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TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Monday, 31 January 2011

Chestnut stew (Κάστανα στιφάδο)

Upon hearing the word στιφάδο (stifado), Greek people generally conjure up an image in their mind of a rich red stew of hare or rabbit, chicken, beef or pork, cooked with a large quantity of onions. It constitutes staple winter fare in most parts of Greece, replacing the Sunday roast during the colder months of the year. But with the rising interest in healthy food and a move away from meat, many people nowadays crave a vegetarian version of the same kind of dish. The creative chef at MAICh, Yiani Apostolaki, has once again used his love and knowledge of Cretan cuisine to create a meatless stifado, which has many variations, and can only be termed a masterpiece. Yiani's chestnut stifado is often on the menu during the chestnut season at MAICh, where it is enjoyed by the resident students and staff of the institute.

chestnutstifado

After having this for lunch at work one day, I decided that I had to make it at home as soon as I could for the whole family to enjoy. My own version of chestnut stifado reflects my family's preferences in spice tastes.

You need:
a few tablespoons of olive oil
1 large onion, chopped finely
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
500g chestnuts, shelled (to do this, follow the advice in this post; Cretan chestnuts peel easily - not so those from other regions, as I have discovered, when I wanted to buy some bigger and 'better-looking' chestnuts!)
500g whole small stewing onions (large ones don't cook evenly; make a small cross on top of the cleaned onions, as described in this post)
a can of pureed tinned tomatoes (I use my own home-made tomato sauce)
1 teaspoon of tomato paste (for a thicker sauce - this is optional)
1 small wineglass of wine
1 stick of cinammon
6-10 carnation cloves
2 bay leaves
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

In a wide pot, heat the oil and sautee the chopped onion and garlic till translucent. Add the whole onions and mix till they are coated in oil. Add the seasonings and wine, and leave the pot to simmer for a few minutes. Now add the pureed tomatos and tomato paste. If the mixture is too thick, you can add some water to the pot at this stage, but don't add too much: this will depend on the size of the onions. The topmost level of the liquids should be about 1cm below the topmost surface of the onions. Place a lid on the pot, and let the onions simmer at the lowest heat for 30 minutes. Now add the chestnuts, which will have been partly cooked when they were boiled (or roasted) to be cleaned,and cover the pot again. Allow the chestnuts enough time to soften. This depends on the desired texture; if you prefer the nuts to crunchy, then the stew doesn't need a lot of cooking time.

chestnut stifado with pilafi

The meat version of this same stew (ie using meat chunks instead of chestnuts) will fill you up very quickly. But the vegetarian versions are so much lighter, that you will find yourself eating more than one serving, or a very large one at that, and you won't have that bloated stuffed feeling that eating such a rich meal usually gives!

Not only that, but the same technique, sauce and spices can also be used in vegetarian stifado using other ingredients; any firm vegetables will work, eg carrots, potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms and pumpkin (which Yiani also adds to his chestnut stifado), as long as they can retain their shape while cooking. Such vegetables have the same fullness as meat, while being exclusively vegetarian products. The tomato-based sauce hints at the taste of umami, a taste inherent in meat that people often crave, even when they are vegetarians, thus satisfying their tastebuds. Only the cooking times for each vegetable will change, according to the desired texture of the finished dish.

The traditional way to serve stifado in Greece is with fried potatoes or thick pasta, but any carbohydrate will do. I served mine with pilafi rice made with a very light chicken stock. Using aromatic basmati rice provides even more umami taste, if you want to keep the meal completely vegan. This dish also needs a very fresh green salad to accompany it, and very little else.

UPDATE 8-12-2011: Due to the recent popularity of this post, here are two variations of chestnut stew: one uses potatoes (served at a mountain village food festival) and the other with mushrooms (served in a popular restaurant in Hania). 



