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.

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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!

Greek Easter Eggs

A few days before Greek Easter,  my mother would be dyeing eggs red to have them ready for our Easter table.  This would be one of her chores to prepare for our Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations.  This year as I am alone in the house and as I was kindly given some fresh eggs by a neighbour,  I thought I would dye them myself,  I mean,  how hard can it be?

After the midnight resurrection Mass and on Easter Sunday, children and adults would ask the question, “Na tsoungrisoume?” meaning, “Shall we crack them?”.   These freshly boiled and painted eggs which would be laying in a basket from Holy Thursday when they are traditionally made.  Unfortunately, these eggs could not be eaten until after the church service on Saturday night, due to the observation of Lent, and consequently they would be a welcome treat after our fasting.  The ritual would be as follows, one person would hold his egg in a fist with the pointy end exposed while the other taps it while saying the words, “Christós Anésti!” meaning “Christ has arisen!”  The other would reply, “Alithós Anésti!” meaning “Surely he has arisen!”  The same would be done on the other end.  The one who would have his egg whole and not cracked would be assured one year’s worth of good luck!  The other would have a cracked egg and possibly high cholesterol!

The dyeing of the egg red has many symbolic connotations and using the egg as a medium for this symbolism has a history as old as man himself.  The egg represents among other things a rebirth of the earth during springtime just as the resurrection of the Jesus represents the promise of everlasting life.  First used as a religious symbol in Persia in about 500 BC, noblemen would carry painted eggs to celebrate the spring equinox. The deep red color symbolizes the blood of Christ shed on the Holy Cross while the hard shell of the egg symbolizes the tomb of Christ.  Thus cracking it represents his resurrection.

Another reason I was told for the eggs being red when I was young was that when Mary Magdalene visits a Roman emperor and greets him with “Christ has risen”.  The emperor replied that Christ can no more rise again than this egg can turn red.  At that point the egg in his hand turned blood-red.

How to Make Greek Easter Eggs

Although many use red onions to dye the eggs I will cop out for a more easier and reliable method.  The Greek red egg dye can be purchased at any store that sells Greek items.

Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 Packet Greek Red Egg Dye
  • 10- To 12-quart Cooking Pots
  • 8 to 10 quarts water
  • Red wine vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes (this will center the egg yolks as they cook). Drain.
  2. Place dye powder and 2 tbsp of the warm water in a large glass bowl and stir until dye dissolves. Add vinegar and the remaining warm water and stir to combine. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the dye mixture and set aside for 3 minutes to soak. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a plate and set aside for 40 minutes to dry.
  3. Place a little oil on paper towel and wipe each egg until shiny.

Mediterranean Diet

Much ado has been made about the Mediterranean Diet, but is the hype all that true?

It is generally accepted that folks that live around the Mediterranean Sea live longer.  They suffer less than most Northern Europeans and Americans from Cardiovascular diseases which seems to account for about 53% of the worlds deaths.  The populations of the Greece, Italy, France and Spain traditionally follow a balanced and nutritious diet based on fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorsome herbs and spices; also eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; enjoying poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation; and saving sweets and red meat for special occasions.  Top it off with loads of flavorsome olive oil and splashes of the occasional glass of red wine while remaining physically active, and you’re on your way.

Mediterranean diet pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, introduced in 1993 by the Harvard School of Public Health, visually portrays the daily food intake to implement healthier eating habits.  It was based on the dietary habits of the island of Crete, Greece and southern Italy circa 1960.  Which at the time chronic diseases in their populations were among the lowest in the world while their adult life expectancy was one of the highest in the world even though they had limited medical services.  This Mediterranean Diet is not a diet as ‘to go on a diet’ but a way of life.  Even though it improves your health and it helps you lose weight, it’s more a style of living which includes foods, activities, dining with family and friends, and drinking wine in moderation.  It does not mean that the different cultures around the Mediterranean Sea all eat the same foods but share a common philosophy.

At the Hotel Nafsika we have always tried to follow the Mediterranean diet principles, although I have to admit with some reservations. This is mainly due to our clients being foreign and not Greek.  Obviously we cannot serve meat dishes only once a month as the diet suggests, people would think we are trying to diddle them.  I could remember my grandfather eating a stewed pork dish during a lunch meal.  Normally my grandparents had their main meal in the afternoon while eating a light meal at night. Once seeing that the pork still had a couple of inches of fat on it, I foolishly told him off saying that it was unhealthy for him, he just laughed at me and continued on eating.  Only now, do I realize that he only ate meat occasionally and to top it off most of the meat he ate was locally and organically raised and freshly consumed.

