Spaghetti with Tuna and Med Veg

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The Desktop version

 

This is a dish I make a lot in the summer as its really tasty and very easy to do. If you’re going to make it to take to work, as I did, then it’s a good idea to do the spaghetti (or linguine, if you like) quite al dente, so that it can stand up to a nuking blast of microwave to heat up. As per usual, this is a recipe where you can leave out or add things as you see fit but one point I would like to make to all those in Britain or any non med countries – is olives. Don’t buy those vile plastic things sold in British Supermarkets. Even the ones that M&S sell are revolting and nothing like a real olive. I have found that the only place I can find a half way decent olive in Britain is if I go into a Turkish Cypriot shop. There’s a nice one in Catford I pop into whenever I hit Saf London. Turkish Cypriot shops tend to be the best places for olives, feta, olive oil and other Greek/Turkish delicacies. If you see the olives floating about in a tin looking like they’re covered in scum, get them. There’s nothing wrong with them. When you get them home, rinse them under the tap and put them in a clean jar. Cover with olive oil and leave in a cool dry place – not the fridge. Under the sink will do. I like the green tsakistes olives and then I add garlic, oregano, chillies and lemon peel to the oil in the jar too. Just say no to horrid horrid supermarket plastic olives!

For two

220g of MCS approved tuna, drained and flaked

2 or 3 fillets of anchovy, chopped

1 onion chopped

1 small red pepper chopped

1 small green pepper, chopped

a couple of red chillies chopped or a couple of good pinches of chilli flakes

a big handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

2 teaspoons of capers rinsed and chopped in half

a good handful of good olives pitted and chopped in half (see above)

a splash of white wine (optional)

EVO oil

salt and pepper

250g of spaghetti or linguine

a couple of handfuls of grated parmesan or grana Padano

 

Put a well salted big pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti. Cook the spaghetti til al dente and then drain, return to the pan and drizzle a little evo oil over it and fork it through.

Meanwhile heat a good couple of generous glugs of EVO oil in a heavy bottomed skillet over a medium heat. Fry the onions with the chilli quite gently til the onions are transluscent. Add the peppers and cook til they begin to soften. Add the parsley, olives and capers and a splash of white wine. Simmer off the wine and add the tuna and anchovies and a little seasoning to taste. Don’t over season, as the anchovies, capers and olives are all salty. Add the fish and veg to the spaghetti pan and mix together well. Divide into bowls and top with grated cheese.

 

You Can’t Dump This On Greece

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Dora has turned her back on the EU.

The EU has long been a target of both my ire and enmity. For the way it handled the Greek crisis, for it’s lack of transparency and the secrecy of TTIP negotiations, for its democratic deficit and now, for its handling of the refugee crisis.

I have been ranting about the refugee crisis for around five years. First on the Guardian Business Blog and, lately, on here. For the first few years I jumped up and down on GBB threads shouting, ‘Hello? Anybody there? Massive humanitarian crisis that everyone appears to be studiously ignoring!’ And the EU was most assiduously avoiding it in every way possible while it went about the business of destroying every aspect of the Greek economy.

The truth is, though, that under ND and Samaras (Merkel’s favourite Greek PM), they had little to worry about when it came to the refugee crisis as ND regularly rounded up all immigrants, or, rather anyone who looked like an immigrant (Yeah, so a few tourists got caught too… do crypto fascists care?) and held them in detention centres. Detention centres is a euphemism, of course. The prisoners were kept in metal shipping containers, 20 at a time with no toilet, no air con or heating, and no running water. The conditions were utterly inhuman. But the EU was happy to ignore the situation as it meant not having to deal with either refugees or migrants coming from Greece.

Syriza let them out of the detention centres as the conditions were inhuman. They did nothing to stop migrants and refugees leaving Greece because they were receiving no EU help whatsoever and Greece has neither the funds nor the infrastructure to deal with a massive migrant/refugee problem that it had no hand whatsoever in the making of.

