I just stored my lucky New Year coin protectively like a precious blessing. This year the coin will bring us health -this is what the New Year’s cake promised when we ceremoniously cut it on the 1st January 2013.
Every New Year’s Day-when we slice St Basil’s cake and eat through its aromatic brioche texture, flavoured with mastic and mahlepi, in search of the lucky coin- my British and other non-Greek guests ask where this tradition comes from and what it really means.
The person who receives the coin is destined to have a year of great luck. And every so often the coin falls to a special piece cut for the house or, like this year, for health.
So why do we do this?
The cake is named after St Basil who may have been the real Santa Claus (not the Coca Cola one) and who was an archbishop in Cappadocia. When Basil took over his post he realized that great injustice had been done to his town people through high unjustified taxation -that rings a bell does it not? To return town folk their fortune and to overcome the obstacle of how to identify the owners of the different items Basil decided to bake a massive cake and to place their precious stones, cold and coins in the cake. He then invited the whole town to a big celebration where that cake was cut ceremoniously. The myth says that miraculously each person received their own possessions in the piece given to them. After Basil died the cake ceremony became a tradition.
Tonight, well into 2013, I am contemplating my luck of which I have much. I found this a picture of this year’s New Year dinner and my lucky coin and thought I’d share my good fortune with you.
Be lucky, healthy and happy.
This entry is dedicated to Tom (28), Vaggelio(37), Lucy(32) who left us in the past seven years; to Pavlos and my wonderful aunts Claire and Ellie who beat and are beating cancer; and to our mental health which we all still have because of our own courage and the love of our friends and family.
I can think of a few things as comforting as a tasty tomato sauce poured generously over spaghetti. So for your convenience here is the quick recipe that has received top hits from all of Lia’s Kitchen readers in 2012.
And if you fancy a variation don’t forget another favourite: Lia’s Kitchen carrot and tomato red sauce.
We found the main ingredient for this new red carrot pasta sauce at the roadside between Temple Bar and Criblyn villages in Ceredigion, Wales.
A compulsory stop to find our bearings and the way to the little thatched cottage that would be our home for the weekend revealed a roadside stall with bunches of fresh organic carrots, homemade jams and eggs. This was still one of those places where you are trusted to pick what you want and leave the money.
We arrived ravenous at the cottage with a bunch of fresh small organic carrots, and fettuccine pasta, tinned plum tomatoes, the basics of garlic, salt and pepper, and the luxury of cinnamon in our travel cook box.
The recipe came together in my mind when I remembered an interview of Anna del Conte, the Italian food writer who raised awareness of Italian cuisine in the UK in the late 70s, and her mention to finely chopped carrots as a main ragu ingredient.
I coarsely grated the carrots for my recipe to infuse the sauce with the bright orange colour and the organic carrot flavours of this star ingredient. The result: a pure delight and a fool-proof vegetarian ragu sauce that is guaranteed to please and comfort. Yum!
- 7-8 small and fresh organic carrots, coarsely grated
- 2 tins of plum tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Half a pack of fettuccine or other dried pasta (120g)
Coarsely grate the carrots after you have washed them well. No need to peel really fresh and young carrots.
Finely chop the onion.
Sweat and sauté the onion on low heat for a few minutes. Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
Add the grated carrots and a couple of pinches of salt, and sauté in low heat for another ten minutes or so.
Add the two tins of plum tomatoes and a teaspoon of sugar.
Mash with a wooden spoon; add another pinch of salt or two, one or two teaspoons of cinnamon, stir and cover.
Simmer on low heat for thirty or fourtyfive minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed and the sauce has reached a thick ragu consistency.
Cover and let the sauce rest for at least fifteen or more. This helps the sauce bind and the flavours come out, patience is a key.
Serve with half a pack of fettuccine, strong crumbly cheddar and coarse pepper (we used Barbers cruncher, a West Country mature, sweet and crunchy cheddar) .
This recipe makes two very generous portions but you can share between three or four.
The Smoked Haddock Salad was created by chance to complement a colourful mid-week meal with two beautiful friends, the wonderful Chris, a loved fellow Cardiffian, whose company I have been enjoying so much lately (yey!!), and the beautiful Katerina who is brightening up our week with her express visit from Greece- ex Cardiffian (but always one at heart).
