Oxi Day

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It was either this or a Greek flag!

Tomorrow is Oxi Day in Greece. It’s a national holiday to celebrate a wartime act of defiance against the demands of the Italian fascists on Greece. But more about that later. So how is it celebrated?

Today, most of the schools held morning celebrations and then there were no lessons after that. So, school children get most of today off and tomorrow too. Tomorrow will see school children marching through the squares of towns and villages up and down the country and there will be speeches about the heroes of the Graeco-Italian war. Many people will take the opportunity to go back to ancestral village homes for the long weekend to meet up with wider family. Others will simply take off to the nicest place they can afford to get to and some of us will be staying in Athens and making the most of the fact that we don’t have to get up on a Friday!

The celebration itself is in honour of Metaxas’ refusal to allow Mussolini to enter Greece with his troops. Italy then more or less immediately attacked Greece from the Albanian border but was pretty swiftly repulsed by the Greek army. To Mussolini’s embarrassment he was unable to beat the Greek forces and had to ask for the Germans to attack from the north. Not surprisingly, the small Greek army was unable to defend two fronts for very long. After 6 months of fighting and large numbers of casualties on the Italian and German side, Greece was invaded. Then Crete fell, the British were evacuated, and the reprisals against Greek civilians by the German forces began.

During the war Greece lost more of its population as war casualties than almost any other allied country. Due to the lack of official records the estimates are between 7 and 11% of the population of Greece were killed (In Britain, all casualties, military and civilian, amount to under 1% of the population). Many Greeks were killed in massacres, such as the ones at Distamo and Kantanos, and a very significant number died of starvation, especially in Athens in the winter of 41. Almost the entire Jewish community of Greece was wiped out. The Thessaloniki jews had been a part of the history and culture of the area for hundreds of years.

After the war, Churchill betrayed the Greeks and helped precipitate the civil war (see the Dekemvriana) and then (in a nutshell) there were many years of poverty, migration, dictatorship and eventual freedom with democracy and entrance to the EU.

Greece said Oxi in a referendum last year too. But to no avail. The country remains in the grip of a deliberately punitive crisis orchestrated to ensure that all EU countries know who rules the EU and what happens to those who in any way threaten the hegemony.

I don’t think Greece will be saying NO again for a long time. Not unless the shills in the Vouli are removed once and for all

Roasted Veg with Herbs

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Buttery and tasty veg.

In the summer I love roasting tomatoes and peppers and all the other lovely Mediterranean veg. But now that autumn is here, we get the chance to roast all sorts of different vegetables such as squash, pumpkin, carrots, celeriac, leeks.. just about anything turns lovely when roasted in the oven for an hour or two.

My little tin of veg was me using up left over veg and using up herbs. You could try my recipe or simply make up one of your own. I used some butter because I wanted it nice and rich but just some good EVOO is all you need.

I just have my roasted veg with some feta cheese and good bread for my work lunch. But it will go very well with chops or sausages. In fact you could cook the sausages with the veg.

Any leftovers can be thrown in with some stock and some more fresh veg for soup.

Note on my cooker

Every oven is different and some people have very flash electric ovens with convection and all sorts of nice bells and whistles. My cooker is a 22 yr old De Longhi gas cooker. It does the job but it’s pretty basic, which is why I often mess around with the temperature button on it. You know your oven, so you know how to deal with it.

Roasted Vegetables with Herbs

15 small potatoes (like Charlottes) halved

2 carrots halved across horizontally then quartered lengthwise

1 courgette halved horizontally then quartered length wise

2 leeks cut into big chunks

1 onion peeled and quartered

a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley

a handful of chopped spearmint

a few whole chillies

whole cloves of garlic unpeeled

1 or 2 tbs of EVOO

1 dsp of butter

salt and pepper

 

Melt the oil and butter in a roasting tin. Add all the ingredients and still well to make sure that everything is coated in oil, butter and herbs. Put in a preheated oven on medium high for 15 minutes then reduce to low for fifteen. Give all the ingredients another good stir and continue with 15 minutes on med high, 15 on low, then stir or shake the contents. Do this for about an hour and a half or until the veg are golden brown with a few black bits on the ends of things like carrots.

Fish out the cloves of garlic, squeeze the contents over the food and discard the skins. Mix well into the veg. Serve when the veg just good and warm but not scalding hot. Dijon mustard goes well with this too.

