Kapetanios – Fish Taverna

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I have eaten in many fish tavernas in Pireaus. Nearly all of them had beautiful sea views. Some of them had very good food. Most of them were ridiculously expensive.

The only thing ridiculous about Kapetanios, 4 Tenedou Street, Pireaus, is just how good the food is. Fresh fish and seafood cooked simply but beautifully. It is, without doubt, my favourite restaurant in Athens.

You would never ever find it by accident. It’s not by the sea front, but on a side street off a busy main road in the old industrial quarter of Pireaus. But it is extremely popular with locals in the know and famous for its fish soup, which many of the local elderly swear by for longevity.

I would never ever have found it if it hadn’t been for a friend who lives across the road taking me there. Thank goodness she did. I always have some gavros marinatos for a starter. These are little sprats marinated in vinegar and garlic. Very delicious and really whet an appetite. We always have the karavides (see picture) when available and a whole fish done on a charcoal grill. They do great salads, good proper thick chips and lovely dips like tzatziki and tyrokafteri (spicy cheese dip). All the seafood is simply cooked over a charcoal grill or fried and served with the simplest of oil and lemon dressing (ladolemono). But it’s so fresh and beautifully cooked that I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can keep your fancy recipes. This is the best there is.

Now, it’s not cheap by Greek standards, but neither is it, by any stretch, exorbitant, especially given the quality. By British standards, it’s very very reasonable indeed. So, if you happen to be in Athens, I highly recommend Kapetanios. It’s open for Lunch only on Sundays. Service starts at 7pm.

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Christmas Meat Loaf

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This being the time of year when cooks are called upon to veritably feed the five thousand at the drop of a hat, it can be useful to have one or two easy things to make that will do the job. I made this meat loaf last Saturday for a party, which is why it’s such a whopper. But the ingredients can easily be halved and you’ll still have a nice big family meatloaf with a bit of a seasonal festive flavor. It can be served hot or cold, in slices or cubed and pinned with a tooth pick for a party snack. In short, it’s pretty versatile. It also freezes well if there are any left overs. I used mandarin juice to soak the cranberries and it worked just great but half a wine glass of marsala or brandy would make a good alternative too. The picture shows how much rosemary I used. I wouldn’t go too mad with it as its one of those things that can take over completely.

 

750g pork mince

750g beef mince

250g wholemeal sourdough bread crumbs

220g halloumi cheese grated (one block)

2 onions chopped finely

100g of dried cranberries soaked overnight in the juice of 4 mandarins then blitzed with a blender along with the juice

3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped

½ tsp dried sage

2 eggs

salt and pepper

A little evo oil

 

Take the meat out of the fridge about an hour before you want to assemble the meatloaf so you don’t freeze your hands doing the mixing. Grease a large pyrex dish. Put all the ingredients apart from the evo oil in a large bowl, don’t add too much salt (2 teaspoons about…) because the halloumi is salty too. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together with your hands until they are amalgamated and smoothly distributed. Take a small amount, roll into a small patty, and fry off. Taste to test for salt. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Leave the mixture to stand while the oven pre-heats to medium hot. Press the mixture into the greased pyrex dish. It should be no more than 4 inches high at the most. Smooth the top well and then pour a little evo oil into your hands and smooth over the top of the loaf. Cover the dish with foil and bake for an hour on the middle shelf. Remove the foil and bake for a further half hour until the top is golden. If the underside looks too brown lower the oven temp for the last half hour.

 

The Greek ‘Catastrophe’

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A list of things needed to be donated for volunteers working with refugees from the Steki Ton Metanaston at Tsamadou 13, Exarcheia, Athens during this summer.

Greece has had to face a number of disasters since becoming a modern state. There have been numerous defaults on debt, the first being the result of bankruptcy due to loans procured from British banks to fund the war of independence. There has been poverty, earthquakes, wars and occupations. But the one disaster which is still, to this day, referred to as ‘The Catastrophe’ was the great refugee crisis of 1922.

The historical reasons for the refugee crisis are long and complex and linked to the intricate relationships of the people of Asia Minor and Greece. A history that goes back to ancient times, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire too. But, in short, the then PM of Greece, Eleftherios Venizelos, ordered the Greek army to invade Smyrni, a rich, merchant city with a large Greek population, in order to annexe it and introduce it into the Greek nation as part of his ‘Big Idea’ on Greek national expansionism. Ataturk was not amused, and the upshot was that nearly 2 million ‘Greeks’ were forced out of the new Turkish state and half a million muslims were expelled from Greece in a devastating population exchange.

Most of the refugees from Asia Minor came either to Athens or Thessaloniki. They were housed in special areas reserved for them, such as Kaisariani and Nea Smyrni in Athens, where you can still see some examples of the hastily built prosfygika homes. Their sudden and unexpected arrival in Greece was a shock to both the uprooted refugees and the inhabitants of Athens, who found themselves confronted with a large population of people with a different culture and traditions, and very often, a different language, and needing to be fed, housed and assimilated immediately into a country that was desperately poor.

