Greek cuisine

May’s Recipe – Vegetarian Mageiritsa, a Greek soup of greens and mushroom

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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)

  1. 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.
  2. Add the cubed mushrooms (2 -3 cm chunks) and sauté for 2-5 minutes.
  3. Add the finely chopped herbs, wild or fresh garlic and greens, and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  4. Then add the stock, stir well and (if you are using) add the dried kelp or other sea weed, pepper and sea buckthorn berries.
  5. Simmer for about 10 minutes and then add the rice.
  6. After 20 minutes (when the rice has softened and soup has thickened) remove from the hob.
  7. Beat the egg really well until it is fluffy and creamy (around 5 minutes), and whilst you continue whisking gradually add the lemon juice.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
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Organic Greek Leek pie

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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?

wide-shot-leek-pie

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!

You can order Blaencamel Farm’s boxes by contacting emailing Tom Frost mailto:(tom@blaencamelbox.com). For more info click here.

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)

  1. Peel, halve and slice the onion finely.
  2. Rub the salt and sugar in the onion slices with your finger until they are well separated.
  3. Let the onions sweat for ten minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. Coat the base of a wide pan or pot with enough olive oil and preheat. The pot or pan should have a lid.
  6. Add the onions and slowly fry, covered until they caramelise.
  7. While the onions caramelise slice the leeks finely or roughly.
  8. When the onion is ready add the leeks and stir fry for ten minutes on medium heat until softened.
  9. Remove from heat (and pan if possible) and cool down.
  10. In a big bowl beat the eggs lightly and crumble the feta cheese.
  11. Add the leeks and onion mix to the eggs and feta. Add the pepper and mix well.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Don’t oil the last sheet and pour the leek pie filling spreading it evenly across the tray with the back of a spoon.
  15. Repeat the layering process over the filling.
  16. Heat up the milk and butter in a small pot until the butter melts.
  17. 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.
  18. Using a sharp knife slice the pie into twelve portions.
  19. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and bake in a medium oven (180 Celsius) for 30-45 minutes until golden.

Wild garlic foraging and nettle pie

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Every year between end of March and May, I look forward to the ‘hungry gap’ in Wales, when shaded areas under tall trees fill with wild garlic and tender nettle tops that beckon picking.

It’s nothing like a hungry gap for me. I fill my house and belly with greens and nourish myself in tune with the season. And as my knowledgeable friend Gaby tells me possibly help give my liver a bit of a break…

Being in Wales has not stopped me rediscovering and connecting to my Greek roots all these years. I looked around me to see many good raw ingredients here too. I started being more creative and appreciating what wonderful people produce and offer around me here, creating my own cuisine. And of course I keep bringing many treasures back from Greece when I can…or when I meet amazing people who source quality products from home no 1.

Here’s a video sharing how in my life when Greece meets Wales beautiful things get cooking. Enjoy  and come on in my kitchen …

Caramelised Onion, Leek and Spinach Pie

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A favourite pie with a sweat and creamy twist. Makes 12 pieces.

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Little Shoes of Aubergine

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This is one of these dishes that I loved as a kid as much as I love it now. A true family favourite at many Greek homes around the world. Little Shoes (Papoutsakia) are a Sunday special, a holiday treat and a more indulgent version of the know Imam Bayildi.

Below is a recipe that might convince you that Little Shoes are as easy to make as lasagne, or a pasta bake, if not easier. Little shoes can easily be transformed to a vegetarian version as suggested below. If you are vegan you can remove the béchamel and still have a very tasty special dish. If you use plain wheat free flour for the béchamel you can have a dish for your wheat intolerant friends. This dish can be easily adapted to your taste and needs.

Ingredients

The little shoes
1kg medium sized Aubergines (preferably Tsakoniki akaΤσακώνικη)[1]

The Filling
500gr Quorn mince (or 700gr minced beef for a non-vegetarian version) [2]
3 small onions, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1 cup of dry white wine
2-3 tomatoes or 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 bunch of parsley , finely chopped

The Béchamel
4 cups of milk
1 cup flour
50gr butter
1-2 eggs
Tspn ground nutmeg
1 cup of cheese (graviera or pecorino are preferable)
salt and pepper

Preparation

The Filling

Sauté the onion in a little olive oil with a pinch of salt until nearly translucent.

Add the Quorn or meat mince, season with salt and pepper and stir fry. [3]

For the Quorn mince add a little more oil so that it does not stick to the pan.

For the beef mince keep stirring so that the mince remains separated and evenly browned.

Add the wine and stir for a couple of minutes.

Add the chopped tomatoes, the garlic and the parsley, stir, cover and cook.

The filling is ready when the mince has absorbed all the liquid but is not dry.

This should take approximately half an hour for quorn and a bit longer for the meat version.

The Aubergines

Wash the aubergines, cut the stalk end off and slice in half lengthwise.

Bring a deep pot of water to the boil, add the aubergines and boil until they are slightly soft (5-10min).

Drain and cool down.

Lay in a baking tray skin down and with a sharp knife cut a cross shape in the fruit’s flesh

Pull open to create enough space for filling.


The Béchamel

Prepare the sauce whilst the sauce is still cooking and use a cooking whip for stirring [4]

Add the milk to the pan and stir in the flour making sure it is well mixed with no lumps [5].

Place on medium heat and bring to the boil stirring more as the temperature rises.

When the sauce starts simmering lower the heat, add the butter and stir continuously.

Add nutmeg, salt and better and a whipped egg.

Continue stirring on low heat until the sauce thickens.

When removed from heat keep stirring, add the grated cheese and mix well.

The baked dish

Add the filling to the aubergines evenly.

Spread the béchamel on top of the filling.

Bake in a preheated medium temperature oven until the béchamel is golden (about half an hour).

Rest and cool down for 15 minutes before serving.

Notes:

[1] 1kg of aubergines should be 5 medium pieces of the tsakoniki, flask variety. You can cook this disk with the normal aubergine but the tsakoniki variety is much nicer with this dish and cooks faster.

[1] 1kg of aubergines should be 5 medium pieces of the tsakoniki, flask variety. You can cook this disk with the normal aubergine but the tsakoniki variety is much nicer with this dish and cooks faster.

[2] 500grof quorn make more filling than 500gr of minced beef so you might be able to fill an extra pepper.

[3] You can add the Quorn mince frozen to the pan. This should take a few more minutes than when your mince is defrosted. Overall cooking with quorn should be faster than with meat at this but also the sauce cooking stages.

[4] I prefer a flexible wire whip when making béchamel and it helps avoid lumps.

[5] I used plain wheat free flour this time which was very easy to mix in the milk and made a very creamy sauce.

papoutsakia 5

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).