Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Table olives (Ελιές τσακιστές και παστές)

Despite the excess sunshine that we are still experiencing here in Chania, it's time to start picking olives off the trees in our olive grove to put into salt, lemon juice or vinegar to make olives edible as fruit (rather than to be pressed for olive oil). There are two main types of olives grown in Hania: lianes (very small fruit, only used for pressing into oil) and tsounates (used both for table olives and olive oil). Lianes are preferred for their endurance to stay on the tree without dropping off too early due to adverse weather conditions, but they are too small to be turned into table olives. They can be hand-picked or the branches can be "thrashed" by hand or machine tree by tree. Tsounates are not that sturdy; they drop off the trees at the slightest breeze, so nets are placed under the trees at the end of summer to catch them as they drop during the autumn and up to the middle of winter. They can then be gathered for pressing at a convenient time for the owner, but since they were already on the ground for quite a while before they were pressed, they will contain less oil than lianes. By the way, all olives start their life green; they all turn purple black over time.

Black olives are preferred for salting, while green olives are marinated in lemon juice, or salt and water; people choose whatever method suits their time and taste. Black olives are put in vinegar, also known as Kalamata olives, pointing the way to their origins, Kalamata. I have put olives in vinegar before, and they tasted delicious, but it's not common practice in Hania to do this, as the olive varieties grown here are different to those of other regions in Greece. Lemon juice (or bitter orange) and salt are the main preserving agents here. We don't eat olives straight from the trees; they are far too bitter.

The olives need to be large and firm. Pick them straight off the trees, not from the ground, and make sure they are as unblemished as possible. The fallen ones will be full of dackos flies and their eggs. These insects are harmless to humans, but cause great destruction to the trees and fruit. Separate the black olives from the green. Wash the black olives to free them of dust, then dry them well. You don't want any excess moisture when using salt. Place the black olives in a container that can be sealed with a lid, layering them in large-grain sea salt. When the container is filled to the top, close it and leave the olives in a cool dark place for up to a month to wrinkle and darken in the salt. Once you open the container a month later, drain them of the excess liquid that accumulates due to moisture. Take a cup full of olives and wash away the salt. Put them in a small bowl to serve. They can be kept in the fridge or at room teperature; They keep just as well both ways. While you're eating the washed olives, the salted ones will keep just as well in their original container. This method of preserving olives is really fuss-free.

Now for the bothersome green olives. They can be picked any time once they have grown to the size of an acorn nut, and should be firm and bright green. They need to be crushed with a wooden mallet on an easy-to-clean kitchen-top (or plastic bread board - I doubt a wooden one cleans well) before being placed in tap water for two-three days in order to remove most of their bitterness. Try not to smash the olives with the mallet; give them a firm tap so that they will open without the pip coming away. This job is a dirty one; anything the olive juice stains will remain there for life, unless you clean it off with bleach. Your fingers will turn as black as the black olives themselves. I always wear plastic gloves to do this job, as I don't think it would look too good going into an English lesson in the evening looking as if my fingers have developed gangrene. The best place to do this job is in the garden on a clear day when you won't feel the cold. I even keep an old T-shirt to wear just for this job. I have tried slitting the olives with a kinfe instead of crushing them, but they do need more time in the water (up to four days) and the taste is not the same, meaning I liked it, but not so my traditional Cretan husband. He has forbidden my use of this method.

Once you have crushed the olives, place them in a big open bowl of water, once again in a cool dark place for two-four days, depending on the method used to cut them. Change the water as often as you can; this removes the bitterness more quickly. After this period, drain the olives and pack them in glass jars, preferably big ones. You now have to start squeezing lemons for their juice, a tiring process than can leave you with hand-strain injury. The good part is that your hands will become as clean as they were before you started crushing the olives. Place a heaped tablespoon of salt (more if the jar is very large), and pour the unstrained lemon juice over the olives and a few tablespoons of olive oil to seal it, then close the jar with a tight-fitting lid. The olives will be ready in about two-three weeks, depending on the crushing method, their maturity at picking and individual taste.

Generally speaking, Greek dishes calling for olives cooked in meals, whether ripe or unripe, are NOT generally the norm, except treated ripened green ones in a tomato-stewed squid dish, where they are added in the last few minutes of cooking. I can't understand the reasoning why they are added in tomato-seafood dishes, but then puttanesca wouldn't be the same without black olives, would it?

