Friday, 6 July 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek' n' frugal: The summer garden (Το μποστάνι)

Summertime Crete is a love affair with frugal food. Not only that, but everything tastes so good because it is so fresh. There is an abundance of good food at this time, which always translates to an excess. My cooking is very simple, but the quality of the food is very high. The recipes involved in summertime cooking are created on the spot, using whatever is available in the garden, sometimes combined with a simple form of protein like cheese, and always served with bread. Admittedly, we all work hard to procure them: processing food is time-consuming and it often means that we don't go to the beach as often as we would like to go during the summer, because we spend a lot of our time after work tending fields and gardens, and preparing/processing food.
 The Ant and the Grasshopper
Æsop. (Sixth century B.C.)  Fables (The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.)
IN a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest. 
  “Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?” 
  “I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.” 
  “Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:
Frugal food is very satisfying: you have usually grown some of the produce yourself, saving a respectful amount of money, and you savour it in a different way from processed or bought food, because you processed/grew it yourself. In Crete, frugal food comes in a variety of forms, which most of the time are not considered frugal in other places. Wild greens can be foraged in the countryside, as can snails, olive oil is often from one's own supplies, fruit trees are found in abundance all over the area, most people have a vegetable garden. Most rural dwellers keep chickens, so they have eggs on a regular basis and their own meat every now and then. Those with more space may also keep 1-2 goats, for their milk (which is turned into mizithra cheese) and meat (again, on a less regular basis). Other frugal staples like rice, beans, bread and pasta can be bought cheaply from discount supermarkets; this goes for both Greek and imported products. Consumers have clearly embraced the concept of preferring Greek food over imports.

Here is a selection of meals that I've made over the last fortnight, most requiring just a stroll through the garden attached to our house and some kitchen staples:

Stir fry a la Cretan summr vegetables - zucchini, pepper, spring onion, lettuce and garlic, cooked in a little olive oil (understatement: you need at least half a wineglass to cope with the subergine) with soya sauce and fermented black beans on a bed of basmati.

Fried banana peppers - the pepper plants are the first row behind the iron fencework.

Remembering the events at Πεδίον του Άρεως - if we didn't have a garden, our evening meal would have been minus four of the dishes pictured here.

Picnicking by the beach - dolmadakia, pasta purslane salad, aubergine dip, tzatziki and carrots, baked beans and mizithra spread on bread and topped with a slice of cecina leon (a Spanish ham presented to us as a gift), finished off with some apricots from our tree.

Vegan's delight - fried aubergine slices topped with cooked grated zucchini, served with fried potatoes on the side (this could be vegetarian's delight when served with tzatziki).

Leftovers never looked better when presented with a fresh garden salad.

Fried vegetable layers with mince, topped with bechamel, more well-known to us all as moussaka - the first for the season. 

Garden greens, served with cheap fish - little fish (gavros, maritha, atherina) are available very cheaply in the summer.

Cupcakes are in vogue these days... but they don't really pair well with our natural food colours!

Fasolakia yiahni - string beans cooked with tomato and zucchini

Stir-fry garden vegetables, flavoured with just a little soya sauce, with marinated gavros and pita bread. Asian-style cooking shows a preference for firm and crunchy vegetables, whereas Greeks are used to eating them more well-cooked.

Sfouggato (also called kayiana): zucchini, sliced onions and chopped tomatoes softened in olive oil, with eggs scrambled into the mixture.

I am not baking much ('at all' is probably more correct); however, I was tempted to make apricot clafoutis because it is not only a good way to use up a surplus of apricots, but it is also delicious.

It is not far off the mark to say that our meals these days are made with similar ingredients day in, day out - but if you look at the colour and texture of each of the above dishes, I'm not cooking the same meals every day.

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