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Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Breakfast cereal - Koliva (Δημητριακά - Κόλυβα)

Have you ever been served this for dessert in a Greek restaurant?

koliva for dessert
"Are you trying to be funny, Yianni?" I asked the chef at MAICh when he presented koliva for dessert recently. 
"Yes," he replied.

koliva
Most likely, you won't have had it in such an environment. Koliva are associated with death. In the Greek version of this dish, boiled wheat and nuts are shaped into a firm 'cake' which is covered in icing sugar, decorated in almonds and dragees (silver sugar balls) and 'cut' (more like smashed up) at the end of a memorial service for a dearly departed, as dictated by tradition in the Greek Orthodox (and other Christian Orthodox) church. It's very rare to see koliva served elsewhere aside from outside churches and at memorial services, hence my confused horror. While I was trying to enjoy my serving of koliva - it's also very hard to use the two words 'enjoy' and 'koliva' in collocation - it suddenly occurred to me that I had never made koliva myself, even though both my parents have died, which means that I have had a number of opportunities to eat koliva made for my very own dearly departed. These days, businesses specialising in the making of koliva deliver them to the church for you, which is how the koliva part of my parents' memorial services had been handled.

wheat for koliva boiled hulled wheat
Nowadays, no-soaking-required, quick-boiling wheat is readily available, simplifying the work of the cook. Once the wheat is boiled till soft enough to chew easily (I let it cook for 45 minutes), it is strained and allowed to dry between two towels overnight. I placed the towels in the fridge to insure against spoilage.

I have always felt quite daunted at the thought of making koliva myself. Wheat is vulnerable to fermentation processes once it comes in contact with moisture. Boiled wheat needs to be dried and kept in cool conditions, otherwise it can easily turn toxic and cause food poisoning; although this was more common in the past when food safety measures were less stringent, every now and then we still hear about cases of food poisoning breaking out after a memorial service during the hot weather in the summertime. This is what has stopped me from making koliva in the past: it felt a little like mushroom-hunting.

chickpea flour and roasted seasme seeds koliva ingredients
Although koliva have been known to Greek people since antiquity, and are made right throughout the year by confectioners specialised in the job, koliva recipes use three ingredients that generally don't get used much in the Greek kitchen: hulled whole wheat grain, toasted crushed sesame seeds and toasted chickpeas ground to a flour.

Cooking Greek food most of my life, using more or less the same recipes handed down from one generation to the next, I believe that koliva are one of those dishes which represent an important culinary experience in every Greek person's life. I felt that I had to make koliva one day, simply to fulfil my own beliefs concerning my Greek heritage. But since there is no death in the family to commemorate, how could I do this without traumatising my family? 

Although not generally eaten as a sweet outside the demands of tradition, Greek koliva make a delicious dessert. I've even heard of them being served with ice-cream! They are just sweet enough to be enjoyed as a snack any time of the day, and their composition make them the perfect breakfast cereal. Koliva contain everything that regular boxed breakfast cereal contains: whole grains (in this case wheat), and fruit in the form of dried nuts and raisins. But unlike koliva, breakfast cereals have an unacceptable sodium content. It's common knowledge that boxed cereals aimed at children contain both sugar and salt in plentiful supplies, something that even breakfast cereal companies admit themselves. Although koliva are initially made without any sugar added, they are always served with sugar, since the icing sugar that coats them is mixed into the koliva when the 'cake' is shared out after the memorial service. Sugar content can be regulated, as the amount of sugar added to koliva depends on the maker. They taste just as good without any added sugar, since there is a high composition of dried fruit in koliva. When sugar (which creates moisture) is added too soon to koliva, they turn out sludgy. Some people prefer them this way, while others prefer them drier. The drier they are, the slower the fermentation process.

koliva koliva
The pomegranate seeds and the blanched almonds were still moist when I mixed the other ingredients, so I let them dry in the fridge overnight before I added them the next day to the nuts-and-flour mixture.

