Pea, Spearmint and feta soup

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Desk jockey lunch

This is a recipe that is easily adapted to suit your needs. I used dried marrowfat peas, the kind we northerners use to make mushy peas ( absolutely nothing like the cack Thomasina Miers foisted on unsuspecting Guardian readers recently). Marrowfat have a deep rich flavour and are great for making thick velvety soups. But you could use any kind of peas – fresh, frozen or even tinned. This is a vegetarian version but you could make it with some ham or, do what I did, add some strips of ham on day two, if you make a good big batch.

Finally, I passed mine through a sieve to make it super smooth and velvety but you could use a stick blender, whizz it in a multi-chopper or just leave it alone with some texture. Your call.

Note: Feta means Greek feta. The cheeses masquerading as feta or Greek style cheese are abominations. Dont use them. You could use yoghurt instead. Again, Greek strained yoghurt is great with this but I will concede that any yoghurt is ok here. Or buttermilk too.

200g of marrowfat peas soaked overnight (or peas of your choice)

1 onion chopped finely

1 vegetable stock pot or cube

500ml water

a handful of chopped spearmint

some crumbled feta

salt and pepper to taste

Put your peas in a pan with the onion, stock cube, and just enough water to cover well. Bring to the boil. Turn heat down to a gentle simmer and put a lid on half on, half off. Simmer gently until the peas are soft and breaking down. Do keep an eye on water levels while the peas are simmering as you dont want them to end up dry. Once the peas are well cooked and soft, season to taste and then blend or pass through a sieve. Serve in deep bowls sprinkled with chopped spearmint and crumbled feta. If the weather is very hot, serve the soup just warm, not hot. I would add the mint and feta to bowls of hot soup and then leave to stand for a good five minutes before serving.

Kali oreksee.

Stuffed Aubergines Alla Grecque

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These aren’t totally authentic Greek taverna because they are neither the Imam Bayildi veggie version exactly, nor the meat version – papoutsakia – with bechamel. Its sort of a cross between the two but not with bechamel. Not because I object to bechamel for its fats and cream, I love it for that reason, its just that this way is quicker, easier and really jolly tasty.

For anyone with out an oven you could do the halved aubergines in a skillet to get them going and finish off under a grill.

Note: I usually season this with a spice mix from corfu – spezia – which you could recreate by adding a pinch each of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and all spice. Or just some nutmeg. Or just salt and pepper. Your call.

 

2 large aubergines ends trimmed and then halved lengthways

1 small onion chopped

1 or 2 cloves of garlic minced

1 large beef tomato chopped

a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

preferred seasonings

EVOO

2 tbs Greek strained yoghurt

200g of mashed real Greek feta

a handful of grated grana padano or kefalo graviera

 

Score round the edge of your aubergine halves with a knife about 1/2 cm from the skin, all the way round and almost all the way through. Rub the halves generously with EVO oil and place on a greased baking tray. Bake in a pre- heated oven for about 1/2 an hour so that they are almost cooked through but not collapsed. Leave to cool down. Once cooled it should be easy to strip the flesh out of the shells from where you’ve scored the flesh. I just dig my fingers in the slit from the rounded bottom end and pull it out. chop the flesh roughly. Heat a good glug of EVOO in a heavy skillet and saute onions until transluscent. Add garlic, parsley, aubergine flesh and tomatoes and seasonings and saute until the aubergine and tomato is a thick sauce consistency. Refill the shells with this mix. Mix the mashed feta and yoghurt together and spread over the top of the stuffed aubergines with a spoon. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese and either bake or grill until golden.

Kali oriksee

 

Roast Tomato and Bulgar wheat Salad

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Spot where one is missing, as I had to pop into my mouth before I could take a pic. Yes, they’re that irresistible.

Right, so I’m back again. Still a bit under the weather and not fully recovered from the after effects of winter and not helped by the warm wet weather here in Greece, which is almost unheard of at this time of year. However, it is summer and all the lovely summer produce is piled high on farmers’ markets stalls. The Athens ‘Laiki’ street markets are absolutely wonderful treasure troves of produce. Greeks might be poor but the produce is unbeatable. Really fantastic and very inexpensive. So, though we can’t do much else, we can still eat well.

