Friday, 16 March 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Vegan soutzoukakia (Nηστίσιμα σουτζουκάκια)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

Soutzoukakia are a long-standing favorite Greek meal. They are a fiddly dish to make, requiring at least two cooking techniques: one for frying (or grilling) the meatballs, and another to make the sauce. At the end of the process, the two are combined. They certainly aren't vegan. But once you make these vegan ones, I believe you might be convinced never to make meat-based ones again.

I came across some black beans (imported from Thailand) at a small Athens supermarket a while ago when I last visited.  I've never come across this kind of legume before, so I decided to buy a packet just to try them out. But If your culinary repertoire doesnt include something, then it's hard to fit it in with your regular cooking schedule. The beans were kept in a dark corner of my pantry until I recently unearthed them and remembered a suggestion by a reader for vegan burgers using black beans. Their colour gives them a natural meaty appearance when mashed. When combined with the appropriate mix of spices, they easily pass off as fake meat. I've used beans to make fake mince before, but this time, with the black beans, it was much tastier.

For the meatballs, you need:
100g dried black soya beans (or any other bean you prefer: to keep it Greek, I would use a mixture of black-eyed beans and lentils, at a cost of mot much more than 50 cents)
a small cup of dry breadcrumbs (10 cents)
a large onion*
2 cloves of garlic*
a few sprigs of parsley*
a few sprigs on mint*
half a cup of thick tomato sauce* (I use my own home-made stuff)
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil*
cumin, paprika, salt and pepper*
some oil for shallow frying*

For the sauce, you need:
half a cup of tomato sauce (bottled or home-made)*
salt and pepper*

Soak the black beans overnight. Boil for half an hour; you don't want them too tender, so that they keep their nutty taste. Drain and rinse the beans. Place them in a strainer to dry off. Then place them in a blender, together with the peeled onion and garlic, breadcrumbs, herbs and seasonings. Pulse until the mixture resemblesfine grains. 

Pour the contents of the blender into a bowl and add the tomato sauce and oil. Mix together; you will get a firm dough. Shape it into short fat sausages (the usual shape of soutzoukakia). Heat some oil in a pan and shallow-fry the soutzoukakia, making sure to brown them all over. They don't need much cooking time, just enough to brown and heat. Remove them from the pan onto a serving plate and set aside (no need to drain them on paper towels: the olive oil is the only fat in the recipe).

If you don't mind the burnt bean crumbs in your oil, add the tomato sauce to the same pan that you fried the soutzoukakia in. Otherwise, try to remove as many of them as you can. (You can drain the same oil to clear it into another pan, but you will have to do more cleaning - I don't call that fun.) Add the tomato sauce and seasonings, and cook on moderate heat for 5-10 minutes to thicken the sauce. Pour the sauce over the soutzoukakia.

 I served my vegan soutzoukakia with my home-made tangy apricot chutney. It's not really a very Greek combinaiton, but it turned out well.

Voila - your soutzoukakia are ready: no fuss, no bother. Imagine eating such a meal during lent. Serve the soutzoukakia with crsuty bread to mop up the sauces, a green salad and some wine. So good, so cheap: it's can't get better than this.

Total cost as a main meal (serves 4): about 1-2 euro, depending on the cost of the tomato sauce.

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