Rosemary Baron is keeping me company with her book about Greece and its food. I love reading others’ take on Greek food and this lady being an archaeologist is a very credible, unbiased source of information. She says, ‘the ancient Greeks regarded cooking as both an art and a science and throughput the ancient world Greek chefs were accorded the status and reputation that French chefs now enjoy. The principles and practice of fine cooking and gastronomy as we know it today were first established in the abundantly stocked and highly creative kitchens of Ancient Greece, and modern Greeks still enjoy the foods and tastes that inspired the chefs of antiquity’.
Rosemary Baron goes on to talk about the height of the Minoan civilization and trade with North Africa, which helped create a small garden of Eden in Crete that influenced Hellenistic cooking. At the height of the Roman civilization Greek chefs and teachers were sought after and employed in the Roman homes and kitchens, and according to Baron it seems under their tutelage the amazing, distinct Italian cuisine developed. Then the Byzantine empire helped the influence of Greek cooking influence travel further. And then during the occupation of the Franks, Venetians, Ottomans eastern and other influences arrived, and tribes like the Vlachs brought spices like my beloved paprika.
I am certain Greek chefs embraced new ingredients and influences from other cultures. The early Greek diet of olives, wheat, figs, grapes, wild greens, fish and a little meat was enriched with ingredients such as lemons, potatoes, aubergines, tomatoes, spinach, okra introduced by trade, but also war and occupation.
The silver lining is that even dark times of occupation were still characterized by culinary and cultural diversity. In her book Baron clearly asserts that the hybridity between Greek, eastern and even Balkan cuisine was mostly nurtured during the more peaceful Byzantine times rather than the Ottoman Empire. But I am sure that the Ottomans have helped many dishes travel through Greek chefs to new parts of their Empire where other cultures also embraced and adapted them.
What fascinates me is Baron’s explanation that during Ottoman times Greeks, who were forbidden to speak their own language, were forced to use Turkish names for dishes such as the now famous moussaka, boureki, dolmades, losing the connection of the dishes to their origins. As children we were taught about secret Greek schools during the Ottoman occupation. They were the underground hubs of language that kept Greek alive but I didn’t know that Greek chefs also took refuge in monasteries for their safety and to safeguard centuries of culinary knowledge!!! Apparently there they wore tall white toques which distinguished them from the monks – the toque is now the chef hat and symbol throughout the world.
Food and its love travel well even at the worse of times. It is a beacon of hope and should connect rather than divide. What I know as traditional and modern Greek cuisine is a real testament to that, and it is a lot more diverse than just the delicious feta and tzatziki.
You can now join my 2017 cooking classes telling you the story of my Greek kitchen. Classes include an Introduction to Greek Kitchen Basics; The Greek Flavours no one is telling you about; The Art of Greek Pie; The Magical Art of spice mixing.
Watch Rick Stein’s programme about Thessaloniki, Greece and its food to find out more about my city of birth and what you might get during our courses: http://bbc.in/2gnRaMQ.
This morning I thought I had missed call from someone I have worked during the last two very intense years of my water related job (which takes up most of my time during the week). He has accepted a job in a faraway warm rich place and I had sent him a farewell card. I called him back to wish him well, thinking it was his last day at work. At this stage of our testing professional relationship, having been through intense challenges, trials and tribulations, we could just be human, and focus on the person immigrating to a different country, leaving their home behind, regardless of whether this is done happily or sadly. So it was to my surprise that at the end of the conversation he chose to say something awkward. It aimed to question the role of the hard working organisation I spend almost all of my working week at to protect the interests of the public in a private UK water industry. Still I obliged him. It was not personal, he’s a good guy, it was probably his way of joking and he was making small talk whilst I was calling to wish him good luck from the bottom of my heart.
Straight after that I went to Oasis, a refugee charity in Cardiff, where hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, migrants or immigrants, receive support and food every week. I found myself in the kitchen with women from Ghana, India, Uganda, Zambia, Albania whilst they were cooking a meal for ninety odd people who will have lunch at Oasis today. I met them for the first time. They all probably have interesting stories, perhaps some of these stories are harrowing. Some of them have their children at their home country whilst they work here. Still they opened their mind and their arms to me as soon as I walked in. You know that sense of that we are all in it together? That’s what I felt.