The final method for marinating olives is to clean them by running tap water over them, place them in a clean coca-cola bottle, fill the bottle with tap water and add a tablespoon of sea salt on the top, before closing the bottle securely and leaving them in the bottle, WITHOUT opening it until about Easter time. Keep them in a cool, dark place. My bachelor uncles gave me this recipe. I have tried it in the past, and I prefer them done this way - they have a mature pure olive taste. We did not have enough green olives this time round to preserve them in this way, but I will try to remember to put some aside next year. When opening the bottle in April, beware: open it as slowly as possible, because the olives will have been fermenting all that time, and when you unscrew the cap, they may explode out of the bottle unexpectedly!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

See also:
A day in the field
The rape of the countryside

A summer garden
A winter garden
An autumn garden

Friday, 26 October 2007

Karidopita (Καρυδόπιτα - walnut pie)

Here is a party dessert that you can serve with ice-cream. I made it today because it is St Demetrius' Day, so my husband's celebrating his nameday today. It's a traditional Greek sweet, and it's unusual in that it doesn't contain flour. Walnuts added to a cake are also a firm favorite in Cretan cuisine, since there are so many walnut trees in the area.

You need:
250 g butter or margarine
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups ground walnuts
3 cups dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons of cinammon
1 wineglass of brandy
1 orange, both the juice and the rind
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Mix well the butter or margarine and the egg yolks with the sugar. Add the breadcrumbs and walnuts, along with the cinammon, brandy, baking powder and the grated rind of the orange.
In another bowl, beat till stiff the 6 egg whites, and add them to the batter. If the mixture looks too dry, add the juice of the orange, or the equivalent in milk if you prefer. Turn the batter into an oiled baking tin (or pyrex dish if you want to serve it in the pan it is cooked in) and cook in a moderate oven for 40 minutes.

For the syrup:
While the cake is cooking, boil up 3 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar along with a quarter of a lemon and a cinammon stick, till it becomes thick and syrupy. When the cooked cake comes out of the oven, cut it into squares (but don't lift the pieces out!), and pour the slightly cooled syrup over the cake. It may remind you of a baklava when you serve it, except of course that it isn't a pastry pie! Serve a piece of pie with a scoop of ice-cream; chocolate or vanilla go best.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Apple pie
Chocolate cake
Chocolate pancakes

Apple pie
Fruit crumble

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Lazy Saturday meal (Κοτόπουλο με κάρυ - Λαχανοσαλάτα)

There are many days (plenty of them) when we can't be bothered with food. Today was one of them for me. A cabbage salad with grated carrot and slivers of pointy red peppers was dressed with salt, olive oil and wine vinegar (the common variety used in Greece). This was the accompaniment to some free-range chicken browned in olive oil with chopped onion, minced garlic and some more thinly sliced pointy red peppers, all doused with a bottle of ready made tikka masala sauce poured over it, in which it simmered for an hour - free-range chicken meat is tougher than indoor-reared chicken, so it needs a longer cooking time. Crusty bread is a must for the thick sauce that is produced by the various fats in the pot. We also had a choice of rose and white wine. A very simple, and very satisfying meal.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Summer horta
Winter horta
Lettuce salad
Salad advice
Greek village salad
Cretan salad

Beetroot salad

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Corn and tuna pasta (Μακαρόνια με καλαμπόκι και τόνο)

Here's a favorite lunchbox meal of my children's. I prepare it in the evening and pack it for them to eat at school the next day, but it's so quick and easy that you can even prepare it in the morning so that the children can take it fresh with them. Both the kindergarten and the primary school have refrigerators and a conventional or microwave oven, so I'm not concerned about food going off in their bag before lunchtime.

Open a small tin of tuna, and drain it of the oil or brine. Likewise with a small tin of corn (not the creamed variety). Boil some pasta (enough for two servings) till al dente. When cooked, pour in the tuna and corn. I don't add salt, but that's up to you. Add two full tablespoons of mayonnaise and mix everything together. Voila!