At the moment I’ve got a thing about all the baby plum tomatoes. You can get a huge punnet for 2.50 euros and although they’re great as is for salads, I’m obsessed with roasting them. It’s easy enough to do and you get such a lovely depth of flavour – rich and sweet – that really lifts anything you put them in.

To roast them I simply cut them in half and then toss them in a bowl with 2 tbs of EVOO and 1 tbs of balsamic. Then I spread them on a baking sheet cut side up and sprinkle with a little sea salt and bang in a hot oven until they start to caramelize. Don’t let them turn to charcoal, though. You want them to be just starting to go black underneath. So do keep an eye on them.

You can put them in any salad but this is a recipe for one I really like to take to work at the moment. I make it in the evening and bang it in the fridge overnight and that allows the sultanas to plump up. If you wanted to make this salad instantly then put the sultanas in a bowl with some water for half an hour or so.

NOTE: Petimezi is reduced grape must. If you can’t get it, substitute it with pomegranate molasses.

I put the bulgar in a pan. Add a load of boiling water from the kettle. Whack a lid on and leave for 45 mins to an hour.

 

Pligouri summer salad

1 cup of whole wheat bulgar wheat, soaked in hot water till chewy soft but not mushy and then drained in a sieve.

1 handful of sultanas

1 handful of pine kernels or sunflower seeds

1 large handful of well chopped flat leaf parsley

1 or 2 handfuls of roasted baby plum toms

a glug or 2 of EVOO

¼ tsp turmeric

a good pinch of smoked paprika

1 tbs of petimezi (or pomegranate molasses)

Juice of half a lemon

a bit of sea salt.

Add all ingredients in a bowl and turn over gently until all mixed together. Cover with cling film (or put in your work Tupperware) and leave overnight to ‘mature’.

Great filling work lunch on its own but you could always have it with a bit of chicken or ham or some smoked fish if you want extra protein.

Time Out

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These escapees didnt get very far.

I have to take a short break from the blog because Im snowed under with work. Please feel free in the meantime to post your own recipes in the comment section below and I’ll be back to posting once I’ve slain the work dragons. I shall pop in over the next few weeks but I wont have time to post recipes. And as I’ll be working all over Easter, I’d love to hear what you’ll all be making and eating.

And remember when I said I wouldnt bore anyone with my running escapades? I take it back. I had a lovely run in Kallithea on Sunday and got a lovely shiny new pb. YaY for me!

Will be back after Easter. So have a few tipples for me meanwhile.

Lemons in Greece

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A lemon tree growing on an Athens street. A nice picture of a sunny Greek morning for everyone.

I’m a bit busy to give a proper recipe today so I thought a little chat about lemons in Greek cuisine wouldn’t go amiss. They are used in a wide variety of ways and used in almost every kind of food.

The simplest thing is just having halves of lemon on the table to douse meat. Fish and seafood. Sometimes I look at the complex recipes and sauces that people make for meat and seafood and I can feel my Greek prole lip curling as I think ‘Pah! It would be better with just a bit of lemon squeezed over it’ Of course, that’s not always true or fair, but it remains that simple is often much better than faffy cheffy.

Greece is lucky in that it has an abundance of lemon trees everywhere and they are very cheap, in the winter at least. I also love Greek lemons because they are never waxed. Waxing lemons is bloody criminal.

The greatest sauce in Greek cuisine is avgolemono. Many people think it’s difficult to make but it’s actually very easy if you stick to the rules. The main rule is that this is a sauce that wants a gentle heat source. That’s all you really need to remember.

Avgolemono is used to thicken soups like youverlakia  (see previous recipes), chicken and fish soup, or as a sauce for dolmades or dishes like lamb frikase. You will find instructions for this marvel in the youverlakia recipe. Do try it. It’s easy and sumptuous.

Supper Snacks and Midnight Munchies

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Mushrooms prepared for a nice bruschetta.

