Thursday, 28 October 2010

Pikilia (Ποικιλία)

One of the most popular taverna dishes all over Greece is the ποικιλία (pikilia), a variety mix of grilled or fried mezedakia (appetisers). You usually choose between fish or meat, or a mixture of both fish and meat cuts on the same platter. A meat-based pikilia will include: ribs, small lamb or pork chops, souvlaki skewers, sausages, breaded chicken, and meatballs; a fish pikilia contains: kalamari rings, shrimps, octopus chunks, freshly cooked anchovies and sardines, and fish croquettes. A pikilia is always accompanied by fried potatoes, vegetable fritters such as kolokithokeftedes, freshly cut salad vegetables like tomato and cucumber, and the well-known Greek piquant dips, tzatziki (for meat pikilia) or taramosalata (for fish).
mixed grill poikilia
Meat-based pikilia - the patties don't look hand-made, while small frankfurters are the cheapest sausage on the market

Pikilia is probably sounding unhealthy to you already, a bit like the Greek version of the triple burger and fries, but it really depends on how and where you eat it. Some tavernas use ready-to-cook mass-produced food to serve in a pikilia, while others cook everything from scratch; always remember that you get what you pay for. Pikilia is usually eaten in the evening among a παρέα, so everyone in the group is probably having a titbit here or there rather than wolfing down a whole pikilia to themselves. In fact, the menu card will state 'pikilia for 2 (or 4)'. Pikilia is usually the meal of choice for serving with ouzo (or tsikoudia, as we do in Crete), and there's always something for everyone in a pikilia, making it a good taverna choice for children.

poikilia - mixed meat grill
This pikilia was as cheap as it looks - apart from the meat cuts on the top of the dish, everything else looked mass-produced; chicken nuggets and tomato sauce give it away.

The last time I enjoyed a pikilia at a taverna with my family was last year. Due to the annus horribilis that most people around the world are facing at the moment, I didn't get the chance to do this this summer.  I thought it would be fun to cook up a pikilia at home for a Sunday lunch when we had guests coming. Keeping yourself busy makes you forget about the economic crisis, not to mention saving money.

pikilia greek  mixed grill
This pikilia was slightly better - most of the items resembled freshly cooked home-made food.

Compiling a pikilia involves cooking a large number of dishes, which isn't really feasible for the home cook. Most of these dishes have to be served as they are cooked, so again, it's not a meal you'll want to cook regularly because you won't be able to enjoy it with everyone eating at the same time. It takes a certain amount of organisation to be able to do this successfully, so that you can have your cake and eat it, too.

My pikilia contains some old favorites together with some more novel ideas:
  • chicken and pork souvlaki (old favorite)
  • spicy buffalo chicken wings (novel idea)
  • zucchini patties (old favorite) and tomato fritters (novel idea - they are a specialty of Santorini, and aren't usually served in tavernas in Hania)
  • aubergine dip and beetroot dip (novel idea, instead of tzatziki; melitzanosalata is often found in taverna menus, but batsarosalata has still not made into mainstream taverna food)
  • courgette and aubergine chips (old favorite - because I made a lot of them, I didn't do any french fries, which are always served with pikilia)
  • Greek salad (you usually find a few slices of cucumber and tomato in a pikilia)
  • any other condiments on hand: roasted peppers, feta cheese, olives, and of course, bread!
 pikilia greek  mixed grill dish
 Because I was serving this at home, I decided not to pile all the different bits and pieces onto one platter, as pikilia is traditionally served.

