Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Pikelets (Τηγανίτες Νέας Ζηλανδίας)

I make these often enough, I'm surprised I haven't presented them to you before. 

One late autumn day when I wasn't at work and the weather had turned quite cold, I decided to make some of my favorite soup, leek and potato potage. As only half the family likes it very much, and another quarter likes it only a little bit (while the remaining quarter refuses to even taste it), there had to be another meal available to them, so I cooked up a boureki which I had prepared and frozen from the summer. In that way, there was something for everyone to pick from for lunch, and there would be something leftover for another meal, kind of like a 2-for-the-price-of-1 deal.

In the early evening, just before my husband took my son to basketball practice, he asked me how many souvlakia he should buy after the session, which ended at 9pm.

"None," I called out to him. "I'm making τηγανίτες." I had already prepared the pikelet batter, and would wait until just before my basketballer was due home to cook them. Pikelets are the down-under take on pancakes. They are smaller and thicker than regular pancakes. They make a tasty sweet supper with some tea or milk.

Later in the evening, I made the pikelets and put them in the oven to keep them warm. My daughter could smell their aroma wafting in the air, which worked up her appetite. She told me she was feeling hungry, and asked me to let her have her share of the pikelets a little earlier than the others. I despise it when one of the family members won't hold out for a few more minutes until another family member comes home, so that there will be at least three (not two) of us having a meal at the same time. In our house, with a great amount of conscious effort, we've managed to hold onto one of the last bastions of family life in this day and age, which is why I don't want to break this tradition; in any case, it will automatically break off once the children fly away from the family nest. It's one more way of making me feel unique in the faster-paced modern globalised world we live in.

"Hold on a few more minutes, sweetie," I said to her, "they'll be home very soon."

She went back to watching a DVD, but pretty soon, she dropped off to sleep, which made me feel even more guilty. I had to wake her up (not a nice scene at all). I invited her into the kitchen to have her pikelets, while I warmed up some soup for my own supper, just to keep her company. I brought out the tray with the condiments (jam, honey and Merenda chocolate spread), the plates and the butter knives, and laid the table to have it ready for the others' arrival. As we ate, we waited...

... and waited...

... and waited. I kept looking out the window, hoping to see the car lights come gliding up the hilly road.

"Aren't they supposed to be home by now?" my daughter asked me. "They're probably eating souvlakia, Mum." I had the same idea in my mind about my missing men; great minds think alike. "Will they bring me one too?" she asked me.

"But you've just had your supper!" I reminded her. "Surely there's no more room for anything esle  in there, is there?" I added, something I often say to remind them that eating too much has repercussions.

"If they have one, I want one too," she replied, all in the name of fairness.

We had practically finished our dinner when Dad came home with son, carrying with him the familiar plastic bag with the local souvlaki shop's logo. He must have had a craving for some umami, a feeling I can fully understand, because we all crave junkfood every now and then, especially when we over-eat healthy vegetarian meals too often. While everyone got stuck into their souvlaki, I got up to take away the pikelets and condiments, thinking that they would make a nice breakfast the next day.  

"What are you doing, Mum?" asked my son. he had other ideas for the pikelets. "That's dessert!"

Pikelets are smaller and thicker than pancakes.

"Surely you won't eat everything tonight?" I fired away my habitual question. Without the souvlakia, the pikelets would have formed the main evening meal for that night, together with a cup of warm milk.

"I think I'll manage," he said.

"And I'll eat one more pikelet after my souvlaki, just so I can have dessert, too," said my daughter, who'd already had three before the souvlakia arrived.

Growing children have growing appetites; my saucepans and pots have suddenly grown overnight.

*** *** ***

Pikelets are easy to make. They're unusual in Cretan cuisine, as this kind of sweet is usually syrup drenched and deep fried. The only trick is to ensure that the heat of your pan is at the right temperature to make sure that your pikelets cook right through as they are browned on both sides. I make my pikelets according to a standard recipe, as given, in my old copy of the iconic Edmonds Cookery Book, which is often the average Kiwi's first guide to basic Kiwi meals and food preparation.

You will know that the pikelets are ready to be turned over when you see bubbles forming on the top of the uncooked batter.

You need:
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk (approximately)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
25g melted butter (optional; I always replace this with olive oil)

Pikelets are traditionally topped with jam and cream. But neither are as popular in my house as honey and chocolate spread.

Beat the egg and sugar until thick and add with the milk to the sifted flour, salt and baking powder. Lastly add the melted butter, if using. Mix until smooth. You can let the batter rest at this point and re-mix it when you are ready to cook the pikelets. Cook in spoonfuls on a hot saucepan, turning over once, to brown on both sides.

If there are any left over in the evening, have them for breakfast the next day.

©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 26 November 2010

Chinese (Κινέζικα)

A close friend of ours (a Cretan who's never left the country) told us that he recently went out to a Chinese restaurant in Hania. My family generally likes Chinese restaurant food (let's not mix up the marketed product with what the Chinese cook at home), and we've never been disappointed with a Chinese meal during our travels. What's more, Greek and Chinese cultures, while they seem very divergent in terms of the dishes and cooking techniques, actually share a lot of other parameters involved in the dinner setting: both cultures enjoy their meals in the company of family and friends, they both include all generations in a table setting, they like to see and taste a wide variety of dishes on the table, and all the dishes are shared. This is so unlike the Western tradition of ordering one plate per person, dining mainly with one's partner or a group of people in a similar predicament, and hardly ever in the company of children.

"So what did you like most?" I asked my friend. "Sweet and sour pork? Fried rice? Lemon chicken?"

sticky ribs wong kei london lemon chicken wong kei london
Sticky ribs (left) and lemon chicken (right): Wong Kei, London. Just like Greek restaurant food, Chinese restaurant food can be rather predictable. The dishes I ate in Chinese restaurants in London didn't taste much different from the meals that go by the same name in the Chinese restaurants I remember eating in my hometown, Wellington, New Zealand; even the colour and texture of the sauces looked familiar.

"I didn't like anything," he said. Our friend told us that he couldn't remember the names of the dishes that came to the table, but he'd gone there with his παρέα mainly for the experience and that they'd ordered a lot of dishes, but most of the food remained untouched. On the one hand, I was annoyed to hear about his elitist attitude towards other people's food, especially towards one of the most dispersed cuisines in the world. At the same time, however, I could understand how he felt; most of the locals here know 'their' food so well, that they can't appreciate other people's food.They prefer not just Greek cuisine, but Cretan cuisine.

 condiments wong kei london
 Not only is Chinese food radically different from Greek food, but even the way the table is laid for the diner bears no resemblance between the cuisines: the cutlery (chopsticks instead of knives and forks), the first beverage (tea, not water), the kind of plates (small bowls, as opposed to wide platters) and the condiments (soy and chili sauce as opposed to olive oil and vinegar) all create a shock to the veritable Cretan's system when they first encounter such a setting!

