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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: End of season stew (Χόρτα τσιγαρισατά)

You know autumn is on its way when August temperatures remains 30C the whole day and there's a slight cool breeze blowing, and it gets dark before 8.30pm, ...



... and the fig and grapes are in full swing, ...



... and the zucchini, corn, beans and purslane have come to the end of their growing season.

Another end-of summer season meal in a Cretan farmer's household contains the tender tops of the overgrown zucchini bushes, which carry on sprouting. Once you are ready to pull them out, you cut off the only the tenderest shiny green bits, together with any healthy-looking flowers and all the zucchini, even the tiny ones that have just come up close to the top. These are used as a kind of summer horta, and they are cooked in tomato sauce, along with other summer end-of-season greens, like vlita (amaranth), glistrida (purslane), and beans. The are cooked in a similar fashion to the dish I cooked yesterday.


My mother-in-law taught me how to make this dish; the photo below shows her version of it. She's a perfectionist, which is why she cheated in making it: she asked us to buy her some beans, so not everything is from our own garden produce. I like my frugal meals to be literally frugal - all I'm going to buy when I make this meal is the bread to go with it.

tsigariasta horta
Tsigariasta horta - above: my mother in law's version; below: my version (served with roast bifteki and potatos)
Braised greens (Τσιγαριαστά χόρτα)
Boil a bunch of vlita (amaranth greens) and a bunch of zucchini plant tops twice in fresh water (to remove bitterness). Heat half a cup of olive oil, saute a chopped onion and some chopped garlic, add the drained greens, a few zucchini flowers (remove pisitls), some tiny zucchini (from the zucchini plants you topped), a handful of beans and some corn (optional). Toss to coat in oil, then add two cups of fresh pureed tomato (I make my own tomato sauce instead for this), some salt and pepper. Cook for at least an hour on the lowest heat. I served this dish with roast potatoes and biftekia.

Tsigariasta horta (stewed greens in a red sauce) are a bit of an acquired taste. But this dish are also a kind of celebratory meal. You only have it once a year - when you pull out all the zucchini. And then, you know it's time to plant something new.

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