This lunch snack reminds me of the Marks and Spencers sandwiches we ate while on a train journey from Cambridge to London: buttered wholewheat bread triangles filled with corn, cheese and tuna. Yum yum!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Stir-fry noodles
Stir-fry beef
Blue dragon
Octopus stew
Pizza carbonara
Mussels sauce

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Guacomole (Αβοκάντο κρέμα)

Avocados are a relatively new fruit to Greece. The southern Greek climate is perfectly suited for their rapid growth, they are a sturdy plant not prone to serious attacks by pests and disease, and as their market value is high, the avocado has become one of the most popular alternative crops being planted in Crete. When they were first brought out onto the Greek market, the locals basically didn't know what to make of them. They thought of them as a fruit, so they served them after the traditional olive oil-y meal. They weren't sweet enough, so they sprinkled some sugar over them (thereby doubling the caloric value of the crop itself). They were then told to eat them as a salad, so they cut them up in a shallow dish and doused them in olive oil, not taking into account that the avocado itself was naturally endowed with its own lipids. I think that Greeks still view them as a mysterious crop. Avocado lends itself in Greek cuisine as a colourful addition to a tomato or lettuce salad, omitting the copious amounts of oil.
Here is my favorite dip, taking pride of place over traditional Greek dips such as taramosalata and hummus (but not tzatziki - that's a special one when made properly). With a hint of hot spice, it's perfect for chilly winter weather. Maybe it's the green colour; I even had my walls painted light green when I was living all by myself (and had control over whatever happened in my life, and made up my own rules about how I wanted to live). We have guacomole with bean or lentil soup, and dry roast meats. I love it with julienned vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumber) and crisps.
Take one soft but not bruised avocado. The one I used looked like the one in the photo; it was a South African imported variety (I'm still waiting for someone to give me some avocados fromt he village). Peel and stone it, put it into the blender with three cloves of garlic, some salt, a pinch of ground chili pepper, and the juice of a large lemon. Whizz everything together. If the mixture seems a bit gritty, and it isn't blending together, add a tablespoon of tomato juice or olive oil in the blender to smoothen out the lumps.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.


Friday, 12 October 2007

Our autumn garden (Ο φθινοπωρινός κήπος)

Here are a couple of snapshots of our garden at the moment. Notice that the peppers and aubergines have taken a new lease of life from the cooler weather; they are by far the most productive crops in our garden. We have also planted some lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. They need constant watering, and we haven't had any rain since May. God help us through the winter (if there is going to be any).

Artichokes are an unusual vegetable; they are a favorite salad crop in Crete. The artichoke shrub dies down completely at the end of spring, and resurfaces in the beginning of autumn, in the same place where it had last been seen in the garden. The one in the photo is intercropping with a zucchini plant; I captured this shot because it looked so unusual - a summer vegetable and a winter vegetable entwined together harmoniously!

Apart from the artichokes, the rest of the winter garden is not doing so well; even if it is early October, the temperatures are still very high, averaging a maximum of 27-28 degrees Celsius daily. We really do want to see rain; winter crops (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce) are deperate for moisture, but all we can provide them with is dry brown soil.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

See also:
A day in the field
The rape of the countryside

A summer garden
A winter garden
Table olives

Banana cake muffins (Κέικ μπανάνας)

Banana cake is my favorite NZ tea-and-coffee accompaniment. Sadly, we never made it at home; my mother used to bake all the staple Greek sweets that my own family now enjoys in my own home, but she never made true NZ banana cake. She once made a Greek cake, to which she added bananas, but it still tasted like Greek cake, rather than the moist banana bread the Edmonds cookbook recipe turns into. We used to buy some as an occassional treat when we were in town. I remember a day when I was wearing my school uniform (a teal colour; most people would not know what the word 'teal' meant, let alone be able to visualise it as a colour), doing some shopping with my mother in James Smiths, or maybe Farmers, or was it Woolworths? It can't have been anywhere else, because they were my mother's favorite stores; you could find anything you wanted in them. If you wanted to buy someone a wedding gift, you went to James Smiths', if you wanted good quality moderately priced household goods, you went to Farmers, and if you wanted to buy lollies, you went to Woolworths. To get there, we had to pass the Dixon St deli where we used to buy salami and olives once the Italian grocery near our house closed down due to a sharp decline in trade when Wellingtonians began to take delight in visiting the new supermarkets and shopping malls that were sprouting up in the suburbs. We never did indulge in such activities as a trip to New World in Newtown, or Pak'n'Save in Kilbirnie. We lived just above Kent Terrace; we didn't need to go to Newtown or Kilbirnie. We had it all on Courtenay Place and Manners St.