We all have a concept of what constitutes good food; we all know what we really like to eat. Some of us prefer old favorites that we've grown up with, while others state as their favorite choice in food a meal that they may have tried away from the home environment. But many of us go a step beyond that: some people seek out the food of their culture, even if it isn't available where they are. This is especially noticeable in our days among minority communities. Immigrants generally have a tendency to seek out their food wherever they go.

 bottled asian sauces
In the last few years, the range of foreign products available in Hania has grown tremendously, catering mainly for the Northern European 'tourist residents': they came here on holiday, they liked the place, they bought their own property and retired here. They are never referred to as 'migrants', neither in the English (ex-pats) nor the Greek language (ξένοι vs μετανάστες).

In Hania, we can generally find a wide range of different foods from different cultures. A variety of foreign foodstuff is sold at the supermarkets of the town. These are often displayed in a section of the shelves specifically labelled 'international tastes'. They usually consist of packaged food items, eg na'an bread, Chinese noodles, bottled curry paste, etc, and are available in small quantities. Some of those foreign items have gained ground and are sold in larger quantities, eg soy sauce (which is now available by the litre). In its own way, foreign food has also become big business: LIDL (Greece) often advertises an 'ethnic specials' week, where it brings in a range of processed food from different cultures. These items are only available for one week, giving rise to panic shopping habits when a particular cuisine is being advertised, eg a range of 'English' frozen, canned and bottled foodstuff - the British tourist residents of Hania have usually bought all the stock by midday! At the same time, the locals may be buying some of these products too, either to try them out of curiosity or because they want to enjoy them as they did during their travels - in my opinion, it's only a few who do will do this. Such imported items are also - unsurprisingly - the most expensive items sold at supermarkets.

wong kei londonHania definitely lacks a foreign restaurant culture, as is commonly seen in the West. A very small number of Chinese restaurants operate in Hania, but only during the tourist season; once tourists leave the island when the summer season is over, the Chinese restaurants close down, with only two exceptions which remain open the whole year round, serving the odd young παρέα. The cost of a Chinese meal works out to much more than the average cost of a meal out at a local taverna, where the food is less processed, more seasonal and almost always local. What's more, not all the Chinese restaurants in Hania are necessarily owned by Chinese...

There are no South Asian restaurants in the town, and the one Bulgarian restaurant that I had noticed operating two years ago has now closed. Many restaurants serve a range of well-known international dishes, but few specialise in only one cuisine, although this does exist, as with the well-established Bigazza serving Turkish cuisine in the village of Galatas, and a couple of others by the old Venetian harbour, serving Italian cuisine (not to be confused with the image of the popular pizza-pasta menu in the various pizzerias in the town). They are popular among the locals for obvious reasons: both cuisines share similarities with the local one, further proof that Greece is at the crossroads of the East and West. (Right: Looking onto the road in Wong Kei, London, in the middle of London's Chinatown)

wong kei london 
When we travel outside Greece, it's always a bit of a trial finding a place to eat that makes everyone happy. A Chinese meal bears no resemblance to a Greek meal, which creates problems particularly for my son, who could be described as a fussy eater. When the egg pancakes and crispy duck arrived, together with their special sauce and sliced vege condiments, I had to find a way to convince him that this food is similar to what we eat at home: I told him that Chinese restaurants serve roll-your-own souvlaki.
egg pancake crsipy duck wong kei london chinese souvlaki wong kei london

Despite the lack of international cuisine, Hania can be said to be a truly multi-cultural town. Throughout its contemporary history, there has always been a foreign element. The old minaret adjacent to St Nikolaos church is a perfect reminder of the meeting of East and West. Despite the negative connotations surrounding the period when the island was under Turkish rule, Ottoman remnants abound in the town, and so do the Venetian reminders. The most well-known landmarks are the former mosque and the Venetian lighthouse, both located by the harbour.

The lighthouse was restored at one point in the 1800s by the Egyptians, who also spent some time here). Despite the fact that during the population exchange after the 1922 Smyrna crisis, all the Cretan Muslims (Turks) were required to leave the island, many Turkish-speaking Greeks came to take their place. The Jews were rounded up during WW2, to be replaced by the Nazis. Economic migrants have been coming to Hania since Greece entered the EU, and now, if you walk down any street in the town at any time of the day, you can be guaranteed of hearing a wide variety of foreign languages. Skirmishes among racial groups do break out - but they are usually confined within the groups themselves, rather than as racist attacks of the locals against the foreigners. Although Hania has recently had a rise in petty crime (as has happened everywhere in Greece, especially since the economic crisis took hold), it has not resulted in Hania becoming a less safe town than what it was.

A Turkish minaret, built onto one side of St Nicholas' church in Splantzia, whose bell tower can be seen.

The population of the greater area of Hania can be estimated at about 150,000-160,000, the biggest throughout its history. The Balkan countries of Albania, Bulgaria and Romania are heavily represented in Hania, and there is also a significant number of Pontiacs (Greeks from Russia) who are all predominantly Christian. The large Muslim population in Hania is mainly made up of Albanians and Arabs from North Africa, the Middle East and Pakistan. There are also many other ethnic groups living in Hania, but their numbers are small. Hania is also home to the largest proportion of ex-pat EU-15 citizens in the country: of the total number of British ex-pats permanently residing in Greece, nearly two thirds live here, along with a number of German ex-pats (who generally prefer Eastern Crete). Finally, there is a visibly significant Chinese community, characterised as such by their appearance. The ones I've talked to say they are from Shanghai; judging by what they name their shops, they probably they are. A kind of chain migration could be in evidence.

economic migrants hania chania
Left: the local hangout of the immigrants in our town is the taxi rank by Plateia 1866 (the Chinese are never ever seen to congregate in this fashion). Right: migrant's home. Hania relies on immigrant labor in most sectors of the economy. Agriculture, tourism and construction would never have advanced without immigrants' input.

We have plenty of foreigners but we don't have plenty of eateries serving their food. One hypothesis about the lack of international cuisine in Hania could be that foreigners are happy to eat Greek food, but that's highly unlikely from my own experience of immigrant communities abroad. Having said that, it should be pointed out that the Balkan, Pontiac and Arab ex-pats share a similar cuisine to our own. At the same time, these migrants are rarely seen eating in the local tavernas. Apart from the 'foreign food' aspect, this is also most likely due to economic reasons. For religious reasons, Muslim migrants will probably not be eating out, either: the most popular fast food in Greece, souvlaki, is made from pork (although chicken is also offered these days at all souvlatzidika as an alternative to pork), which is also the most popular meat, judging from the quantities of meat displayed for sale on Fridays and Saturdays (when most people do their shopping) at the supermarket meat counters (where most people buy their food from these days).

the local super the multinational super
 Pork is always over-represented at the supermarket, except during the Easter period (when lamb is more popular).