 

Red Lentil Soup

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Nice autumnal comforting ‘pick me up’ soup.

Kizbot Manor has a once a week rule about pulses. Not that I have any difficulty sticking to it because I love them all. But I have the rule as part of my ‘less meat is better’ philosophy on food. I save meat for weekend treats. And I try to buy the best I can. Not factory farmed stuff if I can possibly ensure it. I don’t think we need to or should stop eating meat all together (unless you personally want to, which I don’t) but cutting back on consumption has to be better for our health, animal welfare and the planet to boot. Furthermore, pulses are cheap, versatile and make one feel terribly virtuous.

Today we are having a nice autumnal soup again. This one came about because of various left over ingredients needing to be used up and because I want something a bit sweet and a bit spicy at this time of year. It’s a seasonal thing. Autumn should be sweet and aromatic.

There’s nothing Greek about this recipe. It’s kind of an old school Rose Elliott with a bit of new school Anna Jones Veggie stuff mash up. Add or delete ingredients as it suits you and if any of you are from that strange breed that can’t appreciate fresh coriander, then I suggest you swap it with fresh flat leaf parsley or chervil. I used an apple called  firiki, a Greek kind of small russet apple (so I used 2). If I were in Britain, I’d use the lovely Cox’s Orange Pippin.

Red Lentil soup

250g Red lentils

1 onion chopped

1 or 2 cloves of garlic chopped

1 apple peeled, cored and diced

1 carrot grated

a handful of dried apricots chopped

a couple of fresh red chillies chopped

a thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated finely

just over a litre of veggie or chicken stock

½ tsp of turmeric

a little dash of EVOO

a good sized knob of butter (1 dsp)

a handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves.

 

Melt the butter and oil together in a good sized casserole pot over a low light. Add the ginger and cook until fragrant. Add the onions, garlic and chillies. Cook for a few minutes until the onions soften. Don’t brown. Add the turmeric and stir in well. Add the carrot, apple and apricots and stir well. Add the stock and red lentils. Turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and put a lid on the pot. Leave to simmer for 30 -40 mins. Check occasionally to stir and add more water if necessary. The soup should be nice and thick but not stiff. Once all the ingredients are cooked and softened, leave to cool for ten minutes and then puree the soup till velvety and smooth with a blender or a hand held mixer/blender. Don’t over fill a blender with hot soup! Dangerous!!! If necessary, do the soup in batches. Once you have blended the soup, taste to check for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Reheat the soup and either serve in bowls with the coriander as a garnish or add the coriander to the soup once you have warmed it and removed it from the heat source.

I’d serve this with crusty bread and baked feta. Or crusty bread and a Greek salad.

To Filema

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My fave uptown eatery

About 4 years ago at the height of the crisis in Greece, a friend and I had been for a long Sunday walk around Acropolis and Monastiraki and were wandering up towards Syntagma when we came across this place entirely by accident. We were hungry, thought it looked rather nice, put our reservations about uptown places being a rip off, and shoddy in general, aside and sat down. We’ve been fans ever since and regularly meet up here for long evenings of eating and drinking.

It’s located in the up and coming area between Syntagma and Agia Irini. To Filema is just off Karageorgis Servias on Rhomvois street. Turn right into Rhomvois if heading down towards Athinas street from Syntagma.

Not many tourists tend to find this, as its on a side street, but plenty of Athenians have discovered it. I would recommend any visitors to search it out because the normal tourist haunts of Plaka, Monastiraki and Psirri are, generally, bloody awful, with only a few minor exceptions. The food at Filema is good and so is the wine. The prices for us in Greece are reasonable but not cheap and even on your poorer pound you’ll still find the prices are fine. Main dishes average around the 8 euro mark.

I was there last night to meet friends. It was quite a balmy evening, so we sat outside and had lots of wine. It doesn’t leave you pissed or hungover the next day, which is always a bonus for a midweek night out. All the basics in Filema are excellent. Fabulous home made chips. Great meatballs, courgette balls, sausages from Crete, lots of pies, cheeses, salads, fried fish, steamed mussels. The variety of dishes on offer is pretty wide. I’ve never had anything bad and some things are really excellent, such as the steamed mussels and the juicy meatballs.

Four of us had a good bit of food and enormous amounts of wine last night and the bill was 90 euros with a tip. Proper Greek food, some modern variations in the specials, at decent prices and very friendly efficient service. I recommend it highly!

