IT WAS ALL GREEK TO ME: A Culinary Tale by Jo Hart

The next post is from a dear friend of mine that has been coming to the Nafsika quite recently who loves the hotel, the area and the food! I always enjoy seeing the dishes that people make from Theodora’s recipes as I know she does herself. Theodora loves the fact that her recipes are passed on not only in the family but to our extended family as well!

But let Jo tell her story….


My journey into Greek cooking.  I was inspired to branch out into a different
cuisine following holidays at the Nafsika Hotel, and aided and abetted by Spiros
Mouzakitis and his lovely mum’s (Theodora) great recipes.

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Me at my Kitchen!

My story is probably very like many others that have stayed at the Nafsika over the years.  The only word I knew in Greek was ‘Kalispera’, which I knew from the Eurovision Song Contest and Katie Boyle all those years ago “Kalispera Athens this is London calling, please could I have the results of the Greek jury”.  I am ashamed to say that I have learnt very little Greek at all despite having spent the last few May holidays in Corfu and at the Nafsika Hotel.  But I have been given a free drink for asking for the bill at a restaurant in Agios Stefanos Beach in Greek!!  Which if my memory serves me right is to ‘logarizmo parakalo’ (phonetic) no way could I do the Greek Alphabet.

I am more enthusiastic about Greek culinary dishes.  I like cooking and I have
used recipes shared by Spiros of the Nafsika Hotel, Agios Stefanos, Avliotes,
Corfu.  Most of the recipes shared are from Theodora, the Kitchen Queen of the
hotel and it is her natural flair for cooking and her son’s willingness to
harness this for the good of the whole family which has made the Nafsika what it
is today, and the reason that people return year after year, the food and the
hospitality are a great draw.  As well as the witty repartee of mine
host.

Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

The first dish that I ever tried to cook following one of Theodora’s recipes was
Theodora’s Spanakopita.  I followed the recipe to the letter and was really pleased with the results, as I became more accustomed to making it I did actually vary the
ingredients like trying it with Goats cheese instead of Feta, and using cheddar
in place of the ‘kefalotiri’ cheese or parmesan cheese as recommended, although
the taste was good in all instances there were subtle differences to the
finished dish.   All very edible.

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My very first attempt making Spanakopita.

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Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

The next dish I made was broad beans with artichokes, this was a real feat to
complete, owing to the difficulty in getting the ingredients in the UK.  Waitrose, Sainsburys, and Morrisons all have fresh artichokes when in season,
but they are very expensive.  It is possible to buy frozen from Waitrose.   I
find that it is easier to find the components for this dish in Calais (I live in
Kent so make frequent sojourns to the Nord Pas de Calais, where it is possible
to get both frozen and fresh artichokes at reasonable prices).   I ended up
using artichokes from the deli counter from Sainsburys  when I made the dish and
the 1 fresh one that I bought.  It is a light dish which had an acquired taste I loved.

artichokes_being_cooked

Artichokes being cooked

buttter-beans-with-artichokes

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

I made tzatziki, which is really easy, and tastes so much better than the
ready made variety you can buy in the UK.   If you are watching your waistline,
use the 2% fat Greek yoghurt as the 0% fat one makes it too runny.

I made a Greek salad, although I do think the feta you buy in UK is too salty for
my liking.

I also made Theodora’s famous moussaka, spanakopita and stuffed vine
leaves. My daughter who was with us and a fussy eater ate everything, even the
youngest amongst us was willing to try everything, although she wasn’t as eager
as the rest of us for my Greek cooking.   Never mind, she may remember where she
first tasted it when she is older and wiser.  The moussaka deserves a special mention, the method that Theodora makes requires frying and reserving  the potatoes and aubergines, the result was well worth it as it enhances flavour.  I made the béchamel sauce with skimmed milk and it probably wasn’t as creamy as made with whole milk but a  better for the waistline.  I used Delia Smith’s all in one white sauce recipe which I find foolproof.  That is the only change I made to the recipe was to make it lower fat.  Hopefully it didn’t suffer because of it.  I do not think so.

Dolmades (Stuffed Vineleaves).

I made these for a family meal whilst staying at my sister’s place in Newquay, this is a picture of my first attempt. The dummy run. They were really good even though I say so myself and I served them hot with a roasted pepper sauce. They are a bit fiddly, and at the time of making you could get the vine leaves in Morrisons, sadly they no longer do them, so it would be a trip probably to London for me to get them, so I haven’t made them very often since. I will however, bring some back with me on my next trip to Corfu. I suppose that you could use cabbage.

dolmades

Dolmades

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken.