Greek slaughter practices do not follow the halal code, so devout Muslims must be buying their meat elsewhere, maybe from one of the few stores operated by immigrants which have sprouted up around the town selling home-food products for those 'ex-pats' (Greeks rarely buy from these places). The Northern European 'tourist residents' are probably well looked after in culinary terms by the multi-national supermarket chains (LIDL, Carrefour and AB Vassilopoulos) which all stock imported produce that most Northern Europeans will be familiar with, such as peanut butter, Betty Crocker pancake mixes, Dutch-grown (or Dutch-distributed) fruits and vegetables, Perrier water, bottled raspberries, imported cranberries, foreign cheeses like brie, camembert and gorgonzola, frozen fish and chips and roast beef dinners (seriously!), among many others. The reputation of British cuisine may be blighted by the gastronomes, but it seems that the British do seek their own food too, as they are the ones who are most likely to use mail order services to procure food items, or to pick up supplies from 'home' when they visit, which is likely to be on a more frequent basis than other minority cultures represented in the area (this happens for economic reasons: Northern Europeans are often retired citizens receiving a pension, while all the others are economic migrants working in Greece, who are more likely to use slower transport methods rather than flights to return home for a visit).

chinese shop hania chania
Left: I've spoken to this woman in the past; I was surprised to see her one year later, wearing the same clothes, doing the same job, and still living in Hania. The woman peddling goods told me she was from Shanghai. Right: The red lanterns hanging above the shop immediately denote what one will find here. This κινέζικο is very small compared to other κινέζικα, because it is located in the centre of town, where business premises are smaller and rental space is at a premium.

That leaves the Chinese minority, whose cuisine is radically different from the local one. Chinese restaurants often abound in areas where Chinese immigrants congregate. Most Chinese migrants start off their working life in a foreign country in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. Why isn't this happening in Hania, too? Our friend's opinion (see top of post) is not a unique one; locals here are not very adventurous food-wise. International cuisine of this type is highly unlikely to gain ground in Hania, especially during an economic crisis, despite the high number of locals travelling these days. They are likely to have encountered Chinese restaurants in their travels, but it's highly unlikely that they would have been impressed enough by it to desire it when they returned home. I believe that international cuisine in Hania will never win over local food. Even if it did gain some ground, it would probably be too expensive, quite the opposite situation in the West, where Chinese restaurants are often the cheapest places to eat. International cuisine is still seen as 'foreign food' here, 'not for us'. Some of us simply do not take so easily to the idea of eating other people's food. Greek people can be said to be a bit like this. But so can the Chinese.

So what are the Chinese doing here in Hania? And what are they eating?

 *** *** ***
It's difficult to say whether the Chinese immigrants actually form a community, as they seem to operate on an individual basis around the town. But everyone knows where to find the Chinese in Hania. Distinctive red lanterns above a shop window appear well before the business is even ready to start operating. The Chinese own clothes shops, which all sell cheap polyester-mix clothes. Chinese clothes shops (collectively referred to all over Greece as 'τα κινέζικα') never have the appearance of a boutique. The premises they occupy are hardly ever small; almost all remind me of a miniature version of Primark in London. There are many Chinese clothes shops all over the town (as there are in most Greek towns), especially outside the centre of the town, where more spacious premises are available. Some seem to be busy, others not so. This is why the Chinese immigrants in Crete don't seem to work as a community. Chinese clothes shops open up near each other, as if they are in competition with one another.

shanghai shopping shanghai shopping
Gaudy, cheap and nasty - but people are easily enticed to enter these large clothes outlets: men, women and children are all catered for with a selection as wide (but not as expensive as) Marks and Spencers. The κινέζικα are all decorated by the owners themselves - their posters come straight from China by the looks of things; wherever there are red lanterns hanging over the door, there are Chinese. 

When they first started sprouting, Chinese clothes shops were very popular, because they sold very cheap clothes; no one wants to miss out on a bargain. People's attitudes have changed towards them over time, mainly as a response to the 'Made in China' quality. Most of the time, the clothes smell of polyester fibre, even though the labels sewn on them state '100% cotton' (they also state that they are 'Made in Italy', while the supermarkets ostentatiously sell the 'Made in China' label). The clothes always seem to make you sweat; that's when the smell really comes out. This wouldn't be a big problem in colder climates; in the Mediterranean climate of Crete, this kind of clothing is wholly inappropriate. The wide variety of colours that each clothing item is sold in makes up for the shapeless styles. There seems to be a wide size range: anything from XS to XXXL - but even XXXL is often too small for me, even though I can snugly fit into a size 14 pair of jeans at Marks and Spencers. Our summer tourists like shopping for clothes at these 'emporiums, probably because they're cheap. Put it this way: you get what you pay for. 

To the average visitor, the gaudy Chinese shops are often an incongruous sight in the Cretan landscape, but most locals will have gotten used to them by now. They don't seem to care if they are there or not, even if the Greek spelling on the signs of their shop windows is correct or not. They are literally everywhere. They don't impress me now; I'm used to their garish displays. But the κινέζικο that I pass every day to and from work bids me to enter for a reason other than the goods it sells. It's found in the dingy suburb of Koumbes, on the Western outskirts of the town, at the messy junction linking the road leading to the ferry port of Souda Bay with the town centre.

The landmark junction in Koumbes includes a former mosque, which has been used for many years now as a ψησταριά - it sells some of the best rotisserie chicken in Hania - and a hairdresser's. Note the narrow roads lacking footpaths straight ahead of the traffic lights. The κινέζικο growing the Chinese vegetables in directly to the right of the blue car.

Koumbes is home to the police headquarters and it shelters a high school complex which still operates in the archaic Greek fashion of having two separate school rolls sharing one school building, with a morning shift (8.00am-1.30pm) of students and an afternoon (2.00pm-7.30pm) shift (as one group leaves, another arrives, and the groups alternate weekly as to who attends each shift). This system has been in use for a long time in Greece, the excuse for it being that there are not enough school buildings to accommodate all the students of an area, hence the school premises are used 'twice' in one day. Koumbes is a densely populated working-class suburb, with rows of functional-looking low apartment blocks and some single- and double-story houses, some of the first to be built in the area, standing awkwardly side-by-side. The landmark feature of Koumbes is the wide busy junction known as the φανάρια του Κουμπέ ("the Koumbe traffic lights"). The roads suddenly become narrower here, just when you least expect this, and the footpaths seem to disappear, even though the traffic is roaring left, right and centre.