Olive oil and Olives

We do try to keep the menu as Greek as possible but again I have to confess we tone down the ‘Greekness’ somewhat as some of my clients, as Jack Nicholson said, “can’t handle the truth!”  The truth of the matter is that Greeks when cooking traditional peasant-style home cooked meals principally use a lot of olive oil.  As most people produce their own supply of it, the cost is not an issue but more importantly Greeks have always known of the goodness of olive oil!–well before, the Harvard report.  My Grandmother, for example, would pour enough olive oil in her wild greens so that they would be swimming in it.  This much oil would be unacceptable even for me!  Olive oil was their sole source of dietary fat in their diet.  In fact, there are some dishes that we Greeks ourselves call them the ‘Lathera’, the oily ones.   Moussaka, Pastitsio, Greek broad beans, Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers would fall under this category.   Although, olive oil is high in calories, the health benefits due to the high monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats found in olive oil make it one of natures natural medicines!  In addition to bolstering the immune system and helping to protect against viruses; ailments such as heart disease, cancer, blood pressure, diabetics and many others can be averted with only just 2 teaspoons of olive oil per day!

Greek Roast Pork *

As we have been in business for well over 35 years and we have come to the realization that we cannot serve the “lathera” dishes as we would serve them to the locals or as we ourselves would eat them so we have modified them to a point of less olive oil while they are still considered Greek dishes!  As I myself do not want my food to be too oily, I would say that we cook our dishes with moderate amounts of olive oil in them.  Thus recalling one of the sayings of the Ancients Greeks: “metron ariston”, or “moderation is best”.  It is interesting to note that not all the people who come to stay in the hotel share with this diet and some find my mother’s food greasy, due, of course, to the olive oil.  As we produce our own olive oil from our own olive trees, we use it bountifully in all our dishes.  A recent guest of the hotel, wrote in one of the reviews boards, “this was by far the greasiest food we have ever been served, nearly all meals had oil slopping around the plate.”  As I don’t want to disappoint anyone, next time someone who is not used to the olive oil can inform me so I can steer him away from the more Greek dishes!  All I can say to any of my guests is that in Greek food we use olive oil and to have it without it, would not be Greek food!  Extra virgin olive oil is highest in health-promoting fats, phytonutrients and other important micronutrients which is what makes Greek food healthy. * Photo by www.kalofagas.ca

Vasilopita

Vasilopita

Happy New Year!

I wish you all a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2012.  Vasilopita is a traditional Greek bread-like cake made every New Year. The cake is made to bless the house and to bring good luck for the next year.

In the Greek tradition, it is a custom to have sweet bread-like cake on New Years Eve. After the last few minutes of the Year we welcome the New Year by parceling out slices of vasilopita to the family. Each slice is dedicated to someone beginning with the church, the home, and then the family members from oldest to youngest. The vasilopita is baked with many ingredients, but most important is the coin which placed inside the cake, represents good luck throughout the year! Sweet flavoring is added to the bread which symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the cutting of the vasilopita.

It’s origins stem back to the legend of Saint Basil the Great was one of the most influential of the Greek Fathers of the Church during the “Golden Age of the Fathers” (the 4th and 5th Centuries).  Saint Basil died on the 1st of January which is when his Feast Day is observed.  According to the legend, one year during a famine the emperor levied a sinfully excessive tax upon the people of his parish.  The tax was such a heavy burden upon the already impoverished people,  Saint Basil came to his people’s defense by fearlessly calling the emperor to repentance.  The emperor did repent!   He cancelled the tax and instructed his tax collectors to give back the loot taken. But now Saint Basil was faced with the daunting and impossible task of returning these thousand coins to the rightful owners. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Miraculously, each owner received in his piece of Vasilopita his own gold coins.

Saint Basil was a very giving man and took care of the poor and needy. He is also associated with bringing gifts to the children which is when gifts are given in Greece.  Normally kids get their gifts on New Years Day rather than on Christmas Day!

Stelios Parliaro’s recipe was used again for this recipe.

Ingredients (for 16 pieces)

250 gr butter at room temperature
250 gr sifted icing sugar
250 gr ground blanched almonds
6 large eggs, preferably organic
250 gr all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
100 gr raisins
100 gr prunes, stoned and finely chopped
100 gr dried figs, finely chopped
200 ml cognac

Soak the dried fruits in the cognac overnight.

The next day, puree the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 170-180C.

Beat the butter, icing sugar and ground almonds until a fluffy white cream forms. Keep beating and gradually add the pureed fruit, mixing well. Then add the eggs gradually. Stop beating and add the flour and baking powder, stirring with a spoon.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 30 cm diameter cake tin. Bake for an hour. If desired, glaze the Vasilopita with lemon icing: Mix 200 gr of icing sugar with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and spread over the cake.

Otherwise, dust the cake with sifted icing sugar.

