13 January 2015

Stuffed zucchini flowers with rice, mint & fennel pollen (Λουλούδια κολοκυθιάς γεμιστά)

Like many food bloggers, I am often asked, why do you have a blog? Why do you write about food? Why is it all about Greek food? The simple answer is, when your Greek father in law gives you a dazzling basket of freshly picked, home grown zucchini blossoms – you need to know what to do with them. So much love and hard work goes into home grown produce and I want to be able to treat it with the respect it deserves.

My father in law is a passionate gardener. As a boy and young man, he learnt much of his fruit and vegetable growing knowledge from his father, living in the Peloponnese. It’s in his roots. I feel extremely lucky to not only share in the spoils of his garden, but also to be able to absorb his knowledge and passion for growing things. And that really is what my blog is all about. Each day I learn a little more about Greek food and culture – and this is my place to record and share it.

 

 

There is often so much beauty in simple day to day moments. In my posts, I try to celebrate these small moments. It seems like such a shame to let a moment of beauty - like a dazzling basket of zucchini blossoms - or the bright positivity of my father in law's views on life - and growing vegetables - pass without capturing and celebrating just a little bit of it. Recently, I was so touched to overhear my lovely Mr K say that my discovery of Greek food and culture, through the blog, had made him fall in love with his own culture and food again – after teenage and university years spent unearthing everything from the best clear, spicy and sour tom yum soup in a certain radius of Sydney uni to the best tandoori in Enmore.

 

While my father in law is the passionate gardener, my mother in law is the passionate cook. Along with my basket of beautiful yellow flowers, I was given counsel from Ma on how to cook the Kolokythoanthoi, as they are called in Greek. Her favourite way to cook the blossoms is to fill them with a mixture of rice, grated fresh tomatoes and herbs - cooked until the rice is soft and the liquid in the pan has just reduced to down a very aromatic oil.

 

 

 

 

I’ve adapted Ma’s recipe slightly by adding fennel pollen from the flowers blooming in my garden, instead of chopped fennel fronds or dill. I love the subtle, sweet aniseed flavour and aroma of the fennel pollen - I am just a tiny bit infatuated with it at the moment. I've also added some of my other summer garden favourites - purslane, zucchini and a few potatoes (I do have my own Irish roots after all) – all from the summer garden to make this a substantial meal. I have also added a little aggourida, which is basically the same as verjuice. Lemons are not existent in my summer garden and that of my parents and in law’s – so I’ve added the aggourida to give a depth of flavor and a little acidic kick to this dish, in place of lemon juice.

 

 

 

Stuffed zucchini flowers (Λουλούδια κολοκυθιάς γεμιστά)

 

1 basket of zucchini blossoms

½ cup of karolina rice

½ cup of pilaf rice

1 medium spanish onion, grated

2 medium tomatoes, grated

½ bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped

3 fennel blossoms, rubbed to release the pollen

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

½ cup of olive oil

1 cup of water

¼ cup of aggourida / verjuice / lemon juice

3 potatoes, chopped into thin gondalas

3-4 small zucchini, chopped into thin gondalas

1 small bunch of purslane, chopped.

 

Preparation

Rinse the zucchini blossoms individually, removing any external green leaves. Take care not to tear the blossoms. Once rinsed, place the bottom of each blossom into the opening of another to prevent from closing, and set aside to drain thoroughly. Pat dry before using. The pistil and stamen do not need to be removed, but you can take them out if your prefer.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 200C.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine rice, onion, tomatoes, fennel pollen, mint, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add half the olive oil and mix thoroughly.

3. Carefully fill each blossom with a little of the mixture, around 1 teaspoon per blossom. Fold the open end of the blossom inward and turn underneath, and place in a wide pot. Continue until all blossoms are filled, and placed snugly in a single layer in the bottom of an oiled pot or pan, along with pieces of the potato, purslane and zucchini. Place any fennel blossoms on top. Pour over the remaining oil, water and aggourida. Cover the pot with foil or a tight fitting lid and place in the oven and cook for around 30 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to around 160-180C and remove foil or lid from the pot, cook for a further 20-30 minutes, until the liquid cooks down to an aromatic oil. Keep an eye on this dish to make sure it does not start to burn or stick to the bottom of the pot.

