Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Simbetherio - Mixed marriage stew (Συμπεθεριό)

The moment to rid ourselves of the aging zucchini plants came: the plants had overgrown leaves, the zucchini was sprouting but not growing, it was shrivelling up as soon as it sprouted.. Before I dug them out from the root, I snipped off the most tender part off the plant, which makes a tasty summer stew.
The meaning of 'simbetherio' comes from the relationship of the parents-in-law of the two members of a marriage; the families become related to each other through marriage (they are 'simbetheroi' to each other). The simbetherio dish uses the extended family members of various similar species, cooked in the same pot. The term is usually given to summer-autumn dishes, and not winter meal.

Simbetherio (συμπεθεριό) is the Cretan term for this dish, but it is also known as tourlou-tourlou (= mix-mix, from Turkish). It is really a stovetop briam, a Greek-style ratatouille. In my simbetherio, I used whatever vegetables had been grown in our garden: together with the zucchini tops, I added peppers, onions, tomatoes and eggplant. 
For seasonings, I added some salt, pepper, purslane leaves (known here as glistrida or antrakla) and two sprigs of fresh basil leaves. I could also have added vlita (amaranth) and some stifno (black nightshade), as both grow in our garden, but the pot was already full of sweeter greens and veges, so I left them out. 
Simbetherio is a really simple dish to prepare, and it reminds me of the end of summer, which we often look forward to in Crete, because it's always too hot at this time of year. It hasn't rained since early June, and we're completely parched here, especially since a drought has been declared in the region. 
The most frugal dishes I cook are often the tastiest, because the recipes are based on cheaply produced garden produce.

Well, if you  are having a record-breaking year for tourism in your country, and your hometwon just happens to be one of the most popular summer resort towns for domestic tourism, that means that more and more people need to have showers 2-3 times a day to cool themselves down in the blazing heat, more sheets and towels need to be washed, and more tomatoes need to be grown - and washed! - for making 'Greek' salad. 

This photo was used in the local press today to illustrate the problem of water shortages in Hania.

No wonder there is a drought right now, things will right themselves when the summer tourist season is over. There are talks right now of extending the tourist season by one month each end - ie, to include the whole of March and November - which is great news of course in economic terms, but just how prepared are we for this? Just for the record, there is plenty of water available in the region, but it was planned to be used in dire cases of water shortages. I personally don't classify this case as dire; this is simply a case of άρπα-κόλλα - it could have been prevented if there was any serious planning taking into consideration, given the early forecasting of the record-breaking tourist figures for this year.

Bonus photo: simbetherio, cooked by Ntounias last weekend.

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  1. That looks delicious! I
    Have you ever heard of "calabacitas?" It's a traditional Mexican and New Mexican dish. Very simple. Just dice zucchinis, sweet red peppers, and, if you can get it, fresh sweet corn cut off the cob. I saute all this in a little butter and bingo! It's done.
    You could add some chopped chili, too, but not too much, I think.
    I know there are some vege that are not common or are totally unavailable there, just as we don't have some of your wild greens.
    Is sweet corn on the cob available? We only get it in early August and the season doesn't last long. The one we wait for is
    grown in the Olathe, Colorado area and is called "Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn.Yes, I believe two sweets are part of the name. I know it's a hybrid corn. When it's just the right time for it there is nothing that better says Summer! It's so delicious one can knaw it right off the cob all by itself although it's just wonderful hot with melting butter, salt and pepper, but then, what isn't?

    1. that sounds pretty much like our simbetherio - many people do in fact add corn to it (we didnt grow any this year), we simply add some wild greens - late summer dish at its best!

    2. I only eat corn on the cob if it's rubbed with lime and rolled in salt and red pepper! It's delicious.

  2. Drought? What drought? It's been raining on an off all summer in Central Greece with hailstorms, thunders and all. We just got some high temperatures in the last couple of days.

    1. take out the hail, and i'm happy with the rain!

  3. Are purslane leaves bitter? I've never heard of them and now I am on the hunt to find some in Southern CA. We too are experiencing a severe drought that also of course could have been prevented with some forethought. What concerns me is that I don't see ANY prevention even with severe warnings. May the force be with us all!

    1. purslane is sweet - you could find it at a farmer market (i hjave a friend in california who found it in this way)
      as for those man-made disasters, we are all the same, arent we?!