Keftedakia – Traditional Greek Meatballs

I don’t have the best light for photography in my kitchen – sorry!

 

Keftedakia – meatballs are popular everywhere in the world and Greece is no exception. They are standard fare in tavernas and for parties. They are easy and delicious.

In Greece the two main types of meatball are the classic keftedes, which are not as punchy in flavor as the Asia Minor Greek dish of soutzoukakia, which is very pungent – made with lots of garlic and cumin and with a sauce of cinnamon and tomato. I made keftedes last night. There are lots of ways to flavor them but I kept it pretty simple. The good thing about keftedes is you can tweak the recipe every time you make it so no two batches are ever the same.

The ingredient that makes Greek meatballs a bit special is the use of spearmint. It might sound an odd ingredient but it works brilliantly. Greece uses a lot of spearmint in its cookery and it’s a fantastic ingredient that brightens and lifts everything to a nice summery note. I didn’t use lots in this recipe so it’s just a hint. The amount can easily be increased.

I also omitted garlic because I want the meatballs to be a different thing from soutzoukakia. If I want garlic pungent meatballs then I will make the soutzoukakia of the Greek refugees of Asia Minor, their gift to Greek culture. But if I’m making classic keftedes then no garlic, a bit of onion and lots of herbs.

Once the mixture has been made it needs to sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour to allow the flavours to develop and for the bread to soak up all the juices. I don’t roll my keftedes in flour. I just roll them up as they are. But if you like a bit more of a crisp outer shell then do roll them in flour or half flour and breadcrumbs. When it comes to frying, I use a cast iron pan and I cover the bottom in EVO oil which I heat over a low light to hot but not smoking. I want my keftedes to sort of simmer gently in the oil. I don’t want a raging rolling smoking hot boil. I want the meatballs to take a bit of time to cook and be brown outside. Not black or nearly black. If EVO oil freaks you out, use groundnut. Don’t crowd your pan either! Cook in small batches and have room for your keftedes.

Finally, use good bread, preferably a bit stale. I’m going to have to give a lecture on sourdough very soon. Any good bread will do, though. Just let it be real bread!

 

Keftedakia tis kizbots

600g of half beef, half pork mince

3 big handfuls of real fresh bread crumbs

1 onion finely minced or grated

a big handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

a handful of chopped spearmint

juice of half a lemon

1 shot glass of ouzo (optional)

1 large egg

a couple of tablespoons of EVO oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

I usually mix all the ingredients well in a large tupperware with a lid, so once I’ve given everything a good mix and squeeze through my fingers I can put the lid on and leave it in the fridge for an hour. I make a small test patty, before making up the others, to fry off and test for seasoning. Then I make small round patties rather than balls. I put just enough mix into my cupped palm to fill the little cup. Then I roll it gently for a few seconds before patting down into a patty shape. Fry off and leave to drain on kitchen paper.

They’re lovely with tzatziki to dip into!

 

Sorta Tabbouleh

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Desk lunch sorta tabbouleh

So, today’s salad isn’t Greek food and it’s not going to be a very traditional tabbouleh, either. I make mine with lots of finely chopped veg and I add garlic, which makes it quite pungent, especially with all the other herbs and spices. I like it like that but this is a recipe that you can mess with endlessly. You could leave out the garlic and double the herb content, for instance. The recipe is simply a guideline and the way I make it to suit my taste (hot spicy and pungent).

This salad is great with any summer meal but it does go really well with Greek keftedakia, which I’ll be putting up the recipe for tomorrow. For all those who are still in Lent here in Greece, this would also go really well with any seafood.

One quick note about the preparation of pligouri or bulgar wheat. A lot of people don’t seem to soak it properly and it can end up being under done and gritty. I want it to be soft but with a bit of a chewy bite to it. The way I achieve this is to put it in a pan with lots of water, bring it to the boil. Boil for one minute and then turn off the heat and leave for 20 – 30 minutes. Taste test a bit then drain in a sieve and rinse with lots of cold water.