This fish salad tastes even better the day after when its simple flavours have infused the haddock overnight in the fridge.
The recipe was inspired by 300gr of smoked haddock that needed to be cooked on the day, our need for a light salad, and a quick google search for haddock salad recipes, of which eventually I followed none but one of which gave me the mustard vinaigrette idea.
It takes 15-10 minutes to makes and can be enjoyed warm too!
Smoked Haddock Salad: Feeds 4-6 as side salad and 2 for lunch
- 300gr skinless and boneless smoked haddock
- 300gr fine green beans chopped in three
- 2 celery sticks, thickly sliced
- a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- half a red onion , finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp whole grain mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- Olive oil
- 3 Tbsp cider vinegar
- Add the chopped fine green beans in a flat, large shallow pan with 1/3 of it filled with boiling water.
- Simmer for five minutes, remove and drain. Keep the water boiling in the same pan.
- Add the whole fillets of smoked haddock and steam/simmer for ten minutes. Add a bit more boiling water if necessary.
- Prepare the vinaigrette by mixing in a jar the mustard, salt, cider vinegar and olive oil. Use as much olive oil as you think you need but at least five Tbsp. Shake the jar vigorously until the vinaigrette has a loose but creamy consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Remove the haddock and drain.
- Add haddock to a shallow salad bowl and flake roughly with a fork.
- Add the chopped parsley, beans and onion.
- Dress with the vinaigrette and mix well.
Enjoy as a light lunch or dinner for two on salad leaves or toasted rye bread , or as a light side dish.
Love your belly and your friends. 🙂 =love yourelf
The best trips are the ones you least expect, same for joys I think. This weekend I found myself in London without much planning or the kind of planning very open to change -the way I like it. It was the first time in many months that I took time to walk and savour a place rather than just be on and off trains, in and out of of work places.
We walked the streets of Bayswater, Notting Hill and Islington and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of London’s Borough Market and the Embankment.
My highlights, photographed here, included:
Pre-dinner at Ottolenghi’s Notting Hill branch, where we savoured a moorish goat and aubergine cheesecake with two salads: one of beetroot, dill and doclelatte and another of buttenut squash with goat’s cheese.
An affordable, upretentious, even if ‘just-satisfactory’ Thai meal at the Cool Monkey, on Clarendon Road: the massaman chicken curry bursting with cocunut, peanut and ginger flavours was the highlight of our meal.
Italian cookies and a strong cappucino at Charlie’s on Portobello Road, a cafe that has changed names a couple of times since I discovered it, but one I would still visit to avoid the very busy cafes and streets of Portbello Market in the weekend.
A thick and filling foccacia with peppers and tomatoes; the wheatgrass, ginger and lime ‘Zinger’ Smoothie at the Totally Organic Juice Bar; and, most importantly, the infamous Brindisa chorizo sausage roll served with grilled pimento peppers and fresh rocket (for which I queued 20 minutes) at London’s Borough Market. .
A dinner at the Canonbury kitchen at Islington, the highlights of which were Breasola filled with fresh ricotta and served on peppery rocket, the good company (two of the Greens!) and the atmosphere of this great kitchen.
And last but not least, having the honour of meeting Wizz Jones, chatting to John Renbourne and seeing Robin Williamson during their sound check at the Union Chapel, Islington, and before being graced with their soothing performance at a venue so fitting and serene I almost felt that I was granted entry to heaven.
10 out of 10 for this weekend review !
How did Petra and her recipe enter my life? How do you summarise a friendship?
I will never forget the first time I saw Petra’s smiley face in the corridors of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University, when she came over to Wales as a visiting researcher. I remember long nights with emotional conversations and loud laughter. I remember dancing at the Toucan on St Mary Street and Journeys on Clifton Street.
In August 2011, I found Petra again. Crete returned to me a friend, as well as serenity and a sense of home. But then again that is also what a good friend gives. I hugged Petra tightly after 5 years during which our individual journeys were coinciding and sometimes merging in the ether, without us knowing: searching, coping, understanding and finding.
In Crete, the land that generously offers good food and sun, we met and talked about food, love, life and dreams again. It’s good to be reminded of all that bonds you deeply with another person.