Fresh pomegranate seeds are usually added to koliva when they are in season. Pomegranate forms an important part of koliva due to its connections with the underworld: Dimitra's daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades to become his wife, and the story goes that she refused to eat anything he gave her until her hunger got the better of her. She ate six pomegranate seeds before Hades released her to the world above. Those six seeds represent the darker colder months of the year (Autumn and Winter) when Dimitra is grieving for the loss of her daughter's company, time Persephone spends with her husband, the King of the underworld.

koliva koliva
Koliva are always eaten sweetened after a church service since they are always covered in fine icing sugar. At home, I had the chance to have mine without any sugar at all, but it was hard to convince the kids to do the same!

One 500g packet of wheat makes quite a lot of koliva. I was a little worried that I would be making too much and we wouldn't eat them quickly enough before they went off. But I needn't have worried. The supermarket assistant who I asked to direct me to the shelf where hulled wheat was kept (a product I've never used in our daily cooking) gave me a bit of advice about how to keep koliva in perfect condition so that you can enjoy them all week, and even longer. She told me that if I want to make koliva to be enjoyed for personal use rather than for a memorial service (she was obviously an expert in doing this herself), I should keep the boiled (and dried) wheat in a separate bowl in the fridge from the remaining ingredients (which can be mixed up in another bowl). In this way, she said, the wheat can be used (and more importantly, won't go off) for anything up to a fortnight. Sugar should only be added when serving.  

Given that there is no real reason to make koliva in our house, I had to think of a way to get my family to consume them once I made them. I called them 'breakfast cereal', and added chocolate drops to make them more palatable, just like Yianni did at MAICh. They turned out to be very successful. I gave myself the chance to have a go at preparing koliva, at the same time as overcoming my fear of making this special dish which invokes feelings of ethnicity for all Greeks. This cereal dish constituted our daily breakfasts for the first week of this year, a time when grains were traditionally cooked in Crete in the past as a way of welcoming prosperity in the household

It is customary, when making koliva for loved ones departed to add a few drops or a pinch of an ingredient that the deceased was paticularly partial to, something like their favorite food, eg olive oil, coffee grounds, etc, to personalise the koliva. This was the only part of the ritual that I did not perform, for obvious reasons.

Here are the three recipes that I based my own version on: a koliva recipe by 3A company, one of the firms that packages wheat grains; the breakfast of our ancestors by Peftasteri; and food for the dead by Mariana Kavroulaki (only this one is in English). They all generally use the same technique and ingredients to make koliva.

©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.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Expiry dates (Hμερομηνίες λήξης)

Disclaimer: don't try this at home, as the saying goes.

In western countries, a lot of food is binned once it passes its expiry date. To some, this is considered wasteful, while others think of the potential health risks involved, because that is the point of expiry dates - unless one considers the notion that the manufacturers of mass-produced industrialised food use the expiry dates on purpose, to get the consumer to consume (or simply buy) more. The problem is more acute in our own times, because of the countless issues consumers face concerning food safety, the most recent one being the high levels of dioxin found in eggs in Germany.

I decided to make a lasagne recently, something the children ask for when they have seen a Garfield film on TV. There was a box of pasta sheets lurking in a dark corner of the pantry which meant that I didn't need to go out in the cold damp weather we have been experiencing recently to buy some. The packet had a 'best before' date, showing that it was good to use up until nine months before I used it. After that date, it was supposed to be not so good to use it. I opened the box and looked at the pasta. No odour, no discolouring, no texture defect: the pasta sheets looked as good as they did the last time I had made lasagne, which, judging from my food photo collection, must have been about two years ago.

So I got out some mince from the deep freeze to defrost on the kitchen counter. I don't recall when I bought it; mince is nearly always bought fresh in Crete (unless one buys mince from LIDL, as I have yet to see frozen pre-packed mince elsewhere in Hania) and is freshly prepared from the cut the customer singles out. To the mince, I added a small can of mushrooms (the date on the can stated that they had 'expired' last month), two garden peppers (picked three weeks ago in early winter, the last of the crop - they were still firm and shiny), some onion and garlic (they never seem to be sold in Greece with expiry dates), our home-grown olive oil (which lasts about a year in our large plastic storage containers), salt and pepper (do you ever look at the expiry dates of such long-life products when they are used daily?), and my home-made tomato sauce, made in summertime. The jars were all topped with olive oil and a piece of plastic sheeting, before being tightly sealed. As I open them to use, I do the 'senses' test: listen to the pop of the lid, look at the sauce, and sniff it, but I dont usually taste it - the sauce is always heated/cooked with other ingredients for at least an hour, before eating.