I chop all the veg as finely as possible with a serrated thin bladed knife. You can use all sorts of veg in this. I like red peppers and grated carrot too. The herbs are washed, drained and then patted dry with kitchen paper before I put them in the kitchen chopper along with the garlic, which I slice first. If the herbs are basically dry, they will cut up very nicely in the chopper. Don’t put them in wet, though, as they will just turn to sludge. Pat dry with kitchen paper and reuse the damp paper to clean something else (recycling!). Don’t skimp on the salt in this either. If you think the salad tastes a little bland, it probably needs more salt!

kizbot’s sorta tabbouleh

250g of pligouri/bulgur wheat soaked in hot water (as above), drained well

1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley finely chopped

a handful of spearmint finely chopped

1 clove of garlic minced (optional)

1 medium sized onion finely chopped

1 green pepper finely chopped

1 good sized tomato finely chopped

¼ teaspoon of cumin

2 dried piri piri chilli peppers (or any others you like) crumbled

Juice of 2 lemons

salt to taste

3 or 4 tablespoons of EVO oil

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and cover. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours so flavours can develop and meld. I leave it overnight. The salad should be chilled, not room temperature.

 

Cretan Boureki – Greek gratin

Before and after pics.

Boureki is basically a gratin dish with very fresh flavours that make this a winner for a good filling summer meal. In some parts of Crete they also put it in pastry and make it into a sort of tart but I prefer it done this way, as a gratin.

The cheese I use is ksinomizithra, a fresh Cretan cheese with a nice tangy hit. Try asking for it at a Turkish or Greek Cypriot shop. You could use Greek feta instead, or a mix of cream cheese and feta would also work. Just don’t use those fake fetas you can get in supermarkets that say ‘Greek style’ etc. They are awful products. Buy the proper Greek stuff. It might be slightly more expensive but it will also be a million times better quality food and you get the added bonus of helping out the poor struggling Greek economy. Win/Win!

You don’t need to bake this in a lidded casserole pot. Any oven dish will do. Just cover with foil for the first hour or so and then brown off the top of the gratin at the end.

The main herb used in boureki is spearmint, which is what gives it its distinct summery fresh taste. I’ve also added some dill here as I had it and it goes nicely with everything. But, like the garlic, it’s optional.

If I was serving this to people. I’d probably make some Greek keftedakia (meatballs) to go with it as this also uses spearmint. I’ll get the classic recipe out to you next post!

500g potatoes cut into thin (but not too fine) slices

500g courgettes cut into thin (but not too fine) coins

250 – 300g of ksinomizithra

1/2 cup of EVO oil

1 or 2 cloves of garlic minced (optional)

half a handful of chopped dill (optional)

1 large handful of chopped spearmint

a generous sprinkling of sea salt

a bit of black pepper

 

Pre-heat the oven to medium hot. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients up so that the veg slices are covered with oil, cheese and herbs. Press the mixture into a casserole or oven dish and cover with either a lid or foil. Bake for half an hour on medium hot and then turn the oven down to low. Check the veg with the point of a knife to see how tender they are after an hour or so. Once the veg are nicely tender, remove lid or foil and turn up the oven to medium hot again to brown off the top for another 20 minutes or so. When cooked, replace foil or lid and leave to rest for half an hour before serving.

Skordalia – Garlic and potato dip

Spring flowers on Andros this weekend. A lovely time of year for taking country walks.

For most of Europe, this weekend was Easter. For Greece it was Independence Day on Friday, to commemorate the ousting of the Ottomans from Greece, and the one day in the period of lent that you can eat fish. It’s traditional to eat battered salt cod with skordalia, a garlic and potato dip.

For the fish, I generally buy Icelandic cod fillets and then soak them in a big bowl of water in the fridge for two days. I change the water at least 3 times a day too. The batter is just beer and flour with a bit of salt. You could use any fresh white fish, like haddock, too. Skordalia goes brilliantly as an accompaniment to fried fish and I also love it to accompany steamed or fried courgettes and with beetroot with greens. Here in Greece, we boil beets with their skin on and when they’re parboiled we add the stems and leaves to the pot. The peeled, sliced beets are served with their greens with oil and vinegar and skordalia on the side.

