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Saturday, 28 June 2008

Zucchini baseball (Κολοκυθομπέιζμπολ)

When you can no longer stand the look of zucchini on your dining table, and the wholesale buyer offers you a low price on your orange production, there's always this solution...

(The courgette escaped our notice. it is perfect for chicken feed.)

Friday, 27 June 2008

Sheep's head with orzo rice (Κεφαλάκι γιουβέτσι)

What's the most disgusting thing you've ever eaten? For me, it's Thai salted plums. I was 22 at the time, and my teaching career had landed me a position holding conversational classes with a group of six horny Chilean youths and three Thai teenagers including one girl in the whole group. It was the weirdest class I ever had to take, because I was practically a teenager myself. The Chileans were loud and raucous, and poked fun at the facial features of the Asians, while the Thais themselves maintained their silent smiles and servile postures. The young Thai girl in the group offered me something that looked like a caramel. I thanked her and popped it into my mouth without even conceiving the idea that it may be something I didn't like the taste of. I remember keeping it in my mouth long enough for the girl not to see me discarding it hastily in the bin, and rushing off to rinse my mouth.

When my mother cooked, I remember only one time when my father ever complained about a meal (the horta weren't well cleaned). All other times, he ate whatever came out of the pot as my mother cooked it. He himself never cooked, and I don't think my mother would have allowed him to do so, anyway, being the veritable Cretan woman that she was, despite living so far away from the island. When I first got married, I suddenly became aware that my life had taken a 180-degree turn on the aspect of food. I discovered that some people won't eat anything that's put in front of them, so I had to cook in such a way that what I cooked would be eaten, because I can't stand wasted effort.

I am fully sympathetic to anyone who doesn't want to eat something because they don't like it (even though not everyone is sympathetic to my desire to try everything), but I'm not too happy with my children when they are put off by sight rather than taste. I always ask them to taste something first before saying they don't like it, but it isn't always easy to get them to eat something that they dislike the appearance of in the first place. As it is not easy to cook for a family all with different tastes, I try to to cook meals that will have something in the saucepan or baking tray that everyone will eat from, usually in the form of pasta, potatoes, rice or beans, while always endeavouring to 'hide' vegetables in the sauces. It is simply not practical or ethical to have family members eating different food (unless there are leftovers), especially when one person is expected to cook for everyone. This is in line with the general idea that we should all respect other people's efforts.

There are other reasons why we 'have to' eat certain meals in this house:
  • they are good for your health
  • they are made with fresh garden produce
  • life is expensive and we can't afford to buy prepared meals or luxury food items
  • food should not be wasted
  • we can only have what we like when we are in a restaurant
And there are times for treats:
  • we try to go out about once a month for a meal as a family
  • when we eat out, the children are allowed to order whatever they like
  • we let our kids eat ice-cream in the summer, but not every day
  • occasionally eating junk food as a family every now and then provides memorable occasions and always brings on happy faces
Satisfying all the eaters in my house is not easy, but after nearly nine years of marriage and continually improving my techniques in the kitchen, I am overcoming this daily issue with which I am faced, and will be faced until the children are old enough to prepare a meal of their own or they leave the family home (for military duty and/or college).



Sheep's head is not something we have on an everyday basis, and it will send more intense shockwaves than my recent snail stew (which my daughter thought was finger-lickin' good - my son only ate the potatoes). In fact, sheep's head is only ever found in our deep freeze when we buy lamb (even though there were a pile of them in the supermarket where I bought some milk and fruit today). We buy our meat from the local butcher, but there are also times we buy straight from the farmer. In Cretan cuisine, the whole animal is eaten, each cut of meat cooked in a different way. The origins of this practice are easy to guess: economy, nothing goes to waste. Some people say that in Crete, we are leaders, not followers. Despite the peasant conditions prevailing outside the few urban centres of the island, the local people possessed the knowledge to ensure that they could hygienically cook all parts of an animal in a tasty way. A free-flowing supply of clean water is the key to hygiene; in Crete, we are blessed with it. This is a luxury in some parts of the world, and not just developing countries: in Iowa, it is unsafe to drink tap water on 'blue baby alert' days because of fertliser excess run-offs contaminating the water supply on particularly rainy days, as Michael Pollan explains in The Omnivore's Dilemma.

The sheep's head has been in the deep freeze since Greek Easter, much less time than most frozen supermarket food. It's time to use it. I'm cooking sheep's head for my son today. My son adores orzo rice pasta, called kritharaki (because it has a barley-grain shape) in Crete, or manestra in other parts of Greece. We never cooked this sort of thing in New Zealand; I'm afraid the societal norms prevalent in my country of birth just did not provide the setting for the sale of such cuts of meat; dead animals were treated euphemistically, as if they were not really animals but some kind of edible red plant, neatly packaged in cellophane wrappers with due-by, use-by and eat-by dates clearly labelled, particularly after the demise of the butchery and the takeover of this sector by the supermarket (as Joanna Blythman points out in Shopped).

One way of cooking sheep's head is as yiouvetsi - roasted in tomato sauce, with orzo rice pasta added towards the end of the cooking time. Some of us will eat the orzo, while others will lick the sheep's head dry. As long as everyone finds something to eat, I'm happy.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Baba ganoush (Μελιτζανοσαλάτα)

Much as I like to say I cook Cretan food in my kitchen, nost of the time, I'm actually cooking something that goes not just beyond the borders of the island, but the very country it belongs to, exhibiting a high degree of similarity with that of our neighbours, whose ancestors imported their cuisine into whichever land they conquered. Today, we're having baba ganoush (since there were no snails 'yiahni' leftovers), with eggplant dolmas, topped with yialantzi dolmas. The river of zucchini in our summer garden is still flowing, as it is in Riana's, but it now has a tributary - the aubergine.