I must have asked her then if we could buy some of the banana cake I was looking at in the window of a cake shop; I don't think it would have been on her shopping list. She bought two huge slices of it - each slice could have been cut into three decent portions. The aroma permeated our shopping bags. It smelt and felt like the cake my schoolmates bought in their lunchboxes. I was so happy when the shop assistant gave her the brown paper bag containing the cake. I couldn't wait to go home and have it with---

Before I had thought about how it would look in our banana-cake-less house, and how we were going to enjoy it as part of our tea, my mother suggested we could eat it by the Cuba St bucket fountain a few metres away from the deli. I hadn't expected this; without thinking, I just said 'OK'. She was treating me to some banana cake, so I felt I must reciprocate by taking her up on her offer. Mother and daughter sat silently, back to back (the outdoor seating was to blame) in the pedestrian zone, our shopping bags beside us, devouring the XL slices of banana cake by ourselves. I had a sudden panic attack, the feeling that I was in the wrong place. Two plump olive-skinned sheilas among a majority of paler faces, eating inappropriately oversized portions of a light dainty sweet,disregarding the ettiquette involved with eating banana cake. As I was sitting there with my mother gorging on my piece, the thought came to me that she never made this cake at home because she didn't know what to do with it. I wanted to tell her that we should have been sitting indoors, not outdoors, having a hot drink, stirring sugar cubes in a cup of tea sitting primly on a saucer, not scoffing it down in the middle of the street. I wanted to tell her that she didn't have to feel a stranger in NZ any longer, that she was a part of the melting pot culture that composed the genetic make-up of the average Kiwi, that there were plenty of other foreigners like her who were happy to be called a Kiwi, and they let their children be Kiwis just like the pale-faced lot. She had been in New Zealand for nearly 20 years at that point. By virtue of her years in the country, she had more claim to being a New Zealander than I did. I was tired of being a stranger in my own country, doing everything differently at home from what I did at shcool. We could make banana cake at home too, and eat it like the other girls did at school.

But we never did. So we sat there silently, not really knowing what to do with it now that we had it, so we did whatever came naturally to us. We were sitting there by chance, partaking in an experience that we did not want to be a part of. I wasn't being a fair dinkum Kiwi; instead I felt like a fraud, masquerading as a local in a Wellington Girls' uniform, hiding my true self. At the same time, I had a sense that I wasn't the good Greek girl I was supposed to be, either, because I was eating a huge piece of cake that I should have shared with the people who were passing by, especially the ones that smiled to us, mainly the Maori. They seemed to understand us better than the pale-faced lot. They looked more like us too with their dark features. Maybe just the lips; theirs were fuller than ours, but the shades of skin, hair and eyes were the same.

When I moved to Greece, the first cookbook that I bought on my first return visit to NZ was the Edmonds cookbook. I bought myself a loaf tin, and made banana cake regularly. I kept it in an old biscuit box with a Victorian scene on the lid. I ate it in small slices. I lived on my own, so I had no one to share it with. I had to eat it by myself. I ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, three slices a day. I may as well have eaten a slice as big as the Dixon St deli's and got it over and done with all at once. When I got married, I made it for my husband. He didn't like it. "Why don't you try making a Greek cake, Maria?" I knew what he'd say next: "Now that you don't live in Greece, you can't expect to cook like a New Zealander, like you did back home." Alas, how could he know that my late mother only cooked Greek food? Now that I was in Greece, I couldn't cook Greek food, because all I wanted to eat was Kiwi food. I had severed my past in so many ways, but I could not sever my taste buds completely from Kiwi kai. I never felt I belonged anywhere.

I was adamant that someone would eat my favorite cake with me. It had to be someone who had no past experience of what constituted Greek food or Kiwi food, someone who couldn't compare one cooking style to another. Finally my banana cake companions came along: my children. And to make sure that they feel at ease about eating banana cake, I muffinise all my cakes now, simply because muffins make decent-sized servings that do not lead to obesity, as well as leaving no crumbs. They also make for easier lunch box packing. Here's the genuine dinkum Kiwi cake recipe of choice from the bible of Kiwi cooking, the New Zealand Edmonds cookbook, altered for my Greek kitchen and supplemented by an extra addition of healthy goodness with locally collected walnuts. The mixture makes 18 medium-sized muffins, something between the giant sized ones you buy from 'health' shops (just think how healthy it is to over-eat), and the mini-sized ones that may be served as hors d'oeuvres (kids would need at least two of those for their morning break).

You need:

a muffin tin lined with paper-cases (or a greased or lined loaf tin)
2 bananas
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
3/4 cup sugar
125g margarine
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon bi-carb soda
200g self-raising flour
2/3 cup finely ground walnuts

In a bowl, blend (or whisk) together the bananas, eggs, vanilla, sugar and margarine. In a cup, mix together the soda with the milk. When it is frothy, pour it into the banana mixture. Mix in the flour to make a batter which isn't runny. Mix in the walnuts and spoon the mixture into the paper cases. If you fill them to the top, they will rise into mini-cakes when cooked; otherwise, fill them 2/3 of the way up, so that they remain as big as the paper case. Cook in a medium-hot oven till the cakes are done (test them with a toothpick). Let them cool before you serve them. To keep them for a week, store them in an air-tight tin. They can also be frozen; they defrost well in a child's schoolbag, so that by break-time, they are ready to eat.

