Did you manage a trip to Greece last summer? No, I didn’t either, but I do feel as if I’ve just had a sneaky trip there, as I’ve discovered a fabulous new cookbook and photographic celebration of the country: Rena Salaman – The Food & Cooking of Greece, Seasonal Recipes from my Kitchen. (£20 hardback from Lorenz Books)
This glorious new book, an updated and expanded edition of her bestselling original, explores the dishes of Greece and the Islands through the changing seasons.
Greek food is a celebration of local foods and of culinary traditions that span generations. Greek cuisine centres around vegetables and other simple ingredients – olives and olive oil, sheep and goat cheeses, fish and lamb, and fruits both fresh and preserved. The new Greek wines are a revelation, and Rena explores and recommends the best.
Courgette fritters, salt cod bake and an Aegean cheese and honey tart in Spring; melitzanosalata and mousaka in Summer; baked feta parcels and chicken soup with avgolemono in Autumn; chickpea soup, roasted beetroot with garlic sauce, and spanakotyropitta in Winter. Roast Easter lamb, stuffed vine leaves, fried meatballs infused with mint, parsley, thyme and oregano… the classics are all here as well as lesser-known regional specialities.
Rena was born and grew up in Athens, and spends every summer on the Aegean island of Alonnisos where she has a home.
Her passion for Greek food and cooking shines through her highly regarded cookbooks. She writes for leading newspapers and magazines, and appears on radio and television.
Here are a couple of recipes to take you and your tastebuds to Greece in this miserable weather!
Feta & roast pepper dip with chillies Serves 4
“Htipiti is a familiar meze in the beautiful city of Thessaloniki. If you stop for an ouzo in the area called Lathathika, which used to be part of the old market but now teems with trendy bars and restaurants, you will inevitably be served a small plate of htipiti. The dip is almost unknown elsewhere in Greece. This recipe comes from my brother-in-law, Kostas Printzios, who hails from Thessaloniki.”
1 yellow or green elongated or bell-shaped pepper
1–2 fresh green chillies
200g/7oz feta cheese, cubed
60ml/4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
45–60ml/3–4 tbsp milk
ground black pepper
finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, to garnish
slices of toast or toasted pitta bread, to serve
Scorch the pepper and chillies by threading them on to metal skewers and turning them over a flame or under the grill, until charred all over.
Set the pepper and chillies aside until cool enough to handle. Peel off as much of their skin as possible and wipe off the blackened parts with sheets of kitchen paper. Slit the pepper and chillies and discard the seeds and stems.
Put the pepper and chilli flesh into a food processor. Add the feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and milk, and blend well. Add a little more milk if the mixture is too stiff, and season with black pepper.
Spread the dip on slices of toast, sprinkle a little fresh parsley over the top and serve.
Variation: The dip is also excellent served with a selection of vegetable crudités, such as cauliflower florets or strips of carrot, celery or green or red bell pepper.
Pork with Chickpeas & Orange Serves 4
“This winter speciality, revithia me hirino ke portokali, is a familiar dish in the Aegean islands, particularly in Crete. In the villages of Mesara, it is traditionally offered to family and close friends on the night before a wedding. This version comes from the island of Chios.”
350g/12oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water to cover
–90ml/5–6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
800g/1¾lb boneless leg of pork, cut into large cubes
1 large onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
400g/14oz canned chopped tomatoes
grated rind of 1 orange
1 small dried red chilli
salt and ground black pepper
bread and olives, to serve
Drain the chickpeas, rinse them under cold water and drain them again.
Place them in a large, heavy pan. Pour in enough cold water to cover generously, put a lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Skim the surface, replace the lid and cook gently for 1–1½ hours, depending on the age and pedigree of the chickpeas. Alternatively, cook them in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes under full pressure. When the chickpeas are soft, drain them, reserving the cooking liquid, and set them aside.
Heat the oil in the clean pan and brown the meat cubes in batches. As each cube browns, lift it out with a slotted spoon and put it on a plate. When all the cubes have been browned, add the onion to the oil remaining in the pan and sauté for 10–15 minutes, until light golden.
Stir in the garlic, then as soon as it becomes aromatic, add the tomatoes and grated orange rind. Crumble in the chilli.
Add the chickpeas and meat to the pan, then pour in enough of the reserved chickpea cooking liquid to cover. Add the black pepper, but not salt at this stage.
Mix well, cover the pan and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the meat is tender. Stir occasionally and add more of the reserved liquid if needed. The result should be a moist casserole; not soupy, but not dry either. Season with salt before serving with bread and olives.
Cheese & leek pie Serves 4
“This pie, which comes from the Sporades islands, is unusual by Greek standards because it is not enclosed in pastry. It is called tyropitta and is perfect served with other mezethes, or for lunch with a salad. This used to be a treat whenever our friend Electra invited us for drinks on the island of Alonnisos.”
1 onion, sliced
60ml/4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
2 large leeks, total weight about 450g/1lb, chopped
115g/4oz plain flour
2.5ml/½ tsp bicarbonate of soda/ baking soda
3 eggs, lightly beaten
200g/7oz Greek strained plain yogurt
300g/11oz feta cheese, cubed
115g/4oz grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese
45–60ml/3–4 tbsp chopped fresh dill
salt and ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, lemon wedges, black olives and radishes, to serve
Cook’s tip: To remove all the grit from trimmed leeks, cut down through about 10cm/4in of the green part, then turn the leek and cut again, making a cross. Rinse thoroughly in running water.
Sauté the onion in the butter and oil for 10–15 minutes, until light golden. Add the leeks and cook over a low heat for 10–12 minutes, until soft. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a little.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Lightly grease a 23cm/9in round springform cake tin. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Stir in the eggs, then the yogurt and feta cheese, and finally the leek and onion mixture. Set aside 30ml/2 tbsp of the grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese and add the rest to the batter, with the dill. Season and mix well.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface. Sprinkle the reserved grated cheese over the top and bake for 40–45 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let the pie cool completely before removing it from the tin or pan. Serve in wedges and offer some extra virgin olive oil to be drizzled over the top. Serve with lemon wedges, black olives and radishes.