My friend Petra loves food, cooking and life. She is also a rural sociologist who is passionate about sustainable food and approaches the subject from a cultural angle: understanding cultures and consumerist patterns, and changing attitudes. She teaches and researches at the University of Wageningen, the Netherlands and build a ‘Food Cultures and customs’ course in 2010. And last year Petra was also a part-time organic farmer for the growing season. What a woman!
Petra writes for a couple of blogs: the rural sociology group blog, university of Wageningen and Pure Food links, a sustainable food network blog. Recently, she visited Brasil and, in a couple of entries at the end of October and November 2011, she tell us about national school food programmes, and particularly Dos Irmáos School ,the Rio Grande do Sul, which she visited. Legislation requires that 30% of fresh produce used in school food comes from local farms: shortening the supply chain with various possible good impacts for the environment, economy, etc. springing to my mind at first glimpse.
Apart from the curry she recommended this month, when I think of Petra and food two dishes spring to mind: garlic and chilli prawns served with fresh bread, and roast lamb. I remember a roast lamb dinner when suddenly it dawned on us that everyone around the dining table was a Libra, with the exception of me who was born on the cusp: what a strange coincidence that so many of us hanging out regularly, making lasting friendships, were born within a month of each other either in the same year or a couple of years apart either way.
I adapted Sarah Raven’s chickpea curry recipe recommended by Petra and whilst cooking her felt presence in Cardiff once again.
- 1.5 -2 cups of brown rice
- 3-4 cups of boiling water
- 2 onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- Approx 500 gr of green and purple curly kale
- 2 tins of cooked chickpeas (drained well)
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 2 small sweet potatoes peeled and diced
- 2 tspns, spice of life curry mix
- Approx. 50 gt grated ginger
- 1 red chilli pepper
- Approx. 250gr mixed mushrooms (portabella and chestnut in this occasion)
- 1 stick lemongrass
- Juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1 tin of coconut milk
- 1 bunch fresh coriander
- A pinch of shrimp paste
- Some paprika
- Salt and pepper to season if required
- Put the rice on to simmer: its preparation should take as long as cooking your curry.
- Remove the stems from the kale and chop the leaves in strips. Blanche or Steam them for 5 minutes, drain well and set aside.
- Peel, chop, dice and steam the carrots and sweet potatoes for 10 min. Drain and set aside.
- Fry the onion gently in the oil until soft. Add the curry powder, fresh ginger, chili, salt and pepper and stir.
- The Spice of life curry powder I used is mixed in house by Gareth, in house, and contains coriander, cumin, fenugreek, garlic, paprika, turmeric, pepper, curry leaf, asafetida, ginger, chilly, mustard, cassia, cardamom, mace & bay.
- Next, add the garlic and then the mushroom, lemongrass and lime juice and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the cooked chickpeas (drain and rinse tinned ones), coconut milk, mushrooms, shrimp paste and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Finally add the kale to the chickpea mixture. Sarah Raven’s sauce adds soy and fish sauces at this stage, but I replaced this with just a bit of shrimp paste, the size of a very 2 peas.
- Scatter with coarsely chopped coriander, over a good portion of rice.
Tip: I froze a couple of portions of the curry and save for yummy lunches this week. This dish was as delicious when defrosted and consumed two weeks after I cooked it.
This recipe is dedicated to Denise, an extraordinary lady, working at the PDSA in Cardiff.
If you are looking for a simple and light recipe that satisfies your winter cravings in a guilt free manner, I think you are at the right blog.
Our household is on a health buzz this January, probably like you are, and we feel a lot better for it. The recipe below is the lighter alternative to aubergines recipes like Melanzane al Parmigiano or Moussaka and it is a lot quicker to prepare too.
Many people mistake me for a vegetarian! This is because I don’t normally eat meat more than once a week or every week: there are just too many food groups to choose from! I grew up eating red meat once a week and our family fasted/detoxed a few times a year for 2-3 weeks, gradually giving up different food groups: staring from meat, chicken, fish; moving to dairy; then giving up seafood and sometimes even giving up oils, fats and spices.
It is fascinating that various cultures and denominations incorporate at least one period of cleansing and self discipline in their calendar year. Whatever your way of going through such a process may be, most of you who have will agree that it is worth it.