I make this dish in a roasting bag, as it gives the potatoes the texture that I require, and like for the dish. I find that the Marfona potato is a good one to use for this recipe. It’s very simple you just place all the prepared vegetables in the bottom of the bag, season, add lemon juice and olive oil, spices oregano, and bay leaf and then put the chicken on top, the whole dish cooks in the oven and the potatoes and vegetables take on the flavour of the chicken and the potatoes cook, semi boiled/semi roasted. It’s better if cooked in a slow oven about 150C,  adjusted slightly if you have a fan oven. The smells will begin to waft through the house when nearly ready. All you do is open the oven and take a look if the potatoes have begun to take on a semi roasted appearance then the dish is ready. This is one of my favourite recipes and so easy to make.

greek-roast-chicken

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

This was a recipe that Spiros had promised to me for ages, and which I waited for with bated breath.  It took a really long while for him to send this to me, having promised it to me following his putting a picture of it on Instagram.  The picture below is of the dish whilst it was cooking, and what is so lovely about this recipe is the heavenly smell of cinnamon and spices that waft through the house while cooking, very reminiscent of Christmas cooking smells.  One of my favourite childhood remembered smells is coming home from school and the Christmas cake being cooked and another is liver and bacon being cooked for dinner.  They both conjure up lovely memories.  If you are staying at the Nafsika don’t miss the calves liver and bacon with garlic mash it is to die for!!  When Spiros puts a recipe of any sort on his blog, I love the little tips often included, like in this case to make sure that the shanks were completely tender, as it can vary according to the age of the lamb. Lots of tips which he relates are what his mum does.  In case of all those English readers the difference for example between Welsh, English and New Zealand lamb and the relative age of the lamb.

giouvetsi-with-orzo

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

The finished dish. The orzo is easily obtained in the UK, although this particular orzo was purchased in Agios Stefanos Beach and taken home with me, along with other items like the small green lentils, called fakes. Have used orzo in other recipes countless times, makes a change from rice. That’s one recipe I haven’t made so far from the array that Spiros has put on the blog. There are bound to be others I haven’t got round to doing as yet, and maybe this year there will be something new that I would like to try following my holiday at the Nafsika in May!

I am looking forward to trying out more recipes in the future.  I would like to make Baclava – which I would share with friends as it is better while still fresh and is so delicious it must be eaten at once!

Harissa Prawns, Beans & Vegetables Bruschetta

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Sometimes we are inspired to cook something even under the most normal circumstances!  Yesterday my mother was cooking Fasoulada and just before she added the tomatoes (which was the 6th procedure on the Fasoulada recipe) I appropriated a ladled full of cooked white beans. On the recipe that follows I use canned white beans as it would be easier for most people to find this ingredient although if you follow the Fasoulada recipe they are quite easy to make.

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I had once seen a dish with prawns and beans and wanted to do something similar. wondering what else I should put into the dish I immediately thought of northern Greece’s crimson king: the sweet, red Florina pepper. Quickly the other vegetable ingredients came to mind like onions, cauliflower and zucchini/courgette.

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I incorporated these vegetables as I had them on hand, but I might have used others if I had them such as a fennel bulb, snap peas, broccoli or fresh mushrooms. I wanted it to create this dish more as an appetizer rather than a main course and definitely I wanted it to be a very light dish. I only decided on using Harissa paste towards the end of my stir frying. Harissa paste, a spicy North African chile paste, is available even in Corfu but it seems quite easy to make from scratch.  This is readily available in most countries.

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I finished the dish on a bed of garlic bread fried on an iron skillet.

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Alternatively, it can made into a main meal which you could serve with rice, noodles or something a bit more exotic like couscous.