Skordalia is not a garlic mash. It should have a much softer, looser dip consistency. It’s a good idea to boil the potatoes with their skins on and slip the cooked skins off once the potatoes have cooled. The potatoes should be cooked til very tender. If you can get hold of some Greek wine vinegar, all the better, if not just use red wine vinegar.The proper traditional way to prepare the garlic is to crush it to a pulp in a stone pestle and mortar. But you can use a garlic press, grate it finely or mince with a good knife.

 

Skordalia

500g of potatoes boiled with their skin on until very tender

Anywhere between 3 or 4 cloves to a whole head of peeled garlic

EVO oil

Red wine vinegar (preferably Greek)

a little salt and some white pepper.

 

Slip the skins off the potatoes and mash well with half a glass of olive oil, the minced or pulped garlic, about a tablespoon of vinegar and some salt. If the dip isn’t a bit sloppy add a bit more oil. Don’t be afraid to put in a good bit of salt. The dip should have a slight ‘background’ of vinegar in the taste. The vinegar should give depth of flavor but not be overpowering. So, add a little then taste before adding any more until you get the right balance where you can tell there’s a hint of vinegar in there but it’s not sharp or tangy. Many Greek cooks use electric beaters to get the skordalia super smooth. I just use a hand held masher. A ricer would do the job well too. Just remember the finished dip should be quite pungent from the garlic with a hint of a vinegar taste and made a bit sloppy and creamy with oil. Don’t stint on the oil and garlic. Don’t overdo the vinegar.

 

Revithia. Chickpea soup.

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Still the beginning of lent here. But this is good veggie food any time of the year.

Normally, when I see the recipes that are often passed off as Greek by sleb chefs and other cookery writers I get myself worked up into a good old puffed up righteous rage. Sacrilege! I cry. And most of them really are awful approximations of Greek food, where they mess around with the ingredients and rarely to the better. I even recently got cross with a Greek lad who gave a recipe for yiouvetsi in the Guardian using a whole chicken. Inexplicable! Why would anyone do that? But recipes are not written in stone and people riff on themes in Greece as much as anywhere else.

The completely traditional Revithia soup involves boiling the chickpeas for a short time and then draining them, placing between clean tea towels and using a rolling pin to roll off their outer skin. Then the soup is cooked long and slow, preferably in a clay casserole pot in the dying embers of a fire, overnight, until the soup becomes unctuous and creamy with a subtle wood smoke flavour. As you can imagine, all of that is a bit of a faff for a working ‘Athenian’ woman. So I do my own version, which is entirely nothing like the traditional one. If you can get to Greece in winter and up into a mountain village, do try proper Greek revithia there. It’s something else.

I’ve used chickpeas that I soaked overnight and then I make the soup in the pressure cooker. You could use tinned chickpeas and it will still be tasty. If you do the tinned version then saute the other ingredients first before adding the stock and the chickpeas.

If you’re Greek and fasting for lent this can be served with some olives and pickles and crusty bread. Other things that go nicely are kippers, or mackerel, or anchovies, dressed with oil and vinegar. Or marinated fish. Feta and crusty bread goes great. Drizzle fresh lemon over the soup to serve too.

A Very untraditional Revithia soup

250g chickpeas soaked overnight

1 onion chopped

1 clove of garlic chopped

a handful of flat leaf parsley chopped

1/4 tsp of cumin

2 chillies chopped

1 litre of water

1 cup of EVO oil

salt and pepper to taste

the juice of half a lemon

some of the zest of the half lemon

Place all the ingredients apart from the oil, lemon and zest in a pressure cooker. Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure on a high heat and then turn down and cook under pressure for 20 – 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pressure out slowly (I just let the pan cool down in its own time). Remove the lid and take out a cupful of the chickpea soup and whizz till smooth. Add back to the pan along with the oil, lemon and zest. Reduce the soup over a medium heat til it is nice and thick. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with more lemon and whatever else you fancy.