And why not go a step further this year: why not commit to eating good healthy food all the time? Why not eat less and better sourced meat for ethical, environmental and health reasons? Why not eat less but buy better quality ingredients? And then we can talk about our energy levels and fitness: you might even shed a couple of kilos or more, and maintain that loss in the long term.
Thanks to Dan Green for the fantastic photos, as ever! And for teaching me technicalities and how to select images!
Aubergine bake recipe, feeds 4-6
Ingredients for a 25cm x35cm baking tray
For the first layer
3-4 large meaty aubergines
For the third layer
1 large onion, sliced
2 bell peppers, one red and one green
1 tin of pre-cooked puy lentils
6-8 chestnut or other mushrooms, roughly chopped or sliced
A couple tbspns chopped parsley
A handful of ground pimento berries
For the third layer
300gr grated cheddar or parmesan cheese OR a mixture of the two
- Prepare and start cooking your basic tomato sauce. I suggest you use parsley for this recipe. 25min
- Start by cutting off the stem and ‘nose’ of your aubergine. Slice thickly: 2-3cm slices. Each aubergine should give you at least 3 slices. 2-5min.
- Salt the aubergines and let rest in a large bowl for 20min whilst your tomato sauce is cooking. This process removes excess water from the aubergine and makes the grilling faster. You can skip this step as your aubergines will grill anyway. 20min, optional
- Coat a large non-stick pan with some olive oil and grill the slices in high heat, pressing down firmly with the spatula to quicken the cooking process (removes excess water). For each grill batch you can coat the pan with some olive oil. 15min.
- Layer your baking tray with the cooked aubergine slices, snugly and leaving no gaps.
- Prepare layer 3: sauté the onion, pepper and mushroom is a tiny bit of olive oil for 10-15 minutes. Season with some salt. Drain and add the precooked puy lentils. Grind a small handful of pimento berries in a pestle and mortar and add to your mixture. Once all juices are absorbed, a coupe of minutes after adding the lentils, remove from heat. Season to taste, if needed. You can prepare this layer as you are grilling your aubergines. 15min
- Preheat your grill! 10min.
- Add Layer 2, the tomato sauce, which should be cooked by now, evenly to your baking tray on top of the aubergines. Seconds.
- Add Layer 3 evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Seconds.
- Grate your cheeses to finish off. Seconds.
- Place under the grill for 10-15 minutes or until golden. 15min.
- Cool down for 10-15 minutes and enjoy! 15min.
The two recipes for cabbage rolls (lachanontolmades or sarmades) adjusted from the Greek edition Christmas issue of Olive magazine
For our New Year’s Eve dinner we had a varied spread including a spinach Quiche, the recipe for which I gave you two weeks ago, a butternut squash pie made by Elpida, vegetatian lasagne made by Valentina Brioschi and finally cabbage rolls, lachanontolmades or sarmades.
Cabbage rolls are an ideal party dish but you can also prepare it as a main course. I think it is an fantastic dinner dish for the post-Christmas healthy eating time when all of us are looking for light but tasty treats. It is possible to diet with flavoursome and light dishes, no need to torture yourself.
I got the idea to cook these very different cabbage rolls recipes from the Christmas Greek edition of Olive magazine. The recipes were provided by Simona Kafiri and Georgia Kofina. I adapted the simplified version of the traditional Greek cabbage rolls to my liking, and a tested a new spicier version with a red sauce that uses diced pork instead of minced meat. Both are fantastic. I also discovered that you can use iceberg lettuce to make a lighter but extremely tasty version of the dish. So here is my innovation!
The recipes below can feed 6 people and take nearly 2 hours to prepare and cook.
Thanks to Dan Green for photos.
Two cabbage roll recipes: one traditional and one spicy
Preparation of cabbage, the basic ingredient, 30min
1 large or two medium white cabbages
1 iceberg lettuce
This is the first step of your preparation. But you can also start with the preparation of the spicy filling as it needs to simmer and cool down before the cabbage leaves are stuffed.
It is impossible to fill and roll cabbage without blanching or slightly boiling it. Remove outer cabbage leaves that might be scarred but keep for layering the base of your pots before cooking.
Cut around the base of the cabbage with a sharp knife and remove the stem of the cabbage(s).