As a trained linguist, I have always been interested in finding out the origins of the words we use in the language we speak. I was lucky to be bilingual, as were most of the children who attended Clyde Quay School in Mt Victoria when I was growing up. On leaving primary school, I was enrolled at Wellington Girls' College, where only a few of the 1000 girls attending were bilingual (poor souls). Although my English language skills were not as developed as my classmates', I never had any problems with academic language, since most technological and scientific vocabulary is derived from Greek or Latin, which I was studying anyway.

English belongs to the Germanic languages; in other words, it is related to a number of other languages (i.e. it isn't unique) like German, Swedish, Danish, among others. Greek comprises its own language group with no other related languages (i.e. it is unique); this is also the case with Armenian and, paradoxically, given its proximity to Greece, Albanian. Like all languages, in order to develop, they must borrow, and Greek is no exception to this, as our food words will attest.

Of course, a Greek would never call eggplant yemista 'dolmas' (we reserve that word for leaf parcels), and neither would they call melitzanosalata baba ganoush (nor would a Turk, for that matter), but vine leaves stuffed with rice are still called 'dolmadakia yialantzi', while our various regional versions of cheese pie are still called something that sounds like 'boreg'. One of our main herbs is 'maydanoz', which we often add to the 'kiyma' in our 'kofte'. Bairaktaris restaurant in Athens serves the best 'tas kebab' in all of Greece, and good 'baklava' is found all over the country. When we haven't planned anything for dinner, we might look into our fridge and prepare a meal 'tourlou tourlou'. All the words in inverted commas can be found in the Turkish language to denote the same food that they signify in Greek.

Here's a little quiz. See how many of the following words you recognize that are used in both Turkish and Greek cuisine:

cacik, pastirma, fasulye, pide, borek, ciger, karides, roka, Enginar, Dolması, Türlü, Ispanaklı, Pilav, Madaynoz, Kofte, Bamya, Defne, Lahana, Yahni, Helvasi, Guveci, tahin, yogurt, Peynirli, Portakal, Pekmez, Fistikli, Kaymak, Baklava, Sarması, Yalancı, Barbunya , Kiyma, Pırasa, Bezelye

When I was young, my mother would say to me (among the many down-to-earth things she said, at the risk of insulting her own race) that we must all have had Turkish ancestors in our family line, simply because Turks were living in Greece for 400 years. I remember her saying things like this when she felt angry about being put down by other Greeks in New Zealand, who might have seemed to her to be putting on airs, seeing themselves as more refined and cultured, quite unlike that of the country bumpkin that they once were when they first emigrated. She was too polite to tell them what she really felt, that we're all the same underneath.

Even though she hinted that her own origins might not be purely Greek, my mother never cooked foreign food; at least, she thought she never did. Our Bulgarian live-in taking care of my mother-in-law has on occassion cooked for us; all the meals were reminiscent of the ingredients and cooking style we are used to in our own homes, yet she insists that her recipes are Bulgarian. The Ottoman cuisine was more far-reaching than the regime, influencing the local food of the people living in the areas it passed over. Even though the Turkish yoke has ceased to exist in Greece, the Ottoman cuisine is still an integral part of life in Greece, and other parts of Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa, all of which are inextricably entwined.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

For a diachronic view of traditional Greek cuisine, click here.

Answers: tzatziki, pastrouma. fasolia, pita, boureki, tsiyeri, garides, keftedes, roka, anginara, Dolmas, Tourlou, spanakı, pilafi, maidanoz, Bamia, Dafni, Lahano, Yahni, Halva, yiouvetsi, tahini, yaourti, Peynirli, Portakali, Petoumezi, Fistiki, Kaymaki, Baklava, Sarmas, Yalantzı, Barbounia , Kima, Prasa, bizelia

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Snails in a tomato stew (Χοχλιοί γιαχνί)

(This post was featured on the home page of BlogHer on 25th June, 2008)

Snails are an acquired taste. Not everyone would be happy about seeing them on their plate, except maybe at a restaurant where snails are treated like exotic decadence at a premium price. The origins of eating snails are far from luxurious. Peasants are the modern ancestors of the earliest foragers, and about the only thing that both societies had in common was that they needed to eat; snails could be sourced locally and were easy to find. Even my mother would forage for them in New Zealand, and they were quite large there, although not as large as the giant African snails that are used in the most elaborate recipe I have ever read about.

Once snails have gone dormant, they are at the eating stage, whether they have been reared in captivity or in their natural habitat. Snails are eaten as a main meal in Crete, so a normal serving size would include about 15-20 snails per person. There are many ways to serve snails in Crete, but in our house, we cook them in a stew. This stew always contains courgettes and potatoes - another way to use up our river of zucchini. It is a classic Cretan summer meal, and a special one for me: it is one of the most time-consuming, copiously prepared meals I make, apart from moussaka. Not everyone eats snails, but there is something for everyone to eat from the same pot that the snails are cooked in. And the most important thing to note about this meal is that all the ingredients (save the pepper) can (and were) sourced within 10 kilometers from my own home. It is most organic, and extremely local.

TO SEE IF THE SNAILS ARE ALIVE
live snails

An unbroken seal is usually a sign (99%) that the snails are alive. Put the snails in the sink and run cold water over them, filling and plugging the sink with about 2cm of water. The snails should eventually start showing signs of life at this stage. If they aren't moving or creeping out of their shells, they may still be alive. Don't forget that some of them move at snail's pace. I had just come home from the beach with the children when I started preparing this dish. I let them tell me when they saw moving snails. Admittedly, this process is time-consuming. We can't all hang around all day waiting to see if they're going to make a move. A quicker way to deal with this is to pull off the seal and prod their body. They will start to produce slime almost immediately. Don't throw them into boiling water before you can ascertain whether they are alive or dead. If you don't know what a dead snail looks like, believe me, they look pretty dead - think of a black corpse.