Harissa Prawns, Beans & Vegetables Bruschetta

Ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5-6 garlic cloves, sliced
10-12 medium prawns, peeled, deveined
1 15-ounce cans white beans (such as cannellini), rinsed, drained
1 small onion, sliced thickly
2 red peppers of Florina, sliced thickly
1 zucchini/courgette, thinly sliced on the diagonal and halved
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets, (using only a quarter of it)
2–3 tablespoons harissa paste
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
3  tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Grilled garlic bread

Preparation:

1. In a non-metallic bowl, combine prawns, lemon juice, one teaspoon of Harissa. Marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

2. Break up the cauliflower into large florets, then, using your hands, break into very small florets. Blanch cauliflower for 2 minutes in hot water.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a wok or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Once slightly smoking add sliced garlic and cook for 1 minute, add marinated prawns. Cook prawns 3-5 minutes, turning, until they change color and are cooked through. Remove prawns and set aside.

4. In the same skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the oil, then the onions, red peppers and courgette slices for 2-3 minutes. Stir the cauliflower around the pan, allowing it to get very brown in some areas. Add cooked cannellini beans.

5. Add the 1-2 tablespoons of harissa and toss prawn and vegetable mixture well in in the wok. Cook for 3 minutes, add parsley and then turn heat to low. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Fry sliced wholewheat bread on iron skillet or just fry in toaster, rub clove of garlic on one side.

7. For each serving, place garlic bread flat on plate and top with harissa prawn mixture and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley.

Theodora’s Greek Bean Soup (Fasoulada)

As far as Greek dishes go, Fasoulada, may be one of the most underrated dishes amongst tourists coming to Greece.  Most Greeks when asked the question of which dish represents the country most, would more than likely give the title of Fasoulada as the National Dish of GreeceThis most ancient Greek soup dates back to the time of antiquity where the Ancient Greeks would spend a whole day to celebrating the mighty Fasoulada!  This dish must have saved Greece during World War II as it became the staple diet during the war.  I joke with people in saying that the Germans did not like beans or else they would have stolen them as they did most other foodstuff.

Theodora’s Greek Bean Soup

Theodora’s Greek Bean Soup (Fasoulada)

Fasolada is primarily made with dried navy or white haricot beans.  Its nutritional attributes cannot be overlooked as it contains protein, iron, fibre, magnesium and potassium.  Other ingredients include carrots, celery, onion, tomato paste and olive oil.  The soup adheres to the Mediterranean diet with its legumes and vegetables, rich in antioxidants.

Looking on-line at other people’s contributions to the Greek Bean Soup (Fasoulada),  I noticed that many dishes do not resemble the way most Greeks would cook it.  Many added more vegetables than normal or more tomatoes since the Fasoulada looked too red in color.  I’m quite sure that these dishes tasted just fine and I’m not saying the Fasoulada in these other recipes is wrong (though, I would say the recipes are more a Greek-Style Fasoulada) where as this version here is a more traditional version or should I say Theadora’s Fasoulada. Notice that there is no garlic in this version.  Theodora says that garlic is added only to Fakes (Greek Lentil Soup).   I also like to add a few drops of Tabasco just before I eat it as I like it a bit spicy!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups white beans (may also use navy beans or white haricot beans)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced finely
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 stalks celery, strings removed, and sliced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste (Again, my mother does not use tomatoes in a can or fresh as they may make the soup bitter and the beans hard.)
  • 1 teaspoon mild paprika
  • 1 vegetable stock
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE

  1. Soak the beans in water overnight; strain the water, rinse beans and place them in a pot with new water. (I think the soup tastes much better with fresh beans rather than canned beans).
  2. Bring to boil over high heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Drain beans in a strainer and return to pot. Add 6 cups water. (This is done to make the soup light on the stomach).
  4. Bring to boil for 15 minutes.
  5. Add carrots, onion, celery and red pepper flakes.
  6. Simmer for 1 hour or less until beans are soft and tender. (The time is arbitrary as beans tend to vary according to water softness and even altitude).  Add more water if needed.
  7. Towards the end, add vegetable stock, tomato paste, olive oil, mild paprika and pepper to taste.
  8. Add salt last if needed as the vegetable stock may have enough.  (Do not add salt or tomatoes until the beans are cooked or they will go hard if you do).
  9. Serve with hearty crusted bread, Kalamata olives, spring onions, and white Taramosalata.

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My mum’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

This is one of Greece’s most popular ‘Sunday roast’ and restaurant lamb dishes and yet many tourists that visit Greece each year don’t even know about it.  It is often on the menu in truly authentic Greek tavernas, but with the coming of mass tourism in Greece in the 1960’s, it’s now by passed by dishes such as Stifado and Kleftiko.  The dish is called Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) and it conjures to me fond and cherished memories, as with most Greeks, of my mother doing it for the Sunday table.  Incidentally, I had this dish on our hotel menu for 2 years but sadly it was not moving, so I decided to take it off.