Spanakorizo – Greek Peasant Risotto

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Spanakorizo is a sort of Greek spinach risotto. It’s nothing like an Italian risotto. Some may say it’s not as refined. It’s certainly a lot simpler to make and, done right, it’s utterly delicious served with lemon juice squeezed over it and a lump of feta on top. As lent has only just started, I had mine with a side order of olives and some taramasalata on a bit of toasted sourdough.

The consistency of the spanakorizo should be sloppy. Not stiff. It’s not a soup but you want a bit of liquid in there so it should be runny. As usual, I’ve used a lot of EVO oil. It’s a vital ingredient in my view adding flavor and texture to the finished dish. If you are a Northern European who is horrified by oil, you can, if you must, cut back on the oil but it will be your loss.

I always use fresh spinach for this dish. Never frozen or bagged. But as I needed to rest up on Saturday (it was the Athens Half Marathon on Sunday) I used a 350g bag of fresh spinach. I prefer fresh spinach as its flavour is fantastic. Even the fresh bagged isn’t as good. But it does need careful washing. I just twist and rip off the ends of the spinach stalks and then wash the leaves and stalks well in a big washing up bowl full of cold water. I do this at least 3 or 4 times, as there is nothing worse than getting a bit of grit with your dinner. It ruins the whole meal as far as I’m concerned.

This dish is also made with leeks or white cabbage instead of spinach and some people add a little fresh chopped tomato to it. But nothing beats the spinach version in my view. It’s delicious.

 

500g of fresh spinach washed and trimmed

3 or 4 spring onions chopped

a big handful of chopped dill

1 cup of olive oil

1 mug of short or medium grain rice

2 ½ mugs of water or vegetable stock

a little salt and pepper

a pinch of turmeric (optional and not traditional)

lemon to serve

Put enough EVO oil to cover the bottom of a decent sized casserole pan. Put over a medium low heat and saute the onions to soften them for a couple of minutes. Add the dill and continue cooking for a minute til the aroma of the dill is released. Add the spinach and put on a lid and let the spinach wilt. Once the spinach has wilted stir in the rice, water/stock and seasoning. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Put on a lid and turn down the hob to low. After 10 minutes turn off the hob and leave with the lid on for another ten minutes. Remove lid, if the spanakorizo isn’t sloppy enough, you can throw in half a cup of water. Let the food cool down a little before serving. Greek food should never be served piping hot. You can’t taste the flavours if it’s too hot. Serve with freshly squeezed lemon drizzled over.

 

 

The Empress of The EU – Ten Years Of Merkelism

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a real Empress

When Angela Merkel became chancellor of Germany, the EU was a very different place to the one it is today. The founding principles of solidarity between members and the goal of improving the lives of the populations of the countries in the club still held fast. I don’t blame Merkel for everything in the crisis that has befallen the EU both in its philosophy as an entity and its economic strength because many of the seeds of that crisis were planted before she came to power. It is not Merkel’s fault that Greece was able to borrow ridiculous amounts from EU banks. No. That blame must fall on her predecessors who were willing to bend rules to accommodate their vision of a single currency at any cost. But her handling of all the crises that have occurred under her watch have either done nothing to improve the situation or have made them immeasurably worse. So what exactly do I lay at her door?

1) The handling of the EZ economic crisis as a whole. The EZ policy on how to deal with the ailing economies of the EZ has been entirely under Merkel’s leadership. The policies of the EU/EZ/EC/EP are all her work. She has laid down the law on austerity as the only possible way to deal with the problem in order to protect the Euro, which, to all intents and purposes is simply the German currency shared amongst other nations.