TO KILL THE SNAILS (censor's warning: PG)
par-boiled snails

You don't eat live sheep, pigs and cows, do you? So it is with snails; you have to kill them before you cook them. Michael Pollan discusses the pros and cons and the ethics involved in killing what he foraged in the Omnivore's Dilemma in order to cook and eat it; snails are not as unpleasant as large animals, but it's certainly an experience. When you do this yourself, you may feel like a cold-blooded killer. This is why a lot of animal-friendly people prefer to buy their meat prepackaged from supermarkets. The assistant at the meat counter in a supermarket, as described by Joanna Blythman in Shopped, "sells you a piece of meat as if it is a euphemism for a dead animal." Have a pot of boiling water ready and toss each snail into it. No blood, no mess, just loads of slime. Don't worry about the seal that is still stuck to the shell. This will clean far more easily once it has softened in hot water. At this point, if you raped the countryside to get the snails and find you can't eat all that you gathered, you can drain them, and freeze them to cook in a winter meal or during a fasting period, as snails are considered lenten fare.

TO CLEAN THE SNAILS:
The snails aren't exactly dirty; the last time they crapped was probably about 2-3 weeks before you honed in on them. Their seal is very strong and adheres to the shell as if it's been stuck with glue. For aesthetic reasons, it needs to be removed (unlike my koumbaro, you don't really want to be eating someone else's secretions). Once the snails have been dipped into hot water, the seal can be scraped away with a sharp knife. If you prefer, this can be done at the stage where you check if they're alive; the snails will realise that they are being tampered with, and will start to produce their slime, which may put you off cooking them, so that you take them back to where you found them...

The snails are now ready to be cooked in the meal of your choice. In our house, we have them stewed in a traditional Cretan recipe.

TO PREPARE THE SNAILS FOR COOKING:
You need:
about 80 snails at the cleaned stage, enough to give 4-5 servings

boiled snails
Boil the snails in salted for about 20 minutes, changing the water, changing the water once or twice (depending on how off-putting you find the residue) to get rid of the slime. I love the sound of snail shells rattling against the pot. They will now smell like an unusual species of shellfish. They will have lost their green slimy look, and you will now view them as edible. Strain the cooked snails of excess water, and place them in a bowl, covering them in wine. This is simply to make them smell nice; wine is often used in Greek cuisine to marinate meat, hence its use with snails. Let the snails marinate for a couple of hours (or overnight, as this meal CAN be cooked piecemeal - as mine was) before you add them to the main stew.

snail stew
For the stew, you need:
1/4 cup olive oil (from the village)
1 large onion sliced thinly (from our garden)
2 cloves of garlic, minced (from our garden)
10 small zucchinis (from our garden - the less mature, the better - the ones I used today were just sweating in their own juice and cooked in very little time)
20 baby potatoes (given to us by my uncles), or 4 large potatoes, chopped into large chunks - I used far more potatoes than necessary to cater for snail non-eaters
4-5 tomatoes, grated (from the garden)
salt, pepper and oregano (I have no idea where they were procured)
finely chopped parsley (optional)

courgette and potato stew
Heat the oil and add the garlic and onion. Saute till transparent. Add the potatoes and zucchinis - chop the courgettes if they are large, otherwise, leave them whole, as they tend to break up if overcooked. Coat them in oil and let them sizzle in the pot for about five minutes to let them acquire that fried rather than boiled taste. Pour in the tomato and season the food. Cover the pot, turn down the heat to the lowest point, and let the vegetables simmer till they are almost cooked (about 20-30 minutes). Don't stir the vegetables in the pot; shake the pot if you want to move anything in it. Potatoes go mushy and zucchinis break up. When you uncover the pot, your kitchen will take on the smell of French ratatouille. Add the marinated snails, cover the pot again, and let the food cook for another 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley on top (if using).

As I have 'fussy eaters' in the house, I sometimes remove the vegetables if I think they're done to perfection, so that they don't get mushy or break up. The snails are left in till they are tender and have taken in the sauce. The vegetables are placed back into the pot simply so that they don't dry out. This is a very oily dish - not for serving to the Queen of England, although the queen downstairs took a liking to it.

TO SERVE THE SNAILS:
snails cooked a la hania chania crete
For each serving, place a few potatoes and a couple of zucchinis with a good ladle full of sauce, and top with at least 15 snails per serving.

TO EXTRACT THE SNAIL FROM THE SHELL:

This is the fun part. We don't use special cutlery as the French do, and our hands play as important a role as our forks. For high society, have some warm water in a bowl in the middle of the table for people to dip their hands in to wash off the oily sauce. Don't forget the towels - paper napkins simply stick onto your fingers, cause a great mess, and you need practically one per shell, especially if you're inexperienced. I envy my husband on this point: as you can see, he is so experienced, that he never gets his hands messy and uses his towel once he's finished eating his plate.

Pick up a snail. Slurp the sauce in it - it's divine. Insert your fork into the shell and attach it to the meat. Twist the fork using a light movement, and the snail will come out in one piece, complete with a little black bit, its pancreas (which you can choose to eat voluntarily; some people swear it's the best bit, while others say it can be poisonous). If the snail did not emerge whole, there's still some more left inside; don't let it go to waste. It is inaccessible form the shell opening. You need to crack the shell. Slurp on it one more time. Hold it in one hand, and crack the centre top with the side of your fork. When you have cracked it - it should crack easily - stick a tine of the fork into it. Twist the fork around, and you should see the rest of the meat coming out of the shell's opening: kou-kou-tsa! This procedure takes as much practice as it does for a non-Asian to use chopsticks. Just watch my daughter:


You'll be surprised at how much you enjoyed your meal. The stewed courgettes and potatoes are a feast on their own. The sauce acquires a smoky cinnamon taste when the snails are added; bring on the sourdough bread. A piece of feta wouldn't go amiss, either. And if you did enjoy the meal, there are a number of other ways that snails are eaten in Crete: my Cretan cookbooks mention the following recipes (Psilakis alone mentions 37 recipes!), all using the same basic principles at the harvesting and cleaning stage as the recipe you have just savoured from your computer:
  • snails pilafi: sauteed snails cooked in a tomato sauce with rice added
  • snails with wheat or xinohondro: cooked in a similar way to pilafi snails
  • fried snails: marinated snails dredged in oil and fried - a great accompaniment to this would be skordalia (the Greek version of aioli) or tzatziki
  • snail moussaka: using the shelled meat of snails instead of mince
  • snails with greens: fresh sweet leafy greens are simmered in a light sauce with the snails
  • snail pie: a mixture of vegetables with snails cooked as a self-crusting pie
Let's give Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a hand for creating a recipe using snails, called Gardener's Revenge, for the UK TV series River Cottage. He doesn't mention how to clean, deslime or shell the buggers (he uses them shelled) , and he cooks them for about two minutes (as the recipe states). Unless English snails differ enormously from Greek snails, he has a lot to learn, I think.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by its creator, Kalyn's Kitchen.

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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Apricot clafoutis (Επιδόρπιο βερύκοκο)

I'm the zucchini goddess, or so thinks Alexandra:

"Thank you so much for helping us get rid of this year's excessive (as it always is) zuchinni crop from our garden. The chocolate-zucchini cake is in the oven as we speak, and smells wonderful. We've also been knee-deep in apricots. Jam, yes, and apricot upside-down cake which I think our village neighbours genuinely liked, though I don't think they were so keen on the apricot clafoutis; is it something to do with the passionate authoritative egalitarian interest which Cretans take in good food, like the French do?"

Having made the jam and eaten the fresh fruit from our tree, I am still looking for ways to get rid of the apricots left in the fridge. The reason of course is obvious: if we have our own fresh fruit available, it is highly unsustainable to buy other fresh fruit if we have our own. This philosophy is reasonable: apart from eating seasonally as often as possible, it is also more likely that we are imbibing fewer pesticides and more vitamins, hence healthier food. As I can't wait to taste our first watermelon for the season, I have to get rid of those apricots creatively. I'd rather not try juicing them - now that our orange trees are in full production, we make orange juice every day.

Clafoutis? What on earth is that? And why didn't the Greek peasant neighbours like it? After all, the French peasants love it. Is it genetic? With the help of the internet, I found out all I could about clafouti (as it's also written). I chose Martha Schulman's recipe because it sounded the least complicated and didn't use any overly exotic ingredients.

apricot clafoutis

You need
:
10-15 apricots, halved and stoned (the less ripe, the firmer they will stand in the pudding)
2 tablespoons of brandy (cognac)
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
7 tablespoons of sugar (my first reaction is: only?)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup yoghurt (I used some lemon flavoured yoghurt 'given away for free' by a milk company with every carton of its expensive, well over-1-euro per litre milk - I have joined in the boycott against expensive milk in my country)
2 eggs (the recipe said three; I reduced the number, given what I know about how Cretans like their desserts, not too eggy: now I know why the neighbours weren't too keen)
1 vial vanilla powder (pods and essence are not widely available in Crete)
pinch of salt
2/3 cup of sifted all-purpose flour
icing sugar for dusting (optional)
Place the apricots in a bowl with the brandy, lemon juice and half the sugar to become syrupy (this needs about half an hour). Oil a 10- or 10-1/2-inch ceramic quiche or tart dish. Drain the liquid from the apricots into a bowl, and place the apricots rounded side up in the dish. Using an electric mixer, beat together the syrup, sugar, milk, yoghurt, eggs, vanilla and salt till the mixture is creamy. Slowly beat in the flour. Mix together well. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake in a moderate oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is browned and the clafoutis is firm. Press gently on the top in the middle to see if it's firm. I omitted the icing sugar bit.

Clafoutis sounds like my kind of dessert - fruit (usually cherries) in a spongy batter, something like a furity custard. It reminds me of all those fruity puddings that my Kiwi friends' mothers made at their homes. I never got to eat a pudding made by any of them, having to be satisfied with the photos I saw of them in Women's Weekly, and dreaming about what it would be like to eat a dessert that looked like it had been born in a royal kitchen and served to some king or queen, who nodded his or her head to show contentment, while the cook sighed with relief that his head wouldn't be chopped off if since it met with the royals' approval. Last year, I made a spectacular plum crumble but that's the only time I've cooked fruit in this house. Not that it won't get eaten - it does, but not by anyone else, unfortunately.

apricot clafoutis

Possibly, this dessert might not be too popular with Cretan locals if it's served warm (it hit 37 degrees Celsius yesterday); it will look and feel like baby food, which is probably why my friends' neighbours didn't like it - 'krema' they might've said; 'clafouti yia ton fafouti' (clafoutis for the toothless). Fruity cakes have also never been very popular with some members of my own family. My husband's logic in this is that sweet and savoury never mix, and fruit is served after sweet, which comes after savoury, to clear the palate, so to speak. One way I have successfully helped to encourage the eating of fruity-vegetable cakes (apple cake, banana cake, carrot cake, walnut cake, zucchini cake) is to serve these desserts at room temperature with ice-cream. Till he met me, with the exception of walnut cake, he had never had such cakes. Cooked fruit is usually served in Greece as a pie (in phyllo pastry).

Serving ice-cream with cake is not as decadent as it may sound - fruit desserts usually don't contain a lot of sugar (hey presto, another reason why they didn't like it, being used to galaktoboureko and baklava), as the fruit compensates for its lack of sweetness. This is however another way to bastardise a local dish: cream (including ice-cream) is a definite no-no with clafoutis. When Alexandra was in France and asked for cream to go with her clafoutis, the homely waitress rasied an eyebrow and replied: "Of course if Madame wishes for cream she shall have cream, but one would normally not take cream with a clafoutis."