Then Merkel claimed Germany would take the refugees. Then she tried to bully small, deeply nationalist and extremely right wing nations to take some too. Then she tried again to blame Greece for the situation claiming that the most crisis riddled EU country should have single handedly put a stop to the worst refugee crisis in 70 years.

Now the ultra nationalist Balkan states and Austria are trying to turn Greece into a massive refugee camp. A dumping ground for a problem the EU neither has the intelligence nor the will to deal with. The Greek people have endured a lot in the past 7 years and have behaved with great humanity towards the desperate people landing on their shores. But resources in Greece are limited and making the Greek nation bear the burden of the refugee crisis alone and by force will have dire consequences.

This crisis is not Greece’s problem. It’s Europe’s problem. Fucking do something you utter bunch of twats!

Cast Iron Casserole Pot Roast

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This is my new baby. Its a cast iron casserole, in Greek a gastra, or as folk Stateside call it, a Dutch Oven (stop sniggering at the back all you urban dictionary fans!). They are usually quite expensive but I just happened to see this in lidl for the bargain basement price of 30 euros, so I snapped it up. It weighs a ton but it turned the meat in the recipe below deliciously tender. I’m a massive fan of cast iron. I have cast iron frying pans and the difference it makes to getting meat right is massive. The thing with cast iron is that it distributes heat evenly and it retains it. This means that once you get the metal hot, you don’t need a high heat source. I’ve wanted one of these casserole pots for ages but hadn’t seen one at an affordable price. Any Greeks reading this, if you see one – get it. It’s a brilliant buy.

The recipe below is for a pretty classic beef in ale. It’s for shin of beef which is called osso bucco in Greek (οσομπουκο). There are millions of recipes for this dish on the web and all of them are pretty good. This is just how I made mine and it worked very well indeed. As ever, all recipes can be messed with and adapted to suit the cook’s own preferences. I served this to my Sunday guests with creamy buttery mash, steamed broccoli, sauteed portobello mushrooms and a shredded cabbage and carrot salad. A friend brought pineapple upside down cake for pudding and it was a lovely Sunday dinner on my sunny Athens balcony.

2 k of beef shin sliced into about 5 or 6 slices

1 onion chopped

a couple of cloves of garlic bashed and peeled

a 1/2 litre tin of ale (boddingtons from AB)

1 beef stock cube dissolved in a mugful of boiling water

2 bay leaves

A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme

A plate of flour with a little salt for dredging

a little EVO oil

salt and pepper

Heat the oven to a medium high heat. In a heavy bottomed skillet fry the onion for a few minutes in a little oil and add to your casserole pot. Dredge each of the shanks in flour, shake off the excess and fry in a little oil to brown on both sides. Put each browned shank in the pot when done. When the last shank is done pour a little of the stock into the skillet to deglaze the pan. Add the stock and pan bits to the casserole pot too. Strip the rosemary and thyme leaves from the sprigs and add to the pot with the bay leaves, garlic, beer, remaining stock and a little salt and pepper (not too much).

Put the casserole quite low down in the oven but not on the oven bottom. It must be on a grill surface. Turn the oven up to high for 10 minutes, then turn down to a low setting, 120 -140 degrees. Leave for 3 hrs. I checked after 3 hours and the meat was just beginning to fall off the bone. I gave it another 1/2 an hour then I turned the oven off and let it sit, without lifting the lid, for a further 1/2 an hour.

It came out aromatic, juicy and tender, with a lovely thick gravy

Spicy Sweet Potato Fritters

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Yesterday, I was drooling over the latest in Felicity Cloakes’ marvelous ‘Perfect …’ series in the guardian and wondered if I could do something similar with sweet potato and decided to experiment a bit. I used some of Fel’s recipe and made up other bits myself based on what I had in my cupboard. The only thing I wished I’d had, but didn’t, was some fresh coriander. Despite now having some very good Asian supermarkets in my Central Athens neck of the woods, which always stock green chillies and ginger, fresh coriander can be difficult to find.

