On 21 May 2017 Melissa (Penylan Pantry), Sam and Shauna (Hangfire), Bettina (Brød-The Danish Bakery), Goldie (Samosaco), Ericka Duffy (cocktail and taste expert), Ashli (Spillers Records) and I worked together to deliver a unique night of food, drink and music. What united us, apart from our extremely worthy cause to raise money for Action Against Hunger, is our passion about women leading the way in food business and good, ethical, tasty food. We delivered this event under the banner of Meal Squared, a format that delivers collaborative events and which Melissa set up last year to strengthen Cardiff’s growing independent business community.
The inspiration for Cooking From the Heartland came from the ‘Severn Sisters’ Bristol dinner organised by Romy Gill MBE and Kim Somauroo in autumn 2016. It involved women from different food cultures to create a female feast. ‘We were so inspired by our experience [of attending the event] that we decided to have our own version in Wales. Our feast, ‘Cooking from our heartland’ is inspired by the international drinks, food and music makers we know and love’, say Sam and Shauna. For me and the other women who were approached to participate in this evening there was no doubt that this was going to be our kind of fun.
This is the story of our coming together. It tells you why we chose Action Against Hunger, what ‘Cooking from the Heartland’ means to us and why we think it is so important that women work together…
I would particularly like to thank Oliveology, Blaencamel Farm, Cig Lodor Meat, All Greek Delicatessen, CocoCaravanCocoCaravan for donating ingredients for the mezze platter and dessert I prepared for the event. A massive thanks to all the other women who volunteered and worked hard on the night . And to Kas of Waterloo Tea who gave us access to his amazing restaurant/coffee house in Wyndham Arcade to run the event.
We chose Action Against Hunger because …
‘165 million people suffer from childhood malnutrition. If they joined hands, they could form a complete circle around the earth. I think this says it all.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)
‘When we started Hang Fire, we sofa surfed for the first year, ploughing every penny from the last pop-up back into next. Now that we have a roof over our heads, we think if you have two quid, you have a quid to share. It’s important to always give a something back. Action Against Hunger does amazing work all year round, both at home and further afield. It is our chosen partner charity this year. With everything happening in the world right now, we need to keep looking out for each other and help those who aren’t as fortunate as us.’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)
‘We’re told that we’re living in exciting times of such progress and achievements in the sphere of technological development and medical advancements, yet so many children are going hungry and die of malnutrition. That isn’t right. Thank goodness for Action Against Hunger for making it their business to help those who are less fortunate.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)
‘Nobody is immune to misfortune. People’s lives change overnight through war, unemployment, illness. People go hungry in Wales. Refugees walk thousands of miles to safety, water and food. In Greece people like us bin-dive to find food. Recently, at food community project in Uganda I often drove past international relief lorries transporting food to South Sudan and Yemen on a massive scale. I support Action Against Hunger with all my heart’. (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)
Cooking from our heartland means ….
‘Seasonal, free thinking, creative cooking inspires me. I love nutritious, wholesome ingredients, that are good for your health, soul and mind. My heartland is wherever I happen to fall. I like to cook with local produce from the surrounding area. I feel strongly that the best way to know a new place, is to get stuck into the local food culture.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)
‘We are Celts and experts in the art of slow cooking and smoking. Cooking from our heartland brings those two things together to create our own version of Southern Wales style BBQ using great local produce. We take the best that the UK has to offer and couple it with the cooking techniques we learned in the States all to a soundtrack by Dolly Parton!’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)
‘Baking is an important connection to my birthland. Moving to Wales in 1998, I quickly felt at home but always missed Danish bread. The rubbish Danish Pastries in the UK meant I had to set the record straight. My heartland is with my grandfather (FarFar) who was a baker in central København. My mother, grandmother and I baked to his tales of making bread (brød), pastries and cake. I’ve kept going and now I can do the same for you through Brød.’ (Bettina, Brød)
‘We live in an age where access to “stuff” in unlimited. Every thing’s a commodity. You can hear music from a culture a million miles removed from your own. You have access to ingredients from lands far and wide. Anything goes. This creates an exciting palette for a music fan or food lover. But if something is made with passion, with heart and soul oozing out of it, it hits you in the solar plexus and resonates. That sort of passion is the difference between wholesale, mass produced for the highest margin return and the real deal. I think that the unifying thing about the team bringing this event together is that we are only interested in the real deal. It’s all about passion.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)
