Inspired by the warm colour pallet, this pumpkin and feta pie, known in Greek as kolokythopita was just perfect for the picnic basket, along with some olives, beautiful Tasmanian cheese and fruit.