Here's the time plan so that you can enjoy this fiddly meal at the same time as your guests:
  1. The night before: skewer your souvlakia (I bought ready-prepared ones this time) and marinate them; prepare the chicken wings and cover them in the spice-and-flour mixture, allowing them to marinate till the next day (this way, the flour mixture will stick to the meat and create less mess when you fry them); have the sauce ready to finish off the chicken wings; make the beetroot and/or aubergine dips (and put them in the fridge in the same bowl that you'll be serving them in); prepare the mixtures for the tomato and/or zucchini patties (they need to be drained of excess liquids, which is why it's better to start them overnight). Now is a good time to put the drinks in the fridge - you will be too busy to remember to do this the next day: lukewarm beer tastes like piss.
  2. In the morning, slice your bread and place all the slices in a plastic bag (you won't be serving pre-sliced bread with this meal, will you?), slice some zucchini and/or aubergine (for the chips: calculate 1 zucchini/aubergine per guest) very thinly (I used a vegetable slicer). Salt them well, then place all the slices in a colander, and cover them with a plate. Now place a heavy object on the plate (I used a small melon that I'd left on the kitchen worktop to ripen) and allow their excess fluids to drain away.
  3. Fry the zuchhini and/or tomato patties. Don't worry that they will go cold; they can even be made the night before and placed in the fridge when cool (and reheated later) if you are pressed for time. This is what I did; the patties I served were our main meal from the day before, and they tasted just as good the next day when I heated them up and served them with the pikilia.
  4. An hour before serving time, turn on the grill and cook the souvlakia (I used the grill in my oven). While they are cooking, fry the chicken wings, heat up the sauce while the chicken is draining on absorbent paper, place the wings on the serving dish and pour the sauce over them. To keep them warm, I placed the chicken wings under the baking tray where the souvlaki were being grilled. At this point, put the zucchini and/or tomato patties on another baking tray (preferably in the serving dish) and place them underneath the chicken wings so that everything will cook/warm up at the same time. Most ovens allow up to three trays to be loaded.
  5. Drain the oil that was used to cook the chicken. Heat it up in the same pan that you used to cook the chicken (you don't need to clean it, just wipe away any crumbs). Place a few tablespoons of flour in a plastic bag and put the vegetable slices in it. Shake the bag so that all the slices get coated in flour. Then take them out of the bag and fry them in the hot oil (don't add too many slices, otherwise the oil will cool down and the chips will come out soggy - I cooked three batches to make sure that they remained crisp). 
  6. While you're doing all this, don't forget to check on the souvlakia in the oven - they will need turning to cook evenly on all sides!
  7. Drain the fried vegetable slices on absorbent paper. As each batch cooks, pile it on top of the previous batch (on the serving dish) to keep everything warm.
  8. Wash and chop the salad ingredients. Prepare the salad in its serving dish. Place any extra condiments on an appropriate serving plate/bowl. The souvlakia should now be ready, too.
  9. Shout "SOUVLAKI!" loud enough so your kids (or spouse or partner - I like to call mine 'husband') can hear, and tell them to lay the table if they want to eat any. If you don't have any kids/spouse/partner, you'll have to lay the table yourself.
  10. Sit down and enjoy the meal you just served - if anyone asks for cold drinks, remind them that they are in the fridge, and they can help themselves.
My guests loved this meal. They practically licked the plates clean, and there were few leftovers. They did complain that there were no fried potatoes (as every taverna pikilia includes them), but I reminded them that I only have two hands, and not enough frying pans.

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8 comments:

  1. No there's a feast fit for kings and queens. I'd love to share this with a group of friends.

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  2. Pikilia is one of my favourite ways of eating Maria. But it has to be fresh and not mass produced...I agree. Love what you did for your own version...you are very brave!

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  3. Wonderful stuff. I loved eating pikilia when I still had the constitution to digest it all!
    Before reading this I was out for a little walk and thought, "Hey, it's oxi day!" Best one I ever spent (1998) was on Santorini. It was lonely and beautiful. I remember the tomatoes, the capers, and of course the delicious wine.
    Thanks for a taste of home, Mariaki!

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  4. I very much prefer cold pikilias especially with small fish and shellish. One of the best was here http://www.stoustratou.com/en/carte.html in Serifos with various titbits from the Greek islands including Crete.

    Maria you are very brave to cook all this food and serve it warm. It is a task best left to the professionals.

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  5. thanks for calling me brave! i thought it was all a matter of being organised!!

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  6. I have long stopped having any delusions about my organisation skills when cooking for guests since it all usually ended up in havoc mostly due to the frying. These days when I have guests on Sundays I prepare everything in advance, I put the meat and potatoes in the oven in low temperature and I join the rest for a pre lunch Sunday coffe.

    That's why we love your blog, for your spirit.

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  7. :)
    i think what i most enjoyed about this meal was that i was eating food i really really liked, and it was better quality than what i would get if i went out to eat this meal

    just lately, i have been cooking/preparing food that i like, which makes the burden of the home cook so much more berable!

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  8. I would choose the "Maria Pikilia" everytime - good food made by a caring, skilled in planning and very talented cook, who just happens to make it all in her home kitchen, in order to feed to close friends and to her family.

    I will keep drooling from Wellington, and remain so frequently inspired by your recipes,
    Michelle xxxxx with a sleeping but not yet snoring (HOORAY) Zebby Cat

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