Great Greek Food Products

Some good oil from Kriti with the agrocert stamp. Available in lidl.

FattMatt, another food person on the guardian blogs suggested to me that folk might want some tips on what Greek products to buy from lidl whenever they do a Greek special in the shops. The main problem I have is that I don’t know what particular Greek produce goes into the specials lidl does in other countries. I only know what Greek produce is on offer here.

So what should you look out for when buying Greek products from lidl or anywhere else? Here’s some tips I think will help you get the most out of Greek products in shops.

First of all, keep an eye out for the agrocert sticker, as in the pics above. Crap produce doesn’t get one. Another sign is P.O.P (Π.Ο.Π), This shows that the product is of designated origin.

If you buy Feta, ideally, you want it to have both a P.O.P and agrocert sticker. Feta comes from many regions in Greece but my particular favourite ones are from Ipeiros and Dodoni. Don’t buy the cow’s milk white cheese as a substitute for feta. It’s vile. The goat’s cheese, which is like Feta, in brine, is perfectly lovely cheese.

In British supermarkets the main brand you’ll find for feta cheese or Greek yoghurt is the Fage brand. I’m not so keen on their very generic products, nor the fact that they moved their headquarters out of Greece at the beginning of the crisis. Their feta is edible but bland. Their strained yoghurt, Total, is creamy and thick but bland cow’s milk yoghurt. I much prefer traditional Greek yoghurt made from sheep and goat’s milk.

I wouldn’t buy any of the Greek sausages or Greek hams from lidl as they’re, usually, not very good. If, however, you find a specialist outlet, Greece does fantastic sausages and cured meats. Look out for sausages from Karpenisi, siglino from Mani and apaki from Kriti.

For olives, they really need to be from Kalamata. They are the premium olives here in Greece. Though I will put in a good word for olives from Agrinio and the tiny little green or black ones from Kriti. Again, look out for an agrocert label, but, if they are from Kalamata, I don’t see how you can go wrong. The same goes for their oil and the oil from Kriti. The oil in the picture above is from Kriti and its excellent stuff. Nab it if you can buy it. Normally, when I’m home in Lanc’s, I just buy the Greek Extra Virgin olive oil from Sainsbury’s. It’s fine.

Capers should be from anywhere in the Cyclades. Santorini is known for theirs as well as their sun-dried tomatoes.

Greek pulses are great. If you ever see yellow split peas (fava) from Santorini – grab it! And use it to make Greek Fava. I’ll put a recipe up in the coming weeks. It’s very easy. If the pulses are agrocert, they will be good and they won’t have been hanging round a warehouse for five years. Greece also produces fantastic bulgar wheat and a wonderful tiny grain like pasta for soups and stews called Trachanas.

The best Greek honey is Thyme honey. The very best, and ridiculously expensive, is from Kythira. It is without doubt the best honey I’ve ever had in my life. The second best is Thyme honey from Kriti, which you can normally get at a decent price. It’s never cheap, but it’s excellent and worth the money. It’s what I buy. Also keep an eye out for oregano and thyme from Kriti. These are the only herbs you can buy that are as good dried.

Other stuff that Greece produces are almonds, walnuts, pistachios (from Aegina – out of this world), hazelnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Plus, fantastic sultanas, raisins and dried figs. Keep an eye out for fruit preserves too. Though I have found the best in Andros courtesy of the unbelievable Kyria Eutyxia and her rose jam to die for.

Last but not least: Drink. Wines I like are Malagouzia, Assyrtiko and Paranga from Kir Yiannis. Tsikoudia from Kriti and Tsipouro from Northern Greece are pretty much the same thing. I prefer the Kritiki tsikoudia from Chania prefecture, myself. Theriso makes some damned fine tsikoudia.

I think I’ve covered most of the basics here. But if anyone has any further questions just ask away and I’ll answer as best I can.

 

 

Smoked Mackerel Salad

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I had a busy weekend. Marathon training still in progress, so did an 18.5 mile (30 km) walk on Saturday down to the Athens Riviera coast to Glyfada and then back up hill a bit to Athens. After that, me and my burning ankles took to the couch with a bottle of wine. Sunday I had to go cheer on a friend taking part in a triathlon (worst organised race I’ve ever seen!) just down the coast from Marathonas in lovely Sxoinia. On the bus, I went into despair mode watching other loons practicing for next months classic Marathon, the whole damned thing is uphill. I’m reverting back to Catholicism pronto in order to pray to St Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases and causes. The upshot of all this athletic nosense was that I didn’t do any cooking this weekend at all and so I had nothing to take to work this morning.