Place the cabbage in a large deep pot with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and cool down before peeling the leaves and preparing them for filling and rolling.
As I started to peel the leaves I realised that I did not have enough cabbage for all my filling. I was pushed for time so I decided to experiment with iceberg lettuce as an alternative. Iceberg lettuce leaves are quite firm compared to other lettuce varieties, so I peeled and dipped them in the hot, but no longer boiling water, for 30seconds to a minute to soften. Iceberg lettuce rolls are absolutely amazing and surprisingly worked really well, particularly with the traditional recipe.
For the new spicy filling of Georgia Kofina, 20 min:
300 gr pork fillet or chops, finely diced
¼ cup rice (either Carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ large onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove
2 Tbspns finely chopped parsley
1/6 cup olive oil or about 4 Tbspns
1 cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock)
¼ glass white wine
½ tspn paprika and cayenne pepper
Sautee the onion in the olive and then add the garlic.
Once translucent add the white wine and then add the meat, rice, parsley, paprika and cayenne pepper, and finally, add the stock and season.
Cover and simmer at very low heat until the rice absorbs all liquid.
Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool down before the rolling begins.
For the sauce of the spicy version of Georgia Kofina, 5 min:
3 celery sticks thickly diced
1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced
200 gr finely diced ripe tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
Prepare all your ingredients for the sauce. You don’t need to do anything else at this stage as all ingredients are added to the cooking pot after you laid your rolls.
For the traditional filling adapted from Simona Kafiri’s recipe:
175 gr minced pork
150 gr minced beef
1 large onion, grated
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ green pepper finely diced
¼ cup grated ripe tomatoes (1 or 2 tomatoes)
1 ½ flat tsbns salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice (either carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ tspn ground cloves
½ tspn ground cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with your hands and set aside for filling.
Filling, rolling and cooking, 1.5 hrs:
2 separate pots, 25cm circumference or at least 20cm
The red sauce ingredients you have prepped for the new and spicy version.
2 Tbspn olive oil or butter (for the traditional recipe)
1 ½ cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock) (for the traditional recipe)
Add a little bit of olive oil at the bottom of each pot. If you have kept the outer leaves of the cabbage layer the pot with these/ Remove the thick end (vein) of each cabbage leaf by making an (upside down) V shaped incision. This way you will be able to roll the leaf more easily.
Add enough filling in the middle and roll the cabbage leaf, by folding its outer sides in and then rolling so that you can have the top of the leaf facing your cooking surface. You should then place the roll in the pot, with the top of the leaf facing the bottom of the pan, this way your rolls will not unfold and open whilst cooking. It is a lot easier to roll with the iceberg lettuce leaves.
Use all cabbage leafs and layer the rolls in the pot close and tight to each other. I made to layers of rolls in each pot. If you are using iceberg lettuce roll too, you can place those on the second layer as they will cook faster.
For the new spicy version, spread the celery and carrots over the rolls, evenly pour the tomato and olive oil and add some salt and pepper. I had to add some more stock to the pot, just a couple of tablespoon. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.
For the traditional recipe, add the olive oil and stock in the pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hr. Don’t throw away the liquid.
Once the rolls are cooked, set aside for cooling and serve on long platters garnished with the sauces you have prepare.
For the traditional recipe sauce, Avgolemono, 10 minutes:
1 Tbspn Corn flour
1 Tbspn butter
¼ cup lemon juice
1 egg yolk
Some paprika (optional)
You might prefer to have the traditional cabbage rolls as they are. But this avgolemono, lemon and egg, traditional sauce is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Simona’s recipe of avgolemono is simple and delicious: I had never made it before but it was very easy to deliver.
Remember the sauce preparation must happen really quickly so have all your ingredients within easy reach. There should be about a cup of juices left in your pot from cooking and you will need all of it for your sauce.
Melt the butter in a small pot and mix in the flour well so that you have no lumps.
Then remove from the heat and mix in your egg yolk swiftly. Aim for a creamy mixture.
Immediately stir in the warm juices from the pot, little by little, constantly stirring on very low heat. Keep mixing until your sauce has thickened to the consistency of double cream.
Pour over your traditional cabbage rolls and enjoy!