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Monday, 16 June 2008

Courgette and carrot quiche (Κις - γαλλικό 'μπουρέκι')

It's been a while since I've eaten something foreign. I would dearly love to eat something away from the Greek culinary traditions, but it's that family of mine, too used to one kind of taste, not willing to experiment on their plate. It has to be Greek, and cooked the way a Greek would eat it. The ingredients are Greek, cooked in the Greek way.

To get my children to eat more vegetables than they would normally dare, I baptise foreign foods with the names of familiar Greek favorites. All green pies, whether they include courgettes, vlita or silverbeet, are called 'spanakopita'. All patties, whether meat or zucchini based, are called 'biftekia'. All cheese-based filo parcels are called 'kalitsounia'. My son, who has a serious aversion to anything green in his food, has eaten so much zucchini and heaps of vlita in the last few weeks than he would believe if he were told what each meal he ate actually contained. When we went to Wong Kei's Chinese diner in London, I ordered souvlaki for the children. Souvlaki in a Chinese restaurant in London?

"Why didn't they put any meat in the pita, mama?"

"They don't make it for you in London, you have to roll your own." They both loved the egg pancakes filled with crispy duck.

"I like this spaghetti, mama. Why can't you make makaronia like this in Greece?" Plain Chinese noodles are sometimes served up as fast food in our house.

Carrots are a vegetable I always have in the house, but not often used in many of the meals I cook. They are added to salads and soups, but there is little call for them in Cretan meals, at least if you believe my husband. Mothers puree them into their babies' foods, while my sister adds them to makaronada and lentil stew. We've all heard of spanakopita and karidopita, but have you ever heard a Greek (not a Briton) talk about karotopita? In the winter we make psarosoupa (carrots are included in the ingredients), but do we ever talk about karotosoupa? We often eat lahanosalata (in which you've grated some carrots), but would you ever tell anyone you've just made a karotosalata (in which you've shredded some cabbage)? I'd put everyone off food for a while if I ever did that (the same reasoning behind not telling anyone that there's zucchini in the chocolate cake). It just wouldn't sound acceptable to the average Cretan.

In Crete, carrots are treated as a herb, not a vegetable, however crazy it may sound. We don't add it to our roasts like a potato. Google 'carrot' with 'greek recipe' and see what you get - some very interesting ideas, but nonetheless, not very Greek, even if you did type the word 'greek' in the search:
  • Greek carrot pie using pumpkin and filo pastry - an anonymous cook sent this to a New Zealand food web site: it has a highly unlikely combination of ingredients in Greek terms.
  • carrot soup with fennel bulb and orange - Joanna's very modern approach will not appeal to the average Greek village resident.
  • carrot marmalade - I've had this served at the end of a restaurant meal, but never in someone's home: it generated interest, without anyone clammering for more.
  • boureki with carrot - a lovely English lass living in Crete for many years has added it to her version of the traditional Cretan favorite summer meal: nice idea - I can imagine the riot it would cause in my house (despite my desire to add it when I next make boureki).
  • biftekia with carrot stuffing - biftekia are often stuffed, but the usual stuffing is tomato and cheese; using carrots would be a gourmet restaurant choice.
This does not mean that Greeks can't use carrots at all; GreekRecipe.com lists a few ideas on where to stick carrots in a Greek dish, but that's what carrot is to the average Greek: an addition, not the main ingredient or the star attraction. I'm not knocking carrots, as I love their sweet taste and the beautiful colour they lend to an otherwise very green meal. Even my Cretan husband is keen on carrot sticks dipped in guacomole, but carrots aren't just stuck into any Greek meal. They must serve a role of their own in a particular dish.

So when my uncles gave me some fresh carrots from their farm, I wondered what I could do with them in summer. When I brought them home, my husband took one look at the carrots and said: "Great! We can make a good fasolada out of that!"

Fasolada. In the summer. We had just had fresh fasolakia that week. And now he wants fasolada, a hearty stomach-warming gas-producing bean soup. He reminds me of my uncles who produce boureki zucchini and horta zucchini, without realising that they can produce cake zucchini, rissole zucchini, quiche zucchini, pie zucchini, et al. I decided to make a quiche. Maybe it sounds quite foreign for Crete, but I know just what to call it: quiche is the French version of the Cretan 'boureki'.

vegetable quichevegetable quiche

My good friend in New Zealand sent me a recipe for a simple self-crusting quiche using zucchini - another marvellous way to get rid of it - and carrot. I did Greekify it a little, by cooking the vegetables in the olive oil before mixing them into the quiche batter, and adding some filo pastry at the base of the tin; having never made a quiche before, I was worried it would stick to the bottom of the baking tray.

You need:
3 large courgettes, cubed
3 large carrots, cubed
½ onion, chopped finely
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup grated cheese (I used the infamous malaka)
¼ cup olive oil
4 lightly beaten eggs
1 teaspoon sweet basil (I substituted oregano; basil is not often used in Greek cooking)
salt and pepper
2 sheets of thin filo pastry (optional)

Place the vegetables into a bowl. (Saute them lightly, about five minutes, in the olive oil if you so wish, which I did.) Add everything else and mix everything well. Place into a buttered quiche dish. Because I've always been a little wary of food sticking to the pan, I used two sheets of filo pastry (brushed in between with olive oil) to line the oven dish. Cook in a moderate oven (180°C) for about 50 minutes or until it is cooked - when the top is well browned and the batter can be sliced.

vegetable quiche

This quiche was so good, so simple, so healthy, that I wanted to eat the whole tin. It goes really well on its own because it is so filling, but I can imagine how nice it would taste with a spicy sausage. We had it with a simple tomato salad. Bon Appétit! And for a slightly different version of Greek-inspired courgette quiche, check out Peter's kourkouto.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Joanna.

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