I'm not much of an experienced cook
in the sense that I haven't a clue about foreign food - anything that's out of the Cretan environment is what the English say (it's all Greek to me). I'm a good eater, but the chance to cook foreign doesn't crop up often enough in my life at the moment, and it's not just to do with sourcing foreign ingredients. I feel I must clarify my position because I don't think I'd make clafoutis again. The apricots in the custard batter were delicious, but maybe this dessert tastes better when made in the traditional manner using cherries. The recipe stated that it should be served warm, but this is a definite no-no in the Greek climate, as is the idea of cooking fruit. Clafoutis should indeed be served warm (preferably in a cooler climate), as it goes quite thick, like a cold custard, when it cools down. A glass of cold water is a must when eating apricot clafoutis, as it leaves a syrupy residue in the mouth, a little like the traditional Greek sweets my friend's neighbours are used to.

If I had to give this dessert a Greek name, I'd call it the French version of galaktoboureko served with fruit. But next time, I think I'll stick to apricot upside down cake.

This post is dedicated to all former urbanites who suddenly realised their call in life and became Cretan peasants, before it was too late.

And here is Alexandra's recipe for comparison purposes, in imperial measures:

350 – 450 grams fruit, stoned.

3 eggs

85 grams sugar

75 grams all-purpose flour

Half tsp powdered cinnamon

Half pint milk (560 mill) (you can replace 2 tbsp of it with brandy for a treat)

2 tablespoons melted butter

Little icing sugar to finish

Heat oven to 375F, 190C, Gas mark 5. Butter a big shallow dish (I use a 12 inch flan dish which would be about 30cm, scatter the halved stoned fruit on the base and sprinkle with a tablespoon of the sugar. Beat the rest of the sugar with the eggs, stiur in flour and cinnamon mixed, continue whisking till smooth. Gradually beat in the milk and finally the cool melted butter. Pour batter over the fruit and bake for about 45 mins until puffed up and lightly browned. Best served warm, dusted with icing sugar (and no cream!)


©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Moussaka (Μουσσακά)

Moussaka is so closely connected to Greece in such a way that most people don't realise it exists in the same format in other countries around Greece, most often countries associated with past links to the Ottoman Empire. Recently my students at MAICh had a party in which they presented traditional Egyptian dishes, one of which was eggplant and potato slices baked with mince, with the Egyptian version being more heavily spiced than the Greek variety).



Although I enjoy making a moussaka every now and then, it's another Greek traditional dish that my children eat with difficulty, and I suspect many modern Greek youngsters will have the same opinion. However tasty it is for an adult, it looks too 'brown' and tastes too rich for a child. My I-hate-vegetables son wants me to pick off all the aubergines, whereas my daughter doesn't want the mince. I end up eating their leftovers, without really being able to savour the work of art that I created in the kitchen. In my opinion, moussaka is a 'too-much' food.

It's said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and I can tell you that my husband is a great fan of moussaka. This is about the only reason I make it; who's going to finish off the tin I cook? But a wife who wants to keep her husband has to be cruel to be kind: so much oil, so much frying, so much of too much - it can only lead to cholesterol-raising arterial blockage and coronary heart disease. I tell him not to ask so often for moussaka, even though research suggests that followers of the Mediterranean diet in Southern European countries suffer the least from diet-related heart problems. Tsk, tsk.

A friend of mine told me about his hilarious adventures when he first came out to Paleohora, having decided to rent out rooms to tourists and run a restaurant in the village, as it was back then in the mid-1970s - his was one of the first eateries in the undeveloped coastal rural town that Paleohora once was.

"I was well versed in the Greek cuisine, having worked elsewhere in the restaurant trade for many years. Coming to Paleohora, I realised that what the mild-mannered English and German tourists wanted when they came to Paleohora in the summer was to savour what they thought of as the authentic Greek lifestyle: the slow-paced ignorant locals, the alluring sun and sea, along with authentic Greek peasant cuisine (if those two words can go together). So my wife and I decided to serve only traditional food in the restaurant.

"I found a wine merchant who supplied me with the best marouva (a local variety of wine) you could find in the area, a more expensive variety than others available on the market at the time. The tourists would order it, but they wouldn't drink it, and I'd be chucking away gallons of it sitting undrunk in their glasses. I realised that they were used to classifying wines into reds and whites, something totally foreign in the Cretan wine sector. As soon as I bought in second grade varieties, which could only be distinguished by their colour, the tourists started ordering a second carafe. 'Very good local wine,' they'd say to me, and I'd just answer back, 'Yes, I made it myself from my own grapevines,' and of course they believed me!

"Then there was the salad oil. We used only local olive oil in all our food, and Paleohora olives make some of the best grade of olive oil in the whole country, not just Crete. But Northern Europeans aren't used to mopping up sauces and oil from their plate with freshly baked bread - they were used to sliced bread anyway - so the oil would just remain in the salad bowl, uneaten, wasted. I stopped buying the best grade, and found a cheaper alternative. It too went to waste in any food that required olive oil as a dressing. So I stopped dressing the salads, and just left a small bottle on the table. I watched the tourists pouring a couple of drops of oil over their salad, and I realised that they simply weren't used to using oil any kind - as much as we are. Olive oil only started to be sold relatively recently in their supermarkets; they used to buy it as an exotic highly priced item from pharmacies in their own country.



"We cooked all the traditional Greek foods: pastitsio with spicy mince and creamy sauce, yemista doused in tomato and olive oil, boureki with staka butter, moussaka with fried potato and aubergine slices. In the beginning, I couldn't understand why most people left most of their meal on their plate. Were the servings too large? Was there something wrong with the food? I realised after a couple of seasons that those tourists had been seeing pictures of Greek food in books, and they knew what to expect, but what they didn't know was that it would be so heavy on their stomach. I dry-cooked the mince in the pastitsio; they licked their plate. I stopped dousing olive oil over the yemista and just cooked them in water; they loved them. I stopped adding staka to the boureki: 'yum yum', they kept telling me. I didn't bother frying the aubergine and potato slices in the moussaka; 'mmm, delicious,' they exclaimed, and I'd tell them that the recipe was a very old one from my mother-in-law. That's the kind of bullshit they wanted to hear because it made their holiday take on an exotic appeal. They had no idea what authentic Greek food was; when they were served it, their stomachs couldn't take it."

moussakamoussaka

Having discovered 'authentic Greek peasantry', those tourists went back home and tried to get as close as their knowledge and taste allowed them to the authentic tastes of the Mediterranean kitchen in the backwaters of Norwich, Nottingham and Northampton. The BBC - the purveyor of independent objective news coverage - does a fantastic job of deconstructing moussaka (and other foreign cuisine), genetically modifying it - in the cultural sense - for the British palate:
Hear ye, hear ye: if you insist on calling something moussaka, at least make it look like moussaka; but have you ever wondered what the first moussaka in the world might have looked like?