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved cheese - nothing better!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved Kefalograviera cheese and orzo pasta (kritharaki) – one of last summer’s special dishes!

This dish is traditionally cooked in a clay earthenware casserole pot, a γάστρα (gastra) in Greek, which creates the distinct taste and nutritional value of food cooked in them.  For generations mothers used to wake up early on Sunday, the day of rest for most, to prepare this dish and take it to the baker where they would give him their ‘gastra’ to bake after he finished baking the bread, using the remains of their hot wood-burning brick oven.  In my mothers island of Ereikousa, they did not have a baker but each household had a brick oven in which they would take turns to bake the bread for that day.  In this way, the women would not need to heat their oven every day but only when it was their turn so that on each designated day the women would take their bread to the oven that was working.  After the bread was baked, they would put the ‘gastra’ in the oven and leave it cooking slowly until it was ready to have their lunchtime meal.

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Simmer the lamb shanks until they are tender in stainless steel pot, then bake them in a clay pot.

There is normally one pasta used for this dish,  it is orzo pasta (or in Greek ‘κριθαράκι – kritharaki’).  This rice shape pasta is traditional for Giouvetsi and many a people have confused it for rice but this time my mother used another Greek pasta called ‘κοφτό – kofto’ which is similar to the Italian pasta Ditalini.  She prefers this pasta since you use less of it and it absorbs more of the luscious sauce.  Most people can name quite a few Italian types of pasta but the Greeks have their own types which they use for their dishes and few people realize how many different Greek dishes are made with pasta. On the island of Corfu since it was under Venetian rule rather than under the Ottomans, pasta was often used, which is why we have many pasta dishes.  No one really knows where pasta originates but I would not be too surprised if the ancient Greeks had something to do with it!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

Even though there are many British people who love pasta, I don’t think it is as popular as the mighty potato! This past summer, a person who stayed with us and loved the hotel, on a Tripadvisor review he wrote, ‘only complaint… there was quite a lot of pasta dishes’!   Which reminds me of the Spaghetti Harvest – April Fool’s Day Hoax in 1957 which generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3  lamb shanks
  • Extra Virgin Greek olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 1 kg  chopped (puree) tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken stock (optional)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 500 grams of Ditalini (κοφτό) or orzo pasta (κριθαράκι)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a deep casserole and brown the lamb shanks on all sides.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and leave until they are translucent.
  3. Pour the wine in and wait for 5 to 10 minutes with lid on.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes which my mother has blended in a food processor, tomato paste, stock and the water (until it covers the lamb).
  5. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, whole cloves, whole allspice, freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika.
  6. Put the lid on and let simmer for 1h to 1 1/2h until the lamb shanks becomes tender. Replenish with water if it needs it.  Season with salt towards the end.
  7. Boil pasta for 2 minutes, drain and get it coated with a little olive oil. This is for it not to stick to each other.
  8. Add the cooked lamb shanks in the clay pot.
  9. Add pasta and pour the sauce over lamb and pasta.  This should cover the pasta, add water if not.
  10. Bake in preheated oven at 170ºC for 40 minutes until the pasta is cooked and there’s still some liquid sauce.
  11. Add plenty of cheese and serve.

Greek Lentil Soup (Fakes)

Theodora's Greek Lentil Soup, called Fakes in Greece!

Theodora’s Greek Lentil Soup, called Fakes in Greece!

Lentils have been eaten by mankind (women more than likely planted them, gathered them and cooked them in those early days) for over 10,000 years.  It was a very easy dish to prepare with very few ingredients and of course, it is loaded with protein and iron, so if the men came back from the hunt empty-handed at least they had a warm lentil soup waiting for them that was totally nutritious!  Another very Greek and traditional soup made from legumes is Fasoulada, Greek Bean Soup.

I owe this recipe to my friend Paul!  A very long time ago,  I made him a gift of a few bags of Greek lentils and promised to show how to cook them so it is about time I honored this vow! Greek Lentil Soup is called ‘Fakes’ in Greece, and is a very simple dish to make.  You may see it in other blogs as Faki but that is just one lentil which would make a very watery soup.