‘The Heartland theme meant exploring my connection to Wales which for me revolves around art and literature. My cocktails are inspired by the Davies sisters who contributed much to the artwork and culture that enthrals me about Wales. They bought whole galleries of artwork (Monets, Manets, Rodins). They established Gregynog Hall as a centre of excellence for the arts, crafts and music. Most importantly, the Davies Sisters took in Belgian refugees including the sculptor George Minne, and the painters Valerius de Saedeleer and Gustave van de Woestyne. All three artists were to spend the rest of World War I largely dependent on the Davies family for support. You can visit the Davies Galleries at National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.’ (Ericka Duffy, Cocktail and taste expert)
‘Cooking from the heartland brings you the taste of my Greece whilst mixing it with world food influences, and good Welsh/UK produce I discovered in the past twenty years living away from the birth land. My platter is about ingredients from some of the businesses involved in the collaboration, whilst I introduce you to some of my favourite Greek and Welsh, UK- based businesses. And every dish reminds me of someone I love. My Yaya (Grandma) for the boozy tzatziki, my Mana (Mom) for the meatballs and my Aderfo (brother) for the fava dip.’ (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)
Women should work together …
‘Women make up 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and account for about two-thirds of the world’s 600 million livestock keepers. Still to this day millions of women and girls around the world are discriminated against simply because they are born female. Events like International women’s day send a message of unity, solidarity and compassion. I hope MealSq Menywod sends out the same message on a smaller scale. Gender discrimination should not be accepted in this day and age.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)
‘We have always championed the idea of bridging the gender gap in any industry, and the hospitality industry is no different. We’re surrounded by talented, courageous women who are a daily inspiration to us. It’s a great privilege to come together and produce an event that is not only authentic but heartfelt from some incredible women truly passionate about what they do.’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)
‘In the words of Poly Styrene “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. But I think “oh bondage, up yours!”. Being a go-getting female with a lot of knowledge in your field, you often have to play down your expertise and shrink below your ambitions. With politics at the forefront of many people’s minds at the moment, it’s important to remember that not so long ago women were denied the basic human right to have our say. But let’s not forget we are the lucky ones. Many women worldwide still do not have the right to exercise their own choice. In the face of regressive steps the world has taken lately we must continue to fight for our rights and demand equality.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)
‘I like working with inspirational people, both men and women. But I think this is an event that shows how we women can support each other in business.’ (Bettina, Brød)
‘This meal presents females who work in flavour and taste – each of us in traditionally male-dominated fields. Between our different skillsets, point-of-view, and aesthetics there is a collaboration occurring – from baking, Greek cuisine, smoking, cheese pairing, cocktail mixing, and the music selection by the World’s Oldest Record shop.’ (Ericka Duffy, Cocktail and taste expert)
‘I have had fun and struggles being a female immigrant claiming my place in Britain! As a Greek girl, I was often stereotyped to suit the service industry just fine but some people were shocked I was also a law graduate, a young lecturer or that I chose to start my own food venture. I have had many lives. I refuse to be pigeonholed. And women should fight together against prejudice. Antagonism is not a female trait so it’s time to resist being turned into alpha-males. Our global village relies on running it together. There is space for everyone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)
May is the period of the hungry gap but at Blaencamel Farm where, during this period of summer anticipation , they continue to grow nourishing greens. Gem and pink, and green Battavia lettuce have appeared on the stall. There is spinach, sweetheart cabbage, wild and green garlic. Whilst the seasonal bouquet garni can complement the dill that makes this spring soup so special.
May’s recipe is a Greek traditional Easter soup with a Welsh and clean-eating twist! Mageiritsa is traditionally cooked with lamb’s liver and plenty of greens and salad leaves. This is a vegetarian version and could be made vegan if you choose to not use avgolemono, the egg-lemon sauce typical of many Greek recipes. If you live in Wales what makes this Mageiritsa extra special is using dried kelp from Pembrokeshire. And the final Greek note is the use of the tangy and sharp sea buckthorn berry, which is becoming a staple in my cooking this year.
Visit www.liaskitchen.com for more ideas and monthly seasonal recipes inspired by Blaencamel Farm’s crops.
Ingredients (4-6 portions)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 -2 leeks, finely chopped
- 1 green garlic or 1 bunch of wild garlic
- 500-700g finely chopped mixed Blaencamel greens, such as spinach, lettuce and/or sweetheart cabbage
- 500g mushrooms, Blaencamel farm or chestnut if they are not available
- 1 punnet of mixed Blaencamel farm herbs (fennel, sage, mint, thyme) (Optional)
- 1 finely chopped bunch of dill or 1 tbsp. tried dill
- 2 Tbsp. uncooked rice
- 1 heaped tsp. Pembrokeshire Beach Company Kelp or other dried/crumbled sea weed (optional)
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. sea buckthorn berries roughly chopped (optional)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Around 2 litres of stock
For the Avgolemono sauce:
- 1 small egg
- Juice of one small lemon
Preparation (45 minutes)
- Coat the base of a deep pot with olive oil and sauté the onion and leeks with one teaspoon of salt until soft and translucent.