Kourabiedes (Greek Christmas Cookie)

Kourabiedes

Kourabiedes or Kourabiethes (Greek: κουραμπιέδες, pronounced: koo-rah-bee-YEH-thehs) are a traditional Greek almond shortbread cookie made for special occasions like Christmas, christenings and other celebrations. Together with the Melomakarona they grace the Greek Christmas table. Traditionally they were flavoured with rosewater and through the centuries, other flavorings have been added such as  lemon zest, orange zest, etc. Local butter, usually ewe’s and/or ewe’s and goat butter is used but if you can’t find any use regular butter, although the cookies will lack the characteristic taste, they will still be delicious. The real magic of kourabiedes is how they immediately melt in your mouth, the memory of the crumbling delicious almond cookie only lasting until the next one entering your mouth.

Kourabiedes, adapted from Stelios Parliaros

Ingredients:

  • 300 grams of Greek Sheep’s milk butter or normal butter
  • 110 grams of powdered/icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod or vanilla extract
  • 30 grams of black rum or Metaxa brandy
  • 600 grams of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 100 grams of almonds with the skin on, roasted and coarsely cut
  • 300 grams of icing sugar, for coating them

Preheat oven at 160 degrees Celsius and roast the almonds for  12 minutes.  Cut finely once they get cold.

With an electric mixer, whisk the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This should be done for a long time as the longer we whisk it the more velvety it will become!

Sift together the flour and baking powder and then add to the butter mixture in four or five batches, making sure that each batch is well blended before adding the next. Add the rum. At the end, add the roasted almonds.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Break off 35 gram pieces of the cookie dough and roll by hand into balls, half-moon, or S shapes.

Place in a preheated oven of 180 degrees C.  The temperature of the oven depends of course on the oven you have. Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool completely and then roll the cookies in the confectioners’ sugar.  If placed in a tin box without the sugar they can last up to 3 months.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

Top 5: Greek Dishes I’m Embarrassed Not to Have Eaten

My narrow-mindedness towards certain Greek dishes stems back to my childhood as they were not a part of our family meals when I was a child. Therefore I did not get the chance to know or like these dishes.  It is amazing how much your parents can influence you over what foods you do or do not eat.  Of course, their influence does not stop with only foods.  I am proud to say that I have surpassed both my parents in tasting all sort of foods that they would never dream of trying, however bizarre or common place they may be!  Some foods I have only just recently tried and begun to like.  For example my mother’s Lentil Soup — something in the past I refused to try.   There are still a few Greek dishes remaining for me to try and hopefully start to like in the future!  The following are a list of the ones I have not eaten for most of my life!

1. Tzatziki

Tzatziki

Tzatziki

Tzatziki is one of the favourite Greek dips during the summer season yet for some reason even though I like all the ingredients individually.  It is made with yogurt, cucumber and garlic.  When you add them all together I find the taste totally foreign to my taste buds and maybe it has to do with the fact that I normally eat yogurt with something sweet and to have it as a savoury dish puts me off.  To be honest I have tried it once and I sort of liked it but not so much to try it again!  The main reason for my dislike of this dish is that my mother never introduced tzatziki to me thus I never grew up to like it.  I was more a taramasalata person so when the dips come to the table I would feast on the ‘pink stuff’ and forgo the ‘white stuff’!

2. Russian Salad

Russian Salad

Like the name might imply, it is made from potatoes, vegetables and mayonnaise.  I have not tried it because I don’t like mayonnaise and there is lots of mayo in it.  In hindsight, I may have done myself a world of good as mayonnaise is not the most healthiest of things to eat!  Of course, if you like it, like most people seem to do, the dish is fit for a Tsar!

3. Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes

Once again, I love tomatoes in every form hot or cold but I have never tried to eat them stuffed and I simple eat the Stuffed Pepper which normally was in the pan along with the Stuffed Tomatoes.  My sister and mother don’t eat them either so the pan would be filled with stuffed Peppers and in the corner would be 1 or 2 Stuffed Tomatoes for my father who would be the only person to eat them.

4. Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

One of the classic Greek dishes where we use grape leaves to wrap food, dates back to the days of Alexander the Great. This is another dish that has escaped my taste buds!  Stuffed with rice, pine nuts and herbs this simple dish which slightly resembles the rolling of cigars (only that you roll them on the table rather than your thighs), is loved by most tourist visiting Greece. There is no real reason why I have not tried them and I’m sure if I did I would not dislike them but…yet, again they were never on our family table so no one of my family likes them.

5. Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita

I have included this dish in the list even though I now do eat Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) but I have only started to eat it a few years ago.  Once again, since there would be Cheese pies on the family table along with the Spinach pies and I would of course always have the Cheese pies –which I still love!  My love for this dish came after I tried a Monemvasia pancake-thin pastry called Saïtiá which is unbelievably delicious, prepared with handmade Phylo dough and filled with fresh spinach (or wild greens), leeks, and feta cheese.  Now, I can’t get enough of my mothers Spinach Pie! There are many variations of a Phylo stuffed pastry throughout all of the regions of Greece and sometimes even between neighboring villages. But now, I try them all!

What are some of the Greek dishes you have not tried? Yet?