5. Best served at room temperature.

 

 

11 January 2015

Kalamari pilaf (Καλαμαρί πιλάφι)




Rice pilaf dishes are incredibly popular in Greece and come in varied forms. The most simple pilaf is made with homemade stock, olive oil, lemon and herbs such as bay and cinnamon. Special occasion or ceremonial pilaf, such as the Cretan wedding pilaf is cooked in stock made from quality meat and bones. To enhance the taste of the pilaf, fresh butter is also used in generous quantities. My sister in law's mother, who is from Crete, is well known for her amazing pilaf recipe. I am hoping to learn this dish one day soon. Then there are homely pilaf dishes, which feature regularly on our weeknight menu, such as spanakorizo (spinach rice) or prassorizo (leek rice) - and my mother in law's delicious kalamari pilaf.


Seafood pilafs are particularly popular in the islands and costal areas of Greece, because it allows the flavour of the spectacular local fish and shellfish, or in this case kalamari to stand out from a fairly simple flavour background. It can also turn a small home-caught catch into a fairly substantial meal for family or friends.

This is my mother in law's recipe - she likes to add a hit of chilli, which isn't all that traditional - but it is her tradition. I love the spicy hit, which you can adjust to your taste - or leave out altogether. Ma counsels that your pilaf must not be soggy, "agapi mou" she says, "you are not making a soupa. The pilaf must be like a skordalia. The rice needs to be cooked, but firm and fluffy....just like little nails". There is no chance of a soggy pilaf with Ma's recipe.




Kalamari pilaf (Καλαμαρί πιλάφι)

Olive oil
1 yellow onion finely chopped (or the white part of a large leek, finely chopped)
1 cup 'bonnet' or other short grain rice
1 cup fresh tomatoes and their juice, chopped
1 cup of cleaned kalamari, finely chopped
1-2 dried chillies
1/2 cup of water

Method:

1. Heat some olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) in a fry pan or skillet. Add the onion and rice. Cook until onion is translucent and rice is toasted, about 7 minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, chilli and water. Stir, cover and then reduce the heat. Cook until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and is cooked. About 10-12 minutes. You may need to add a little more water if the rice has absorbed it all, but has not cooked. About halfway through the cooking time, add the kalamari.

3. Remove from the heat and season well. Place a clean tea towel over the pan, then place a lid on top of the tea towel. Let the rice rest for 10 - 15 minutes and then fluff the rice with a fork and serve. You may wish to remove the whole dried chilies before serving - just so that no one gets an extra spicy surprise!


7 January 2015

Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί)





There has to be a gazillion recipes for Imam Bayildi (ιμάμ μπαϊλντί). It is one of those shared dishes amongst Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries and it is very popular in Greece – available on most tavern menus in summer.


The phrase imam bayildi is Turkish for "the priest fainted". It is believed the amount of olive oil used in the dish when first served to the priest was so abundant, it caused him to faint – olive oil being incredibly expensive at that point in time.


4 January 2015

Patzarosaláta: chilled beetroot and garlic yoghurt salad




This has to be one of my most favourite salads - it's a variation on the traditional Greek beetroot salad, patzarosaláta (παντζάροσαλάτα).

In Greece, patzarosaláta, is usually served two ways. The beetroot, along with their greens, are boiled. Once they have cooled, they are sliced and served with a generous dressing of olive oil and wine vinegar. This salad is served alongside a dish of skordalia, feta cheese and bread.


2 January 2015

In my kitchen January 2015



Καλή Χρονια! Kali Xronia – happy new year!!

Καλή Χρονια to Celia, In My Kitchen bloggers and lovely readers! I hope your 2015 is full of good health, happiness.....and loads of new kitchen discoveries and inspiration from all my fellow IMK bloggers.