DSC02600

When assembling the lasagne, I used whatever cheeses I had in the fridge, all of which were locally bought soft white cheeses. Although local cheeses are sold in plastic bags, without an expiry date, well, the truth is that they do take on a rancid appearance (and a sour taste) when they go off, which is why I make sure to use them up as quickly as I buy them. I have never asked (or heard someone else ask) about the expiry dates of such cheeses; I have simply learnt to use them by experience. Cream sold in tetrapaks seems to always have a long shelf-life in the fridge; it lasts for ages. The pack I used was still within the expiry date, but I will be honest and tell you that I have used tetrapak cream past its expiry date (Greek yoghurt behaves in a similar manner). Lasagne sheets and tetrapak cream are often victims of under-use in our house - I rarely use them, unless I'm cooking creatively (ie not within the Cretan-Greek recipe genre).


One thing I remember from my schooldays is a phrase that was pumped into us by our teachers when instructing us about health and safety: "Heat kills germs", they'd tell us, and to this day, I remember the face of the teacher who told this to us the first time, a matriarchal figure who had grown up on a New Zealand farm before she came to live and work in the capital. The lasagne is cooked twice in a sense; the meat is cooked first in a pot, then it is assembled into a baking dish and cooked for another hour in the oven. It got a lot of heat before it entered our stomachs. The final verdict rests in the taste.

©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.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Revithada - chick pea soup (Ρεβιθάδα)

We all like chickpeas, which to my mind are the sweetest beans around. Apart from being turned into a soup in their dry form, they are also a popular fresh snack, with bushels still sold on the streets in Iraklio (it's been a long time since I saw this in Hania) when they are in season, in late May/early June.

street seller iraklio selling fresh chickpeas fresh chickpeas in their pod

They are also roasted and salted, and eaten as a common snack in cafes, often served with other nuts, along with a nip of tsikoudia (raki). 

chickpea and nuts snack with raki tsikoudia

Flour made from chickpeas is very tasty, but it isn't often used in Greek cuisine or regional Cretan cuisine - I've only seen it called for in recipes for koliva (along with another unusual ingredient - roasted crushed sesame seeds).

chickpea flour and roasted seasme seeds

Although chickpea soup is a favorite in our house, I don't make it often because, like gigandes, these beans need soaking, unlike the beans used in other popular Greek bean dishes like fasolada and lentils (fa-kes), so I can't really make it the night before, to serve for the next day's lunch (unless you use a pressure cooker - I still haven't got the hang of those things).

Here's the most common preparation of chickpea soup in Hania.

You need:
a packet (500g) of chickpeas
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 fat cloves of garlic,
half a wineglass of olive oil
the juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of flour
1-2 cups of chopped spinach or other mild fresh winter greens (optional)
a fistful of raw rice (if you aren't using the greens)
salt and pepper for seasoning.

revithada chick

Soak the chickpeas overnight. The next day, drain them, discarding the water, and boil them in fresh water for an hour, or until they get soft enough to chew, without being mushy. Heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic till translucent. At this stage, you can add some chopped spinach, heating it until it wilts. (Cooking greens with beans is very common in Greece.) Then add the chickpeas, salt and pepper, and just enough water to cover the chickpeas by about an inch on the top. Let the pot simmer, closed, until the soup has blended and the chickpeas are soft (not crunchy - but the texture of the beans always depends on the preferences of the eaters).  