3/4 high school koumbe hania chania
Schools in Greece are named after the region they are located in; if there is more than one school in the region, they are then assigned numbers. The 3rd and 4th junior high schools of Hania are located in the same premises.

The premises of the Chinese shop once housed an established καφενείο, which eventually closed down after the owner retired. Since then, it became another kafeneio, a billiards club and another taverna (twice), all of which went out of business in less than a few months. It was then snapped up by a Κινέζο, who turned into a κινέζικο. The premises stand on the corner of the road, lined with decorative brick-built raised flower beds. Every day as I pass by to and from work, I marvel at the dark green foliage sprouting from the flower beds which looks very uniform and weed-free. I couldn't recognise the plants in it, either - I had never seen these plants growing anywhere before. They slowly started to take shape: bok choy and kale (I think) are now seen for the first time in Hania!

kale? bok choy?
Chinese vegetables in the flower beds: kai choi (left0 and bok choi (right). I wasn't the only one observing them; a couple of Greek women, customers of the κινέζικο, came out of the shop and did the same thing, touching the leaves, bending down to smell them, and asking each other what kind of horta these could be. The owner of the shop was very reticent about sharing information - "δεν έχετε εδώ", "όχι ελληνικά", "πάρουμε από Κίνα", plus a few hand movements showing me how she cooked them (I think she was mimicking the movements made above a wok). Pictured below is the busy junction where the leafy vegetables were growing.
bok choy?

Now I know where the Chinese get their food in Crete: They must be growing some of it themselves wherever possible. This reminds me of how my parents and other Greek immigrants used to sneak back seed packets of vlita, radiki and local varieties of pepper in their suitcases after a trip to the homeland. Just like them, the Κινέζο misses his home food; the Cretan climate, while not the most appropriate for Chinese clothing, is perfect for growing Chinese vegetables. I commend his idea of growing vegetables in the flower beds; it's more sustainable to grow something edible than something pretty just to look at. Flowers are very attractive, but they often get neglected in business premises. But whether you have a business or not, you have to eat, and if you want to eat your food, you've got to make the effort!

Special thanks to Stella, who is celebrating her nameday today, for helping me with the Chinese names of the vegetables.

©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.

Monday 22 November 2010

Leek and onion pie (Πρασοκρεμμυδόπιτα)

I love all allium plants (onions, garlic and leeks). Onions and garlic are never missing from my kitchen. When the leek season begins in early autumn, they are never missing from my kitchen, either. I also once question the use of half an onion (or half a clove of garlic, or half a leek) in a recipe. Why half? What would happen if a whole one was used? Would the recipe be ruined?! There is no such thing as half an allium in my cooking style.

leeks from zakinthos and white eggplants
Supermarkets in Crete sell anything and everything these days: Zakinthian onions and Santorini eggplants.

When I go shopping, if I find a novel fruit or vegetable (ie a plant that is not grown in Crete) at the supermarket, I always buy one item to take home and show my keen gardener husband. On my most recent visit, I saw some giant onions (seriously, they were huge), which I thought were made just for me in the size I prefer for a meal! The label accompanying them named them Zakinthian onions. Through my Zakinthian friend Kiki, I discovered that these onions are called belousiotika (Μπελουσιώτικα) onions, because they are grown in a village called Μπελουσι (Belousi) in Zakinthos. Not only are they huge, they are also sweet. You won't cry when chopping these onions - they seem to lack the stinging-eye effect that we often feel when we are peeling onions. They also have thick flesh, unlike their regular counterparts.

leek and onion pie
My best food is my creative food: just by looking at what I have available, I can whip something up that I have never cooked before. When the ingredients are good quality, the dish usually comes out very tasty.

Apparently these Belousiotika onions are often used in salads, but I thought their sweet taste would go well in a spectacular vegetable-based pie. Just by looking into my fridge and pantry, I decided to use them together with some leeks; the combination turned out into a perfect πίτα. 

You need:
1 belousiotiko onion (or 3 regular onions, to make up the bulk)
3 thick leeks (or 5-6 skinny ones, which are locally grown in Crete during the autumn)
a few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper
200g single low-fat cream (even though I hardly ever use this much in my cooking, I always store some long-life cream in the fridge, for those 'just-in-case' days; it was perfect for today's recipe)
2 eggs
100g grated parmesan cheese
some pastry of your choice (I made my own, using the classic Cretan recipe: some water, a little bit of olive oil, a dash of salt and some all-purpose flour; you could also use frozen pastry)

leek and onion pie filling
For an idea of size, the Belousiotiko onion covers more than the elemnet below it, while it seems to be as tall as a half a leek!

Chop the onion(s) into thin slivers. Clear the leeks of debris (they often contain soil among their layers) and chop them into small chunks (I always use the green tops in whatever I cook with leeks). Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil (I use a bit more than that, being Cretan!) and saute the onions and leeks until they become wilted, transparent and soft. Add salt and pepper to season. Beat the eggs and cream together, and pour in the leek and onion mixture.

Roll out your pastry and fit it into an 8-inch round flan tin (or ceramic pie dish). The pastry (whichever type you choose to use) must be baked blind, because the pie filling is very liquidy and will not help the pastry set quickly enough. Cook the pastry for 15 minutes in a hot oven. Then take the tin out of the oven and pour in the filling. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the grated cheese. Place the pie back in the oven, and let it cook in a moderate oven (180C) until the pie turns a golden brown colour on the top. To check if the pie is done, shake the tin a little: if it is set, the top will be firm like a custard. When you cut into it (I always do with pies like this), the pastry at the bottom of the pie will feel firm and the knife won't come out looking 'wet' but 'oily' instead.

leek and onion pie

This makes a very filling pie. It goes well on its own, with a glass of white wine.

©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 19 November 2010

Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Πολιτιστική Κληρονομιά)

The Mediterranean diet has been safeguarded!

