Greek cuisine

Celebrating Hope

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Recipes for roast pork and vanilla birthday cake.

I was probably between 2-4 months old when I first met Elpida and she was about a month younger. Ours is one of these important, long-lasting relationships that define and continuously explain to us a lot about each other. Her name is Hope and my name is Good News. So you could say that our parents equipped us with names that could help us withstand trials and could positively influence our fate and the fate of those who we love.

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Ours is a relationship of many flavours and emotions. Elpida and I have played, cried and laughed together. We have grown up alongside each other and then apart, in different countries. We have risen above petty family feuds: our parents were siblings. We have lost touch and found each other again. And then we found ourselves living in the same UK city away from Greece, the same city where Elpida’s dad spend some of his time in the late seventies. And perhaps our bond was strengthened when by some divine intervention or just by chance we were present when each one of us suffered significant blows in our lives, first in 2001 and then again in 2007.

One of our chosen ways to savour life is through eating and cooking. After all we think that good appetite and culinary curiousity is a sign of appetite for life and having the capacity to enjoy it. Perhaps it is also because my dad would reward us with a bite of honey on toast when we got the times tables right! Or because my uncle would cook up a storm whilst we were playing in the background.  Or maybe it is also because we spend many hours at the sofra (small low round table) with our grandmother making filo pastry and cheese pies and listening to stories when we were children.

One of my first memories is Elpida grabbing anchovies and sucking lemons when we were about 3 on holiday, much to the entertainment of all the adults. Another is running naked on the beach and into the sea with Elpida, Chryssie (El’s sister) and Dimitri (my brother) whilst the grown ups were roasting sausages and freshly caught fish, when we were 5 or 6. Many ‘eating’ years  on  here we are, in our thirties, cooking in my kitchen, at a place called Cardiff.

Last night Cardiff friends and loved ones gathered around the table to celebrate Hope, our own Elpida’s birthday, a hope that we can hold, hug and love.  May this be the best year yet cous!

For Elpida’s birthday we enjoyed a roast pork shoulder with roast vegetable and a berry vanilla cake.

Hope’s pork roast and vegetable
A pork shoulder cut (1300 gr) from Slade Organic Farm stall at Roath Farmers’ market was Elpida’s choice of birthday dinner. This lady loves a traditional British roast: one of the most significant contributions to internationally recognised culinary delights.  I searched for the best recipe but concluded that simplicity is best for a cut of such good quality. Peter Davies, owner of Slade Organic Farm, is a likeable man who never rushes you off the stall, looks for the best cut and type of meat for your occasion and number of guests, and always hands out cooking instructions and good recipes.  It is a joy to spend time with Peter, and if you live in Cardiff and have never met him pay him a visit at any of the Farmers’ markets that Cardiff hosts.

The pork was scored and tied by Peter but in the rare occassion that you get a joint that is not scored, remember scoring is very important for a crusty pork crackling and when doing this it important to cut only half way through the skin.

To prepare the pork, I rubbed sea salt in the scores, turned the pork upside down and seasoned the meat with a generous amount of salt and pepper.  There were no herbs or spices added but 3 cloves of garlic were hidden in the pork shoulder without cutting into the meat.

I roasted the pork in an oven pot (covered baking dish) in high heat (gas mark 9) for 30-40 minutes until it was nicely browned on the top and then slow roasted it for another 3.5 hours at gas mark 5 (low heat). For the slow roasting I added between 1-2 cups of water and 4 bay leaves so that the pork does not dry out but to also prepare stock for a sauce or gravy. During the last two hours of the roasting I added garlic and celery to the stock.  If you don’t have an oven pot you can wrap the pork tightly in aluminum foil.

Pork takes longer to cook and the rule of thumb is that you need 30 min per 500gr plus a 30 min sizzle at the beginning of the roasting at high temperature. I prefer to slow cook pork for longer so that it does not require any carving but it can be easily be broken off with just a fork.

At the end of the roasting you can always cook the crackling separately in the oven until it is crunchy and yummy and serve with the pork. I am not expert in making crackling but this version seems tasty enough to me.