In the meantime, boil the rice (which is optional if you aren't using the greens - but both can be added if you wish, for a winter comfort food dish) separately until the al dente stage. In a small bowl, mix the flour with the lemon juice, stirring it all until it forms a thick sludge. When the chickpeas are done, add the lemon and flour mixture and blend it into the soup, then add the rice (if using), and let everything cook till it is blended and heated through. If you prefer not to use flour for health reasons, you can puree some of the chickpeas instead. The rice can also be added raw to the soup and cooked with the chickpeas, adding extra liquid.

 DSC02585
This revithada contains wild mustard greens, a tasty leafy green that had just sprouted in our olive grove in late December, evidence of climate change, since it is a strange time for it to sprout; it's normally considered an early spring green. Mustard greens are tasty and edible before they start flowering.

The soup is ready to be served. All it needs is an extra sprinkling of lemon juice. It's a little thick, like a stew, so you really don't need much more to go with it, except perhaps some feta cheese. Another version of this soup uses bitter orange instead of lemon juice. If you're making the version using greens, you can add a dollop of Greek yoghurt or single cream in each individual plate when serving the soup (in the same way that the chef at MAICh cooks revithada for the live-in students).

©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.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Fusion (Σύντηξη)

A month ago, on December 10, 2010, to be exact, all of a sudden, one heavy hailstorm left its mark on our garden...
DSC02329 DSC02352
 My husband has just managed to spread discarded post-harvest olive leaves over the garden when the rain started; by the early afternoon, the rain had turned into snow.
 
... in such a way that all that precious organic spinach growing in the garden was in danger of suffering severe frostbite.

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Our snow-covered garden

Snow is fun to look at, but it's very damaging to vegetable gardens in the Mediterranean. We began pouring water with a hose over all the crops so that the frost damage could be minimised. But alas, the water was so cold and icy, that the snow on the crops just kept crystallising. The other alternative was to pull out the spinach, which was ready to pick in any case, and process it in any way we could.

DSC02364
After bringing it into the house, we put it in the bath tub to warm it up and wash it - there was no other space large enough to accommodate it!

Such high-quality fresh produce, raised purely on natural fertiliser, must be used wisely. Organically grown pesticide-free produce, grown with natural fertilisers and rainwater, without the use of any kind of chemicals, costing only the personal labour invested, is very hard to come by these days, and it's a shame to let it go to waste. After making some spinach-mizithra kalitsounia with some home-made pastry...

DSC02029
I always make kalitsounia in large batches because they freeze well, and they require a lot of work. Mine never really come out looking very pretty, but in home cooking, taste matters more.

... I was still left with some spinach-and-cheese mixture. Just the idea of kneading and rolling out more home-made pastry made my hands hurt. Spinach-cheese filling lasts for a couple of days in the fridge, so I waited till after the weekend to buy some filo pastry and made some strifti (twisted) pies, which freeze well.

Working with filo pastry can be a nuisance because the filo is very fragile - but this has no effect on the end result...
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... which is always delicious.
DSC02287 

In this way, I managed to use up the spinach-mizithra filling, but not all the store-bought filo pastry. This is a persistent dilemma in my kitchen: either there is too much pastry, or too much filling left over! Filo pastry stored appropriately (keep it away from moisture, don't leave it unwrapped as it dries out and cracks) lasts for up to ten days in the fridge.

DSC02290

The following week's menu contained chicken pie, prepared in a similar way to the meat pie often made in Crete at Easter. This pie uses a yeast-based dough made with the stock from the boiled chicken, whose meat is then used to fill the pie, along with a variety of cheeses. The pie was a resounding success, but once again, I ended up with leftovers: instead of extra pastry, this time I was left with some extra chicken-and-cheese filling.

DSC02311
Leftovers from two different pie-making rounds (the beaten egg did not end up being used in my fusion creations).