The recently convened (15-19 November) UNESCO INTERGOVERNMENTAL COMMITTEE FOR THE SAFEGUARDING OF THE INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGE made the following decisions at the Fifth session, in Nairobi, Kenya:

The Committee
1. Takes note that Spain, Greece, Italy and Morocco have nominated the Mediterranean diet for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, described as follows:
The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time and space, consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, and many condiments and spices, all accompanied by wine or infusions, always respecting beliefs of each community. However, the Mediterranean diet (from the Greek diaita, or way of life) encompasses more than just food. It promotes social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events. It has given rise to a considerable body of knowledge, songs, maxims, tales and legends. The system is rooted in respect for the territory and biodiversity, and ensures the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming in the Mediterranean communities which Soria in Spain, Koroni in Greece, Cilento in Italy and Chefchaouen in Morocco are examples. Women play a particularly vital role in the transmission of expertise, as well as knowledge of rituals, traditional gestures and celebrations, and the safeguarding of techniques.
2. Decides that, from the information provided in nomination file No. 00394, the Mediterranean diet satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List, as follows:
R.1: The Mediterranean diet is a set of traditional practices, knowledge and skills passed on from generation to generation and providing a sense of belonging and continuity to the concerned communities;
R.2: Its inscription on the Representative List could give broader visibility to the diversity of intangible cultural heritage and foster intercultural dialogue at regional and international levels;
R.3: The nomination describes a series of safeguarding efforts undertaken in each country, together with a plan for transnational measures aimed at ensuring transmission to younger generations and promoting awareness of the Mediterranean diet;
R.4: The nomination is the result of close cooperation of official entities in the four States, supported by the active participation of communities, and it includes evidence of the latters’ free, prior and informed consent;
R.5: The Mediterranean diet has been included in inventories of intangible cultural heritage in the four States concerned and will be included in a transnational inventory of the Mediterranean that is underway.
3. Inscribes the Mediterranean diet on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The same committee also included the gastronomic meal of the French on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

"The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties."

Apart from the words in bold in the above text (which differ in terms of the order and range of dishes served in each culture), it should be noted that it isn't ONLY the FRENCH gastronomic meal that encompasses these ideas. Why UNESCO couldn't automatically say at the same convention that all world cuisines are an intangilble heritage of humanity is a mystery. All well-known cuisines in the world encompass the same ideas, not forgetting the fact that all those well-known cuisines have probably influenced one another in some way. To claim otherwise is simply elitist prattle. 

In any case, I was pleased to know that not all the French think in the same way as UNESCO...

©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.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Bread! Education! Freedom! (Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!)

Teacher: Τι είναι η ελευθερία, η δημοκρατία και η δικτατορία?
Pupil: Η Ελευθερία ειναι η καλύτερη μου φίλη, η Δημοκρατία είναι η μαμά του Γιώργου και τη δικτατορία δε τη ξέρω γιατί δεν είναι στο τηλεφωνικό κατάλογο.

It was when I first started working in Greece, that I learnt about Greece's most recent struggle to restore democracy in the country. This took place on 17 November, 1973. It felt strange to discover this, after all those years of after-hours Greek school education in New Zealand; why hadn't I heard about this event before? In contrast to my ignorance over this event, I knew about the 25th of March and the 28th of October well enough, because the Greek school teachers went to great pains to explain the significance of these two dates to the New Zealand-born-children of the Greek immigrants.

Song title: Our Great Circus, sung Τζένη Καρέζη and Νίκος Ξυλούρης, of Cretan origin, which explains the dialectal twang in his accent as he sings; the first verse follows:
Μεγάλα νέα φέρνω από 'κει πάνω - I bring important news from up there
περίμενε μια στάλα ν' ανασάνω - give me a moment to catch my breath
και να σκεφτώ αν πρέπει να γελάσω - and l
et me think if I should laugh
να κλάψω, να φωνάξω, ή να σωπάσω - or cry, or shout or maybe just keep my mouth shut

For some idea of the scale of the uprising on the 17th of November, its youngest victim would have been younger than myself, were that five-year-old boy still alive today. This is probably the reason why I never learnt about this event in Greek history: the Greek school teachers in New Zealand were mainly immigrant Greeks who had been living in New Zealand for at least a decade before this event occurred, as recently as 1973. These teachers taught us what they knew, and this was one thing they didn't know about since they weren't there when it happened. Telephone calls and news from the home country did not come as frequently or as easily as they do now. Since the event of the 17th of November isn't associated with religion in any way, it was never mentioned in the Greek Orthodox church services, either.

"Αδέλφια μας, στρατιώτες!" the student pleads with the soldiers, calling them 'brothers', "πως είναι δυνατόν!" (how can you do this to us?) - an excerpt of what was being broadcast by the radio station in Athens Polytechnic the moment tanks broke down the gates and entered the campus where the students were demonstrating against the dictatorship by staging a sit-in (video found in

I was asking my boss about what coursework I should present to my students the next day, when he told me that it was the 17th of November, and there would be no school. Before I said 'Yippee!', I asked him what the holiday was commemorating. I had already calculated all the public holidays in the school year, and this one didn't figure. To cut a long story short, the 17th of November was a holiday only for education-related services (ie schools, frontistiria, the Ministry of Education employees); all other businesses would be open. That was when I said 'Yippee!' 

"I can take myself on a little shopping trip in downtown Athens," I said, delighted with the thought that I would be having a day off from work. "I haven't been to Ermou St in a long time."

"Don't even think of it," my boss replied.


"Because," he started, matter-of-factly, "it's a protest day, and there'll be marchers blocking most of the roads, they'll be setting fire to rubbish bins and walking from Sintagma (close to Ermou St) to the American Embassy where the protest will end, and on their way, they'll smash up cars or damage public buildings, and most shops in the centre won't open out of fear that they'll be looted, because there's only so much the police can do at such moments, so the shopkeepers will just keep their metal rollers down so that their properties don't suffer too much damage, and anyway, you won't even be able to get to the centre because the bus routes will be diverted, and even if you do manage to get into the town, you won't be able to avoid the protesters, and you might not be able to find a bus to take you back home."

I couldn't believe what he was telling me; it sounded to me like a plot from a 1960s American movie about the Vietnam War. I decided to take my boss' advice. I stayed home and watched the TV news that day, which showed exactly what my boss had warned me about: Greek demonstrations are that predictable (or at least they were two decades ago; things began to change after the events of the 5th of May, 2010).

The uprising of the Polytechnic (as the event is known in Greece) paved the way for the fall of the military rule that had been governing Greece since 1967. The dictatorship period in Greece (1967-1974) was responsible for the 'uglification' of Athens, tearing down old historic buildings (instead of renovating them) and replacing them with modern uniform concrete boxes, a design that was used to rebuild much of Greece. This explains why most mainland towns in Greece have a similar look to them - their schools, their town halls, their hospitals all look the same, and if you were thrown into one of those towns, you would only be able to work out where you were by the name of the town on the street signs. The junta tried to impose a level of uniformity in the life of the Greek people that, to date, was unprecedented: curfews, bans on people meeting on the street in groups of more than two and the denial of the right to the freedom of speech (anything said against the dictatorship was prohibited and punishable by imprisonment). These were all ways to force the Greek people to deny to themselves what they had been fighting for since the time of Ottoman rule: the right to freedom, the right to rule themselves. (Left: the emblem of the junta; this picture appeared as a stamp in all the state-issued Greek school books that I used in NZ - I still have some of them - but it was never explained in the lessons).