The refugees may have been of the same religion as the mainland Greeks, but they had little else in common. The refugees brought different music and different foods to Greece, and, at first, this new culture was met with some hostility. The refugees remained a close knit community and it took a long time for them to be fully assimilated.

However, they were assimilated and the culture and traditions they brought with them are something all Greeks are proud of. The famous Rebetika music – the blues of Greece, and the delicious dishes from Asia Minor, such as soutzoukakia that everyone in Greece makes whatever their background.

It is because of such massive upheavals, with all the pain and heartache that come with them, that the people of Greece have a lot of sympathy for the refugees fleeing war and terror in Syria and why, despite their own economic hardship, Greeks have done everything they can for the refugees with little help from the Government, the EU or any aid organisations.

Most Greeks have behaved with great compassion towards their fellow humans, the refugees of war. The same cannot be said of the institutions that run the EU.

 

 

Festive Soup

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So, I needed to use up some fresh mushrooms and stilton and decided to do a soup. This is rich, creamy and packs a lot of flavor. I think it would make a great Christmas starter. You could go all twee and serve it in nice tea cups too.

I don’t like my soups to be totally smooth but if you prefer the velvet smooth approach don’t remove a ladleful of the soup as I suggest. I do this as I like a little texture. And don’t overdo the stilton either or it dominates too much. 1 tbs was just right to get a bit of punch but not be overpowering.

This will serve 4 as a starter or two as a main meal with some buttered sourdough toast.

 

200g of fresh mushrooms chopped

1 tbs of dried porcini, broken up small and soaked in a little hot water for 1 hour

½ small onion very finely chopped

1 medium sized potato diced small

½ litre of veg stock

1 glass of white wine

100ml of single cream

1 tbs of stilton

a dash or two of Worcestershire source (Thanks to FattMatt)

a knob of butter and a dash of EVO oil

a little seasoning (don’t over-salt this!)

 

Gently fry the onion in the butter and EVO oil in a good sized saucepan on a low heat for five mins or so until the onion softens and is transluscent. Add chopped fresh mushrooms and turn up the heat a little to fry them off until they start to turn a little golden. Add the dried mushrooms with their liquid, the potatoes, wine, stock and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a simmer. Turn heat down, put on a lid and simmer gently for about half an hour. Add the stilton and cream and stir until amalgamated. Check seasoning and adjust to taste. Remove one ladleful or so of soup and set aside. Blend the soup until smooth with a stick blender (or whatever) and then re-add the reserved soup.

Serve in pretty tea cups and garnish with a little fresh chopped flat leaf parsley. Too cute!

Desk Food

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A lot of people at work live off sandwiches or fast food. I simply can’t. It’s too depressing and I need decent food. I’m lucky that we have a small kitchen at work with a fridge and a microwave and I also keep a variety of condiments on a corner of my desk. So, my desk meals tend to be things like pasta bakes or soups I can ping in the microwave or salads. I like to be healthy, so I want a good variety of veg in my diet but I don’t want to go hungry, it’s too miserable. So my salads don’t tend to be frugal affairs but something that has some protein and some carbs in it. A lot of my salads are either with cheese or some kind of fish (smoked or marinated) as I tend to reserve my meat eating for the weekend (it’s good for the planet and I think meat should be a treat, not for daily consumption).

Today’s salad is nice and zingy. It definitely cheered me up on a dull, winter’s day. I’ve used stuff that I either had at work or could find easily in the local green grocers. I used lemon as Greece is chocka with them, but limes would be very nice here too. Ginger is now very easy to find here in Greece. Horseradish (apart from some nasty sweet German creamed stuff) is hard to find, but, if it’s readily available wherever you are, then horseradish would work too. I would have added a couple of chillies, if I was at home. But they’re not available in the shop next to my office. Avocado would work nice in this too. And a little soya sauce wouldn’t go amiss in the marinade

As a final thought, you could marinate the fish at home overnight and just assemble the rest at work. I marinated enough fish to make salad on 2 days. So the recipe is for two or two days of salad.

 

Marinated smoked salmon salad

150 – 200g Smoked Salmon chopped into bite sized pieces

juice of 1 lemon

a thumb sized piece of ginger peeled and grated

½ a bulb of fennel finely sliced

1 bunch of rocket ends removed and torn up a bit

2 baby cucumbers or 1 full sized cucumber peeled, halved lengthways and cut into fine strips lengthways

some slices of steamed baby potatoes

EVO oil

a little salt

 

Place the salmon in a Tupperware or food box. Mix the ginger, fennel and lemon juice and pour over the salmon. Close the box and leave in the fridge overnight. Put the torn rocket in a salad bowl. Sprinkle potato slices over the rocket and add the cucumber. Sprinkle with a little salt. Add the marinated salmon with the marinade. Drizzle over a little EVO oil.

