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.
My pop-up dinner at Cardiff’s Street Food Circus in August 2016 showcased one of my most favourite menus to date. Food inspired by my homes of Greece and Wales was served under a canvas tent and the leafy trees of Sophia Gardens, in the green heart of the city centre at a pop-up restaurant operated by Milgi Cardiff.
I cannot think of a menu that sums up the Lia’s Kitchen approach to cooking and dishes better. It’s based on how I eat and my adventures in food. I am always on the look-out for fantastic, local and sustainable produce and products from my Greek and Welsh homes to integrate in my cooking. And I always try to showcase producers, flavours and ingredients that you might not have heard or savoured, like for example salepi, the wild orchid powder that flavoured my yoghurt ice-cream desert.
And here’s one other very important thing. I work with people I like and whose business I respect. Their produce/product is as good as their business and working ethos. I love what they do and how they do it. And this is why I believe I should tell you about them. They provide me with daily inspiration and nourishment, and they are or are becoming good friends in the most beautiful, unrushed, organic way.
1.Tom Frost and Blaencamel Farm work tirelessly through the seasons in a fertile valley of West Wales, between river and coastline, and grow vegetable using organic, biodynamic methods. Their land is unadulterated and pristine. The food is nourishing and full of unique flavours. For my August menu I used organic aubergines, tomatoes, chard, cucumbers, beetroot grown and summer salad leaves grown in Wales. Their vegetable is the perfect match for my recipes and some of the great Greek products I have sourced.
2. Marianna and Oliveology are based in London Borough market. She sources her olive products from a small, organic farm in Sparta, Greece. She also sources other organic and wild, foraged goods from the Peloponnese. I swear this is not a sales pitch, they are not paying me – I urge you to try their products for your taste buds’ happiness and your soul’s nourishment! Together with their organic grape molasses and their fantastic Agiorgitiko grape balsamic vinegar, I used their 18 degrees organic, extra virgin olive oil (so aromatic but delicate at the same time) to dress Tom’s fresh salad leaves. I also used their white balsamic vinegar with Greek honey and Oliveology’s flavoured extra virgin olive oil (rosemary, purslane, walnut, oregano) – another product on my menu exceptionally high in Omega 3 – to dress a summer vegetable slaw, made mostly with Tom’s vegetable too. The success of Oliveology’s products is that their quality will not let you down and their flavours are distinct but well balanced. As my one of my diners said: ‘You can taste every single flavour but it doesn’t punch you in the face’. I think Oliveology’s products are an experience you should not miss.
3. Benni Thomas and Cig Lodor Meat are a butcher business based in Carmarthenshire Wales. I eat meat once a week (or less than that) and it is mostly if not exclusively from Benni who supplies both Riverside Farmers’ Markets in Cardiff. Benni supplies me with Dexter Beef which is what I used for my Moussaka main dish. Not only does the grass fed beef taste like no other, it is also contains almost as high Omega 3 as oily fish (for example mackerel). It has a rich and moreish flavour that complements creamy béchamel dishes, a tomato sauce with hints of cinnamon and loves to be cooked with the meaty aubergine! I use it in burgers and stews, and everything I cook really. With such low carbon footprint this beef should satisfy the most environmentally conscious person. So if you live in Wales and you have not tried Benni’s products I think you should definitely put it on your to-eat list.
4. Jacque and CocoCaravan make delicious raw chocolate and hot chocolate drinks. I use the vanilla and cinnamon cocoa powder every day and for my August menu I sprinkled it amply on the Greek yoghurt ice cream served for the last course. I also coated my homemade pasteli (Greek Sesame and pistachio energy bar) in melted CocoCaravan’s raw, dark chocolate. Jacque’s chocolates, which he started making in Wales a few years ago, are creamy and melt in your mouth, their flavour is subtle and the digest incredibly easily (compared to other chocolates) in my opinion. His products are just incredible.
5. Yannos, Stefanos and Maltby and Greek Wines, were introduced to me by Marianna when I was looking for a Greek supplier of two of my favourite grapes of wine Xinomavro and Malagouzia. Not only did they provide me with wine from a great vineyard but they were able to recommend the better wine for my menu. The Xinomavro and Syrah sweeter grape mix they recommended was a much better pairing for the moreish flavours of the menu. For their professionalism and support at a very hard personal time for them I give them ten out of ten – they are so professional and helpful. It is so easy to order their wines online and they don’t let you down. Try shopping from them and you will see what I mean.
6. Mel, Jo and the Penylan Pantry are a sustainable, local corner store/cafe/deli a stone throw’s away from my Cardiff home. These days I only change Blaencamel as my vegetable supplier for the Penylan Pantry, who source organic vegetable ethically from around Wales, UK and Europe. The stepped in to source additional vegetable for the menu as part of their weekly vegetable box scheme. They also have one of the biggest selections of delicious British cheeses I have found in a place in Cardiff and I just love them. And their home is one of the brightest, cosiest cafés in Cardiff. If you have not lounged and shopped there yet, do it soon!
Lia’s Kitchen’s next event is on 8 October 2016 at Slow Food South East Wales’s Dunraven Bay festival. We will be serving Greek pies made with organic chard and foraged nettles from Bleancamel Farm