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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grandma's Pligouri (Πλιγούρι της Γιαγιάς)

Whenever I make this dish, I am reminded of my Yiayia (Grandmother, in Greek). As today is Mother’s Day, I wish to dedicate this posting to all our Greek food foremothers. Where would we be without them?

A vegetarian Greek food recipe courtesy of my Grandma - Click to Enlarge

My paternal grandmother was a remarkable woman. She was mother to seven children and maintained a country household complete with chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys and a mule. She died just over a decade ago; yet, her memory continues to manifest her ongoing presence in my family’s daily experiences in some form or another. In many ways, this posting is my Grandmother’s eulogy, the one I was not present to deliver when she left us.

While my grandfather (already mentioned) worked and irrigated our family’s fields and olive plots, Grandma multitasked about the hearth and home. She swept the house and yard, made the cheese, baked the bread, and prepared the daily meals. She did so without complaint and without ever considering her role as demeaning or beneath her in any way. Indeed, quite the opposite, she viewed her life as dignified and fulfilling, and she woke each morning with an unwavering sense of purpose and a true zest for clean country living.

My Grandmother in her kitchen garden at 91 years of age – Click to Enlarge

Yiayia’s kitchen garden included everything from tomatoes, zucchini plants and beanstalks, to wild greens like amaranth; and herbs such as mint, rosemary and laurel. The exterior of the house itself, along with the courtyard and verandas, were shaded by a network of trellised grape vines which produced enormous clusters of reddish-skin grapes in their season. A trio of olive trees, a small grazing field, a circular stone threshing floor, stables, pens, and a large chicken coop completed the property which was my Yiayia’s domain. She ruled it all with an effortless economy of activity which remains fixed in my memories of the woman. In point of fact, my grandmother was the cement which held my father’s family together. My grandfather adored her and deferred to her judgment in most things.

With sheep, goats, and donkey grazing in the background, my grandparents pose with my sister and myself in the shade of an oak tree – Click to Enlarge

In addition to tending the house, raising the children, grazing the animals, and handling the household finances, Yiayia would rise well before dawn on Friday mornings and trek 23 kilometres to Megalopolis, where she would sell excess produce and trade for other goods in the weekly agora (market). Upon conclusion of the day’s business in the city, she would return again by foot to the village (until a regular bus service was instituted); arriving just before nightfall to resume her role of materfamilias. Not surprisingly, both my grandparents were the very definition of the phrase ‘hale and hearty’, and both lived well into their nineties, active and sharp-witted right to the end. Their lifestyle and diet had everything to do with their lengthy and vigorous lives.

One of the ingredients which figured prominently in my Grandmother’s pantry was pligouri (known as “bulgur” in English). Pligouri [pronounced “plee-WOO-ree”] has been a staple of Greek food for millennia. On the island of Crete, it is still called by its ancient name hóndros, and on some islands in the eastern Aegean Sea it is known as koptó. Pligouri consists of whole wheat kernels that have been parboiled, dried, and crushed. It comes in three textures: fine, medium, or coarse. Served on its own or as an accompaniment to other dishes, this foodstuff is a more nutritious alternative to rice, potatoes, or pasta. It is cheap, easy to prepare, has a very low glycemic index, and makes for a satisfying dish every time.

A close up of my pligouri recipe – Click to Enlarge

When making pligouri, my Grandmother would add any number of available seasonal ingredients to the pan to enrich the flavour of the dish. My favourite additions included mushrooms, golden raisins, pine nuts, and chestnuts, all of which I have included in this version of her original recipe. On its own, pligouri has a slightly nutty flavour, but it is basically tasteless. So, you can add any number of different nuts, dried fruits, herbs and vegetables (or even snails) to a pligouri recipe, this version is one of my favourite vegetarian combinations.

Ingredients:

1 cup (250ml) medium bulgur
2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock (or water with a bouillon cube)
1 medium sized onion, diced well
½ cup of roasted chestnuts, peeled & cut in half (approx. 12 chestnuts)
¼ cup of pine nuts
1 small handful of golden raisins (sultanas)
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon petimezi (Greek grape must syrup)
½ cup of chopped mushrooms
1 tsp. (5 ml.) of ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. In a medium sized sauce pan, sauté the diced onion in the butter and olive oil over a medium heat until soft. (3 minutes, or so)
  2. Add the mushrooms, raisins and pine nuts to the pan and continue to sauté for another 2 minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Add the stock, cumin, salt & pepper to taste to the pan; turn the heat up to medium high and bring to a boil, then add the pligouri (bulgur) to the pan along with the petimezi and cook it while stirring well for about 3 minutes or so. [Note: if you cannot find any petimezi, some Greek thyme honey makes a good substitute.]
  4. Add the halved chestnuts to the pan, stir it well, then cover the pan with its lid and lower the heat to medium low; allow it to simmer for 20 minutes or so, until all the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Uncover the pan, give the pligouri a good mixing from the bottom and sides, and cover the pan with a tea or paper towel before replacing the lid (I do this to eliminate any steam water buildup in the lid from running back into the pan when we uncover it for serving). Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes.
Makes 3 – 4 servings: as a meal in itself or as an accompaniment to grilled viands. Garnish with sesame seeds, both black and raw.