I tend to eat my main meal of the day around 2 pm at work and by the time I’ve finished work, done one of my evening classes (pilates or salsa! woo!) and maybe picked up some shopping, I’m lucky to get in the door home before 8 pm. I really don’t want to be making anything major at that time, as I basically want to do the couch potato with a glass of wine thing while watching dumb TV. But neither do I want to go the fast food or crap packaged food route. So here are some ideas for quick but filling and healthy snacks. Don’t let anyone tell you that a bit of fat in your diet is unhealthy or that just because we need a wide variety of plants in our diet that we need to be bugs bunny surviving off a nibbled carrot and a few lettuce leaves. Get those veg inside you but enliven them with some nice dressings (eg. yoghurt with mint and coriander and some chopped green chillies for instance) and a bit of protein, such as a bit of cheese or some fish or chicken. Anyways these are just ideas for things to eat that will give some satisfaction but are in no way bad. You can adapt to taste or what you have at home.

 

Bruscheta

NB: By bruschetta we mean a slice of wholemeal or wholemeal sourdough bread grilled or toasted and drizzled with a little EVOO and then topped with a nice Italian topping.

Toppings for Bruschetta

  • sliced mushrooms, preferably a mix of varieties, sautéed with minced onions and garlic with lots of chopped flat leaf parsley. Can also add a dash of white wine and a little cream if desired.
  • sliced mozzarella topped with thinly sliced fresh tomato and torn basil
  • 1 slice of proscuitto or salami, chopped sundried toms and shavings of parmesan and basil

Arabic pitta

NB: These are just a few ideas of what you can stuff into a nice warmed Arabic pitta pocket. Make up your own with the emphasis on some fat and protein and a wide variety of veg and salad

 

Fillings for Arabic pitta

  • humous and a ton of salad such as finely shredded cabbage, lettuce and carrot with a chilli dressing and loads of parsley, mint and coriander
  • falafel, salad and yoghurt dressing
  • tabbouleh, olives and feta
  • onion bhajis or other pakora with salad and yoghurt dressing with mint and coriander
  • greek salad with feta and olives
  • some shredded chicken with salad, some salsa and some yoghurt
  • piperade* and some torn green salad leaves

Baked potatoes

NB: 1 medium sized potato. They don’t count towards your 10 a day. They count as carbs.

Toppings for Baked potato

  • mix lots of fresh herbs into some yoghurt, mash into the potato and top with some cheese. No more than 20 g
  • Mix tuna, sweetcorn, lots of chopped flat leaf parsley and a little finely chopped onion with 1 tbs of mayo.
  • scoop out most of the insides of potato leaving some round the top of the shell so it holds its shape. Mix the potato with some bacon bits, grated cheese, finely chopped red and green pepper, a little parsley and seasoning. Scoop back into the half shells and bake for another 10 mins or so in a hot oven till golden on top
  • have with herb butter and sour cream or greek yoghurt and a side salad
  • top with the mushrooms for bruschetta topping and a side of green leaves.
  • mash together feta, finely chopped onions, finely chopped peppers, and some chilli flakes with a little oil and use to top potatoes or spread on bruschetta

Some Random ideas

Make a small home made pizza with the emphasis on the veg side of the toppings.

Spread a Greek souvlaki pitta with a little tom paste that has been mixed with a little water, some fresh minced garlic or garlic powder, salt and pepper and a drop or two of evo oil.

top with a variety of very finely sliced veg such as onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes and then top with no more than 20 g of cheese (about two handfuls of grated) and a little oregano. Bake in a preheated oven on a preheated, lightly greased baking sheet for about 15 – 20 mins. Have with a salad of green leaves.

 

A quick kinda Korean Ramen

Make a commercial package of instant noodles but don’t make them too sloppy. Add a salad of shredded cabbage and carrot that’s been tossed in soya sauce, some pickles of your liking and top with a fried egg

 

Guacamole

Make some home made guacamole and either have on a bruschetta or serve with a small bowl of taco chips and lots of veg sticks such as carrot and celery.

Baked feta

Take one small slice of feta (50 g) and place in the middle of a square of foil twice the size of the cheese slice. Top with some finely sliced onion, peppers and toms, a sprinkling of chilli flakes and oregano. Drizzle with EVO oil and twist the ends of the foil together at both ends to make a parcel that is open at the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in a hot oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Have with crusty bread and a green salad.

 

*Piperade

Piperade is posh French scrambled eggs (see: Keith Floyd and the miserable French housewife for the funniest foodie chef clip ever). Nice as a breakfast but good at any time.

