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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Hotel Nafsika’s Thanksgivings – Summer 2014

On this Throwbackthursday and on this day of Thanksgiving, Hotel Nafsika gives thanks to all of its guests and patrons for making the summer of 2014 special.

Although most of the world does not celebrate Thanksgiving Day, a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, we at the Hotel Nafsika would like to give thanks to all of our guests and non-guests alike with this video.  (This video was supposed to be posted yesterday but uploading in this part of the world is a b*tch!)

Summer 2014 was not without its challenges: my father falling and breaking one of the bones in his pelvis; staff getting sick and not working most of the season; the economic climate in Greece not abating in the face of our politicians saying they are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and local government not providing services even though we are paying them through the nose!

Yet with all these hardships and others, we give thanks to this past season and dare to be grateful for who we are and what we have. Our Thanksgiving is perpetual.

Once upon a rainy day at the Hotel Nafsika.

Corfu is one of the prettiest islands in Greece and one reason for this is that it rains much more on this island than any other island in Greece. Labeled ‘the Emerald Isle’ for its striking sea of greenery and olive groves.

Many people are surprised at how much it rains on the island, some say as much rain as London gets but this only explains its lush greenery and breathtaking beauty. Flowering bushes, shrubs, olive and cypress trees cloak most of its rolling landscape, and in spring the island is bursting with beautiful wild flowers.

Luckily for the people of Corfu, it has a long dry summer which makes it an ideal destination for holiday makers as it mainly rains in the winter months. Although not tropical in character, it is not unusual for it to rain in the morning and the sun to come out in the afternoon. As this video above illustrates!

 

Merry Christmas 2013

Wishing all our friends all over the world
a very Happy and Merry Christmas!

from all your friends at the Nafsika Hotel
in Agios Stefanos Beach, Avliotes,
in Corfu, Greece.

My Small Slim English Wedding

This summer we did something that we had not done before, ever…..

Paul and Stevie's arrival at the Nafsika.

Paul and Stevie’s arrival at the Nafsika.

we catered for a small English wedding!  Here at the Hotel Nafsika we have catered for weddings before but they were Big, Fat and Greek!  So when Paul and Stevie first mentioned that they wanted to have their wedding at the Hotel Nafsika, I was really honoured that they would entrusted me and all at the Nafsika with this task.  I have known Paul and his family for the longest of time.  Paul was a youngster when he and his parents, Craig and Sandra first started coming here in the 1980’s along with his other siblings.  When he was older he would visit Corfu by himself and later with Stevie, the love of his life, and wherever he stayed on the island he would always come to say Hello! to us here in Agios Stefanos Beach where ever he might be staying on the island.  This shows you the type of person he is and his love for the Hotel Nafsika and the village!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Once they have secured the venue, Paul and Stevie needed help with the other wedding arrangements, so I sent them the San Stefanos Travel, as they were the wedding experts in the village.  They have done many weddings of this type and I knew that they would arrange everything without hitch!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

As I said, we have catered for many Greek weddings from our very early years of our existence.  When the hotel was first built-in the late 1970’s my father purposely made the dining room large so that we could cater for weddings.  Only when the guest list began to be 300 and 400 plus people large did we decide to stop doing them.  Other reasons are that most weddings take place in the winter as in the summer it interferes with the running of the restaurant in the hotel and in the winter Agios Stefanos Beach is too cold and unreliable with the weather to guarantee a trouble-free wedding.

Wedding table arrangement!

This traditional centerpiece is simple but classic.

The weather of course can make or break a wedding, not only here in Corfu but anywhere in the world which is why all of the world most take place in June, a nice safe month!  Here we can have them all summer long!  My biggest fear though was having a Maestro, a fierce northerly wind blowing on the day of the wedding.  Not that this wind would have spoilt the wedding but it would not have been ideal.  But the actual wedding day was blessed and perfect in every respect!

The groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Paul, the groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Having been to an endless amounts of weddings in America I knew how to arrange this one along similar lines. Sandra, Paul’s mother and I were emailing each other all winter long deciding how to organize the reception.  We both agreed on having a cocktail hour beforehand at the Hotel’s pool bar, BarOne, only that we would serve Prosecco with cherries as they were in season instead of cocktails.  Sandra thinking small ordered 10 bottles for their humble group of 19!

The meal would consist of a medley of Greek Mezzes (starters) and a choice of 3 main courses: a fish dish, a chicken dish & a meat dish.  Being our first English wedding and wanting to please my long time friends, I might have gone a bit over board with the starters as I kicked off the wedding banquet with: bruschetta, taramasalata, tzatziki, hummus, ktipiti, meatballs and a few others dishes.  There were so many starters that I had to cancel a few that I have not mentioned as the wedding party were clearly defeated by my onslaught of Greek appetizers.

The main course meals consisted of Fennel Fillet of Sole, Rosemary Chicken, and as Craig and Sandra wished, Spit-Roast Leg of Lamb!

All this was followed by the wedding cake and fruit and of course, Greek dancing!  Sandra wanted to surprise the newlyweds with a live band and even though Paul and Stevie found this out as someone ‘let the cat was out of the bag’ but they took it in true fashion by asking me to teach them a few Greek dances.  The music all evening was all Greek, in fact, very traditional folk music at that, but went like a charm with everyone dancing to it regardless of nationality.  Sandra and I both agreed that the hotel guests should be considered as honoured guests and not be excluded from the festivities so what started out as a small English wedding, it turned out into a Big English Wedding!

