Sunday, 30 September 2007

How to cook: Lamb Fricassee

This delicious fricassee of lamb recipe, is made with the traditional Greek avgolemono sauce (egg and lemon sauce).
The flavour of the lamb cooking with the lettuce and then the sauce added at the end is simply fantastic.
The lemon counteracts the richness of the lamb and creates a creamy sauce.

1.9kg lamb
10 spring onions
3 lettuces
2-3 tablespoons dill
3/4 teacup butter
2 egg yolks
juice of 1-2 lemons
salt and pepper

Cut the meat into medium portions, wash and put in a casserole with the butter.
Prepare the spring onions by chopping the white part finely and the green leaves into longer pieces (1 inch long).
Add them to the meat with 1/2 teacup water and salt and pepper and bring it to boil, covered.
Test to make sure the meat is cooked, if not and it is dry add a little more liquid until meat is cooked, (it does not need to be in much liquid.)
Cut the lettuces into pieces around 1 inch long. Chop the dill finely.
When the meat has absorbed all the water (be careful not to let the onions burn), we throw the lettuce and dill in to the meat, along with a bit of salt and pepper and about 1 tablespoon of water so the lettuce will not stick.
Let it simmer, covered, for a few minutes. The lettuce will cook in the steam.
Beat the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons water. Add the juice of 1-2 lemons and beat in.
Take a bit of the hot juice from the bottom of the saucepan and add it to the egg and lemon - avgolemono - and mix it all in with a fork.
Take the lamb fricassee off the heat and slowly, a little at a time, add the egg and lemon sauce to the meat. The main thing at this stage is to be careful not to curdle the eggs.
Shake the casserole to mix the juices together.
Return to low heat just long enough to warm the food so the egg and lemon sauce take the same temperature as the meat.
Be very careful not to overheat and the eggs harden.


Seafood and Fish: Thalassina kai Psaria in Greek

The seafood caught in the Mediterranean Sea are the tastiest fish you will find anywhere in the world. There are many varieties to choose from with unique flavours that the Greek style of cooking simply enhances with simple fresh ingredients, without losing the original taste.

Many people in Greece eat seafood on a regular basis. Hardly surprising, when you consider the geography of Greece, made up of many small islands and even on the mainland, you are never very far from the coast. Fishing has been a major industry in Greece for thousands of years. Visit any marina and you will see a selection of small and large fishing boats, supplying the local markets and tavernas with the day's catch.

There are many different methods of preparing seafood and various fish recipes to make, however, as with many Greek meals, the emphasis is on the natural flavour and Greeks will most often prepare the fish dishes quite simply with some fresh herbs, lemons, extra virgin olive oil and a few extra ingredients to make a fantastic, memorable meal.

Seafood is sold at most taverna's, and you will also find taverna's specialising in fish, these are called Psarotaverna. A visit to one of these taverna's is a must when visiting Greece. Instead of being offered a menu and choosing a fish meal, you will be invited into the kitchen and shown all the fish they have on offer that day, and asked to inspect the fish to ensure the freshness. These taverna owners take great pride in the quality and freshness of their food and meals they serve and are happy to show you. You also get to see how clean they keep their kitchens!

Once you have chosen the fish, you can then discuss how you would like the fish prepared. A popular way of cooking fish is on the barbecue - psistaria, over the hot coals to give it a beautiful flavour. This is also a favourite way of cooking fish in most Greek homes. As you stroll through any village on a summer evening you will smell the aroma of fish cooking on the barbecue.

Octopus are also a favourite in Greece and if you visit an island you will probably see the octopus hanging up to dry outside the local tavernas, a popular way to prepare them before barbecuing them for an appetizer or meze.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

How to cook: Horta

Ta xópta, literally translated, is wild greens or green vegetables.

Horta grows wild in the hillsides and is still hand- picked by villagers. It's a medley of edible wild greens, simply braised in a little water and seasoned with olive oil, lemon, salt & pepper. It's usually served cold or at room temperature. The combination depends on the season and availability. Horta can be used as a variation for spinach pie, which is rustic and delicious. Save the cooking liquid, which contains the golden vitamins. The juice can also be added to vegetable drinks or soup stock. For the purpose of availability outside of Greece, and preferred cooking techniques, the following theory is recommended.