Having had a look at things from the tourists' point of view, I don't understand all the fuss made about moussaka either. For a start, it's traditionally associated with summer when the beautiful purple globes are at the height of their production. Eggplant needs to be cooked in olive oil to bring out its maximum flavour; fried food in the summer is exactly the opposite of what you should be eating in hot weather. Slices of fried aubergine, slices of fried potato, a spicy tomato sauce mince, topped with a custardy bechamel sauce: all of which frazzle the cook, heat up the kitchen and clog your arteries. It's just the wrong food for this time of year.

moussaka

So my advice to you is: don't cook moussaka in the summer. Save it for the winter: the laiki open-air market is full of greenhouse grown aubergine at that time. When you cook moussaka, don't fry the vegetables: you'll be all the more healthy for it. And if you have children, don't bother making moussaka at all: you'll have to eat it for days to get rid of it. If there's a moral in this story, it's something like 'don't cook moussaka'; it's not good for you. (But if you really must cook it, you can use this recipe, written by someone who makes moussaka in its season and freezes it. And when you do cook it, if it doesn't all get eaten in one sitting, it freezes well cooked in individual servings.)

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Thursday, 19 June 2008

Apricot jam (Μαρμελάδα βερύκοκο)

The house is inundated with fresh produce at the moment - apart from zucchini which always seems to outdo itself every year, there are aubergines (I need to start making moussaka), vlita (I have given away two bagfuls so far and collected half a dozen myself)) and onions (they'll last till the end of summer). The peppers are also doing well, while the tomatoes are starting to ripen (ftou ftou ftou, to avoid the plants becoming cursed).



The apricot tree (on the right) also gave us about five kilos of apricots all in one go. Apricots are delicious, but you can't get through five kilos very quickly. If you've been eating a lot of vegetables, apricots don't go down very well. I've just picked out the softer ones and turned them into jam for breakfast in the autumn. Delia Smith includes an all-purpose jam recipe for plums in her Complete Cookery Course, which can be replaced by similar soft stone fruit like peaches and apricots. I've used Delia's recipe for orange and lemon marmalade, with great success, and this one is no different. Delia may call it preserve, but I prefer the more common name - jam.

apricots for jamapricot jam
You need:
1 kilo of stoned fruit, halved or cut into smaller pieces if you don't prefer whole fruit in your jam
750g sugar
the juice of a lemon

If the fruit is very soft (and therefore not so tasty as fresh fruit), let it stew uncovered on the lowest heat to let out all the juices. The fruit doesn't have to be in perfect condition - it will not affect the taste, texture or colour. If the fruit is hard, you may need to add some water to the pot. Once the fruit is soft and mushy, add the sugar and stir it into the fruit thoroughly so that it leaves no granules. Once this is done, stir in the lemon juice and let the jam cook on low heat for another half an hour.

She also uses the kernels extracted from the stones of the fruit, but that's just for decoration. Another nice addition in this jam is shavings of lemon peel added in the final stage of cooking. It's nice, but not if you have young children, who want to eat plain jam, not gourmet preserve!

apricot jam setapricot jam
Delia has a wonderful way to check when jam or marmalade is ready to set once the sugar has boiled with the fruit. Place a saucer in the deep freeze. When you are ready to check the set of the jam, take out the frozen plate, and place a teaspoonful of the jam on it. "Allow it to cool for a few seconds, then push it with your finger: if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. If it hasn't set, boil it again for another 5 minutes and do another test." This really works!



When the jam is ready, let it settle before pouring it into warmed sterilised jars. I seal mine with a piece of plastic wrap while the jam is still hot, then secure the jars with the lid. When I'm ready to open the jar for use, I hear a little popping sound, the same kind you hear when opening a store-bought jar of preserved fruit or vegetables, and I know that I've sealed the jar correctly.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Zucchini picnic (Κολοκυθοπικνίκ)



School is out, but now it's time for education of a different sort: swimming lessons. The children are attending lessons at the pool - in the sea - for the second year running, at a shady bay called Agious Apostolous, named after the church in the area, dedicated to the 12 Apostles. There's a big parking area at Agious Apostolous, but it's always crowded and noisy. Drivers carelessly weave their way in amongst the pedestrians. It is their prerogative to stop right outside the snack bars lining the commercially oriented beach to pick up their cold frothy coffee, an ice-cream or a high fat, sugar-crammed cholesterol-filled puff pastry pie, the kind of food that creates pollution (from the packaging) and obesity. We park our car on the other side of the bay - Kalamaki Beach - and walk to the pool.



Only a few minutes from our house (admittedly by car), Kalamaki Beach is located next to a busy road which leads to all the tourist hotels along the western coastline of Hania. I park outside the last private house on this stretch of road west of the town, owned by someone who gained planning permission before the area became a designated tourist zone. The house leads directly onto the beach. Its verandah is probably the most alluring in the area: the patio is a stone's throw away from the sand, and the owner even plants a full summer garden every year.



A hut has been constructed from grass reeds in the neighbouring garden of this house, the perfect place to go and sleep in the summer during a heatwave. It was probably cheaper than renovating the dilapidated dwelling you see in the photo. Believe it or not, someone lives in that dumpster. We can see his back door and garden. He owns half a dozen dogs, and always leaves the doors open. It's hard to imagine that there is a mini-highway right outside the front door of this house, while right next door, there's a two-storey family home in tip-top condition.

