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Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Biftekia (Μπιφτέκια - meat patties)

My parents had a fish and chip shop in Wellington, fish and chips being the staple takeaway meal for New Zealanders. We sold mainly battered (or breadcrumbed) fish fillets and potato chips, as well as the usual chip shop "fritter" specialties, like corn fritters, paua fritters (my absolute favorite kiwi delicacy from the beautiful abalone shellfish which we often used as an ashtray or in jewellery) and potato fritters. All very fattening and not good for you, but what I would do for a paua fritter these days. We also stocked battered oysters, scallops, hotdogs, saveloys, crabsticks, dim sums, squid rings, spring rolls and curry rice rolls. All these processed foods were deep-fried in animal fat. Some had unpronunceable (for my Greek parents) names: squid rings often became 'square ring'; crabsticks were usually 'crabbystick' (at least they weren't 'crapsticks'); when they couldn't relate the item with its English name, they just gave them a host of variations based on the Greek for 'thingamijig' - fasoulaki, bihlibithi, marafeti. I had learnt to translate each of the nicknames appropriately, so I could fetch them from the deep freeze when my parents shouted out a customer's order to us.

Apart from fish, the only other unprocessed food (which unfortunately was also deep-fried) was meat patties (bifteki; the plural is biftekia). My mum would make a huge batch of these ever week - 100 pieces. We never ate them at home, I suppose because we sold so many of them, that she never had the time to make them for us. But she did use the same recipe for making fried meatballs (keftedakia), which we always associated with party food. I've followed her recipe more or less, and I always make at least 25 patties for the deep freezer. I use them in my children's sandwiches, and as a quick meal accompaniment to salad and roast potatoes. They go really well with any green vegetable dish. They can also be frozen once the patties have been formed. Absolutely fabulous in home-made hamburgers. 500g of mincemeat make 12 patties.

You need:
500g or pork or beef, ground, (we use a mixture of the two meats).
1 cup stale bread pieces soaked in water, then strained by hand
1 large onion, minced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sprig of mint, finely chopped
1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated (this is optional - it toughens the patties a little)
1 green bell pepper, minced
salt, pepper, oregano (or any other spice you like - we add cumin)

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them well together by hand, taking care to blend everything in. Mix thoroughly. You can add any ingredient that can be finely chopped. You can also play around with the spices you choose to use in the patties. Form the mixture into flat round patties. At this point, you can freeze them for a later date. They do not need to be defrosted if you cook them in the oven, but if you prefer to do them in a saucepan, they need to be thawed first, otherwise they will not cook through. The same mixture can be formed into meatballs for frying, although it is best not to mix in 'hard' ingredients like carrot and pepper, becasue when making small meatballs, these ingredients stick out and ruin the spherical shape of the meatball.

To cook them in the oven, you need to:
Place the patties in a shallow baking tin. Pour lemon juice, salt and olive oil over them, and cook in a hot oven until the meat is done (about 30 minutes). Try using freshly grated tomato instead of lemon juice for a thicker saucier taste. I have also added potatoes, chopped into large cubes (either with lemon or tomato), and served the meal with a simple salad or summer greens. The meat patties shrink slightly while cooking, so the extra space created while they are cooking can be taken up with prepared vegetables ready for roasting. I usually chop 2-3 large potatoes and position them in the spaces among the patties.

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MORE MINCE RECIPES:
Chili con carne
Dolmades
Makaronada
Cottage pie
Papoutsakia
Soutzoukakia
Pastitsio
Moussaka