Some of the ingredients for Greek Lentil Soup

Some of the ingredients for Greek Lentil Soup

Traditionally this soup does not contain tomatoes as they were brought over to Europe at the time of Columbus, nor were the carrots and celery added, which is more than likely the reason why I did not eat it when I was young however much my mother tried to force it on me and my sister, she did not like them when she was young, as well.  In my village, most people still eat lentils this way! and some children will still say no to them.

Add the first ingredients and bring to boil.

Add the first ingredients and bring to boil.

The recipe below is a fairly modern version of the Greek traditional dish but I adore it non-the-less and I’m happy to say most of my hotel guests adore it as well regardless of whether or not they have tried the soup before.  It’s the kind of soup that you can add things to it and it will still work.  I know some people to have add bacon, chicken or just the broth, or many other types of vegetables and yet the soup is always delicious.

Most Greeks would add a few drops of red wine vinegar when they eat it and eat it with Kalamata Greek olives (Greek olives is a must!) and some fresh onions.  I prefer to add a few drops of Tabasco sauce which is mainly vinegar, plus I love the added kick that it gives to the soup.

Theodora’s Greek Lentil Soup (Fakes)

Ingredients:

1 bag of Greek brown lentils
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery stick, diced
2 bay leaves
2 pinches of Greek oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare the lentils: Lentils may contain small rocks and irregular looking beans that you do not want in your soup. To check the lentils, pour them in small batches onto a plate so they are able to spread out. Once you checked all the lentils rinse your lentils to remove any dirt. Throw the lentils into a big soup pot with enough water to cover them over.
  2.  Add the chopped onion & garlic. Dice your carrots and celery and throw them into the pot as well. Add 2 bay leaves and 2 pinches of Greek oregano.  Bring to boil.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and the chopped tomatoes, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add additional water if the soup becomes too thick.
  4. Add olive oil, simmer for 15 minutes or more, until lentils are done.
  5. Serve with some red wine vinegar or Tabasco, fresh onions and black Greek olives.

Braised Quails with Mushrooms

I am always looking at finding new dishes to serve at the Nafsika Taverna. Often the ideas of new dishes come to me when I find new products in shops and I try to create new ways of cooking them and presenting them to my guests. One ingredient that I use are oyster mushrooms which are a fairly new product. Of course most of my ideas go to the sidelines as my guests find them a bit too adventurous.

During the winter some Greek men go hunting for birds as Corfu is a natural stop over for them when birds fly to the warmer climates of Africa. When I was growing up as a kid, my friends would try to catch them using various means such as traps with strings, slingshots (which we would make ourselves). If we could afford them we would use BB guns since normal guns were forbidden to us. In those days before the world of video games we had to amuse ourselves with far healthier pursuits than today. I’m not advocating hunting as most of the time we did not catch anything or at least I did not, but we all had fun in trying.

I was never a very avid bird hunter as it would mean getting up early and as most people know, I am not an early riser but more of a night-bird. I also had a bad experience when I shot a bird with a BB gun when I was young. I shot a bird with a BB gun and it distressed me so much to see it die that I never shot another bird again… ever! But luckily for me all sorts of game birds are sold in shops and thankfully all of them are farmed raised.

Most people here would cook quail by roasting or by barbecuing them. I barbecued them the first time in a teriyaki marinade but found them slightly tough, although I enjoyed them none the less. Last winter I decided to braise them and as I had loads of oyster mushrooms on hand so I combined the two. The results were more than favorable which made me decide to blog the recipe. Last year I had flavored them with some bacon bits but this time I had none so I left them out. I also decided to kick it up a notch by adding the Cajun spices and the hot pepper but not to make the dish hot.

Braised Quails with Mushrooms

Ingredients

4 quails, cleaned and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed
Splash olive oil
1 onion, chopped
10-15 baby (shallots) onions
1 teaspoon green peppercorns
2 red peppers of Florina
2 green peppers
1 spicy hot red pepper (optional)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup Chicken stock
1 teaspoon Cajun spices
3/4 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (1/2 button mushrooms, and 1/2 oyster mushroom)
Handful chopped fresh parsley leaves

Directions

Season the quails with salt and pepper. In a heavy casserole, add butter with olive oil , and brown the quails on all sides over medium-high heat.