For our gravy or sauce I heated up all the tasty pork juices, added a bit more hot water and corn flower, and  keeping the garlic and celery I then blitzed with my mini-pimer into a creamy white sauce.

We enjoyed the pork with traditionally roast potatoes and roast butternut squash from Pantypwyddyn Farm .

Put aside at least 4 hours for preparation, cooking and letting the pork cool down before eating. With the additon of a small lasagne tray (contributed by Dr Dodds) and salad this dish served 7 people. There are no left overs!

Hope’s birthday cake
I came across this fantastic and simple celebratory vanilla cake recipe on bbc website. It is simple easy and delicious. The only variation in my recipe is that I added Einkorn flour as I had run out plain flour. I also would strongly recommend more vanilla syrup for the cake (at least 100ml). The crème fraiche and fruit version of the cake is delicious and a light alternative to the butter cream icing version of the cake.

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Orza[1] with Orzo!

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When I was a child I thought Orzo (or κριθαράκι) was actually a seed, like rice or a very special type of barley because in Greek and Italian Orzo or κριθαράκι actually means ‘little pearl of barley’! The second least obvious reason to anyone who might not have seen or eaten orzo is its shape. The pasta looks like a seed and is many times cooked like risotto, added to ingredients that have already been cooked long enough to release flavours and juices (soffrito or slow roasts).

Orzo returned to my kitchen when I picked up a pack of a Misco  κριθαράκι at the Deli counter of Pipi’s café in Cardiff and has since been the basic ingredient for many improvised meals this year. It has been the impromptu but exciting pasta dressed in a chilly infused yet simple red tomato sauce for long catch ups and film nights with my wonderful Wendy (AKA  Dr Dodds). It has lined our stomach with starchy satisfaction at the end of wine mellowed evenings with Elpida (cousin and friend extrordinaire).  A variation of the recipe has seen this dish turn into a pasta bake topped with strong cheddar. It provided the basic ingredient for simple salads flavoured with cooked young spinach leaves, pine nuts, fresh parmesan and pepper that welcomed unexpected guests stopping by to pay us a visit. Recently in the Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) dish that I wrote about recently orzo has reclaimed its Greek traditional use in my cooking!

The return to cooking with orzo pasta definitely pointed out an iterative journey to dishes and recipes that I have grown up with and characterise my Greek identity. I realised that this cooking itinerary from experimentation to solid basics has been repeating itself and in a symbolic way it sums me up: the alchemy of flavours, ingredients and recipes from the micro cultures of Greece to new tastes and worldly “cuisines” that have rubbed off on me in the 14 years away from the birth land. Innovation and reinterpretation at once but with once common characteristic: each time this cooking iteration returns to deep routed sensory memories and recipes that will always be part of me.

I have always refused to be mindlessly patriotic, I actually despise manifestations of national delirium and at times have fearfully rejected national symbols but I soon realised that there is a difference between cultural awareness and nationalism. The one embraces and mixes whilst the other puts up solid walls and preaches parochialism, albeit it with the same cultural reference . And one of the ways that I have come to love and appreciate my culture (in its emerging hybridity) is through cooking.

Thinking about all this today has made me reassured and happy in realising that I have not forgotten who I am and that I am becoming who I want to be:  my own filter of tastes, experiencses and cultures.

Follow this link for more on simple Orzo inspired recipes.


[1] Orza! In the context used here means ‘go ahead’ or ‘sail on’ and is used as a phrase of encouragement in Greek. The word is latin and translates to luff in English and actually means to sail closer in to the wind (particularly when a vessels sail is flapping).

Goat and Lamb giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

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In mid September and soon after I returned from Western Crete, where we tried a variety of goat meat recipes, I noticed the Pantypwyddyn Farm stall at the Saturday  farmers’ market in Roath sells wild goat.  It was a meaty wild goat leg on the bone that had me looking for a Roast Goat spaghetti recipe otherwise known as γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) in Greek. Even though the goat meat version of giouvetsi is one of my favourite dishes I had never cooked it before this September but have since added it to our monthly ‘meat’ treats much to the delight of Mr Green.

Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) is a term used in Greek cuisine for roast meat-and-pasta dishes that are cooked slowly in an oven pot. Γιουβέτσι seems to literally translate ‘roast’ in English but I have not been very successful with this word’s accurate translation, origin or etymology and must keep searching for its roots, history and journey into the Greek cuisine and language.  One thing’s for sure the word has been adopted well in Greek cuisine and is just synonymous with the dish!

Γιουβέτσι (giouvetsi) is traditionally cooked in an oven pot called γάστρα(gastra) a term that literally translates to ‘belly’ or a ‘ship’s hull’. In cooking terms it is (traditionally) a clay oven pot for slow cooking but there are many modern versions made of metal and do the job well. Στη γάστρα (in the gastra) in every dayuse is a phrase that describes dishes and their method of slow oven cooking, particularly for meat, even if electrical or gas ovens are used instead of a traditional wood-fire oven or a fire over which the clay or ‘other material’ pot was placed; you will come across it in many restaurants and taverns in Greece.

The pasta used most commonly in giouvetsi, particularly for the veal or beef version of the dish, is orzo (κριθαράκι) but spaghetti is more commonly used for the lamb and goat on-the-bone versions of the recipe. Many cook books and blogs suggest adding tomato, onion, bay leaves, garlic and cinnamon sticks together with 2-3 cups of hot water to the goat or lamb whilst it roasts to help prepare the stock for the pasta to cook at end of the cooking time. There are many versions that I read and talked about recently but here is what I have tried  in the past two months.

The recipes

For my goat giouvesti recipe I used juice of a lemon, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper to marinade the goat (about 700 gr of meat on the bone) and added a bit of boiling water (nearly a cup), some bay leaves and a bit of sweet paprika to the pot to prepare the stock for the pasta whilst the meat roasted. I slow cooked the goat on the bone for around 2 hours, a bit longer than the suggested time (30 min per 0.5 Kg+20min). By that time the meat was ‘falling’ off the bone so in this case I removed the meat from the pot for the second part of the recipe. The second part took 20 minutes, and required some more water added (1-2 boiling hot cups) and half or one packet of spaghetti. I deliberately stirred the pasta a couple of times whilst it was cooking in the oven and instead pouring both two cups of water at once I added them gradually to make sure the pasta absorbs all the liquid. I didn’t really need to adjust the seasoning but still added some more pepper as I really like the peppery taste of the pasta with the goat.

For today’s lamb giouvetsi I used a leg of lamb (1kg)  bought at the Sunday Riverside Farmer’s  Market, again from the Pantypwyddyn Farm stall to make  a variation of the goat recipe, an uplifting treat  to our flu and cough tortured souls and bodies (we have had enough soup already!). I ‘hid’ whole garlic cloves in the leg of lamb (about 5) and marinated it in lemon juice and olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. For the stock I started as before but after 1 hour and 15 minutes of roasting I added some passata tomato (half to one cup), another cup of boiling water and two small cinnamon sticks. And about 15 minutes later I added about 250gr of orzo pasta that slow cooked for 20 minutes. It was good I checked half way through the pasta cooking as all the water was all gone and I had to add a bit more (about on cup). This time I did not remove the meat from the oven dish for the second part of the recipe. And just like that (admittedly after 2.5 hours) we tucked in the most delicious lamb recipe I have cooked. Tried and tested – this dish is guaranteed to be a success.

Note to all Cardiff Farmer market regulars: Whilst there is no guarantee you will get goat at Saturday Roath Market, and you can replace it with lamb, the stall holders told me goat is growing in popularity. So do keep an eye out for it, ask the stall holder if he has any in the farm fridge because they can bring some along to Sunday’s Riverside Market and …make sure you give me a shout too!  I do prefer the goat meat because of its leanness, prefer its texture and find it more flavoursome than lamb.