About the recipe: As I said, I used mainly what I had available. The only thing I bought were the sweet potatoes themselves, as I had everything else at home. I steamed the sweet potato. This meant they were still a bit ‘wet’, despite leaving them to cool down completely before making the patties. I also found that just 2 tbs of semolina wasn’t going to be enough to bind them and added some gram flour too. Perhaps if the potatoes are baked with the skins on, the flesh will be drier and firmer. The steamed potato works just fine though.

I served the fritters with some thick strained Greek yoghurt and some Patak’s hot mixed pickle. I think the sweet spicy fritter works well with the creamy but tangy yoghurt and the nice sour pickle. The two friends I tested on appeared to agree too.

For the fritters

500g of sweet potato, peeled, chopped into chunks, steamed til tender and mashed once cool.

2 tbs of semolina

2 tbs gram flour

1 red onion chopped finely

2 cloves of garlic minced

1 (3 inch – 7.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1 tsp of red chilli flakes

1 ½ tsp of Sharwood’s medium hot curry powder*

a couple of good pinches of coarse sea salt

2 tbs of oil or 1 tbs of butter

 

For frying

a shallow bowl with gram flour for coating

a frying pan with a 1 1/2cm of oil** for shallow frying

 

Fry the onion in a little oil or butter on a medium heat in a heavy bottomed skillet until golden, then add the chilli, ginger and garlic and fry for a further minute. Add the curry powder and fry for 1 minute more. Add the mashed sweet potato and the salt and mix all the ingredients until everything is well amalgamated. Turn off the heat. Mix in the semolina and gram flour. Leave the mixture to cool

To assemble the fritters use a spoon to drop a spoonful of the mixture into the bowl of gram flour. Lightly roll the mix in the flour using your fingers until it is well coated and then form a patty by lightly slapping the patty from one hand to the other. It won’t be a very firm mix so you need to be light handed. Drop the patty into a frying pan with 1 ½ cm of oil that is just about smoking hot. Don’t put too many patties into the frying pan at once as you need room to be able to gently manoeuvre the patties around and to turn them over without breaking them up. If you are gentle, there’s no problem. The fritters need only a minute or two on each side to be done. Watch them, as they burn easily. Once done, drain on kitchen paper.

*Athenians can get this at the Thanopoulos supermarket just by Kifissia station

** I used EVO oil. It works just fine. It’s what I have in my kitchen. You can use whatever you like.

 

 

Olive Oil

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A variety of different olive oils in a Greek supermarket

 

Apparently, according to this recent article in the Guardian, European olive oil is very scarce this year because the Italian and Spanish crops have been blighted in the past two years. So, the article in question recommends olive oil from places as far away as South Africa and Australia instead. No mention whatsoever is made of Greek Extra Virgin Olive oils, despite the fact that they are world class and, on the whole, a hell of a lot cheaper than the ones imported from South Africa.

In the main, I do blame Greek producers for not doing more to promote their products, often preferring to sell the olives straight to producers in Italy, who then use them to make Italian oil that they sell at premium prices. That only a few olive oil producers in Greece seem to have been on the ball since the beginning of the crisis really brings me to the verge of despair.

It doesn’t help that much of the non-olive producing countries labour under a number of delusions with regard to olive oil and its uses. On the comment thread of the article I linked to people told me that Greek oil wasn’t the best quality and that good oil is going to be very expensive. Some of the best oil in the world is from the koroneiki variety native to the area around Kalamata. But even many oil connoisseurs seem unaware of this fact. And you can get excellent top quality commercial EVO oil in Greece for around the 10 euro mark which is a heck of a lot less than some of the prices I’ve seen for many of the oils marketed as premium oils.

The other thing I must have a bit of a rant about while on the subject of olive oil is the idea that you should never cook with extra virgin olive oil but use either cheaper olive oils or an oil with a higher burn point, such as groundnut oil or (god forbid) even vegetable oil. I don’t get it, guys. Why would anyone ruin their food using oil that doesn’t positively taste nice? The oil should be an ingredient in the food, not simply a cooking medium. And you shouldn’t be using such a high heat on any oil that it starts burning. EVO oil is a perfect ingredient and medium.