During the evening Sandra had given all the guests a Thai Sky/Fire Lantern to let loose into the night sky.  It was very beautiful as it was as quite a few of the lanterns reached the heavens.  Personally, I prefer our old fashioned declaration of setting the wedding in progress by letting off fireworks or even the more traditional Corfiot custom of exploding dynamite!  All serve the same purpose, to announce to the world the joining of 2 people into a sacred bondage.  Needless to say, they did not burn half of Corfu doing it, though it did cross my mind!

What made this wedding so fabulous is that everyone participated in the festivities regardless of any cultural difference, you must remember the band was playing Greek folk music so when I asked them if they knew any modern English songs they told me that they knew how to play ‘O Sole Mio’ so they played it…  and guess what?  Everyone danced to it!

I would like to thank Paul, Stevie, Sandra, and Craig along with the rest of the family guests and honoured guests who all contributed to a magical summer’s evening, enjoyed by everyone!

Theodora’s Classic Greek Moussaka

Theodora rules the kitchen of the Hotel Nafsika and a small introduction is required before we talk about her Classic Greek Moussaka. She has been in the Nafsika kitchen since it opened in 1978. She lost her mother at the age of nine, she had to take care and cook for her older sister and her family while her sister went out to the fields to work. This along with her strong natural character made her the success she is today. She was a housewife who ended up running the Hotel Nafsika kitchen – serving up to 250 meals a night! Obviously, she was not trained for this nor ever in her wildest dreams had she thought she would be doing this.

img_0351 Theodora’s Classic Greek Moussaka[/caption]

Her reputation as a cook is revered by her fellow towns people and beyond to the many tourists that grace Agios Stefanos Beach, but just yesterday, John a guest who has been coming to Agios Stefanos Beach for over 20 years, said to me, “I had forgotten what good food tastes like!” after trying one of Theodora’s dishes.

As this is the first of many recipes that will be posted on this blog, I will relate how Theodora discovered it and how it came to be one of Nafsika’s menu items. Like all things, it’s the journey of discovery that is important in life.

Moussaka is a dish that is normally associated with Greece though its variations are part of national Balkan cuisines and has an Arabic name, in the West it is best known in its Greek form and while most people think that all Greek homes make Moussaka the truth is that it is a dish that was mainly made in Athens due to a man called Nikolaos Tselementes. He was a Greek chef of the early 20th century whose book, Greek Cookery, was the first complete cookbook in Greece. He is considered one of the most influential cookery writers of modern Greece. The modern Greek version of moussaka was probably invented by him in the 1920s. Because of this Athens probably makes the best Moussaka and while today in Greece everyone makes Moussaka. When my mother first started to cook hardly anyone made Moussaka outside Athens and the major cities. In other words it was not a peasant meal but a city dish. My mother was taught by a relative who lived most of her life in Athens and thus Theodora learned to make Moussaka.

Moussaka is a casserole made by layering aubergine(eggplant) with a spiced meat filling then topping it off with a creamy Béchamel sauce that is baked to golden perfection. This aubergine(eggplant) version is the traditional rendition taught to Theodora by her great aunt from Athens, however you can also layer in potatoes, courgette(zucchini), or whatever vegetables you prefer. It’s hearty and filling so you won’t need many side dishes. Sometimes Theodora uses lentils instead of mince meat to make a vegetarian Moussaka!

While it can be time consuming to prepare, I think you will find that once complete it is a very worthwhile endeavor.

Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Ingredients:

3-4 aubergines(eggplants), about 4 lbs. total
1 lb. potatoes
1 1/2 lbs. mince beef (or lamb)
2 large onions, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup(118 ml) red wine
1/4 cup(59 ml) chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup(225 ml) tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
Salt, black and white pepper to taste
2 cups(450 ml) plain breadcrumbs
1 cup(225 ml) grated Kefalotyri (like Parmesan) cheese

Bechamel Sauce:
1 cup(225 ml) salted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup(225 ml) flour
4 cups(900 ml) milk, warmed
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
Pinch of ground nutmeg

Preparation:
Prep the Vegetables:

Using a sharp peeler, partially peel the aubergines(eggplants), leaving strips of peel about 1 inch wide around the aubergine. Slice the aubergine in to 1/2 inch slices. Place the aubergine slices in a colander and salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate so that excess moisture can be drawn out. They will need to sit for at least 15-20 minutes, preferably an hour. The salt also helps to remove some of the bitterness of the aubergine.

Peel the potatoes and slice them in 1/4 inch slices. Fry them until soft and golden. Set aside on dry paper towels as to absorb all the excess oil.

Rinse the aubergine slices and dry with paper towels. Fry the aubergine slices in a deep frier or frying pan, turning them over once during cooking.

When aubergine is finished cooking, place them on dry paper towels as well.

Preheat the oven to 350° F /180° C .

Make the Meat Filling:
In a large sauté pan, brown the ground beef (or lamb) until the pink color disappears. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, (and sugar if tomatoes are not sun ripened). Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. It should be a drier, chunkier, tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Make the Béchamel Sauce:
Melt butter over low heat. Using a whisk, add flour to melted butter whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown.

Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil.

Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens but not too much.

Assemble the Moussaka:
Lightly grease a large deep baking pan (lasagna pan). Sprinkle the bottom of pan with breadcrumbs. Leaving a 1/4 inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of aubergine slices.

Add meat sauce on top of aubergine layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese and sprinkle some nutmeg. Top with another layer of aubergine slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Repeat another layer with the meat sauce, eggplant, grated cheese and the nutmeg. Season each layer with salt and pepper, but not too much salt as the cheese will be slightly salty.

Pour the béchamel sauce over the aubergine and be sure to allow sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in a 350° F /180° C oven for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is a nice golden brown color. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing and serving.

You can make this dish ahead up until the béchamel sauce and refrigerate. Make the béchamel sauce right before you intend to bake it.

Serve with Greek salad and/or bread… and enjoy!