Coincdentally, there is no mention of banana cake in the fifth edition of Edmonds cookbook which came out in 1914, not forgetting that the first edition of the Edmonds cookbook came out in 1907. How on earth d'ja know that, you might be wondering. It is in my possession, among other bits of New Zealand trivia that I could not bear to part with as I've already discussed in my afghan recipe). My edition with the banana cake recipe was published in 1983, but I've seen similar recipes on the internet for banana bread, all using the same ingredients, more or less. When were bananas readily available in New Zealand? The British must have known them since they discovered the Carribean, but when did they become readily avaialble in New Zealand? There's a tricky one for all of us to think about. MissJilly also mentions a nice simple banana cake recipe which could be used alternatively.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Apple pie
Chocolate cake
Simple cake
Carrot cake muffins
Chocolate muffins

Walnut cake
Apple cake

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Carrot cake muffins (Κέικ καρότου)

Muffins are perfect for school box lunches. They take up less space in a condensed area, come in their own packaging and leave no crumbs. I found a recipe for carrot cake on the web and turned it into muffins. I omitted the cinnamon, mainly because it's not a favorite of my family's. I also put the walnuts (we don't use pecans in Crete) in a blender and turned them into crumbs. They don't get stuck in your teeth this way!

For the sake of convenience, here is the carrot cake recipe from joyofbaking:
cup (110 grams) pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 pound (340 grams) raw carrots (about 2 1/2 cups finely grated)
2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons
baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
1 cup (240 ml) safflower or canola oil (but of course you can make this cake with olive oil)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C). Chop the nuts coarsely. Peel and finely grate the carrots. Set aside. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Set aside. In a mixer, beat the eggs until frothy (about 1 minute). Gradually add the sugar and beat until the batter is thick and light colored (about 3 - 4 minutes). Add the oil in a steady stream and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. With a large rubber spatula fold in the grated carrots and chopped nuts. Divide batter between two prepared pans and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

I made the recipe into muffins, which turned out excellent; they had a crispy exterior, while they remained soft and moist on the inside, but I didn't frost them (we don't need the extra calories). My only complaint is that they didn't have a spicy or tangy taste; without the cinnamon, they were rather bland, so the next time I make them, I will add orange or lemon zest to the batter. I highly recommend this recipe. It epitomises health, in that it contains many natural ingredients that we don't usually eat in our daily diet because they need preparation: carrots need paring and grating, the walnuts came from a friend's trees, and I added olive oil (produced from local olive groves). You can improvise on this recipe by adding raisins and crushed pineapple to make the cakes moister and more chewy. You can also freeze the muffins in the same way as banana cake muffins and allow them to defrost in a child's lunchbox; by break-tiume, they'll be ready for eating.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Banana cake
Chocolate cake
Simple cake
Chocolate muffins
Walnut cake
Apple cake

Pizza (Πίτσα χωρίς μαγιά)

Here's a quick 'no yeast' based pizza dough that makes a thin, biscuity base. It's best eaten on the same day, as bread that does not contain yeast tends to dry out (whereas yeast products go mouldy instead). Mix some oil and margarine (about 1/2 cup worth) with an egg and a small tub of Greek yoghurt in a bowl. Add a teaspoon of baking powder and a sprinkling of salt. Then add the flour, enough to make a spreadable dough. Roll the dough out into a pizza or baking tin. I have a pizza tin that has holes in the base to allow the dough to cook better underneath.

For a filling yeast dough, look up my ladenia; it has now become a weekly treat for the whole family, and it is really easy to make. The dough requires very little kneading, it is easy to press out into a baking tin, and you can keep it vegetarian, as it contains a lot of olive oil, and makes a filling snack without the meaty toppings.

Top the pizza with a layer of thinly sliced ham, pepper rings, thinly sliced tomatoes and grated cheese. Cook till the pastry is crispy and brown, and the cheese is melted. Enjoy it once it's cooled down a little, as hot tomato burns!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Pizza with a yeast dough
Pizza carbonara
Chicken pie
Cottage pie
Leek pie
Sfakianes pites
Spiral pie