I could have baked another chicken pie using the remaining filo pastry, but that would mean cooking the same meal again, and a little too quickly after the last time I had served it. The more you have something, the more boring and common it becomes, even if it is made from fresh high-quality ingredients. My most interesting home cooking usually involves thinking up of ways to use leftover ingredients. Wontons - I haven't had those in ages - came to my mind: crisply fried bite-sized pastry filled with just about any filling that takes your fancy, made with anything at hand, and dipped in a hot sauce. With a bit of advice from Facebook friends and a whole host of graphic ideas from the internet, it wasn't too difficult to fuse a variety of culinary ideas and create an original Asian-inspired meal out of my leftovers.  

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The filo pastry was cut into squares: one square was laid on top of another, as filo pastry is thinner than wonton pastry, and it would not have been strong enough to withstand the weight and density of the filling.
DSC02338
A teaspoon of filling was placed in the centre of each square, which was then sealed like a 'pouch'. This formed a sturdy packet when deep-fried. The cooked wontons were then placed on a bed of spicy tomato sauce. When I presented these photos on my Facebook page, my favorite comment was from a Greek-Chinese Facebook friend: "These look SO Chinese!"
DSC02316 DSC02337

I often find myself fusing local ingredients with various culinary techniques because this is the closest I can get to my favorite tastes, the kind of food that I once used to order from a take-out before I lived in Greece. Leftovers also work very well in Asian-Mediterranean fusion meals, as in my spring roll kalitsounia and pad Thai creations. Possibly due to the wide variety of fresh food grown on the island, such meals aren't difficult to recreate in a Mediterranean kitchen or adapt them to Cretan cuisine; most herbs and spices from all cuisines are available in various forms, and local herbs and spices can also replace them, giving a more homely taste to a new culinary creation.

samosa samosa
The Indian samosa is generally a spicy vegetarian filled fried pastry triangle. Due to time constraints, I decided to stick to my regular half-moon shapes when I made mine (rather than learn a new way to filling pastry). I made my Indian-flavoured pasty pie using leftover boiled chicken, with cubed par-boiled potato, chopped onions, crushed garlic, and a mixture of appropriate spices (crushed fennel seeds, crushed cardamon seeds, chili pepper, cumin, fresh ginger). Samosa dough is not much different to Cretan pastry; a firmer (and darker) dough is made by adding vinegar and wholemeal flour. Although not strictly a samosa, my Indian-flavoured kalitsouni (or Cretan samosa, or even Indian-flavoured Cornish pasty) creation could be used as the basis for a Greek-style samosa by changing the spices. 
samosa samosa
On a funnier note, my son (whose culinary preferences are very limited) grabbed one of my samosas without a second thought: he had no idea of the contents, but the shape, to him, was unmistakeable! I knew what would happen after he tasted it: and it did happen - can you blame him?!

My Mediterrasian creations are a bit of a tease for my eaters: To the average Greek, such offerings are difficult to place for one of two reasons: at first sight, their appearance may look quite different to the way Greek food is usually presented, but the aromas and flavours are recognisable, as in the case of my wontons; or vice-versa - the food may 'look' Greek, but on the first bite, the difference in taste will be pronounced, as in the case of my Asian-flavoured souvlaki, or my samosa-flavoured kalitsounia. I suspect that my own versions of pad Thai and spring rolls will look enticingly recognisable to Asians, but I wonder what they will think when they taste them.

*** *** ***

The idea behind fusion in cuisine is, generally speaking, the combination of the culinary traditions and ingredients of two or more cuisines to create a novel dish rather than a whole new cuisine, with its own set of rules. Wisegeek and Wikipedia both define the term just as loosely as the creations that often come out of fusion cuisine. My own examples of fusion cuisine are founded in Wikipedia's third definition: foods with a form based on one cuisine, but prepared using ingredients and flavors inherent to another cuisine. The most important aspect of successful fusion cuisine is that it is based on cultural groupings of cuisine, and not just the whims and fancies of a creative chef: the latter is often jokingly referred to as 'con-fusion cuisine', which to my mind is a good term to describe some crazy recipes that use a mish-mash of ingredients and techniques that do not seem to blend together. Food bloggers are the biggest culprits of this kind of creative cuisine: since when did white wine, saffron, whipping cream, Greek yoghurt, harissa, fennel seeds, paprika, cocoa powder and mastic gum ever come together to form a chicken mole served with fettuccine*?!