I think one of the problems is that people of Northern European roots tend to think that EVO oil, or olive oil in general, should be measured in spoonfuls, whereas in Greece, it is measured in glasses. Yes, Greeks use a lot of oil… because it is delicious in the food. Nothing beats wiping a plate of the last lick of EVO oil and sauce with a piece of fresh bread. Or dipping bread into a veritable sea of it in a good Greek Village salad. The only EVO oil I wouldn’t cook with is agourelaio, which is the very first fresh press of oil and its too delicious to use as anything but a dressing. But I would never cook in anything less than EVO oil. I would have to be very broke before I went any lower in quality. And I use it for everything: roast potatoes, chips, soups, stews and sauces. Top tip! Gently heat a good heavy bottomed skillet with a nice layer of EVO oil on the bottom. Break in a couple of eggs and put a lid on the pan. Keep the heat low and cook the eggs until the whites have just set. Turn out onto a plate and pour over a generous dousing of oil from the pan. Season with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice with some good feta (Ipeiros) and fresh crusty bread on the side. Use the bread to ensure no oil, lemon or yolk remain on the plate. Now that is a fantastic breakfast.

So, I recommend that you try to use EVO oil in a manner that befits it from now on. Only use good oil in your cooking and however much you used in the past – double it or more. For the best Greek olive oil get the koroneiki variety from Kalamata. Failing that, Cretan oil is the next best thing and Kythira, which is sandwiched between the Peloponese and Crete, also has excellent oil. There’s no need to pay an arm and a leg for stuff shipped in from Oz!

 

Eleonas – Sunday Romany Bazaar

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A vintage Daher tin I got for 2 euros at the bazaar on Sunday

After giving my middle aged legs a beating up with a 7 mile training run on Sunday (*smug face*), I went with a friend to be introduced to the ‘joys’ of the Romany Sunday Bazaar in Eleonas. For those of you who don’t know this area of Athens and what the bazaar is like, I think the best way I can give a one sentence overview is to describe it as a bit like being in a Kustarica film.

First off, the general area is a very desolate, old industrial estate full of crumbling warehouses that you wouldn’t believe were still operating but apparently are. The patch of land used for the bazaar is part scrubland and dirt tracks, and part dilapidated industrial estate.

The goods for sale are spread out on the ground on top of thick plastic sheeting but that doesn’t keep the dust off things. There are so many people milling around buying or selling wares, with cars, trucks, mopeds and other assorted disintegrating vehicles trundling by with horns and skiladika* blaring that clouds of dust simply hang in the air everywhere. You either bring a surgical mask or accept that you’ll be choked.

Spread on the thick plastic sheeting is pretty much anything you can possibly imagine. So here’s a list of some of the things you can find: Broken toys, old clothes, broken computers, radios, TVs, china, glassware, cosmetics, potatoes, packets of pasta, CDs, records, books, assorted bric a brac, tools, musical instruments, pots, pans, paintings. Basically anything and everything, including the kitchen sink and bits of rotten string. There are also stalls selling refreshments with some of the ropiest looking souvlaki I’ve ever seen. The food looked horrific and I’m not Miss Squeamish by any stretch of the imagination.

The prices are extremely cheap for most things. I bought several items for one or two euros (including my lovely box). You can find things for 50 cents even. And anything over a euro can be haggled down. If they see you will walk away, they’ll pretty much give you the price you want, as any sale is better than no sale.

Although most of it is just heaps of utter junk strewn over a bit of dusty wasteland, you can find interesting items if you search. It’s a chaotic place and you need to be very aware of pick pockets but I came home with a little bag of various treasures for 6 euros. It is a great afternoon if you can handle the general mayhem and scrabbling through crap looking for a little jewel or two.

Of course, many people shopping there are doing so because they have hardly any money and buying 2nd hand clothing at 50 cents an item is actually an important saving for them. It’s not all about finding little quirky bits of kitsch for everyone who goes there. For many it’s one of the few ways they can shop at all.

I wish I’d taken a picture of the place but I think I was too dazed by everything going on around me to think straight. Next time….

