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.
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.
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 is a recipe I have been playing with for years and I finalised it recently whilst delivering the Love Food Hate Waste campaign in Roath. I was looking for recipes in my notebook that can help people use their leftovers and what they have in the fridge/freezer. The savoury cake was one our roadshow freebies and was sampled at our last Love Food Haste Waste event on 10 Mach at Cardiff Students’ Union in return for pledges to take action to reduce waste.
It is a delicious recipe that can be adapted to help you use greens and smaller quantities of leftover vegetable. The batter can remain the same and you can be as creative and daring as you like with what flavours you create. You end up with an amazing tasty snack on its own or with some relish or chutney on top and a (gluten-free) substitute to bread which is fantastic with soups or a tin of baked beans.
Cornmeal is a basic ingredient for one of my favourite Greek breads called Bobota. Grated pumpkin and marrow with cornmeal and feta cheese has always been one of my most favourite bakes that my southern Greek Granma Vasiliki used to make for us. And five years ago the lovely Zoe English, of Bird to Market, handed over Nenneh Cherry’s cornbread recipe to me after my excited squeals on tasting it for the first time in my life. So this savoury cake recipe is born from all these influences and is fast becoming one my favourite things to make this spring. I have adapted it to be gluten free – through the use of gluten free plain flour. And with courgette and tomato season approaching and rainbow chard already on the tables at our Farmers’ markets I am very excited for the many versions of the savoury cakes you could be imagining. Enjoy!
Ingredients (1 Bundt or other round 23-25cm baking tin)
- 350g Plain flour, preferably gluten free mix
- 250g Cornmeal (coarse or medium)
- 4 tsp Baking powder
- 80g Sugar (caster)
- 100g Butter melted
- 2 Eggs
- 450-480ml Milk
- 1-2 pinches of salt
- Some extra butter and flour for lining the baking tin
- 1 Small bunch fresh basil or other mixed or frozen herbs, including stems (around 30g)
- 225g Cherry or mini plum tomatoes (up to 300g)
- 1 Onion
- 2 medium or 1 large courgette diced OR
- 1 aubergine diced
- 1 Medium courgette coarsely grated
- 150g grated cheese, parmesan and cheddar mixed (or whatever you have available)
- salt & paper to season
Olive oil for the frying
Preparation (1hr and 15 minutes)
- Prepare your vegetable mixture first to allow enough time to cool.
- Fry the sliced onion with a pinch of salt, cover and let to nearly caramelise whilst you prepare the rest.
- Dice the courgettes or aubergine and halve the cherry or plum tomatoes.
- Add the courgette or aubergine with another pinch of salt and fry for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and basil, stir and cover until all ingredients soften- for around 5 minutes.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Remove from heat to cool down.
- Grate the last courgette and the cheese.
- Mix the flour, cornmeal and baking powder.
- Add the rest of the dough ingredients and mix well so that there are no lumps.
- Add your fried ingredients, raw courgette and cheese.
- Pour into a lined baking tin and bake on 180 Celsius for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
- The batter should be moist but not too runny. You can add 450ml of the milk first and see if you need to add more after you add the tomatoes and vegetable.
- You can use spinach and other greens such as Kale. Feel free to experiment with various herbs ad ingredients. Use what you have in the fridge and for inspiration on flavours look up focaccia recipes.
- This is a great recipe for using those herbs that you have in the freezer or the ones that are about to go off in the fridge!
- For a bread tin and smaller quantity of the cake halve the recipe ingredient.
- The cake rises quite a lot and it keeps well in the fridge for about a week.
Have you ever looked at vegetable leftovers in your fridge or the seasonal mix in your vegetable boxes and thought: ‘What could I make with this?’. Have you every thrown away cooked vegetable leftovers? If yes this soup is for you. If not the soup is still for you so try it anyway.
In the past month I have been working with Green City Events to deliver the Love Food Hate Waste Cities Campaign in Cardiff through Roath based roadshows and cooking workshops. In this process I have been developing and revisiting recipes that can help people be savvy and healthy.
The lovely soups of Ribollita and Minestrone were my natural first choices because they are very easy to make and they can have as many variations as the people who make them.
Ribollita literally means reboiled in Italian. It is a Tuscan soup that uses leftover cooked vegetable and is eaten with stale toasted or grilled bread. You can make Ribollita with any seasonal vegetable at our disposal but the dominant ingredient should be a mix of greens and you should include some kind of cooked bean.
My Ribollita soup can be easily turned to a Minestrone with the addition of more stock or water and pasta or quinoa. This is a great solution if you have less vegetable or more visitors to feed.