1/2 a small onion finely sliced

1/2 a green bell pepper finely sliced

½ a red pepper finely sliced

a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

1 clove of garlic minced

2 eggs beaten with a tbs of cold water

salt and pepper

a knob of butter and a tiny drizzle of olive oil (the olive oil stops the butter burning)

 

Over a medium heat melt the oil and butter and add the onions and garlic. Saute gently til the onions are pale and see through. Add the peppers and continue to saute until they just start to become a bit flexible and have lost their crispness but not totally. Add the eggs and stir into the veg for a minute until the eggs are scrambled and almost set (don’t overdo it). Turn off heat. Add some salt and pepper and the parsley and stuff a warm pitta with the mixture.

 

The Greeks do a version of piperade that’s called strapatsada. But it’s a bit sloppier, though no less tasty. I like it in a bowl with some toast to scoop it up.

Strapatsada

fry half a finely sliced onion in a little evo oil. Then add some sliced pale green peppers and saute til starting to soften. Add a finely chopped tomato and cook into a sauce consistency, then add a few cubes of yellow cheese such as cheddar or kasseri. Once the cheese starts to melt add two beaten eggs. Stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to cook the egg and pour into a bowl and season to taste.

 

Go to BBC food and have a look at their supper dishes and salads sections to get some ideas. You want to look at stuff that’s full of veg, so it might be an idea to look at veggie stuff. It’s often more inventive than meat eaters stuff. Just to get ideas!

Eat more fruit instead of having a second helping of evening snack.

Marinate carrot and cucumber sticks in lemon juice to have as a nibble with wine

Olives count to your ten a day, so do nuts. Nibble them.

Pera – For Athens street food

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My kinda fast food. Yum!

As a result of the crisis, many of the old style tavernas and mezedhopoleios closed down in Athens as families tightened economic belts. Eating out became a luxury, something for special occasions and, more and more, the preserve of the middle classes. Once it was something that almost everyone but the very poorest did on a fairly regular basis.

But as the tavern culture began to wither, the street food culture began to flourish. While many businesses have found it difficult to survive the collapse of the economy, most souvlaki shops have done relatively well. Souvlaki is the great home grown street food culture, strongly related to Turkish and middle eastern street food traditions but with its own Greek twist of lemon. Everyone in Greece loves souvlaki. It’s a part of the culture of this land. MY favourite souvlaki in Greece, though, is in Corfu, not Athens. There they have a sort of meat and tomato gravy they put over their souvlaki that really reminds me of Northern chips and gravy.

Here in Athens, the crisis has brought out, apart from the souvlaki shops, a proliferation of burger joints, falafel bars and other ‘hipster on the hoof’ eateries. The area between Syntagma square and the Old Vouli are full of them. But many of these trendy food shops are pretty typical of the ‘New Kolonaki’ feel of this slowly gentrifying area, ie: not much substance and rather expensive. So they’re mostly not for me.

I do occasionally grab a falafel from the very popular shop on Aiolou Street. They’re cheap and tasty. I’m sure the residents of Tel Aviv, or other parts of the Middle East, would scoff disdainfully, but I know no better and find them edible and affordable, at around 3 euros for a big pitta filled with felafel, salad and yoghurt sauce.

But my favourite street food is two doors away from the felafel shop. It’s called Pera. And its speciality is the Turkish pizza – laxmatzoun. This is a thin bread base topped with a spicy beef mince sauce. It’s then spread with salad, herbs, yoghurt sauce, as much cayenne as you like, and rolled up into a package. The best way to have it is with a cup of Pera’s home made ariani/aryan, – a middle eastern, chilled, salted, yoghurt drink that is delicious and perfectly compliments the hot spicy laxmatzoun. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best fast food in central Athens. I grab one when I’m heading for the shopping streets in the centre or before hitting bars on a night out. It’s big, filling, cheap and absolutely delicious.

Pera is on Aiolou street, not far from Kotzias Square, as you walk down towards Ermou street. If you’re an Athenian and you haven’t tried it – You must. If you’re a visitor – Seek it out. It’s very easy to find as its close both to Omonia and Monastiraki stations.

Thank me later.