Allow at least ½ pound of raw greens per person (arugula, black mustard, dandelion or beet greens, curly endive, sorrel, spinach, kale or collards).
Certain greens require longer cooking time, so add them to the pot in stages.
For instance, simmer kale and collards until tender, then add arugula during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
A good rule of thumb is the tougher the raw greens, the longer the cooking time.
Add salt or acid (lemon or vinegar) when you're ready to serve because they can turn bright green vegetables brown.
Use stainless steel or any other non- reactive cookware.

General guidelines for six servings

4 pounds of raw greens
1/2 cup olive oil
2 small gloves garlic, finely chopped
3 leeks (white part only) cleaned and sliced
1/2 fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 cup fresh dill, chopped (optional)
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse greens thoroughly and remove tough stems. A water saving-technique is to fill a clean sin or basin with 6 inches of fresh cold water, add trimmed greens, and submerge a bit to allow sand to fall to the bottom of the sink. Transfer greens in small quantities to a colander and rinse again. We have a saying in cooking school “How many times should you rinse the spinach? Until it’s clean!”


1. In a large heavy stock pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and heat for 30 seconds.

2. Add leeks and sauté until tender. Add minced garlic and sauté 30 seconds more (browned garlic will turn bitter).

3. Add greens that take the longest to cook (kale, collards) and simmer until tender (about 15 minutes), stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.

4. Add more delicate greens like arugula or spinach along with the fresh herbs and simmer just until wilted.

Serve in a bowl with a little cooking juice, splash of lemon and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. To serve as a side dish, drain with a slotted spoon and add the flavorings at the last minute.

Cretan Food, Wine, Spirits and Organics

Ahh Cretan food! Of course the locals know it, that the Cretan diet is the best in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
The locals just know, instinctively and via strong traditions, how to live life, and this includes how to enjoy good food.

Proudly, Crete now has one of the highest registrations of organic produce in all of Greece, which is a wonderful way of continuing land practices unchanged over centuries and ensuring healthy eating and a healthy planet.
Whatever your tastes, you will find something wonderful about Cretan food. Is it the atmosphere? Is it the air? The mountains? The soil? The fresh water? The Mediterranean? Is it the farmer or the cook? This will take a few hours of diálogo dialogue... so let’s pour another wine and discuss…

Dópio local, is a great Greek word to know if you are travelling. It can refer to just about any food or drink or preparation, and ensures your hosts know you want the real thing. Ask for dópio crassi local wine.
At a taverna you could simply say dópio fagitó… local food. Your hosts will know what you mean. At a fishing village of course ask for dópio psári local fish.
One of our favourites. Dakos whether you eat it for breakfast, lunch or as a snack any time of the day, always satisfies.

