Amorgos, mon Amour!

 

31 August 2017

Knidos Cookery Club is just back from a fact-finding mission to the Greek Islands and is bursting with new recipe ideas. Our main port of call was the island of Amorgos, the most easterly of the Cyclades group – a six-hour ferry trip from Piraeus, near Athens.

Our visit coincided with the Psimeni Raki festival, held annually on 26 July, a wild night of drinking and dancing (click here for video) fuelled by a local grappa-like spirit tempered with sugar, honey and herbs from the island to produce a drink that is around 20% alcohol by volume.

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Dancing the night away in Amorgos

The drink is based on Rakomelo, which is served by monks to people visiting the amazing Panagia Hozoviotissa Monastery – a spectacular white building carved high onto the side of an imposing cliff face.

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Working hard to keep the Psimeni raki flowing at the festival in Amorgos

For a small island Amorgos produces a significant quantity of alcoholic beverages – check out the site of this local producer, Amorgion, to see what’s on offer. As well as Psimeni Raki and Rakomelo, they also make an interesting local version of tequila, known as Mekila, from prickly pears.

Another interesting place to visit on the island is the Amorgos Botanical Park, a great project that is reviving a traditional garden that had been left derelict for decades. Here’s a link to their Instagram page.

A group of volunteers are aiming to bring the garden, complete with its own cistern fed by a spring, back to life by cultivating herbs endemic to Amorgos. The project is funded by grants and by the proceeds from the sale of herbs such as their intensely-flavoured oregano, teas such as rockrose, and tinctures made from produce grown on the island and dried and processed by the volunteers.

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Knidos Cookery Club’s Greek trio with (clockwise from the top) smoky aubergine dip, Psimeni Raki and feta dip and tsatsiki, yogurt and cucumber.

One of the delicacies eaten during the Psimeni Raki festival to help soak up the booze are anevates, cheese pies baked with the aforementioned beverage. Unfortunately, Knidos Cookery Club couldn’t track down any of these pies but the use of Psimeni Raki has inspired us to make a boozy take on Greece’s spicy tirokefteri cheese dip.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as part of a dip platter)

100 g feta cheese

100 ml Greek-style yogurt

25 ml Psimeni Raki

One teaspoon dried oregano

One teaspoon red chili flakes

Method

Crumble the feta with a fork, add the yogurt, psimeni raki (use sherry or vermouth if you don’t have access to psimeni raki!)and herbs and spices. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly with the fork and chill for a couple of hours before serving with other dips such as tsatsiki (yogurt, cucumber and garlic) and a dip of roasted aubergines served with yogurt.

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Brandy Almonzandas All Round!

It’s time to kick back and enjoy a cocktail or two as this week we’re celebrating Knidos Cookery Club’s first anniversary.

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Our first post was made on 31 March 2016, and over the last year we’ve been on a journey that has taken in many seasonal dishes from Turkey and guest appearances inspired by travels to Greece, Georgia, Iceland, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

To celebrate this momentous milestone, we’ve gone back to our roots in Datça, Turkey and come up with our second ever cocktail – the Brandy Almonzanda, a very close relative to the Brandy Alexander, a creamy combination of brandy, homemade almond milk and Dalkowski Chocotella (we couldn’t find Creme de Cacao) with a dusting of grated nutmeg on top.

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Dalkowski Chocotella – a chocolate liqueur from Poland

Datça’s tasty almonds, badem in Turkish, are rightly famous all over Turkey – I remember sitting on a terrace in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, back in the days when it still had tables on the street, when a guy came round selling ice-chilled Datça almonds.

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A cup of frothy almond coffee served up at Karia Cafe, Datça, Turkey

Not content with selling the raw nuts, adding them to rice in a stuffed melon or adding them to local mezes, many enterprising cafes along the town’s beachfront have started offering Datça almond coffee – a frothy concoction made from the peninsula’s staple product.

Almond coffee came about because of the isolated position of Datça and the Knidos Peninsula. Sometimes bad weather would mean that supplies of coffee beans could not make it onto the peninsula so the locals made do with something they had in abundance – almonds.

For our Brandy Almonzanda we’ve prepared our own almond milk – it’s pretty easy to do: just soak the raw (unsalted) nuts overnight (or up to 48 hours – the longer you leave them, the better the milk tastes), adding a pinch of salt, a cinnamon stick and a date (we didn’t have any dates so we used some dried apricots).

After soaking overnight, drain and rinse the nuts in fresh water and then put in a blender with 400 ml of cold water and blend to a smooth paste. Strain the almond milk to remove any remaining bits in a metal strainer, using a wooden spoon to press out all the liquid – this will produce around 450 ml – and, hey presto, your almond milk is ready!

To make the cocktail, pour one part of brandy, one part of Creme de Cacao (or similar) and two parts almond milk into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into suitable glasses, sprinkle nutmeg over the top, add a straw and serve immediately.

Rip-Red Risotto

17 November 2016

This week on Knidos Cookery Club, we’re featuring beetroot as the basis for a rip-roaringly red risotto.

In Turkish, if you want to say something is, for instance, very blue, then you add a prefix. By adding mas to mavi (blue) you end up with masmavi.  As an example, to talk about the deep blue sea you could say Masmavi engin deniz.