Society adapted to this regime by being obedient and saying little. Few people outside Greece realised what was happening because, despite the austerity of the dictatorship, the Greek film industry (a reflection of Greece to the outside world) was allowed to flourish. Some of the best Greek comedy movies were produced during this time; these films are still being shown on Greek television even now, and, melodrama aside, they produce the same laughs now as they did when they were first screened. Tourism also grew respectfully during the military regime, especially from the UK and Germany. It is hard to believe that one of the most productive periods in Greek history is associated with a governing regime so despised, that many of those involved in it were imprisoned after its downfall (the last person alive that was still in prison died in August of this year). 

I asked my husband (he was 17 when this happened and living in Hania) how he remembered that period:
"We had very little information about what had happened in Athens on that day. Not many people owned their own telephone - there was usually one that was shared among a neighbourhood - and the papers never mentioned the event because everything was censored. The news reports on the two or three state-owned radio stations didn't mention the events. Not many people owned televisions then either, but in any case, neither the TV or the radio had all-day programmes. They closed down at certain hours. Pirate radio stations existed, but few people were willing to listen to them out of fear of being accused of conspiracy.

My family didn't understand the severity of the situation until we had to travel to Athens at some point after the event. My father had to have some medical tests conducted at a hospital, and we were staying at a hotel in the centre. At one point, he was at the hospital while my mother and I were at the hotel. We wanted to go and visit him, so we left the hotel. As we were walking along the road, we noticed a lot of people congregating on one of the streets. I was curious. I had never seen a demonstration before. This sort of thing didn't happen in Hania. I took a turn into the street where the people were marching, just to watch them. My mother was understandably afraid. All of a sudden, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. A policeman stopped me going down the street, and pulled me over. If it weren't for my mother, I'd have been arrested for disrupting the peace. We left the area and went to the hospital, and never talked about the event until a long long time had passed; people lived with fear then."
Like all unsustainable regimes, the junta began losing favour with the public, who were demanding "Κάτω η χούντα!" (Down with the junta). The uprising of the Athens Polytechnic was the beginning of the end, which came in 1974, after the mismanaged invasion by Turkey of the island of Cyprus. Freedom laws were then invented: educational establishments, with particular emphasis on the universities, were declared 'police-free zones'; little did people know that their wish for the freedom to express themselves would give way to laws that incited anarchy: nearly 40 years after the 17th of November, the police have absolutely no right to enter state-run universities, letting them become a safe haven for criminals, terrorists and drug dealers.

*** *** ***

One of the most significant slogans to come out of the uprising of the Polytechnic in 1973 is the following well-known rhyming chant, still used in modern times, especially in communist propaganda:

Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!
 (psoMI! peTHIa! eleftheRIa!)
Bread! Education! Freedom!

(Marianna Tziantzi writes: "The slogan "Ψωμί! Παιδεία! Ελευθερία!" shows remarkable durability over time, comfortably passing from the last century to the present, still alive in the collective memory, something which is not due to its rhyme and meaning, but to the acts that it imposed on in the mythology it upholds.

In an attempt to explain the slogan,
Mariana goes on to say (as do other writers) that work (εργασία) binds the three elements of the slogan:

"The bread is not just the daily bread, but it identifies with a standard of living that evolves historically and in relation to other societies and generations. Today education is a reflection of both the thirst for knowledge and the longing for relief from the burden of private spending on education, which often shakes up the budget not only of the poor but also of the relatively affluent families. Today, work is the thread that connects, secretly and openly, the three components of the historic slogan of the Polytechnic uprising: work which is becoming more precarious, more temporary, more underpaid and more illusory, work which is not accompanied by the rights that were obvious to previous generations."

Hence, a decent standard of living and an educational system available to all pave the way for freedom; when 'education' has no 'bread', then 'freedom' becomes a reality show. And these days, that 'bread' is getting harder to secure, at the cost of both the other two elements of the slogan, as the cartoon on the right depicts. The most recent deaths from Greek demonstrations against the ruling authorities prove this: three well-educated young Greeks died while they were earning their daily bread in a fire that ensued from the pre-meditated razing of a building, a serious compromise to their freedom:

Και ποιος πληρώνει πάλι τα σπασμένα - And who pays for the damage again
και πώς να ξαναρχίσω πάλι απ' την αρχή - and how do I start over again from scratch
κι ας ήξερα τουλάχιστον γιατί... - I wish I knew why at least...
Λαέ, μη σφίξεις άλλο το ζωνάρι - People, don't tighten your belts any more
μην έχεις πια την πείνα για καμάρι - don't take pride in your hunger
Οι αγώνες που' χεις κάνει δεν 'φελάνε - The battles you have fought are of no use
το αίμα το χυμένο αν δεν ξοφλάνε - if they don't pay off the blood that has been spilt.
(Verse from Our Great Circus)

*** *** ***

The use of the word 'bread' in the slogan is metaphorical, but the cost of bread is real. Here's a breakdown of the cost (in euro) of Greece's daily bread in its literal sense:

the daily loaf1 (700g) fresh loaf of unsliced sourdough bread 1.62
(we need a loaf approx. every 1-2 days in my family)
1 fresh wholemeal baguette 0.92 (this will make three decent-sized sandwich rolls)
1 (130g) fresh wholemeal bun 0.40 (this is the size of a hearty burger bun)
paximadi400g dry rusk bread (paximathi) 2.53 
(this yields two large plates of dakos, ie serves 3-4 twice)
500g sliced wholemeal 'toast' bread 0.92
(this is mass-produced, machine-packed and long-lasting; it's often sold on special, unlike bakery bread)

linseed friganies100g friganies (dry bread slices) 1.12     
(this is often used as breakfast food - the slices look like toast bread in miniature, and are often spread with butter/margarine and jam)          

If you really want to make your own bread, you'll find that it costs almost the same price to make it as it would to buy a loaf of freshly baked bread from the bakery:
1 3-pk bread flour (1kg each) 0.80 (approximately - depending on the brand)
1 3-pk dried yeast sachets (7g each) 0.85
1kg wholemeal flour mix  2.03 
(this mix yields two small loaves of bread, or one big one)

plakopoulos bakery

The best bread I've had in Hania comes from Plakopoulos Bakery, near the Courts (Δικαστήρια). The baguettes are hand-crafted every morning by various family members. It costs slightly more than the prices stated above - but look at the quality (the large loaf was sliced on request). Those people who live/work in the area are very lucky; I too wish I had a good enough excuse to drive there every day for my daily bread needs.

