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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Relish the Radish

3 August 2017

In keeping with the ‘Waste not, want not‘ mantra, this week we’ll be using some radish greens in a mini quiche.

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Often discarded, these peppery leaves taste great when fried up with some spring onion, garlic and a dash of soy sauce.

Ingredients ( makes four mini-quiches)

150 g radish leaves

1 radish (for decoration)

2 spring onions

1 garlic clove

Dash of soy sauce

60 g crumbly white cheese

2 eggs

25 ml olive oil

150 g filo pastry or shortcrust pastry

Method

Saute the chopped onions and garlic in a little olive oil in a heavy-based pan for 2-3 minutes, add a dash of soy sauce and then add the radish leaves and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the leaves start to wilt.

Allow the mix to cool for ten minutes then mix in the eggs and cheese. Prepare cases in small baking dishes with the filo pastry, brushing each filo leaf with olive oil.

Pour the mix into each pastry case to half way and then bake for 20 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 180 c.

Garnish with radish slices and serve with a green salad laced with more sliced radish!

Capering around Knidos

4 August 2016

This week in Knidos Cookery Club the focus is on capers,  the unripened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a thorny evergreen shrub that is native to the Mediterranean region.

This wonder bud can be used to add taste to a variety of dishes from pastas and pizzas to salads and stews. They can be preserved in brine, sun-dried or salted to allow their complex lemony flavours to come to the fore.

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Capers preserved in brine

A few weeks ago, Knidos Cookery Club was treated to a tasty lasagne topped with salted capers from the kitchen of Mr Alan in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. On returning to Knidos, our tastebuds awakened, the Saturday market and the local shops were scoured and a jar of capers in brine was tracked down.

We spotted a Nigel Slater recipe in The Guardian recently for a tomato, olive and French bean tart – we decided to give it a go with some modifications, using some Datça capers in place of the olives. Here’s what the finished product should look like:

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Ingredients (serves 3-4)

100 g filo pastry (yufka)

500 g tomatoes (any sort or a mix)

25 capers

20 green beans

25 ml olive oil infused with dried thyme

Seasoning: pinches of salt, black pepper, cumin, dried thyme

Method

Grease a large baking dish with some olive infused with dried thyme and place a sheet of filo pastry in the dish. Brush with more oil and put another layer of filo pastry – continue oiling and layering until pastry is used up.

Thinly slice the tomatoes and layer on the pastry base. Dot with capers and season with pinches of salt, black pepper, cumin and dried thyme.

Put the dish in a pre-heated oven (200 °C/gas mark 6) and bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry starts to go a deep golden colour. Keep an eye on it to make sure the pastry doesn’t burn.

While the tart is baking, cook the beans in boiling water for 4 minutes.

When the tart is cooked, arrange the beans in a criss-cross pattern on top of the tomato and caper base. Serve with a green salad – we had a  purslane, rocket, sorrel, cucumber and onion salad dressed with lemon, olive oil and pomegranate sauce.

 

 

 

Battle of the Beans 2: Land of the Giants

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Giant beans served up at Aigli restaurant, Kos Town, Greece

21 July 2016

When it comes to food, Turkey and Greece have more in common than they’ll often admit. They share a love for small cups of strong coffee and sweet tooths all around the Aegean Sea love baklava,  made from chopped nuts and layers of filo pastry drenched in honey.

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Baklava and coffee a la Turca

On the savoury side, no selection of starters is complete without that famous yogurt dip made with cucumber and garlic – known as cacık in Turkish, tzatziki in Greek. A Turk’s ıspanaklı börek is a spanakopita to a Greek.

Last week’s Knidos Cookery Club looked at Turkey’s signature bean dish, kuru fasulye, using haricot beans. This week, we will attempt to make the brasher Greek version, gigantes plaki, which uses the biggest beans you can get your hands on and bakes them in a thick tomato sauce in the oven

There’s something about the humble bean that makes it a great comfort food when your body craves something plain and wholesome. After a period of indulging in Greece’s myriad takes on feta cheese: a slab placed atop a horiatiki salad, deep fried in a honey and sesame seed coating or wrapped in layers of flaky filo pastry, feta fatigue can sometimes set in.  If this happens, then there’s nothing like a bowl of giant beans served with a light green salad to bring your appetite back to life.

Butter beans, also called lima beans, work well in this dish, with their insides going soft and mushy while the exterior remains firm. Reserve some of the liquid (around 200 ml) from cooking the dried beans to use for these baked beans with an edge. A secret ingredient that gives this dish it’s distinctive taste is celery.

Ingredients (serves 5-6 generous portions)

250 g dried butter (lima) beans soaked overnight

Two medium-sized red onions

Two small stalks of celery

One or two cloves of garlic

Three medium-sized plum tomatoes

A small bunch of parsley

Pinches of salt, pepper and cumin

One teaspoon of cinnamon

One teaspoon dried thyme

50 g olive oil

Method

Boil the butter beans over a low heat for an hour or so until they are tender but not falling apart. Stick around and every five minutes or so scoop off the foam that forms while the beans are cooking. Drain the beans, reserving 200 ml of the cooking water for use later.

While the beans are cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add most of the finely diced onion (save some slices to sprinkle over the cooked beans) and the chopped garlic. Fry until translucent and then add the finely chopped celery. Cook for five minutes or so and then add the parsley, thyme and cinnamon and season with salt, pepper and cumin.

Peel the tomatoes (dunking them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then into cold water will help loosen the skins) and chop finely and add to the other ingredients in the frying pan and cook for ten minutes.

Pour the beans into a large baking dish, cover them with the sauce and add the reserved cooking liquid. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 °C (gas mark 5) for one hour. The beans should still be fairly firm on the outside but mushy and soft on the inside. Leave in the oven for longer if the insides are firm other than mushy.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so and then serve with a green salad and crusty bread to soak up the juices.

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