We usually sit at the beach in front of this house, close to the little boat moored near the rocks. If it weren't for the house, this area would have had a hotel built on it, and I probably wouldn't be sitting there on a daily basis with my children - and of course, it would be covered with sunbeds. Despite its central location, because it's under-used, the beach attracts alternative lifestylers - picnicking families, joggers, strolling middle-aged couples, and the occasional bare-breasted skinny Scandinavian woman wearing a piece of rope round her waistline (it must be in vogue), carting around her flaccid pale-faced specimen of a boyfriend/husband/partner. They pay no attention to us, just as we do to them.

Even my children have noticed how close the house is to the beach, and often ask me when we're going to live in a house like this. I remind them that we already do:
Sometimes it pays to put things in perspective. Life can be simpler. Instead of going on summer vacation, we go on staycation.



The children exit the car onto the footpath, avoiding all vehicular traffic, and walk down a little sandy path to the beach, whose consistency varies from year to year, depending on whether the local council or the nearby tavernas and cafe bars have decided to clean it. It used to be rented out by a local sports group who filled it with expensive sunbeds and umbrellas, but for the last three years, it's been void of any commercialisation. The large rocks it accumulates during the winter months or in stormy weather make it less profitable, locals preferring to bring their own deck chairs, tourists preferring to search out a less rocky spot, just a few metres away.



Agious Apostolous Beach is just a short walk away from Kalamaki Beach, on the other side of the sandy cove, past the umbrellas, hotels and sunbeds, below the hilly green plateau full of restaurants. The bay gets more and more commercialised as we approach the 'swimming pool', the cordoned-off section in a shallow area of the sea near the beach. The children have their lesson while I read a book, snap photos and go in for a dip myself. When it's over, they're famished, after over an hour of very active water sports. I always try to carry a little picnic - a thermos with cold water, some healthy sandwiches and a green pie, familiar picnic food, complete with blue gingham tablecloth. And there's no cleaning up after they've eaten. We go back to Kalamaki Beach, where there's ample sunbed-free space to enjoy it.

zucchini picnic food

As there's so much zucchini in the garden at the moment, today's picnic consists of: zucchini carrot quiche, zucchini patties in a toasted sandwich and zucchini chocolate cake.

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Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Greek bagel (Κουλούρια)

Street vendors in Hania can sell you almost anything. There are always bric-a-brac stalls operating outside the Agora, close to a bus stop, selling all sorts of things you never thought you'd need, but suddenly thought could be useful when you see them being sold on the street: children's toys, garden tools, men's boxer shorts, calendars, pirated CDs and DVDs, even aromatic (seasonal) freesias; you name it, you can find it, all on the streets of Hania, and most other large towns of Greece, including the capital. The vendors themselves will remind you of poor peddlers from forgotten times, walking around the streets pushing a cart or driving a vehicle of their own invention. Their presence in the town makes them unique and all the residents have a little story to tell about them. These days, they are usually old people or immigrants earning a small income for themselves. In Crete, peddlers still go from one village to another selling all sorts of things one could only get in the town, although not with a donkey and cart like they used to. There is a famous Cretan song about the 'pramateutis' (πραματευτής) which I remember hearing many times when I was living in Wellington from a 45rpm record on a very old pick-up player (it looked like a suitcase when it wasn't being used).

street vendor hania chania

When it comes to street food, vendors are more limited in their range of wares; fast food and sandwich outlets have helped to replace this tradition a little faster. Throughout the year, fresh seasonal produce is sold on the roadside just outside the town centre in pick-up trucks - sultanas from Iraklio, watermelons from Akrotiri, potatoes from Lasithi, even field-collected snails. Ready-to-eat food lacks this variety. From autumn onwards, you can find seasonal roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob, grilled over hot charcoal, which also keeps the vendor warm. In the warmer months, only donuts and koulouria are sold on the streets of the town. Koulouri vendors are found everywhere: in central squares, outside government offices, at open-air markets - any place where a lot of people congregate and have long waiting periods to get their jobs done. When I'm on the road, if I don't buy myself a piece of freshly cooked spanakopita from a lunch bar, I buy one of those koulouria, the Greek version of what's known as a bagel in the USA.

bagel

Street koulouria are always round. There are various types of koulouria sold. People ask for them by the type that they like: hard and crunchy or soft and chewy, sweet (like the ones Mariana made) or savoury, lenten (like Chanit's) or non-lenten. The soft sweet ones are made with twisted pastry lengths before the ends are stuck together to form a zero shape, which is why we tell our children to be careful not to get a koulouri from the teacher (Mariana explains how this type of bread got its name). The savoury ones are usually plainer looking. They all get rolled in sesame seeds. My favorite type is the slightly chewy savoury lenten ones. I like to bring them home with me and savour them with feta or graviera cheese, a few olives and a glass of wine. It's practically a main meal for me.

The other day, I was at the (in)famous IKA, the NHS of Greece, with a similar reputation. The koulouras, as koulouri vendors are known here) was standing outside the entrance to the gates of the building selling his wares.

"One, please,"I asked him.

"Forty cents," he replied.

"Only forty cents?" I had paid sixty cents for one at the open-air market the other day, sold by the well-known bagel lady in Hania, a woman who wears a frilly white apron and rides an improvised three-wheeler bike around the town selling koulouria. She does a roaring trade with her smiling face, exchanging friendly chatter with her customers.

bagel lady hania chania

"The person on the other side of the building is selling them for fifty cents each," the koulouras told me.

I gave him two euro and bought five koulouria to share among the family. At this price, they were a bargain.