©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 November 2010

Lettuce salad (Μαρουλοσαλάτα)

When I first landed a job in Athens nearly two decades ago, the first thing I realised I had to do was set myself up to live independently. Up until that moment, I had been living at home or with relatives. I had saved up my New Zealand earnings to take a European holiday, but after starting work, I had the instinct to know that I shouldn't be using my savings any more. Leaving some money aside to tide me through to my first salary payment, I put whatever I had left into a bank account and pretended that it didn't exist. I would now have to get used to spending only from my new salary; if I needed more money than what I was earning, I could then safely say that living and working in Greece wasn't going to work out for me, and I would return home to New Zealand (which we all know never happened).

egaleo city athens
My first job: proofreading English-language coursebooks during the day and teaching English in the evenings. The owner of this school also ran a successful publishing house. This is the time in my life that stays in my mind and helped shape my personality after I left New Zealand. (The photo was taken on a Sunday, the rubbish reflects the densely populated suburb, and the fact that rubbish collection is often inadequate in Athens.)

Although the average Greek starting salary at the time was 75,000 drachmas (approximately 220 euro), my own one was 180,000 drachmas (approximately 530 euro). Private teaching has always paid well, although in recent times, the private teachers' wages haven't quite caught up with public sector jobs, which progressed mainly on borrowed money (teachers' salaries have now been reduced, just like all state employees' salaries). Given my qualifications, I was always given the older/advanced students, which meant a higher hourly wage. I figured that if I was making so much more money than the average person, I should have enough to rent an apartment, pay for my everyday living expenses and put some money aside.

I didn't count on the cost of renting an apartment in Athens, which has never been cheap. In those days, a small apartment of the type called 'garsoniera' (one room plus bathroom and kitchen) would have cost me at least 40,000-50,000; at the time, my sister was renting a 'thiari' (two rooms plus bathroom and kitchen) which was costing her 75,000. These prices were only found in areas considered lower-class neighbourhoods; higher-class areas demanded much higher prices. When I phoned about an apartment in Ilissia, for example, I was quoted 75,000 for a garsoniera. To rent an apartment in Greece, you had (and still have) to fork out at least half a basic salary to pay for rent (utility bills not included), and then live off the remaining salary - there clearly is no room for putting much money aside. On top of that, apartments in Greece generally come with not a scrap of furniture, not even a curtain or a stove unit. This is why few people actually rented on their own in those days (and they still don't these days, either), preferring instead to stay on at home if this is possible, or find a flat-share situation if the situation allows. 

My first rented apartment: my landlord was a fanatic gardener. The green balcony deceives the viewer - the apartment was located in a large building, on a very central junction very close to the centre of Athens. All the buildings were so tall that you couldn't see any of the hills surrounding Athens, neither from the apartment nor from street level, unless you went to the top floor to hang out your washing. 

I finally found a fully-furnished shared flat with a monthly rental fee that I felt I could afford: for 35,000 drachmas per month (not including electricity charges), I would live in a furnished garsoniera (complete with TV!), but my duties included sole responsibility for cleaning the landlord's kitchen and balconies (she had knocked down the wall dividing her apartment from my one), and putting up with her miniature pincher doberman shitting in my room every now and then. I still think of it as a small sacrifice to make for cheap rent and a cozy apartment. 

garden lettucecleaned garden lettuce
Cos lettuce, straight from the garden, is not an appealing sight. You need to wash all the soil away, remove deocmposed leaves, and clean it really well. All your efforts will be rewarded with crips tasty salad. These days, a head of Cos lettuce is very cheap, at 39 euro-cents a piece. For a long time, this was the stardard lettuce available in Crete.
red lettuce
My uncles grew only Cos lettuce on their farm for many years, but now they are growing all sorts of leafy salads, like this curly red variety.

For work purposes, I also had to clear up my residence status in Greece. It was important that I did so very quickly, so that my Greek medical insurance (the infamous IKA) could kick in. I had come on a New Zealand passport and needed to either get a Greek passport, or a Greek identification card issued to me. To get a Greek passport, I needed an ID card, so I had to start off with the latter. This could only be issued in Hania, where my birth had been registered by my father. I needed to travel down to the island (these days, this kind of paperwork can be done at a distance with less hassle). During the coldest month in Greece (February), I travelled to Hania by ferry boat, sleeping in one of the third-class beds (which don't exist these days). If I didn't manage to snap one up, I'd have to sleep on the floor; my experienced ferry-travelling relatives told me to simply take a sheet to wrap myself up in, so as not to sleep on a dirty bed or soiled trodden floor, but I shouldn't worry about the cold, because the indoor areas of the ship were always air-conditioned.

All the expenses involved in my setting up an apartment and unscheduled travelling were adding up in my head. I had received an advance on my salary, but already, I was taking days off work, I had major  expenses, and I didn't have any idea how much I would have to set aside for the electricity bill. It suddenly became more important to me than eating. I started to plan for how I would economise: I would not eat out, I would not go out for entertainment, I would not take taxis; I would allow myself an English-language newspaper once a week, I would have a coffee with friends only once a week, I would call my parents only once a fortnight and write letters to them every week. 

While I was doing this, I was surrounded by people who did not choose to live so frugally. Eating out was de rigeur most nights among some of my colleagues (all Greek girls from abroad), which would often be preceded by a visit to a cafe and/or followed by a bar club. They were living life to the full; it was unthinkable for them to spend Friday and Saturday nights at home watching television. They had no idea when the buses ran, they only used taxis. They rented more expensive apartments than I did, but they never spent much time in them. As I watched them living life as if there were no tomorrow (which always came with hangovers, headaches, lie-ins, and late starts in the day for them), I often wondered how they could afford to live like this. I knew what they were making, as we were all on similar salaries. They often did a lot of private language lessons, and were well paid, but such overpriced work (which often commands unreasonably high hourly charge rates that are set randomly at the discretion of the teacher) is temporary and insecure. Students (or their parents) run out of money, cancelling lessons without notice, and the teacher is left without work all of a sudden; in essence, their expensive lifestyle was unsustainable and it had an unknown expiry date that often came when it was least expected.

aithrion cassandra halkidiki avocat crevettes 
Right around the world, chefs use lettuce as a background decoration on the plate. 
ministry of food cafe iwm london
These plates have been photographed from my travels in Thessaloniki, Paris, London and Crete.
raita and green salad lahore kebab house DSC01564

Even with their higher-than-average salaries, they still managed to run out of money every now and then, and they'd ask me to lend them some. My upfront refusals made them think of me as 'not a good sport', a 'stingy person', 'a tight-arse'. "If you needed any money, Maria," they said snivelling with a guilt-ridden complex, "you know I'd lend you some". Yes, they would, if they ever had any remaining on them. I don't know where these people are now, or what they are doing, as I have lost contact with my Athenian ex-colleagues, but I see similar examples of them in the more recent arrivals of younger women in Hania (always women - there is a special reason for that which I might go into in another post). Most of them find that, eventually, they can't keep up with their expenses and blame it all on the low Greek salaries and high living expenses. The present global (not just the Greek) economic crisis could easily have been predicted by watching the spending habits of my colleagues; they were all Greeks who had been born and educated abroad, all living on temporary financial sources like private lessons, all spending without saving, living with a false sense of security within the instabililty of their present situation.