Village Food and Rhythms
In the village, the natural rhythms of the harvests influence what is fresh and natural to eat.
In October, the stafília grapes have been harvested and the sultanas dried, so each house has abundant quantities of sultanínas sultanas, bursting with the summer sun trapped inside.
After the grape harvest and the all important trip to the einopoiío οινοποιίo wine factory, the scrappy left-over grapes are made into mustalevriá. This sweet wholesome dish is traditionally made from the músta must, the squashed skins of the grapes left over from winemaking.
In the village in November, each breakfast was karídia walnuts as they were plentiful. Sometimes simply karídia and méli walnuts and honey.
Later in January, the trees were full of mandarínia so these sweet treats were a feature at most meals and coffee breaks.
After the grape harvest and the wine making, our kazáni is fired up. This is the local still, making a potent white spirit from the wine grapes. Many pleasant hours are spent sitting around the fire making tsíkoudia, which is a labourious process for those responsible, consisting of 10 minutes hard work followed by 2 hours of hard drinking.
Occasionally, to line our stomachs, we pop some potatoes in the hot coals and eat them steaming fresh from the fire. The sweet smell of the tsíkoudia made from the must of the grape harvest and wine production will always remind me of the fun and relaxing parea at the kazáni in our village…
After winter rains, hórta flourishes, and yiayias are busy out in the country lanes with their bags collecting the lush wild greens. There are actually many different types of hórta…getting to know them and how to cook them is one of the pleasures of life in the village, and learning about Cretan food.
As you sit relaxing in the kafeníon, don’t be surprised if a ruddy faced shepherd comes in bearing mizíthra fresh goat’s cheese from the mountains. This freshness is one of the great qualities of Cretan food.
Around Christmas time, those with squeamish stomachs should stay away from the butcher as he kills the pigs for the village. Our kafedzís, who used to be the town butcher, still performs this service in late December for all the families with pigs. As he knew I was squeamish, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he would make the hand sign for cutting his throat and say na spháxo ta vorúnia – I am going to kill the pigs - want to come and watch? He never tired of making this joke and others which would always make me laugh, and him and the rest of the kafeníon laugh at my grimaces and squirms. Pork is a popular Cretan food.
One unusual tidbit for visitors to know about is gliká tou koutalioú, literally ‘sweet of the spoon’. These are preserves, usually home-made, served on a tiny plate with a tiny spoon to newly arrived visitors (at any time) or at a coffee date in the home.
These are a very handy thing for any Cretan (Greek) housewife to have in the cupboard, as the sugar preserves the fruit, it doesn’t readily spoil and is a handy fall back when ‘the cupboard is bare’. The flavours can be as varied as the gardens and orchards around the village, and also seasonal, we love the síca fig jam made with fresh figs.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

How to cook: Cucumber Sauce

In Greek: Tzatziki

Salt, to taste
Fresh garlic, to taste
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil (the greener the better I say)
1/2 lg. cucumber
1 lb. sour cream or plain yogurt

Empty sour cream into medium sized bowl. Peel and shred cucumber in seperate bowl, then squeeze pieces of cucumber to drain the water out of it. Add to sour cream, and mix together. Use a fork or spatula (do not put in food processor!). Add olive oil and vinegar to sour cream. Taste as you go along. Then add your fresh Garlic, add as much as you like. Then add salt to taste as well. Once it is all mixed together, it is ready to eat!!! And it is yummy!

How to cook: Artichokes with Dill

In Greek: Anginares Me Anitho

12 md. globe artichokes
1 slice lemon
3 tbsp. flour (optional)
1/2 cup chopped scallions, whites only
1/4 cup olive or other oil
1 lemon, juice of
3 cups water
Freshly ground white pepper
2 tbsp. finely chopped dill
3 tsp. cornflour
Cold water
2 eggs
Chopped dill, for garnish

Wash artichokes well and cut off stem close to base. Have ready a bowl of cold water with the juice of 1 lemon and some lemon slices added. If desired, stir in 2-3 tbsp. flour, as this is quite effective in preventing discoloration.
As each artichoke is prepared, rub cut surfaces with a lemon slice from the bowl and place in bowl until all are prepared. Cook as soon as possible after preparation. Remove 3 or 4 layers of leaves until the tender inner leaves remain. Scoop out choke and pink thorny leaves from centre, using a spoon or melon ball scoop. Cut in half.
In a large pan gently fry spring onion in oil until soft. Add juice of 1/2 lemon, water, approximately 2 tsp. salt and a good grinding of pepper. Bring to the boil. Drain prepared artichokes and add to pan with dill. Return to a slow simmer, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until artichokes are tender. Stain cooking liquid into a pan and boil until reduced to half original quantity (about 1-1/2 cups). Keep artichokes hot in a slow oven.
Mix cornflour to a paste with a little cold water and stir into simmering liquid. Stir until thickened and bubbling and leave to simmer gently. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl until light and frothy and gradually add remaining lemon juice. Gradually pour in simmering stock, beating constantly. Return to pan and stir over low heat for a minute or two to cook the egg.
Pile artichokes on a warm platter, pour sauce on top and sprinkle with chopped dill. Serve as a light meal or as a first course.
Serves 4 as a light meal, 8 as a first course. Cooking time: 45-50 minutes

Olive Oil in Cretan Diet

In the Cretan kitchen olive oil plays a dominating role. There is practically no dish, which is not served with olive oil. Even today in daily life Cretans prefer a vegetarian diet with beans and other pulses, greens, vegetables and grains, cheese, pasta and potatoes. Meat dishes are reserved for special events, when they host guests or go out for dinner together with friends and family.