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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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Sunday, 15 June 2008

Snail harvesting (Κυνήγι χοχλιών - σαλιγκαριών)

Snails are a Cretan delicacy - they're not as popular in other parts of Greece as they are in Crete, and the snails sold in Athens are probably being brought by ex-patriate Cretans. Most people think of them as disgusting garden pests. But as soon as you call them 'escargots', all sorts of positive connotations spring to mind - 'chic' food, haute cuisine, exotic taste. If you just want to find out what they taste like, then all you need to do is boil up a dozen and season them. Just think of them as land shellfish, as Ric commented.

Once you've tried them, if you like them enough, you may want to harvest them - they make an interesting appetiser at a dinner party, individually served (5-10 per bowl) in olive oil, or as the French do their escargots, in garlic butter sauce. In my house, we cook them in a tomato-based stew. The only weird thing about the way the French cook them is that they remove them from their shells, and then refill them after marinating them in a sauce, a time-consuming, pointless process, since they will once again be removed to be consumed. The number of times they are handled by man must spoil their taste, not to mention their hygiene. Then again, special cutlery has been invented to extract the snail out of the shell; this is never used in Greece. We use our forks, and we're not averse to cracking the shell when things get tough, or slurping on it to get what we want!

Snails have been eaten for many centuries in Greece and other parts of Europe. The snails of the Old Countries are probably older relatives of the same ones as the snails found in the New World, originally stowing away on ships and exported produce, as Lulu mentioned (but then maybe not - see the comments section). It amazes me that the photograph of the common garden snail found in Wikipedia is exactly the same as the most common village snails we find in our village fields in Fournes.

snail forage huntsnail forage huntsnail forage huntsnail forage hunt

We harvest snails in the spring (and sometimes in the summer, up to the end of July) from our orange groves. You have to know your area well enough to know where the snails hide. I've been doing this for about five years, so I have an idea where they keep home in Fournes. When it rains, snails 'walk around' in the damp foliage; they leave their territory and perambulate the area. Once the rainy damp period stops - here in Hania, this is usually end of May, early June at the latest - they hibernate; they are summer sleepers. In Crete, we say 'stoumbonoun' (they puff up and stay put). And I know just where they do that in the village.

On an early morning day in mid-May, the weather was very damp. We decided to forage for snails, but when we looked int heir usual place of residence, they weren't there. We hung around the fields doing other jobs, and as the day warmed up, the snails came back to their 'home'. When we ready to leave the field, we looked for them in the same places - under rocks that don't get a lot of sunlight, in the thickets of grassy bushes, dry spots under irrigation hoses, on the walls of old disused concrete irrigation canals - just waiting for us to come. If you collect them during the rain, as many villagers do here in Hania, you will practically be stepping on them! I've been advised to collect only large snails, as they are meatier, and small ones obviously haven't reached the stage of maturity that they need to be consumed. Their shell cracks more easily at th cooking stage if they are too young. There is another logic to this: leaving smaller ones in the field means that they will not become extinct or be depleted, and will continue to reproduce.

The snails were put into a container that allows them to breathe - a plastic vegetable basket is perfect for that, since it is easy to clean and can be securely fastened so that they don't escape. Wooden crates are said to be healthier; as long as you can clean them and keep them secure in one place, a plastic one with openings smaller than the snails themselves will do. The crate must be stored in a cool, dry place; snails don't like durect sunlight, nor do they like damp patches, despite their conspicuousness in such conditions.

snail feeding

As you find more snails, you can top up the container. Resting snails aren't disturbed by new additions to the cage. The only thing you have to remember is to clean out the cage. As Nancy points out, "as the snails eat, they excrete fluid, so they and the box need to be cleaned." The snails are fed in the container, to fatten up and rid themselves of possible toxins; Cretans toss a couple of handfuls of flour or a packet of spaghetti in the container (pasta is easier to handle than flour, which is why I use it). This food is similar to what humans eat, so the stomachs of the snails won't be filled with any grasses that may be toxic to man but not to snails. They walk around, eating, shitting and drifting off to sleep (the famous "mam, kaka, nani", as we say in Greece about babies). Once they stop feeding, 'stoumbonoun'; they seal up, creating a mesh around their opening.

Cleaning out the cage goes on for as long as you keep adding snails to the cage. During cleaning, you will also find some dead snails. Definitely remove those; it's really off-putting to find a dead one during the cooking stage. Watch out for snails stuck on the lid of the container! The last time you will clean the cage will be a few days after the last addition. When I did this, nearly all the pasta had disappeared, the snails were happily immobile, and the cage did not have an unpleasant odour, meaning that the snails were 'clean'.

snail with seal - liplive dormant snail

You may be wondering how you can tell a live snail from a dead one. Common sense may tell you: there is no seal, the shell is empty, maybe there's a bad smell. The dead snails are also black and there is no slime. And when they're plunged in water, they will definitely not show any signs of movement - partially moving body, antenna coming out of the shell, an instinctive pull-back reaction upon being touched. I prod them to do this if I am really unsure. In any case, there will probably be no seal at the outer edge of the shell. If there is, remove it; chances are you will see a slimy grey slug who has just received a rude awakening!

snail feeding

We haven't eaten any of our harvested snails yet, because there is still so much fresh produce available (especially zucchini) that we are 'forgetting' to eat meat, and snails are a kind of meat, even if they are treated as lenten fare, like seafood. Before they are eaten, there's a whole process involved in cleaning them, and that's definitely another story, unless you're like my godson's father who doesn't believe in cleaning organically produced food; no thanks! But the snails we've harvested must be consumed by the end of September; once snails start mating, they apparently give off a bad smell. No wonder you find snails in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket; they are as seasonal as zucchini. In any case, the snails born in a cage will not be feeding on a natural snail diet, even if they were bred for consumption. If you really can't do without a snail feast in the winter, they can be frozen after being plunged into boiling water (to kill them) and drained, but that's a bit like raping the countryside and not leaving any for anyone else, isn't it? The snails will be there next year and the year after, if only we eat them seasonally and pick only what we will eat.

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