Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fassolakia Moraïtika – Peloponnesian Braised Green Beans (Φασολάκια Μοραΐτικα)


A rustic Greek vegetarian dish from the Peloponnesus

There was once a City Mouse who went to visit his cousin in the Country. The Country Mouse was a simple fellow but he loved his relative from the Big City and did his best to make him feel at home; all he could offer him were some beans and bread crumbs, and he generously spread these before him. The City Mouse snickered at the poor country food, and said: "Cousin, I cannot understand how you are satisfied with such simple food as this… Of course one really should not expect too much seeing as you live way out here in the Country, but why don’t you come back with me to the city for a while and let me show you how to really eat? A week in town with me and you will wonder how you could ever have been content with country living." And so, the two mice set off for the Big City and arrived at the City Mouse's residence late in the evening. "You look like you could use some refreshments after our trip," the City Mouse offered politely, and led his Country cousin into a large dining room where they found what remained of a rich banquet. Soon the two mice were feasting on tasty meats and puddings and all the trimmings of a fine table. Without warning, they heard some loud voices and then some vicious growling and barking. "What’s all that noise?" gasped the Country Mouse between bites. "Oh, that’s just the dogs of the house," answered the other. "Just the dogs of the house!?" cried the Country Mouse in a frantic tone, dropping the sauce-dripping dumpling he had been munching on. In that instant the dining room door burst open and in rushed a pair of large dogs, and the two mice jumped from the table and scurried madly for cover through a small crack in the wall. "Alright then, take care Cousin, and thank you for your grand hospitality here in the Big City" said the Country Mouse when he had regained his breath and some composure. "Are you leaving already?" asked the other in a surprised tone. "Yes," he replied; "Better beans and crumbs in peace and quiet than puddings and fine wines in fear and trembling." [Story adapted from Aesop’s Fables.]

With all that is going on in the realm of food production these days, it is likely in our best interest (collectively and individually) to revert to a simpler and less refined manner and substance of eating. Daily we hear about tainted mass-produced foodstuffs leading to illnesses and sometimes even deaths. Here in Canada, within the span of the last four months we have had massive nationwide tomato, cheese, and processed meat recalls due to bacteria contaminations of one sort or another. The latest incident involved processed meat products and has led to sixteen deaths and a number of seriously ill people, and the tally is still not complete. In China, baby formula and other milk products have caused a plague of infant illnesses and the list goes on. So, here we are in our 21st Century world of convenience and plenty too plenty and many of us are suddenly realizing that we are fat and our food may not be safe. Yes, things have suddenly become quite scary for consumers the world over… Perhaps now is a good time to return to more basic and traditional eating habits?

Since it is not feasible for most of us to move to the countryside and lead a pastoral lifestyle, there are still steps we can take to regain some measure of personal quality control over the food we put in our bodies. As an alternative to conventional super market shopping, many people have moved “off the grid” so to speak, and are now shopping in local Farmer’s Markets or receiving weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) deliveries to their homes. Small independent bakeries, fish markets and butcher shops are also more direct sources for produce and ingredients than the large retail chains. As well, the personal interaction with producers and suppliers makes shopping for one’s food an intimate, engaging, and immediate experience as opposed to an impersonal and alienating chore.

My wife and I (just like our parents and most of our relations) keep a kitchen garden through the summer that yields a surprising amount of produce during the course of its flourishing and harvesting. From fresh herbs like mint, rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano, to vegetables like celery, green onion, lettuce, peppers, eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes and green beans; our little patch is worth every bit of effort and time spent on it, which is really not a great deal at all. Of course, this food source alternative is not feasible for many people who live in apartments or who do not have garden plots, but for those who do- this is one truly viable approach towards more personal oversight with respect to the foods we ingest. There is also a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment in harvesting and eating one’s own produce which is always a fulfilling experience.

So, with that, I can turn to my featured Greek food recipe, a taste of the Greek countryside: Fassolakia Moraïtika, (pronounced “fah-soh-LAH-kee-ah moh-rah-yee-tee-KAH”). In Greek, fassolakia are fresh green beans, and the appellation Moraïtika refers to the region of origin for this recipe: the Morea, which is what the southern peninsular region of Greece (Peloponnesus) was called in the Middle Ages and early in the Modern Era. Arguably the most famous figure of the Greek War of Independence from Ottoman domination, Theodoros Kolokotronis, was known in his later years as the Old Man of the Morea, and this nickname is the title he gave to his riveting autobiography. The name Morea is from the Greek word for the mulberry tree (moria), which due to its abundance in the southern and central Peloponnese made the region into the epicentre of silk production for the Byzantine Empire from the 6th Century A.D. onwards.