You may be wondering what 'lettuce salad' has to do with this post. Well, it just so happens that, in those early days of my avid economising, when I went to Crete to apply for a Greek identity card, I stayed with my grandmother in the village. When I left to return to my new apartment, my new job and the concrete jungle, my relatives gave me some food to take back with me: a four-litre plastic tube of olive oil, some eggs, a few spring onions and two very large, very thick heads of Cos lettuce, still clinging onto the earth that they were rooted in, to keep them fresh. They would have also killed a chicken and given it to me, but I told them that I had nowhere to store it and was worried it would go off before I got it home (which is silly really, because I now know that nothing would have happened to it by the next day, especially in the middle of winter!).

anne's salad
Anne's salad: a friend taught me to mix vinegar and lemon juice together to make a very tangy salad dressing. Traditionally, Greek cooks use one or the other in their lettuce salads.

When I got back to the apartment in the early hours of the day, I put away my fresh produce and went to work that same morning. I knew that coffee would be served throughout the day at the office, so I never drank any coffee at home for the next few days until I received the remainder of my salary. I also knew that my extremely generous boss always bought everyone cheese pies and rolls for lunch, so there was no need to spend money on lunch, either (the office was located in an industrial area of Athens away from a central shopping district, on a kind of motorway). At the end of the day, I'd come home and cut some lettuce leaves off one of those thick heads I'd been given, and make myself an old-fashioned Greek lettuce salad, which I'd eat with a boiled egg and a slice of bread (I'd bought one loaf and made it last the whole week). At the weekend, I'd go and visit my sister (by bus, of course), and we'd pool our resources and cook up a cheap meal. On Sunday, I usually visited my very generous aunt, who was always happy to have her niece over for a meal with her family (my contribution to the meal was a bottle of drink). I did this for (as far as I remember) two weeks, until I received my first salary. If you ask me, only an Albanian would live like this in Greece in our days, because they've learnt to economise in similar ways. One day, when my children move away from home, I'd like to tell them this story, but I'll let them decide for themselves what they'll do when it's their first time living away from home.

lettuce green salad
Nowadays, green leafy salads are much more exciting than the early days on Cos-only lettuce in Crete. These leafy heads cost TWICE the price of a head of Cos lettuce. Some of them do not keep as well as Cos, so they need to be bought when you actually want to use them.
green salad

Maybe I was just born with the instinct to economise, but it had to start somewhere, which I think was from home, watching my parents working and saving. There was always good food on the table, and we never went without any of the basic necessities. We also had our luxuries: our parents gave us a handsome sum of money every Christmas and Easter to use as we wished, and we were taught to save our money through a bank account from when we were at high school. Most importantly, we were never in debt, we never took out bank loans, and we never asked others to lend us money. This is probably how I've managed to stay in Greece. Some people might like to remind me that I got a better start in life with the help I received from my parents to buy my own property, but that came many years after I had already been living in Greece. I'd already learnt how to work and live independently; parents often reward their children once they see them living within their means. 

*** *** ***

For many years, I've been making the same kind of lettuce salad as in my early days, adding some grated carrot and chopped dill to the lettuce and spring onion. These days Greek lettuce salads are nowhere near as simple as they once were, because of the greater variety of lettuce now available in Crete. Cos lettuce was once the staple lettuce, but these days, it's seen as very old fashioned, especially when there is a wide range of leafy salad greens to choose from at most supermarkets, and nearly all of them locally grown, for those of us who are environmentally conscious. Even the simple olive oil and wine vinegar (or lemon juice) dressing has changed: balsamic vinegar has stormed the market, and a local product called houmeli (derived from the honeycomb by boiling it after the pure honey has been extracted from it) is often added to salad dressings for a more sweet-and-sour taste. Only the olive oil has remained the same...

botanical park restaurant fournes-lakki hania chania maroule
I first tried this salad at the Botanical Park restaurant in Hania, and have been making it ever since.

The following salads can be found these days in most good tavernas, although the old-fashioned one is what is commonly referred to as 'maroulosalata', while the more decadent one often goes under another name mentioning the meat/cheese added to it.

To make an old-fashioned taverna-style Greek lettuce salad, you need:
a head of Cos lettuce
some dill
2-3 spring onions, with their green tops
1 carrot, grated (optional)
wine vinegar or lemon juice (I've used both before, and made a very tangy salad with in this way)
olive oil

Chop (not tear) the lettuce into chunky slivers, the dill finely and the spring onions into thin chunks. Add the carrot if using. I also add some pickled peppers into the mixture, which have been soaking in wine vinegar. Sprinkle some salt over the salad, pour over the oil and vinegar/lemon juice, and toss well.

To make the new style of lettuce salad that is all the rage in Greek eateries these days, you need:
some fancy lettuce (curly green, curly red, frisee endive, iceberg, etc)
some spinach leaves
some rocket (arugula)
honey or houmeli (a product made from boiling the honeycomb after the honey has been extracted)
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
pomegranate seeds
EITHER: the vegetarian version: salty piquant-tasting cheese (blue vein, graviera or feta cheese are used in Crete)
OR: the omnivore version: smoked pork strips (apaki or singlino is used in Crete; lardons would be a good substitute, as is boiled chicken)
OR: the vegan version: avocado chunks

frisee lardons salade verte melangee
My first French salads (above) - I've learnt to mimic their vivid colours by buying salads in a variety of colours and textures. I also like to add protein to them, to make them into more complete meals. 
red lettuce singlina salad chicken salad

Wash and tear (not chop) all the leafy greens into a large bowl. Pour over the honey (or houmeli), balsamic vinegar and olive oil onto the leaves and toss well to mix. The amounts you pour in depend on your preference, but they are usually used in drizzled, just to coat all the leaves. Add a handful of pomegranate seeds into the bowl. Now add some shavings of graviera or chunks of blue (or feta) cheese, or the heated pork strips, or the avocado chunks. Serve the salad like this.

chef's salad creation porcini mushroom salad
Lettuce salad has come a long way in my house since my early days in Greece.
organically scented salad fruity lettuce salad 

Lettuce salad is very much a seasonal product. I would never buy lettuce in the summer, as it doesn't really suit the seasonal garden to grow this kind of vegetable in a dry Cretan summer. Unlike the old-fashioned maroulosalata, the cheese/pork one makes a complete meal when a slice of really good sourdough bread and a glass of really good white wine is served with it.

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