Permanent fusion cuisine is more likely to take place when different cultural groups are in constant contact with each other. An inter-racial marriage can unknowingly become an instigator of a more successful fusion of cuisines, possibly out of a desire to please a spouse, by marrying the cooking skills one possesses with the availability (or not) of ingredients. Such cuisines do not always become documented if they stay in the home at a personal level, and the home is where they may stay. Just like the most fluent bilinguals, the most fluent 'bi-cuisinals' will probably have been immersed in the two (or more) cuisines that they work fluently in and out of. That's basically why I'm not bi-cuisinal in New Zealand and Greek cuisine. I grew up in a household that used the food products grown and imported by one country, which were prepared and cooked in the manner of another culture. I haven't a clue how to make gravy. Why should I? My mother never made it, I probably ate it less than half a dozen times in my life, and I don't think my family feels the need to discover it.

fusion?
I found these Mediterranean-filled spring rolls on the menu of a local pizza-pasta restaurant, the kind of place one would expect to see fusion/global food trends; we all take delight in seeing something new in our food when we eat out.  

Fusion cuisine is not actually a new idea; it has been happening since time immemorial as groups of people invaded new territories and discovered new ingredients as well as picking up new cooking techniques. The fusion of culinary regimes is probably how various modern-day cuisines developed, even though they are never called 'fusion' cuisines; for political purposes, we like to name our cuisines according to the name of the country or race we associate ourselves with. Cuisine fusions have continued right up to the more peaceful contemporary times with migration. Hawaiian local food sounds like a good example of a harmonious form of fusion cuisine. But the development of new cuisines is now increasingly disappearing, with the inevitable move towards global eating habits: as the world develops, there are few places left where people can't generally eat anything, anywhere and at any time these days.

christmas menu
The Christmas menu at this taverna (located in an area where there are many resident Brits) represents a fusion of Greek cuisine with foreign ingredients, veering towards global eating trends, presented in the style of a French menu: curry pork souvlaki, chicken strips cooked with cheddar and bacon, pork and apple cooked with prunes, roast potatoes with mustard and bacon, brownies and martini for dessert; this menu is specifically geared towards the foreigners living in the area, but it may even be an enjoyable experience for the locals that attended with them.

Various internet sources will tell you that the fashion in fusion cuisine began with the blending of European (Western) and Asian cuisine, two radically different cuisines in taste, technique and texture, whose common ground is based on the wealth of fresh ingredients used in their traditional food. Modern Greek restaurant cuisine as the West knows it (as opposed to the personal kitchens of the modern-day Greeks) is probably a fusion development of some kind between Mediterranean and Asian-Minor cuisine; neither are purely European or Western cuisines in the first place, and they were both originally developed from their own roots and conquerers. One of the more interesting and more recent fusions I've heard about is the Chinese-Indonesian restaurant tradition in Holland, due to the occupation of Indonesia by the Dutch, which has altered Chinese restaurant food in the Netherlands, giving rise to novel dishes like Chinese kebabs with peanut sauce. It's easy to argue that this kind of cuisine is more like a 'dialectal' version of the original cuisines used in the fusion, rather than a new whole cuisine, but that depends on the way the words 'fusion' and 'cuisine' are understood. Some would even argue that there is no such thing as cuisine, in the same way that they may argue that there is no such thing as a separate Greek cuisine, claiming instead that it is Turkish/Ottoman in its origins.

Fusion works well with the kalitsouni, what we call our small pies (pasties) here in Crete. All over the world, pastry (made from the ground grain of choice, mixed with water, maybe a small amount of fat and salt/seasonings) can be rolled out into any thickness, moulded into any shape, and filled with any available ingredients. There are few cultures in the world that do not have some kind of small filled fried (or baked) pastry dish. Call it a samosa, call it a kalitsouni, call it a pasty: it's one of the most secure ways of sealing your food without too much excess weight and undesirable waste, as all parts of a pasty are eaten. What would street food be like without it?