- Add the cubed mushrooms (2 -3 cm chunks) and sauté for 2-5 minutes.
- Add the finely chopped herbs, wild or fresh garlic and greens, and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
- Then add the stock, stir well and (if you are using) add the dried kelp or other sea weed, pepper and sea buckthorn berries.
- Simmer for about 10 minutes and then add the rice.
- After 20 minutes (when the rice has softened and soup has thickened) remove from the hob.
- Beat the egg really well until it is fluffy and creamy (around 5 minutes), and whilst you continue whisking gradually add the lemon juice.
- Take one ladle of hot stock from the soup, strain through a fine sieve and add the hot stock slowly to the egg-lemon mixture whilst still whisking on low speed or by hand.
- Finally add the thinned egg-lemon and stock juice to the hot soup stirring in well to make sure it flavours and thickens all of the soup.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
There is nothing that can cure the Greek Easter blues like slice of soft and fragrant Tsouréki (Greek Easter brioche bread) dipped in warm (coconut) milk! I am genuinely sad Greek Easter is over.
At the same time Easter leaves me on a high note of optimism. Yes you heard right optimism! The window has been open at work all morning, the breeze caressing my cheeks. It is bloom time and greens are filling my cooking basket.
Greek Easter is the biggest celebration of the calendar year, and YES it IS bigger than Christmas. I think its importance goes further back than the times of Christianity. Easter is after all is a moving celebration defined by lunar cycles, which often means that the Greek one falls at a different time from the rest of the world (apart from this year!). And Easter could be any time in spring but is always around or after the spring equinox (in March), when in ancient Greek times we celebrated the return of Persephone, the goddess of vegetation and bloom, to earth from the underworld (Hades). In our part of the world it seems it was always a time to be happy.
I love Easter time… and that love is contradictory, fuelled by nostalgia of early youth and my birth land, fed by new memories of celebrating at my new home with friends, and it is deeply entrenched in my heart. I don’t know whether I love Easter because of all the beautiful memories of gatherings and celebration at my Thracian or Evritanian villages, with my Greek families. Or because it was the time we were allowed to stay up well past midnight on Greek Big Saturday after we literally played with fire, holding beautifully adorned white candles, chanting out of tune under starry skies at midnight. Maybe it is because of all the ceremonial preparations and the thoughtful selection of the red Easter eggs to withstand the ferocious, conkers-like collisions of our traditional Easter egg game (and always chasing that cheeky, fraudulent cousin that brought along a fake, wooden egg in the hope to win – you know who you are!). Maybe it is all that festivity and happiness we were ‘allowed’ after the gloomy, strict religious week of the Great Passions of Christ, when no TV or happy music were allowed (there was a period of my childhood that from Big Thursday there was no music radio broadcast on any Greek radio station!). I used to hate that week and its gloomy tone but in a non-religious way I now see it as a good opportunity to reflect on the yin and yang of my life, the trials and tribulations of our world and the suffering experienced by people around it, humbly and modestly.
My ‘church’ is out in the fresh air and in my heart. I cannot pretend I am a religious Greek but I love our traditions and ceremonies from the red eggs, to the meditative Orthodox church ceremonies and spiritual chanting in candle-lit churches infused with incense (not far from some of the yoga and meditative chanting that is so widespread now). And that amazing Byzantine hymn – the ‘Sweet Spring’ – which I secretly hummed to on the Big Thursday even when I rebelled against going to church (I just love the poetry and the music of it – it is all about love and life). And the red Easter eggs, the dishes loaded with fresh greens and herbs, foraged and grown in ‘mpaxtsedes’ (backyard allotments) – mageiritsa, kourbani (which I think is an Arab word for sacrificial lamb). And the return to cheese after fasting and going vegan for Lent. And the soft brioche breads with toasted almonds, which are a tradition mixed with that of our Hebrew communities and Armenian neighbours. And the tender lamb, which was eaten once a year at Easter only because people would not sacrifice their animals often in mass production, commercial practices. And the land’s rebirth, the rebirth of the year, which the Greeks in ancient and moderns times, share with their Iranian neighbours who celebrate Nowruz with similar ingredients and lasting festivities.