Quails with mushrooms and vegetables

Clean your Quails, Mushrooms and Vegetables

Add the onions, baby onions, garlic and green peppercorns along with the quails and fry until golden. Stir the flour into the onions, and cook 1 minute. De-glaze the pan with the wine, stirring up the good bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour the chicken stock and season with the Cajun spices, cover, and simmer until the quails are just cooked through, about 20 minutes. Add water, if needed so it will not burn.

Sauté quails with onions, garlic and peppercorns.

Sauté the Quails with the Onions, Garlic and Peppercorns.

Simmer slightly with oyster and button mushrooms

Slightly simmer the Oyster & Button mushrooms and Quails

Add red and green peppers plus spicy red pepper. (By adding the spicy red pepper and Cajun spices I want depth to the dish but it should not be a hot dish by any means). Simmer until peppers are soft. When the quails are done, add oyster mushrooms and once they are done, add the button mushrooms along with the parsley leaves. I turn off the heat and let the button mushrooms cook by heat of the pot.

Braised Quails with Wild Mushrooms

Braised Quails with Wild Mushrooms

Enjoy it with a glass of Moschofilero wine and some country crusty bread for sopping up the awesome sauce!

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas

The seasonality of food has always been the way most Greeks cook by. By this I mean that at certain times of the year a given type of food is at its freshest and so tends to be tastier and more nutritious. Consequently, it tends to be less expensive to buy as well. I remember when I first arrived in New York and spotted some watermelons in a super market window and thought to myself as it was still March, ‘indeed this is the land of plenty were you can have anything you want!’ Only to be disappointed when I ate a piece of the watermelon later.


my outdoor bliss

Spring time is very special time for me as artichokes are in season and soon after broad beans are also ready to be eaten. This time is especially beautiful as the fire flies are teeming the countryside and you have nature’s nightly disco on display! My mother makes a dish with these 2 ingredients that has a history as old as Greece itself. Both originating around the Mediterranean, with most of the southern Europeans feasting on them when they’re in season. Broad beans have been cultivated 8000 years ago if not before, while the artichoke were cultivated in Sicily when the Greeks controlled most of that island which was part of Magna Grecia. Artichokes are actually a flower bud – if allowed to flower, blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a violet-blue color. Artichokes are a close relative to the thistle.


Artichokes in bloom after the harvest

When the hotel opens in May, we often serve this dish to our hotel guests and although most of them have never tried it before while some have never even heard of it; once they cautiously taste it, they are soon converted by its succulent flavours.

The following recipe is simple enough but finding the ingredients should you not be living around the Mediterranean will be a quest in itself! Of course, you can make it with frozen artichokes and frozen broad beans but I would say you lose more than half the flavour and aroma of the dish not to mention most of the nutrients. Maybe that’s why I love it so much, I can only have it around the month of May. But I adore this dish so much that I would have my mother make it even out of season, but not often!

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 spring onions (scallion) roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, roughly sliced
⅔ cup (150 grams) chopped fresh fennel, use the erect green leaves rather than the bulb
¼ cup (59 ml) chopped fresh dill
1 cup water
Seasoning of pepper and salt
10 artichokes hearts, cut in half
1 lb/ 500g broad beans (fava beans) from the pod, pierce so they will not explode
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch of oregano
2 potatoes, quartered
1 ½ cups of water
Peas, frozen is fine

Preparation:

To prepare the artichokes, remove the outer leaves of each artichoke revealing the pale inner heart and cut off the stem. Open the inner heart and using a teaspoon remove the hairy choke from each artichoke. Halve the artichoke heart.

Theodora’s Tip… To prevent artichokes from going black before cooking but after they have been prepared, rub them with a halved lemon, then keep them submerged in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice added, until you are ready to use them.

Place onions, olive oil, green onions, garlic, fennel, dill and 1 cup of water in a deep sauté pan (one with a large flat heating surface and large sides). Braise for 10 minutes so that the dill and fennel will cook well, Theodora told me that you should cook until soft. She also uses these fresh from her garden so they are extra aromatic. Cook until most of the water evaporates.

Stir in artichokes hearts, broad beans, potatoes, 1 ½ cups of water, pinch of nutmeg & oregano and cook for 30 minutes with lid on until artichokes are soft when pierced by fork and all excess moisture evaporates. If necessary, add a little more water until vegetables are soft. Season with pepper. Towards the end add peas so they will be nice and perky. Season with salt and more pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool or serve hot. This could be a meal in itself or as a side dish which ever way it will be well remembered.