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A rich red colour, such as that imparted by beetroot, would come out as kıpkırmızı, or, in English, rip-red, which seems a perfect way to describe out beetroot risotto. To add a Turkish-edge to the dish, we used coarse bulgur wheat, but you can use arborio rice if you prefer.

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We added some walnuts to the mix, as they combine so well with the sweet edge of beetroot. This is quite a common combination – in Georgia walnuts are blended with grated beetroot to make pkhali.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

250 g  whole, uncooked beetroot

50 g walnuts

100 g coarse bulgur wheat

150 ml red wine

500 ml beetroot cooking water

25 ml olive oil

one medium-sized onion

one garlic clove

one teaspoon dried thyme

one teaspoon dried rosemary

one teaspoon cumin seeds

black pepper and salt to taste

sprig of fresh basil leaves

Method

Boil the washed but unpeeled beetroot in a saucepan for 30 minutes. Put the beetroot in cold water, keeping the water you used to cook the beetroot separate, and then peel and top and tail the beetroot when cool. Put to one side.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and add the cumin seeds. Cook until the seeds are beginning to burn and then add the diced onion and garlic, dried thyme and rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is going translucent.

Add the washed bulgur wheat and stir to coat the grains. Add the glass of wine and stir occasionally until the liquid is absorbed. Add a third of the vegetable stock and keep cooking and stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Add more stock until the bulgur wheat is cooked and the risotto has a creamy consistency and then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, gently toast the walnut pieces in a small frying pan and chop the beetroot into small, 1 cm cubes. Mix the beetroot and toasted walnut into the bulgur wheat risotto.

Garnish with fresh basil leaves -green ones make a better contrast to the red of the risotto, but we could only find the mauve coloured variety. Serve with a green salad.

 

 

A Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up

25 August 2016

Move aside Bloody Mary – there’s a new hair of the dog on the block: Lord Venal’s Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up!

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Lord Venal’s Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up

After overindulging while celebrating Ukraine’s 25th anniversary of independence from the Soviet Union, Knidos Cookery Club was in need of a little kickstart to the day. This was provided by Lord Venal with his patent Prickly Pear Pick-Me-Up.

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Prickly pears growing wild in south-west Turkey

Apparently, the prickly pear, which grows in arid regions on the Opuntia cactus, has properties that make it a perfect antidote to a hangover. This spiny fruit is full of vitamin C, so that may explain some of its health-giving powers.

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Peeling the prickly pear

Care must be taken to peel the pear properly as the spines are painful if ingested. Top and tail the prickly pear then slice the peel off with a sharp knife. Halve the pear and scoop out the seeds, or leave them in for a crunchier cocktail.

Lord Venal recommends the following for his pick-me-up:

Ingredients (makes two large cocktails)

3 prickly pears
200g honeydew melon
100 ml white rum

2 cm fresh ginger
Ice
100 ml cold water

Method

Peel the pears and slice the melon into small cubes. Put into a plastic container with the water and the chopped ginger and use a hand blender to juice the fruit.

Pour in the rum and ice and stir well. Serve with a slice of orange.

Sundowner Time

2 June 2016

Welcome to the tenth edition of Knidos Cookery Club! This calls for a celebration and this week we’ll be looking at some snacks and starters commonly associated with Turkey’s favourite alcoholic tipple, rakı.

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A classic sundowner set with rakı, white cheese and cucumber

Rakı is a member of the family of anise-flavoured drinks common to many countries with coastlines on the Mediterranean  Sea – ouzo in Greece, pastis in France, sambuca in Italy, arak in Lebanon and chinchón in Spain.

When rakı is diluted with water, it turns a milky white colour leading to its Turkish nickname, aslan sütü, or lion’s milk. It’s drunk as an aperitif and is accompanied by white cheese and cucumber. In spring and early summer, it’s often served with tart, sour green plums, known as can erik.

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Sour plums

Rakı also accompanies a long, lazy lunch or evening meal with the drink served alongside a selection of mezeler, or appetizers that include, among many others, a spicy tomato and chili paste, acılı ezme, yogurt, grated cucumber and crushed garlic, cacık, and semizotu, purslane mixed with yogurt. These starters are usually followed by a grilled fish course and the meal is finished with slices of fresh melon.

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The new season’s carrots have arrived!

We couldn’t resist these great carrots in the market last week, and they’ve inspired this meze to go with a glass or two of lion’s milk. This week’s recipe is for cezizli havuç tarator, a combo of walnuts, carrots and yogurt.

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Carrot and Walnut Tarator

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

200 g baby carrots

Eight walnuts

200 ml Greek (strained) yogurt

One or two garlic cloves

Splash of olive oil

Salt, black pepper, dried oregano, chili flakes, cumin and nigella seeds

Method

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Clean and grate the carrots (keep the carrot tops to make this pesto) then cook the grated carrot over a low heat for ten minutes or so to help release the natural sugars in the carrots. While it’s cooking, keep stirring and add pinches of salt, black pepper, dried oregano, chili flakes and cumin.

Allow the carrots to cool then add the crushed walnuts (use a blender or a rolling pin to crush them), as much garlic as you prefer and the yogurt. Blend together well and drizzle with nigella seeds.

Serve as a dip with crackers and slices of red pepper and cucumber along with a glass of rakı, water and ice.