There you have it, as nutritional and toothsome a dish as any Greek yiayia would recognize and enjoy. The sort of meal she might even want to pass on to her grandchildren, so that they too might develop a taste for simple and wholesome fare. Perhaps they would also see the value in it and pass it on to their own children in turn. In just this manner, traditional Greek food stretches back into the ages of ages.

Happy Mother’s Day, Yiayia! Happy Mother's Day to All Mothers Everywhere!


Pánta Kalá (Always be Well),

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

21 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A beautiful post! Thanks for sharing those memories and photos with us! She was an exceptional woman...

That bulgur dish looks fantastic! I love the way it is prepared. Very tasty!

Cheers,

Rosa

Chanel11 said...

To all of the beautfiul yia yia's everywhere.

I couldn't imagine growing up without a yia yia (or papou).

Lovely post.

Andrea said...

I loved the story of your Yiayia!! Reminds me of mine too :). Great Mother's Day post.

Joan Nova said...

Such an interesting story. I love her 'kitchen garden' but can't imagine walking back and forth to market to sell the excess. We are such a spoiled generation!

Fearless Kitchen said...

Grandmothers can be such powerful figures in a child's life... My mom's family actually refer to me as my grandmother's girl, not as my mom's! Thanks for sharing your memories of her and her pligouri. It looks really delicious and I can't wait to try making it sometime.

lisaiscooking said...

What a fantastic garden! The grape vines sound gorgeous. The bulgur recipe sounds delicious too!

CareerDiva said...

ok, i'm so making that.
www.CareerDiva.net

virginie said...

I didn't know my yiayia enough but I keep a recipe of apples cake !!!

I like the boulgour !!!

Tangled Noodle said...

Your Yiayia sounds like she was an absolutely amazing woman! The photos are wonderful and your memories are such treasures - thank you for sharing them. And this recipe is, without a doubt, a must-try!

Jacoba said...

This has to be your most beautiful post! I'm sitting here with a lump in my throat and commend you for it. Isn't it strange how it is, so often, our grandmothers that inspire us ......

Your recipes, as always, are outstanding and I hope we get the feeder sorted out so that I'm not neglected anymore! ;)

aurora said...

Now I am hungry!

I am curious, we always used to go to a greek restaurant in Toronto-- as a matter of fact, I think that my grandfather's paintings hung in it, but I don't know the name of the restaurant. Could it be one that you had? His name was Manos Rovithis.

Bradpetehoops said...

Delicious!!!

allegra said...

Here in Lithuania we celebrate Mother's day always on the first Sunday of May. As far as I understand, Greeks celebrate it on the second Sunday? :)

Gabi said...

Sam - America and the Western world in general has lots to learn from Yiayia! From the matriarch example of holding a family together to the sheer natural farming and cooking!

She is an inspiration for many and I am sure for you!

About the Pligouri - planning on religiously preparing it once I am over my kitchen remodeling hurdle, and blog it!

I can find all those three textures of bulgur in my nifty ethnic store so things look bright!

Thanks so much Sam - also the picture in itself is inspiring!!

Gabi @ Mamaliga

Sarah said...

simply lovely

Katerina ante portas said...

hallo Sam, όλα καλά;

Hannah said...

I'm always on the lookout for bulgur recipes because I always buy too much, and then don't know what to do with it. Definitely bookmarking this recipe- Thanks for sharing!

And thanks for your sweet comment on my blog, too. :)

Global Greek World said...

Great post and a fitting tribute to your Yiayia along with all of those wonderful Arcadian women who kept the food and cultural traditions alive so that we in turn could pass them down to our children.

Our maternal family hails from the same part of the Greece, beautiful Demetsana. Hilopittes, Trahana and Pligouri were pretty standard fare for us and since our Mother couldn't buy them along with strained yoghurt and Mizithra in our host country, she used to make them, astonishingly resourceful woman that she was!

Anonymous said...

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:)

dmontillo said...

Thank you for sharing your family's touching stories and pictures with us. Your "Grandma's Pligouri" dish which calls for petimezi sounds so yummy. If you can't find petimezi, may I suggest looking for vino cotto instead. It is the Italian equivalent of petimezi and is made the same way.

Anonymous said...

I like it very much!