*I have purposely omitted the link here.


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Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sweet... and savoury! (Και γλυκό... και αλμυρό!)

First post for the year, and it's almost back to work for me; I hope it's been a good start so far for all of us.

I was attracted to the sound of the raggedy-sounding name of a pie on Kalofagas' blog, called patsavouropita, which basically translates to 'rag pie' (πατσαούρι - 'patsavouri' is a piece of raggedy cloth, often used for cleaning). For a pie to get this kind of name, it probably means that it can be made quickly and slap-dash. Perfect: that's the way I like to cook these days, to simplify my kitchen work as much as possible due to work pressures.
patsavouropita sweet or savoury pie patsavouropita sweet or savoury pie

The way that the filo pastry is worked in this cheesy pie makes it a raggedy mess. No matter how you layer it, whether it breaks up or how it's placed, it will make no difference to the final taste, appearance and texture of the cooked pie. Almost any mixture of soft white and grated yellow cheeses can be used, according to your eaters' preferences. What's more, this savoury pie can be turned instantly into a sweet, at the same serving. Not only that, but it freezes well before the cooking stage, and doesnt need defrosting when you are ready to cook it. What more could you ask for in a pie?

I've made some slight adaptations to the original recipe: I don't like too many eggs in cakes or pies, I always try to replace butter with olive oil, and I am also a make-and-do cook, so I'll use what's at hand, rather than go out and buy special ingredients. 

patsavouropita sweet or savoury pie

You need:
1 packet of defrosted filo pastry
4 cups of a mixture of crumbled feta cheese and mizithra (I used teleme, a cheap very mild white cheese with the consistency of feta, and Cretan mizithra - cheap ricotta, or a strained cottage cheese can also be used; the first time I made this, I also used a small amount of grated yellow cheese)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
salt (optional: feta cheese is usually salty; I generally cook everything with very little salt)
olive oil for greasing and drizzling over
1 330ml can of soda water

Grease your baking tin(s) well. I always make two small pies - one for eating straight away, and one for freezing. (I have even made this pie in individual ramekins, which is particularly apt, as this kind of pie is best served warm.) Open the packet of filo pastry to air the sheets so that they will be slightly dry rather than slightly moist (it will help the pastry to become crispy). Mix the eggs, cheeses and milk until everything is well-blended. Add salt to taste. Pour teaspoons of this mixture haphazardly over the first filo pastry sheet. Gather the pastry sheet like an accordion and place this strip onto the baking tin. Repeat the last two steps until enough pastry sheets have been placed side-by-side to fit tightly into the baking tin. Drizzle some olive oil over the pie and brush it all over the pastry. Then pour over the soda water; if making more than one pie, divide the can evenly among the tins. If you are going to freeze the pie, don't pour any soda over it - you will do that when you cook it.

Cook the pie in a moderate oven (180C) for 30-40 minutes, until the pie takes on a golden brown colour on the top. The frozen pie is cooked without defrosting: place the tin as is in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, then pour the appropriate amount of soda water over the pie and let it cook long enough until the pastry on the top is golden brown. It won't take much longer than 30 minutes.

Cut the pie into serving pieces and serve it as soon as it cools down slightly. This pie tastes best when still warm; leftover pie can be reheated in the microwave. It is good with a green salad, served as a light lunch.

This pie creates its own dessert. Serve it still warm with a sprinkling of sugar over it (crystalline white sugar is good, while brown muscovado sugar gives it a caramelised finish) and a dash of cinnamon powder, and it becomes a bougatsa. We eat this pie as a sweet more often than a savoury.

patsavouropita sweet or savoury pie patsavouropita sweet or savoury pie

I now make this pie regularly, and always in large quantities, so that I can freeze at least one pie for later use. I can say that the frozen pie comes out better than the fresh pie which was cooked when it was made; something to do with the chemistry, I suppose.

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