I used freshly harvested green beans, along with tomato and mint from our garden for this Greek vegetarian recipe. This year our four beanstalks produced enough beans for me to cook 6 more meals for my wife and I, which we froze for later consumption. All it takes is some heating in a saucepan for a quick and healthy dinner anytime. I usually serve this dish with some fresh bread, a few olives, and some feta cheese. This recipe is rustic Greek cooking in its simplest form. The pairing of the mint with the green beans makes for a wonderful marriage of flavour and texture. The potato is optional, though I highly recommend its inclusion. This dish can also be served with some braised veal or lamb, and like much of Greek cuisine, can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. (1 kg.) fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 medium sized cooking onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups (375 ml.) of fresh tomato juice, sauce, or strained tomato pulp
1 large or 2 medium sized red skin potatoes, washed and cut into eighths*
½ cup (125 ml.) of Greek extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (60 ml.) of chopped fresh mint (if using dried mint 2 tbsp. will suffice)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash and clean the beans by trimming the ends and removing the strings. I use a bean slicer to remove the bean strings and to cut the beans lengthwise.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a cooking pot over a medium-high heat and when the oil is ready reduce the heat to medium and sauté the chopped onion until slightly softened and translucent.
  3. Add the beans to the pot and stir them well to mix with the olive oil and onion, then cover the pot and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then, uncover the pot and stir the contents again before adding the potato, tomato juice/sauce/pulp, the mint, and the salt and pepper along with 1 cup of water. Stir everything well, but make sure that the potato pieces end up under the beans in the pot. Bring the contents to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot (leaving it slightly open to allow steam to escape so the sauce may reduce) and let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beans and potatoes are tender enough to be cut with a fork. Stir occasionally if necessary but avoid the temptation to add water to cover as this will result in a runny, thin sauce, and this dish is not meant to be soupy. IMPORTANT: stirring is not recommended in the latter stages of cooking as doing so will break up the potato chunks and this should be avoided.

Note: The red skin (or any other variety of) potato is optional but recommended. Also, I normally use a full cup of olive oil in this recipe as this dish is technically categorized as part of the ladera (or ‘olive oil based’) class of Greek foods. However, I have called for only half a cup of olive oil in the ingredients list as I know that many non-Greeks are not used to foods with such quantities of olive oil. If your palate is open to it, use the full cup (250 ml.) of olive oil, as it results in an overall richer dish.

Serves 4 – 6

There you have it, a return to the countryside of southern Greece with this simple, seasonal, and healthy Greek recipe. Can you say “Opa!”?


Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tiganites: Greek Pancakes (Τηγανίτες)


Aunt Jemima or Uncle Socrates? Click to Enlarge Image.

What did the ancient Greeks eat? This question has been asked for centuries and it has spawned numerous scholarly, specialist, and dilettante studies on the matter. There have also been countless attempts at re-creating ancient Greek recipes and the Internet is full of such investigations. However, we need not look too hard to discover one ancient Greek food which is still around today; indeed it is a staple of numerous modern European and North American cuisines.

In Canada and the United States we know them as pancakes or flapjacks, in France they are called crêpes, and the Scots and Irish know them as drop-scones or griddlecakes; in Australia and New Zealand they are referred to as pikelets, and in Russia they are blini. The Greeks call them tiganites (Gk. τηγανίτες, pronounced as “tee-gha-NEE-tehs”) which is from the ancient Greek taginites (ταγηνίτης) and they have been a popular breakfast food in Greece since at least the 6th century B.C. The oldest reference available to us is from an ancient Athenian comic poet named Cratinus who describes the steam rising from warm pancakes in the morning; these pancakes were generally served with honey poured overtop, as well as fruits and nuts.

To this day, tiganites are popular throughout Greece. They are served much as they were 2600 years ago, usually with honey drizzled overtop, and sometimes with cinnamon, fruits and nuts, or a soft fresh sheep and goat’s milk cheese known as anthotyro spread over them. There is even a religious festival on the island of Corfu (Kerkyra) where they serve their traditional ‘tiganites tou Aghiou’ or “the Saint’s Pancakes” on December 12, in honour of that island’s patron Saint Spyridon. So, the next time you sit down in front of a plate of steaming pancakes, you can reflect on how little some things have changed since the time of Socrates.

Ingredients:

1 cup (250 ml.) all purpose flour
1 cup (250 ml.) of milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) baking powder* (optional)
½ teaspoon salt (3 ml.)
Butter for frying
Greek blossom honey or maple syrup for topping
Some chopped fresh fruits and/or walnuts* (optional)

  1. Combine and sift the flour, baking powder * (optional) and salt into a mixing bowl. (I used the baking powder as I like a fluffier pancake, but it is not necessary)
  2. Beat the egg in a separate mixing bowl then add the olive oil and milk and mix together well, then add mixture to the bowl with the flour and whisk to combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a smooth batter. If you prefer a thinner pancake, add a little more milk to the batter.
  3. Heat a medium sized frying pan and add a tablespoonful of butter to melt over a medium heat. (Traditionally, olive oil is used instead of butter to fry the tiganites, but I also use butter from time to time as I like the flavour and it results in a lighter pancake.) Once the butter has melted, use a ladle and drop a dollop of the batter into the centre of the pan such that it will spread out into a disc as it cooks. When the edges of the disc start to dry and bubbles appear, flip the pancake to cook the other side and cook till done. Serve hot with some butter and honey drizzled overtop. You can also add some chopped walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Note: As I live in Canada, I oftentimes use excellent Canadian maple syrup in place of the honey which is normally used in Greek cooking.

Makes 6 – 8 tiganites.


Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.