5 mins prep at work and you have lunch!

 

 

Homeless Crisis in Greece

Very poor grainy photos of homeless people sleeping rough in Central Athens very close to Syntagma sq (sorry)

 

Before the Greek crisis kicked off in 2009 – 10 homelessness was virtually unheard of in Greece. I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone sleeping rough in the city. If there were any rough sleepers, it can’t have been more than a handful and it must have been mainly people who were only temporarily homeless. Even though, even then, Greece had little in the way of a welfare system, family cohesion in Greece is very strong and families supported members in difficulties whenever they could. The situation is very different now. Not least because with the highest poverty rates in Europe, families simply do not have the financial ability to support members with no income. It’s worth remembering that some working class areas of Athens have up to 90% unemployment.

There are now about 20 thousand homeless people in central Athens. Most of them are young – in the 24 – 45 age group. Given that the unemployment rate among youth, at five years into the crisis, is still running at 50%, it’s not surprising that this is the age group that have been hardest hit. A very large number of the young homeless have turned to drugs and many are in poor condition due to infections and malnutrition. But it is not only the young who are now living on the streets. There’s a surprising number of elderly people, many of them women. They are people who either have no pension at all or it has been cut so drastically as to be below subsistence level.

The main cause of homelessness isn’t so much the high levels of unemployment as the utterly non-existent levels of welfare. Anyone unemployed for longer than 2 years receives no state aid whatsoever. Not a penny in income. There are also many people who do not receive a pension. Considering that there are now hundreds of thousands of Greeks on no income due to the lack of unemployment benefit, it’s pretty amazing that the levels of homelessness are not much higher than they are.

So how do the homeless and long-term unemployed survive when they receive no income or benefit from the state? Although there is little in the way of social work services in Greece and few outreach workers, there are some charities trying to help. The church does provide food and there are soup kitchens and some very basic services offered to homeless people. Athens also has a magazine, similar to the Big Issue, called Sxedia, that is only sold by homeless people. However, most homeless people survive by begging.

The EU/ EZ which rules Greece (it is not a sovereign nation) have simply flat out ignored the massive humanitarian crisis in Greece in exactly the same way that they ignored the refugee crisis. A generation of young Greeks have had their whole lives blighted by unemployment, homelessness, drug addiction and the callousness of the political elites in Greece and the EU. The best and brightest of Greek youth have had to leave. Those that remain must rely on family, work for slave wages or succumb to poverty and hopelessness on the streets of a country that has been in the EU since 1981 and yet is still the most unequal country in Europe.

A Winter Warmer

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When it comes to warming, comforting and yet virtuous food, little beats soup. I often make soup and for a number of different reasons. It’s cheap. I can use up lots of odds and ends. It makes a great work lunch and is one of the few things not murdered by being nuked in a microwave at work.

And, best of all, you can mess around endlessly with a good hearty winter soup. I’ve used a soup mix here with a variety of pulses but white beans work just as well. I’ve also used a half head of savoy cabbage in this soup because that’s what was left over from making bubble and squeak. Any good green leaf will do – chard, kale or even nettles. I also put chillies in this as I have a chilli plant and I’m addicted to them. Not everyone shares my obsession though.

TIPS: Someone recently told me that if you bring whatever pulses you are using to a boil, drain them, add cold water, bring to the boil again and cook as normal that it helps with some of their unfortunate effects. Having tested the advice, I found it does help and reduces the brass section quite noticeably.

Cook your pulses til tender before adding other ingredients. How long they take depends on the age of the pulses.

Check your seasoning at the end of the cooking process and be careful not to over-salt. It’s flat out nonsense that you can correct over-salting by adding a potato. It will not soak up excess salt. The only cure for over-salting is adding more ingredients and liquid til the whole is rebalanced. The potato thing is a myth. I have no idea why it’s so oft repeated other than there’s a hell of a lot of woo associated with food and the cooking process. Much of it propagated by chefs who want to big up who they are. Drives me potty.

ACCOMPANIMENTS: Having gone very much native here in Greece, I put lemon on anything I can. Lemon and freshly milled black pepper goes great in this soup. Serve with some crusty sourdough and some proper feta on the side.

 

175g mixed pulses or white beans soaked overnight in 1 1/2 litres of water

1 onion chopped

½ head Savoy cabbage shredded

2 tomatoes pulped

1 good sized potato diced

2 cloves of garlic minced

handful of chopped flat leaf parsley (optional – I just had some, celery a good alternative)

1tsp of chopped red chilli

1 wobbly veg stock cube

a little EVO oil

salt and pepper

 

Bring the pulses to a rapid boil in a large pan, drain, add another 1 1/2 litres of water to the pan and bring to the boil again. Give the pulses a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then partially cover, lower the heat and simmer until tender – at least an hour. Once the beans are tender add all the other ingredients and simmer with a lid for an hour or two. Long and slow is best. Add more water if you think it needs it. At the end, check seasoning and add a little EVO oil.