But mostly I love Easter because of what it signifies to me – hope, rebirth and a beginning. And I wish you all the happiest of seasons, feeding on the greens that thrive around you in tune with nature’s cycles. And I also wish you resilience and defiance of the darkness of times and politics. Shine a light in your own heart and the hearts of others.
To find out more about my Greece and my Greek flavours join me at Lia’s Kitchen cooking class on 5 May 2017.
In April return to Greece for culinary inspiration. This month’s recipe is a risotto dish much loved in my homeland and to make it I am using seasonal organic Greens from Blaencamel Farm in West Wales. The key difference of this Greek risotto, called ‘Spanako-rizo’ or ‘Spanakoprasó-rizo’ is that it is less complicated in its cooking process (when compared to its Italian cousin) and it uses a lot of greens as the star ingredient rather than focussing on making a creamy rice. Whilst the rice is also added before the water it does not follow the Italian risotto method and you add all the water at once simmering the rice slowly to complete the dish.
Traditionally this dish is made with a rice called Karolina. In the UK, you can find this in Greek specialty shops, but also on the shelves of many of the Middle Eastern shops where you should seek it as Egyptian Rice. It is a short grain variety which keeps its bite when compared to Arborio. If you cannot find Karolina/Egyptian rice why not try Thai Jasmin rice which I find is a great replacement for many Greek recipes. In fact, as I am not a purist, I recommend that you try this dish with all rice varieties to find your preferred version.
Chard is regarded a wild green in Greece and has traditionally been foraged. Now cultivated widely in farms such as Blaencamel it has become a staple of our diet in the UK. Which is why I am using it together with spinach. Its meatier leaves, organic spinach, delicious Welsh leeks, foraged wild garlic and wonderful onions complete this version of the dish. In fact, Blaencamel farm’s April box will include all the ingredients you need to make your Greek Risotto. A perfect gift of the emerging Spring time and a great dish to help your body detox the heavy flavours of winter!
Ingredients (4 portions)
- 300g Blaencamel leeks (1 bunch), sliced
- 450g spinach (1 bag), roughly chopped
- 450g chard (1 bag), roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 bunch wild garlic
- ¾ cup of rice
- Juice of one small lemon
- 1 tsp. tomato paste
- Up to 2 tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. black ground pepper
- 1 tbsp. sea buckthorn berries (optional)
- 1 finely chopped bunch of dill or 1 tbsp tried dill
- Extra virgin olive oil
Preparation (30 minutes)
1. Coat the base of a 20cm pot with olive oil and sauté the onion and leeks with one tsp of salt until soft and translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste and stir well.
3. Gradually add the chopped greens (spinach, chard, wild garlic) so that wilt slightly.
4. Add the raw rice and mix well.
5. If using chop the sea buckthorn berries roughly or crush and add to the rice and green.
6. Add the lemon juice, around two cups of boiling water, dill (if adding), another teaspoon of sea salt and the pepper.
7. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
8. Serve with more crushed sea buckthorn, some feta cheese and drizzle with raw olive oil.
A recipe inspired by the way Iranians make their open omelette or frittata, known as Kuku. It uses March’s seasonal vegetable like carrots and spinach still abundant at Blaencamel farm and in their weekly organic vegetable boxes. This type of frittata uses a generous quantity of ingredients so don’t be surprised when you see how much vegetable goes in it – it is what sets it apart from other open omelettes.
You can find Blaencamel farm vegetables at both Farmers’ markets in Cardiff, Roath and Riverside, on Saturday and Sunday respectively, but also in Aberystwyth and their own farm shop. Order their boxes here.
Ingredients (4 portions)
- 250g (3 medium) carrots, coarsely grated
- 150g spinach, finely chopped
- 15g (half a small bunch) parsley, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 50g sundried tomatoes or mixed antipasti e.g. peppers and artichokes, finely chopped
- 30g cashews, chopped
- 3 Tbsp. Goji berries (optional)
- Fresh mandarin or orange juice
- 100g (half a pack) feta cheese, crumbled
- ½ tsp. ground cumin
- A generous pinch of smoked or regular sweet paprika
- ½ tsp oregano
- 1 generous pinch of saffron strands
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 6 eggs
- 2 generous pinches of salt
- ½ tsp. sugar
- Olive oil
Preparation (30 minutes)
- Add enough fresh mandarin or orange juice to cover the goji berries in a small bowl or mug. Infuse whilst prepping.
- Add a tablespoon (or two) of olive oil to a 20 to 25cm non-stick pan, and sauté the onion on low heat with a pinch of salt and the sugar until it caramelises (5-10 min).
- Pound the saffron in a bowl with a rolling pin, beat in the eggs and allow time for the saffron to infuse in them.