*Skiladika – is a type of popular Greek music characterized by (to Northern European ears, at least) much wailing and screaming and a heavily overproduced sound in general. In short, a bloody awful noise. I know this sounds extremely condescending but you’d better know skiladika before anyone comes pointing fingers. I love Rembetika and plenty of other Greek music. Not skiladika (literally dog music – imagine a load of dogs wailing into the night, that’s skiladika)

 

 

The Aim: Destruction of Syriza or Greece?

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So what is the aim of the EUs recent stance on Greece? Is it the destruction of Syriza and the idea of any left wing parties in Europe ever being allowed to gain any traction in the EU (though Syriza can barely be called left anymore)? Or is the dismantling of Greek society simply a social experiment in how far a population can be pushed before it collapses entirely? I’m not sure I have the answer to that question. I suspect its probably – both. But lets look at some of the recent developments and maybe some of you can give a better analysis of what the fuck is going on.

First off, the fiscal issues. Syriza most definitely badly fucked up with their gung ho attitude when declaring austerity dead but believing they could do that without leaving the euro. So it did a massive humiliating volte face after the fiscal waterboarding Kazimir and pals so gleefully administered. That was basically the end of Greek sovereignty. If the EuroGroup don’t like any policy, it’s dead. The third Greek MoU is designed as a punishment. A lesson to anyone else thinking of defying Schauble and his coterie on how all EZ countries that use the German currency must be run.

I don’t doubt that pension reform is needed in Greece. But Greece has endured an unprecedented internal devaluation that has lead to the whole country teetering on the verge of economic collapse and the EZ insists that Greece continues to cut more and more despite the glaringly obvious evidence that all the cuts have only ever perpetuated the deficit and reduced the tax base. Yet, here we all are watching the same merry-go-round whizz past our eyes ad nauseum.

Then there’s the refugee crisis. Greece had no hand in its creation but has been blamed throughout the EU as being responsible for it. This blame game was initiated by Merkel who started the whole ‘Greece must control its borders’ meme. Yeah right, guys. Uh huh. Greece must patrol 10 thousand km of coast on tuppence hapenny and with no outside help at all. None. While the rich, developed Northern countries do nothing but wag their fingers at tiny crisis devastated Greece.

Now, the EU aims to return all failed asylum seekers to Greece, which is expected to house them in detention centres. Given that this could be as many as 70% of the refugees already in Europe that would mean that Greece would have to assimilate a million, or upwards, refugees when it doesn’t have a pot to piss in.

Why has Greece been attacked by almost every country in the EU about ‘failing to control its borders’ and threatened with expulsion from Schengen while Turkey is receiving 3bn in aid, a promise of EU membership and treated entirely with kid gloves?

What will happen in Greece if it suddenly has to deal with the entire refugee crisis on its own while sinking under its own economic crisis at the same time? How long before Syriza fall? Let’s not forget that Merkel, Juncker and Lagarde all made it clear at the last elections that they wanted New Democracy to win it. What better way to engineer the reinstatement of a right wing extremist party of racists and bigots than to put a country under huge economic pressure in a situation where it has to single handedly deal with the biggest refugee crisis in 70 years?

In the past six months the extreme right has made massive gains across Europe as the anti-refugee backlash kicked in. Greece has been one of the few countries where the neo nazi party has been shrinking in the past 3 years. How fast will that change if the country is made to deal with a world crisis entirely alone? Pretty fast I would imagine. Which explains why New Democracy has in the past six years embraced right wing extremists and ultra nationalists in its party. Men like Georgiadis (Vice President of the party). And lets not forget that ND was more than happy to inter refugees in detention centres when last in government. It was keeping refugees in metal shipping containers, twenty at a time, with no toilet or washing facilities or any running water. Concentration camps really. And this is the party Merkel and her pals want back to deal with refugees.

The more I look at it the more I believe that the only hope for Greece is out of the EZ and EU. The problem is that the EU revenge (sanctions, trade embargoes, blockades et al) for destroying the German currency would cripple Greece and we’d likely end up back in the hands of neo Nazis with a dictatorship of the oligarchs – most of whom are loyal to the EU, EU money and the previous Greek Junta.