This morning I felt relieved as I was putting the phone down, being thankful for the bad signal that interrupted the awkward final bit of my discussion with a newly appointed ex-pat . And as I was leaving Oasis I felt grateful to Reynette and the women in the Oasis kitchen for opening their door to me, to cook, to share & record their recipes and listen to their experiences. As a human.
I think I know for good which conversation I’d rather be in.
Quinoa with sweet potato is becoming a real favourite at Lia’s Kitchen both when we are receiving guests but also when we are touring. This is an easy to make but very nutritious dish. It was on our September supperclub menu and last night this was a side dish at our dinner table when our Braunton family visited.
I am writing down this recipe for Miss Lyra May, or more accurately for her mom Beth, because she promised me that if her mommy cooks this recipe for her she will keep eating quinoa.
Now I know that this nearly four year old lady is a smart negotiator but , my dear Beth, I still think it is worth giving this a go. After all Miss Lyra’s one year old brother never objected at all to eating the quinoa.
1 cup red , mixed or plain quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
1 large sweet potato coarsely grated
1 large onion finely chopped
1 (fresh) bay leaf
1/2 t mixed spices of cinnamon, cloves, pepper or a small pinch of each (optional)
1 garlic clove mashed (optional)
150 gr mince quorn (optional)
a couple of squeezes lime or lemon (optional)
1 small bunch parsley finely chopped
Boil two cups water and make vegetable stock.
Simmer the quinoa for up to twenty minutes, until cooked but not sticky.
Add enough olive oil to cover the base of a frying pan.
Add the onion and the bay leaf and sauté for a couple of minutes.
Add a pinch of salt.
Add the sweet potato and stir fry until soft -5 to 10 minutes.
Add the quinoa , parsley and if you need to some more olive oil.
Taste and season is necessary.
If you are using citrus juice add last.
Stir well and enjoy.
People were sunny last Sunday, like the weather. And the Made in Spring/Made in Roath crew did a grand job getting neighbours and friends out of their houses in an intimate gathering. Thank you so much for having Lia’s Kitchen there. It’s wonderful to be part of such a great event in my neighbourhood.
Also the wonderful Helia Phoenix, a wonderful creative force with a name that sounds like sunshine, came to see us and she honoured me with an entry on the We Are Cardiff blog. It had to happen like that!
Thank you all so much for making the second Lia’s Kitchen outing a success.
I look forward to more.
Spring is here! I am writing to you from one of our local cafés. Its wide French doors are open to an outdoor terrace. It’s still light and warm and a soft breeze just brought in scents of blossom (and something delicious cooking in a kitchen).
I have chosen to share with you the recipe for Tourlou, a mixed vegetable dish that tastes like spring and summer to me. A fridge chilled portion of it with some crumbled feta (surprise, surprise!) is just as nice to eat as straight after cooking or cooled to room temperature. But I’d prefer the chilled version today because it makes me think of Vourvourou, my friend Maria and resting in the shade in her company sipping a chilled beer (sigh!).
Back to cooking! Tourlou is an easy recipe and great for using a medley of vegetable. It can be a light evening dinner on its own or served with rice, a delicious side dish or alternative to salad, and a fantastic tapa or meze. And apparently Tourlou is the same as briam only it’s cooked on a hob- here’s something new for food geeks like me.
Serves 2 for main and more as a meze or side
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1 pepper, chopped (optional)
1 carrot (optional)
200g ripe tomatoes, finely chopped or chopped in blender
1 can chopped tomatoes (400g mixed weight)
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
Pepper (to taste)
Takes up to an hour
Wash all vegetable, peel the potatoes, and dice it all in five centimeter (large) chunks.
Sauté the onion and a pinch of salt in about two Tbsp olive oil for a couple of minutes.
Add one or two more Tbsp olive oil, the vegetable, toss and fry for about five minutes.
Add the garlic, let it fry for a minute without burning and add the tomatoes.
Add the sugar and also season with salt and pepper.
Stir well and cover.
Lower the heat and simmer for forty minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
Add the chopped parsley at the end or half way through the cooking.
- For a good Tourlou do not to stir during simmering to avoid breaking the vegetable as it softens.
- The tomatoes should have enough juice for all the vegetable to cook but halfway through cooking check if you need to add a couple of Tbsp of water to make sure the potatoes cook.
- Replace potatoes with other root vegetable such as parsnip if you like.
- I prefer cooking Tourlou with more aubergine and one courgette.
- Use any vegetable you like. Okra is fantastic in tourlou but might take a bit longer to cook.