I decided I’d make use of the smoked mackerel I had on hand and managed to boil up some potato that I’d cut into small chunks and the rest I assembled in the work kitchen once I’d picked up a bit of fruit and veg. It turned out to be a very satisfying work lunch.

You can come up with your own twists but I think, fennel would go well in this or just add some chopped dill as well as the parsley. I’m also a big fan of chopped hard boiled eggs in fish salads.

Smoked Mackerel salad

1 good sized potato chopped into chunks of about 2 .5 cm. Boiled in lightly salted water til tender but not collapsing

150 g Smocked Mackerel fillet, skin removed

1 small apple, peeled and cut into small slivers

1/2 green pepper finely sliced

a handful of chopped parsley

a handful of chopped capers

2 tbs of evo oil

1 tbs of mayo

juice of half a lemon

 

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Chill. Eat.

Greek Makaronada

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The sauce. If only I had a decent bit of lighting!

I love Italian food and Greece and Italy share much in their culinary history, as in every other part of their history. Greece was the eastern end of the Roman Empire for a thousand years and the colloquial word for the Greek language is still Romaika. Then the Venetian Empire ruled over much of Greece in its heyday too. So there has been much intermingling of foods over the centuries and I’m not remotely interested in who did what first or better. However, I have to say that when it comes to the Greek version of spag bol, I do think its unbeatable. Here’s why.

I once, a few years back, did something I rarely do. I followed a recipe to the letter. The recipe was Antonio Carluccio’s famed recipe for ragu bolognese. I did everything per instruction: spent ages on the soffritto, simmered all the ingredients gently for 3 hours and added the required milk at the end. I was sure it was going to be the great delight everyone said a good ragu is and I was pretty confident I hadn’t put a foot wrong. But the finished product was not some great wondrous exquisite sauce. It was ok. Not bad. A bit ‘meh’ considering I’d been pouring all my culinary passion into it for 3 hours. As I tucked into the sauce all I could think was ‘the Greek ones better and is 6 times quicker and a piece of piss to make’. It could be that I hadn’t done the sauce right at all. I just failed to make a good ragu. I don’t discount that as a distinct possibility. But the fact is that Greek makaronada takes half an hour, is really simple to make, and utterly utterly delicious.

Notes:

Different people use different spices for their sauce. Some people like allspice berries in there or a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. I favour either just nutmeg or spezia – a spice mix from Kerkyra that is used in making the traditional holiday dish patsitsada. I used spezia last night.

The sauce is not a gloopy tomato rich one. It’s a bit drier than what many people think of as spag bol. If you want a ‘saucier’ version add another tomato and/or some puree. Don’t make it too tomatoey though. It will spoil it!

This meat sauce is the basis for the meat sauces used in moussaka, pastitsio and papoutsakia too.

I would estimate about 125g of spaghetti per person. Boil in well salted water. Drain. Add a couple of tbs of EVOO to the pan and toss the spaghetti through the oil. This is the Greek way!

If you can get kefalograviera, use that (finely grated) to top your dish. Or I use Grana Padano – its cheaper than parmesan and just as good.

Makaronada

500 g of minced beef

1 large onion, chopped or whizzed in a multichopper (don’t overdo it – pulse!)

2 large tomatoes whizzed or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes

several good glugs of EVOO

couple of good glugs of wine

a little water

1/4 to 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg or spezia

salt and pepper to taste

In a good casserole pan add enough EVOO to at least cover the bottom of the pan (many Greeks use a lot more – the oil is an ingredient in its own right not just a medium). Add your onions and saute gently over a low heat for about five minutes until the onions are translucent and softened. You don’t want to colour them. Add the beef and turn up the heat a little and keep stirring to brown it off. Once browned, add the nutmeg and salt and pepper. Don’t overdo the salt, you can check for seasoning at the end and adjust accordingly. Add the wine, the tomatoes and a little water (I use some to rinse out the last tomato pulp from the multichopper). Bring to the boil, stir, reduce heat to low and cover with a lid. Simmer for about half an hour until the oil has risen to the surface of the sauce and there is no wateriness. Serve on pasta with cheese.