Friday, 8 June 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Sivrasi (Σύβραση)

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.

With the good weather setting in now, I had to move all my fruit and veg that does not need refrigeration outdoors. Some of the onions had begun to spoil indoors - they are the last stock of last year's harvests. Until April, I had no problem keeping them dry, but now in May, they are starting to show their age, rotting inside, and sprouting thick green stems. Greeks often keep their lemons, potatoes, onions and garlic (all of which are Greek cuisine staples) on their balconies in the summer to keep them aired, because they sprout and spoil very quickly in the overly-warm indoor environment of most Greek homes.

Which reminds me of another point: home construction has changed so much, so that Greek homes no longer have appropriate storage conditions as in the way that village houses were once built. This is why we can't maintain certain past practices of our ancestors - living conditions have changed too much, and no matter how bad things get in Greece (which they won't, in my optismistic mind), we can only return to some aspects of out past lifestyles, not all of them.

Just when I was wondering what to do with those onions that were spoiling too quickly to be eaten, I came across this comment on my facebook page:
"Vlita, I could stuff myself! Love them with zucchini and sivrasi!"
My friend Georgia wrote it, when she saw my photograph of the first vlita I harvested for the season. Sivrasi? I asked myself. What on earth is that? Feeling quite ignorant, I immediately googled it (being the conventional lass that I am, instead of yahooing or binging it, and wahtever else, that can't compete with the big fish), and came up with another friend's notes about it: Laurie says that she first read about sivrasi in a couple of Greek cookbooks:
"I first read about Sivrasi in Susie Atsaides book: Greek Generations: A Medley of Ethnic Recipes, Folklore, and Village Traditions. She calls Sivrasi “an island secret,” and her recipe calls for a whopping one cup of oil for every two cups of onions. Diane Kochilas includes a recipe for Sivrasi in The Glorious Foods of Greece, and says it is served “over pasta, flour-based creams, greens, legumes, and even cheese pies.” Internet recipes include Sivrasi with meatballs, fish and tomato sauce, as well as over lentils and rice."
If you love onions, then sivrasi is for you. It's basically a long slow cooking of onion slices, until they almost caramelise, which are used to top a dish and add extra flavour. Sivrasi is an island specialty of the Dodecanese (where Georgia is from), a group of islands north-east of Crete, and the term is unknown in Western Crete (although it may be better known in Eastern Crete, which has more contact with the Dodecanese). It's a good Greek way to spice up a cheap meal, using the humblest of ingredients, the onion. The good thing about it is that you can never make too much sivrasi - if you love onions, then there is never enough sivrasi to go round.

Horta with sivrasi and spicy German sausages (they were on sale - €2 for 5 in a jar).
Peeling onions is not much fun, but the idea of topping my next harvest of horta with sivrasi made it sound more appealing. All it needs is a little olive oil to soften them, and some salt and pepper for seasoning. I also added some garlic in my first sivrasi session, and placed some boiled baby potatoes (a classic accompaniment of Greek horta) to darken a little in the pan together with the onions.

Depending on the dish, you can also try doing the same thing with leek, eg with a meat or fish dish.

Total cost of the meal for four people: about €2-3, together with the sausages, potatoes and bread; about 50-75 cents per serving.

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