2) The handling of the Greek crisis. From the refusal to allow a referendum under George Papandreaou to the ‘fiscal waterboarding’ of  the Syriza government, the policies of the troika in Greece are Merkel’s alone. She controls the Eurogroup and the IMF simply does her bidding, while making small, but insignificant, noises about the crisis being handled the wrong way. That Merkel supersedes the IMF is shown by the fact that the IMF was willing to break its own rules on lending in order to comply with Merkel’s policy on Greece. In the process, the Greek economy has been broken beyond repair with virtually no change in any of the problems that were the root causes of the crisis in Greece. This is mainly because Merkel supports the Greek oligarchy whose corruption crippled the country. She has done everything in her power to make sure that only New Democracy, the party that tripled the national debt and triggered the crisis, the party of oligarchs, tax evasion and corruption, is the party that leads Greece. Merkel has done everything bar instigating a coup to micromanage who rules Greece with the result that even I have lost track of the number of elections, governments and PMs Greece has had since 2009.

3) The Ukraine. Merkel couldn’t wait to rush in and get her grubby mits into the Ukraine after Yankovych was ousted. Promising tons of cash and EU help and pots of gold for everyone (if you think Greece has corruption problems – lol – you aint seen nothing until you’ve seen the Ukraine) and, in her haste to make the Ukraine an EU ally and potential member, managed to set off a chain of events that lead to massive tensions with Russia, virtually a civil war in the Ukraine, 1 downed jet liner and the annexation of Crimea. Brilliant diplomatic skills or what?

4) The refugee crisis. The EU ignored the refugee crisis, whether it was those pouring into Italy from Libya or into Greece from Turkey, for 5 long years. It was too busy crushing Greece to give a fuck. So the only policy that was instigated in that time was to withdraw EU rescue missions in order to deter refugees or migrants. The idea was that even if you needed to escape a war or poverty, you would prefer not to drown, so if we make drowning more likely you won’t come. More people did drown, indeed, they did. But the numbers of those fleeing persecution, war and poverty simply increased.

So when it became obvious that the situation was out of control with Orban threatening to razor wire Hungary, Merkel let it be known that Germany would be a) unilaterally accepting 1 million refugees and b)unilaterally allocating how many refugees everyone else in the EZ would be taking too.

This lead to a) a huge rush of refugees making their way to Greece and through the Balkans, enriching smugglers as well as causing hardship to the poorest and most crisis hit countries in Europe and b) increasing an already burgeoning right wing extremism exponentially.

Then, when the criticism started to bite, she again blamed Greece for not protecting the EU borders for the whole of Europe against the world’s worst refugee crisis in a century, even though it only as the 1 pot to piss in and Frontex could care less. To add insult to injury, while berating the Greeks, she goes on a Turkey love fest, showering them with cash and praise despite their abhorrent human rights, civil rights and anti-democratic record. Why, only today the guardian reported that:

The broad outlines of the EU-Turkey plan were agreed by the German chancellor Angela Merkel and Davutoğlu, but came as a shock to most other EU leaders.

5) Right wing extremism. Until Merkelism became the dominant political force, nay, ruling force of the EU/EZ, neo Nazism was either a very tiny minority of the political scene in EU countries or the subject of outright ridicule. Not now. They are growing and even dominant in many countries including: Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Croatia and Lithuania.

In short, under Merkel’s domination of the EU, we have seen a member country crushed utterly and thus destroying all EU solidarity. We have seen interference in another country’s affairs that have lead to a ramping up of tensions between Europe and Russia, the annexation of the Crimea and a near civil war in the Ukraine. We have seen a refugee crisis turned into an unmitigated disaster that has seen refugees suffer horrendously, international laws on refugee status trashed, a massive boost to neo Nazism across Europe and cash bonuses for Hitler admiring Turkish Despot Erdogan and Turkish smugglers getting very rich.

And the thing that truly amazes me is that even the Guardian still sees Mutti as some kind of Mother Theresa figure. Well Mother Theresa was a completely abusive deeply cruel despot hiding behind a habit. Angela Merkel is also hiding in plain sight.