Salads are drowned in olive oil, so are fresh feta cheese and vegetables. Dipping bread into the juicy mixture of oil and tomato juice at the bottom of the salad bowl is a delicacy no one should miss when visiting Crete.

There is increasing scientific evidence that there are positive health effects from diets which are high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and which include fish, nuts and low-fat dairy products. Such diets need not be restricted in total fat as long as there is not an excess of calories, and emphasize predominantly vegetable oils that are low in saturated fats and partially-hydrogenated oils. The traditional Mediterranean Diet, whose principal source of fat is olive oil, encompasses these dietary characteristics.

The term traditional Mediterranean dieta has a specific meaning. It reflects food patterns typical of some Mediterranean regions in the early 1960s, such as Crete, parts of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy.

The incorporation of olive oil in the dietary habits of the Cretans dates back to ancient times. The writings in Linear A and B tablets ascertain that Minoans used it in their nutrition dating at least as far back as 1800 BC.

Today, Cretans consume large quantities of virgin olive oil in all their foods. They use generous quantities in their salads, in their fried dishes (fish, potatoes, etc.), in boiled greens, in soups, in all oily dishes, in pastries and even in the preparation of pork!
Salads of fresh vegetables are an indispensable dish of the Cretan cuisine. However, they need fresh, extra virgin olive oil.
Boiled greens and legumes make up the basis of the Cretan Diet. But they are complemented with extra virgin olive oil.
Roast or grilled meat and fishes consist also part of the Cretan diet. However, extra virgin olive oil is necessary for their preparation.
Virgin olive oil is incomparably superior for the frying of all foods. This is so because it boasts great tolerance in high temperatures, whilst other oils break up into units detrimental to human health, but also due to the fact that it adds to fried food better flavour than other oils. It is "accused" of adopting a slight odour after 2-3 uses. This, however, does not present a drawback. On the contrary, it is proof of its naturalness! This is the case because the dark green hue it produces after a few uses stems from the "cooking" of the natural coloration which it contains, and which is not contained in processed oils such as refined olive oils and naturally in seed oils!
Of course, virgin olive oil may be a bit more costly than refined olive oils or seed oils (that do not darken), but it is definitely worth its preference!
Oily foods, prepared in combination with various vegetables (beans, zucchinis, aubergines, okras), potatoes and meat, are incomparable when cooked in Extra Virgin Olive oil.

Ancient Greeks
Hippocrates, the father of medicine
Ancient Greeks believed that Virgin Olive Oil is beneficial to human health and recommended it for afflictions such as:

* Dermatological problem
* Lacerations and burns
* Gynecological diseases
* Inducement of vomit
* Ear infections
* Birth control
* According to the code established by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, olive oil was held to be beneficial for over 60 therapeutic uses.

Modern Medicine
Today, the modern medicine confirms that Virgin Olive oil is beneficial for one's health and its consumption is recommended for many instances such as:
* Cardio - circulatory illnesses
* Prevention of breast cancer
* Prevention of prostate cancer
* Control of stomach ulcer
* Control of diabetes
* Sexual impotence
* Diet for children and athletes
* Diet for the aged

The Secret Of Cretan Longevity
Anzel Keys' renowned study of seven countries, which was published in 1980, revealed that the health level of Cretans was the highest in the world. Cancers and cardio-circulatory disease were rare, since out of 100.000 people on Crete, there were only 9 deaths attributed to these diseases as opposed to 466 in Finland. It was further proven that this was largely due to the dietary habits of the Cretan people, whose basic ingredient is olive oil.