- Remove the onions from the pan, add another tablespoon of oil, add the carrots and cumin. Sauté until soft (5 min).
- Return the onions to the frying pan, add the goji berries, cashews, sundried tomatoes and antipasti. Mix well.
- Add the spinach and parsley little by little so that it slightly wilts. You don’t need to cook your spinach much or at all but you might choose to wilt it a bit of you are using a smaller pan.
- Add the flour, pinch of salt, baking powder, paprika and oregano to the eggs and beat until the flour is mixed well and to give the eggs some volume and softness.
- Mix into the pan gradually and carefully making sure the beaten egg goes to the bottom of the pan and mixes in well between the abundant ingredients to hold them together. The pan should remain on low heat all this time.
- Make sure that the ingredients are spread evenly on the pan and sprinkle the feta cheese on top.
- After firming up the frittata on the hob for a couple of minutes, you can cook the frittata in two ways: a) If your pan is heat resistant place it in a preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes at 180-200 degrees –cover with a lid or aluminium foil for half the time, or b) Cover the pan with a lid or plate. Continue cooking on the hob on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Then place under a preheated grill for a couple of minutes or until golden and risen.
- If using a 20cm pan it should be at least 5cm dip to make a cake like frittata that will rise.
- You can choose to omit or include ingredients on this list. It is also very easy to replace them. For example goji berries can be replaced with cranberries or even barberries if you prefer an authentic Iranian taste.
Most of the people I know in Britain talk about how much they love Greek spanakopita (spinach pie) but my all-time favourite is actually Greek leek pie (prasópita). What best way to bring together my two homes other than in this wholesome, winter recipe?
Leeks are currently in season and Blaencamel Farm’s boxes and market stalls showcase this wonderful Welsh ingredient. You can make this pie using a couple of organic bunches of leek and one onion. And you will thank me for it as the flavour of Blaencamel’s leeks is special. Every bite will make you feel nourished and shun away the winter blues. Happy pie eating!
Join Lia’s Kitchen cooking classes on 3 and 10 February to find out more and savour Greek cuisine. Book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/lias-kitchen-7901836356
Ingredients (4-6 portions or 12 pieces)
- 2 bunches Blaencamel Farm leeks (around 700g)
- 1 onion
- 200g Feta cheese
- 2 organic eggs
- 15g fresh dill (optional)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 250g filo pastry (packs available at most supermarkets)
- Olive oil for cooking and pastry basting
For the glazing
- 1 espresso cup milk
- 1 tsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. sesame seeds
Preparation (up to an hour)
- Peel, halve and slice the onion finely.
- Rub the salt and sugar in the onion slices with your finger until they are well separated.
- Let the onions sweat for ten minutes.
- Meanwhile trim the leeks and halve lengthwise. Place in a basin filled with water and rinse well to remove all dirt from between the layers. Repeat at least twice.
- Coat the base of a wide pan or pot with enough olive oil and preheat. The pot or pan should have a lid.
- Add the onions and slowly fry, covered until they caramelise.
- While the onions caramelise slice the leeks finely or roughly.
- When the onion is ready add the leeks and stir fry for ten minutes on medium heat until softened.
- Remove from heat (and pan if possible) and cool down.
- In a big bowl beat the eggs lightly and crumble the feta cheese.
- Add the leeks and onion mix to the eggs and feta. Add the pepper and mix well.
- Pick a baking tray (around 36cmx40 but can be a bit bigger) and using a brush or your hands oil its base and sides well.
- Layer half the filo pastry sheets one by one (6-8 depending on the pack), lightly oiling each sheet with olive oil using a brush or your clean fingers.
- Don’t oil the last sheet and pour the leek pie filling spreading it evenly across the tray with the back of a spoon.
- Repeat the layering process over the filling.
- Heat up the milk and butter in a small pot until the butter melts.
- Pour on top of the pie, starting from its edges but making sure that the full surface of the top sheet is also moistened. Tuck the corners in to seal the pie.
- Using a sharp knife slice the pie into twelve portions.
- Sprinkle the sesame seeds and bake in a medium oven (180 Celsius) for 30-45 minutes until golden.
Last week the amazing We Are Cardiff blog asked me to develop a recipe for them! And here it is together with the full blog.
Remember to find out more about Greek food join one of Lia’s Kitchen intimate cooking classes on 3 and 10 February. I will be introducing participants to Greek Kitchen basics but will also be sharing Greek flavours and recipes that are not yet widely known in the UK. You can book online here www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/lias-kitchen-7901836356.
Or contact Lia for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.