In My Kitchen this January...

we are enjoying plenty of refreshing summer salads packed with one of my favourite summer greens - purslane. We have a little crop growing in our garden, but my parents in law have an abundance. My mother in law calls purslane andrakla (αντράκλα) - as it is called in her home island of Zakynthos and my father in law calls it by its Peloponnesian name - glystrida (γλυστρίδα). By either name, it is delicious and packed to the brim with potent antioxidants - a happy relief after I enjoyed perhaps a little too much wonderful Christmas feasting. Purslane is lemony tart, but sweet and crunchy all at the same time. It is hard to substitute and if you don't have any growing in your garden, but you might find some available at Farmer's markets.


29 December 2014

Summer dolmádes (ντολμάδες)



The grape vine is probably one of the most used plants in Greek home cooking. Nearly every part of the plant is used, except for the roots. In late Spring, the fresh stems and shoots are pickled in a spiced vinegar and used in salads or served on its own as as a meze (see this link to Kalofagas for a very moving blog post about how Peter's papou made pickled grape vine shoots).

28 December 2014

'Apricot, sour cherry & metaxa delights' & classic rum balls



As I mentioned in my last post, apricot delights and rum balls have long been a favourite holiday treat in our house, courtesy of my Nana. They are perfect to have on hand in the fridge over the festive season when friends or family drop in - but they are also pretty good at any time of the year, especially as a great way to finish off a meal as a part of a petit four or on a fresh seasonal fruit platter.


23 December 2014

Christmas Eve Sweet Treats




This little plate of goodies will be waiting for Santa this Christmas Eve at our house, along with a small bottle of homemade Irish cream liqueur. The White Christmas with plenty of toasty roasted hazelnuts will satisfy Santa's nostalgic leanings and almond shortbreads, kourambiethes will tick the box for traditional Greek Christmas treats.


24 November 2014

Moustalevria (μουσταλευριά) and a visit to Varsos

 

In Greek, the grape harvest is called trygos. During the trygos, from late August to November this traditional pudding, made from moustos (grape must) will be made at home or you can find individual portions in little plastic dishes in bakeries and supermarkets.

 

Moustos is the unfiltered and unfermented juice from freshly pressed grapes. It has many culinary uses in Greece from moustalevria to petimezi - grape molasses syrup, pies, bread and the very popular Moustokoulora, which are grape must cookies.

16 November 2014

Black-eyed pea salad (Φασόλια Μαυρομάτικα Σαλάτα)

 

 

 

Legumes have such a proud and prominent place on the Greek table. Mainly due to the rules of fasting in the Greek Orthodox faith - but their use goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. Heard of the saying, "to spill the beans"? The folk etymology of this saying, meaning to give away a secret, derives from the electing of a council member in ancient Greece. Each council member would vote with either a white bean (yes) or a brown bean (no), and these would secretly be put into a pottery jar, so that no one would know which way the members voted. However, if the jar was knocked over causing the beans to spill out, the proportion of yes and no votes would be seen. Perhaps voting with a black eye pea that is both white and brown was hedging a bet each way?

15 November 2014

Oven baked octopus with potatoes (Χταπόδι φούρνου με πατάτες)

 

 
Where once I would have always chosen sea bass, a red snapper or another whole fish, since marrying into a beautiful Greek family my everyday seafood has become kalamari, anchovies, sardines, whiting, mussels and for extra special days, octopus.

13 November 2014

Braised greens - vlita, purslane and zucchini in tomato (τσιγαριστά χόρτα)

 

I could barley contain my delight, when at the market this week, I found some vlita (βλήτα) (otherwise known as amaranth). It is my absolute favourite wild green, closely followed by glistrida (γλιστρίδα) (otherwise known as purslane). And guess what? There was some of this too at the market.

These two beautiful greens always take me straight to summers spent in Greece, where my lovely husband first introduced me to the delights of these greens. We would puchase them at the morning market and serve them for the evening meal, outdoors in the warm summer night air, on a table under a fresh green grapevine trellis. Simply boiled and served with local olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice, they made a feast with homemade ladotyri cheese, home cured olives with plenty of lemon and rigani, rustic bread from the local baker and glasses of chilled homemade rose wine.