On 7 February 2015 at our first Love Food Hate Waste cooking workshop participants prepared four different versions of Ribollita and Minestrone types of soup using different herbs to flavour it, different grains or pasta and mix of vegetables at their disposal. Why not love food and your leftover vegetable too by trying our soup?
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stick
300 mixed greens
- 150-200 g left over root vegetable/squash or potato
- 2 carrots (around 160g)
- 4 Garlic cloves
- ½-1 tin chopped tomatoes Or a couple of ripe tomatoes chopped
- 1 can beans drained and washed
- (280g) 50g rice/quinoa Or 100g pasta 2lt stock or boiling water
- Herbs of your choice such as: 10-15 leaves of basil 1 teaspoon oregano Or 2 teaspoons thyme 3 bay leaves Salt & Pepper
- Pecorino or parmesan cheese garnish (optional)
- Wash and chop all your vegetable and greens.
- Sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until translucent.
- Add the garlic and herbs and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for another few minutes.
- Add the root vegetable or potatoes and carrot and stir fry for a bit.
- Add the stock and simmer for ten minutes.
- Add the beans, greens and pasta and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- If you are using quinoa and rice add at the same time as the stock.
- Seasons with salt and pepper.
Lia’s Tips: the authentic ribollita uses recooked vegetable which you can add towards the end of the soup. Sage and parsley are another great combination of herbs for this soup. Kale, Cavolo Nero, flower sprouts, brussels sprouts, broccoli stalks and spring greens are some of the delicious leafs that you can add to your soup.
What a lazy and leisurely weekend this one is! Yesterday’s weekly pilgrimage to Roath farmers market filled our kitchen with vegetable and meat essentials for the week. We still get surprised at how much cheaper than we thought the local or organic produce at the market is. For example, you can get a dozen of free-range fresh eggs from Nantgwared farm for £2.40 and organic eggs for a similar price. From my experience fresh means fresh at Roath farmers market. Or at the end of each month you can get 3 home cooked ready meals for £10 at Clare’s Plant2Plate stall, which is what I call healthy and economic convenience food. The stallholders have quite a few farmers markets in South Wales to keep them busy and ensure that the produce on sale is regularly renewed. Did you know that you can find out which farmers market is closest to you at the farmers market wales website?
I love living in Roath. It is such a beautiful and friendly neighbourhood, so central yet almost like a little independent market town. I hardly ever find myself shopping in town these days. Roath’s streets are lined with charity shops where we go on outfit treasure hunts. There are so many health shops, coffee shops, household shops, pharmacies and grocery stores as well as your usual supermarket chairs. You can definitely keep busy all weekend particularly as you are guaranteed to stop and talk to someone you know every couple of minutes! Roath allows me to come a step closer to the way I would like to live my life: shop local, support healthy local business activity, walk or ride rather than drive and spend less money on clothes and non-essential goods.
One of my regular destinations during the weekend is Spice of Life, at the very beginning of Inverness Place in Roath. Spice of Life, run by Gareth, is a cornucopia of spices, seeds, nuts as well as various pastas, pulses and basic cooking ingredients. This weekend we stocked up on some Italian coffee, almonds and pearl cous cous, which we used for our Saturday evening meal.
We were ravenous by the time we returned home as we also stopped at the Record Store, one of Cardiff’s independent record stores, which I left elated carrying two LPs , one of Eartha Kit and one of Pink Floyd, and Sho Gallery, where Dan is putting up some work, the kind that makes you giggle!
This is one of the most satisfying omelettes I ‘ve made. Pomlette is new to my kitchen because I had never used potato flour before yesterday but the use of flour in omelette is not. I have added different types of flour to omelette mixtures a few times for a more filling version of the dish and to create an interesting cross between pancake and omelette. I have also read about many vegan omelette recipes using chickpea flour instead of egg, which could mean that if you mix flour and eggs you need less eggs and could be making a healthier version of an omelette . Omelette purists might tell you it is unacceptable to add flour to an omelette. But then again why not ignore them and try this recipe? And if you do tell me how you like it?
- 4 Nantgwared farm eggs
- 4 finely sliced spring onions
- 1 sweet yellow or red pepper
- 1 large garlic clove crashed
- a couple of pinches smoked paprika
- ½ to ¾ cup of milk
- 3 heaped tablespoons of potato flour
- Grated cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper
- Use a hand mixer to make a smooth mixture with the eggs, milk and potato flour adding a few pinches of salt and pepper.
- Sautee the onions, the sweet pepper with the sweet paprika and just before adding the mixture throw in the garlic.
- Cook in a 20-25cm wide non-stick frying pan for 4 minutes before adding the grated cheese.
- Either continue cooking for another 4 minutes as is or fold and flip for another 4 minutes on both sides – until firm but not completely dry.
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