- For Briam use the same ingredients, add a little bit of water and cover a baking tray with foil. Slow cook for about an hour in the oven.
I was in Kerala in October 2012 and it was a delight in more ways than I could ever begin to describe.
One of the reasons is of course that Keralan cuisine is at the top end of the eating experiences that India could offer you. Kerala is in some ways gourmet India, a land blessed with tropical fruits, vegetable and spices and the starting points of many trails of wealth and cultural influence. If you are a culture vulture, a foodie, and a seeker of genuine community spirit, serenity and natural diversity you should make some time to visit Keralan land.
The stew dish I am introducing today is not one I tried when in Kerala- when by the way I was delighted to wake up to savoury rice puddings with egg curry for breakfast.
I learned how to cook Istoo on my return to Wales and whilst reading Vijayan Kannampilly’s, Keralan Cookbook. It is very easy to make, it is light and nutritious, and below is my fish version of it, which I hope you enjoy.
Istoo ingredients for six
700gr white fish (skinless and bones) 
3-4 medium potatoes , cubed (3cm cubes)
100-150g finely chopped ginger
1-2 coarsely chopped medium onions
1 finely chopped chili pepper
1 stalk of fresh curry leaves or a handful of dried curry leaves
2-3 tbsp coconut oil or vegetable oil
2-3 tins of coconut milk
Salt and pepper (about 1 tsp each)
Place the potatoes, ginger, onions, chili in a deep pot and add enough boiling water to cover the ingredients.
Season and simmer until the potatoes are just soft.
Add the fish cubed in big chunks, and if the fish is not covered add some more boiling water.
Simmer for another 5 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
Stir in the coconut milk, add the coconut leaves and heat to a low simmer .
Option: add the washed spinach leaves to the stew as you do this.
Once the stew has reached its simmer turn the heat off.
Heat the coconut separately or other oil and pour it in.
Taste and season more if necessary before serving .
 You can find out about what fish you should consume to minimise your impact on our sees at the Marine Conservation Society’s website: http://www.goodfishguide.co.uk/. Look for alternatives to monkfish for this stew.
 You can add two of the coconut milk tins and some water for a thicker stew that is not as strong in coconut flavor. Or for a more soup-like version of the stew add some three tins of coconut milk and some more water.
Shrove Tuesday is now gone but I’d like to think that pancakes can return to Lia’s kitchen before the next one in 2014.
Pancakes don’t always have to be overindulgent naughty treats. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I hope this post becomes a quick and easy pancake recipe reference and an inspiration for an alternative savoury filling.
This recipe was given to me by Dan Green who, hat’s off to him, makes the best pancakes I have ever had-he flips them and all that! I just followed his instructions to make the batter, made a filling with what we had in the fridge and watched him put the pancakes together skilfully for us.
Aubergine and fenugreek pancake filling ingredients
1 small aubergine, cubed in 2cm pieces
Half an onion finely chopped
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
Pinch of cinnamon powder
3-4 handful fresh fenugreek leaves roughly chopped
100gr or more grated cheddar
Stir fry the aubergine, onion and a pinch of salt for five minutes.
Add the chopped tomatoes and cinnamon, stir and cook for five to ten minutes on low heat until soft and cooked.
Season with some salt and pepper (2-3 pinches of salt suggested).
When nearly ready add the fresh fenugreek.
Add the cheese when filling the pancake in the pan and whilst the second side is cooking.
You can optionally add some fresh baby spinach leaves when filling the pancake.
This is enough filling for four small pancakes.
Pancake Batter ingredients
125gr Spelt or whole meal flour
300 ml milk
A pinch of salt
Knob of butter from frying
Add all ingredients (not the butter) and whisk to mix well.
Let the batter sit in the fridge for 20 minutes or until you prepare your fillings.
Heat a non stick frying pan on high heat.
Melt enough butter to coat the pan’s surface.
Add about a ladle full of batter in your pan.
Lift and swirl until the batter evenly covers all the surface and almost ‘licks’ its sides upwards. 
Lower the heat and cook for a minute or until ready-that’s when it’s easy to flip.
Flip and whilst the pancake is cooking fill with preferred filling and cheese , or fruit and chocolate.
Fold in four in the pan.
This amount of batter should give you six small pancakes and plenty for two people.
Enjoy whilst hot!
 This should help you flip the pancake easier.