Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Greek Fava

Ever since I started this blog, I have evolved a great deal as a cook, as an eater, as an aficionado of food. I appreciate it more now because I know more about it. I have discovered new flavors, I have learned things from cookbooks as well as from my fellow food bloggers and my palate has become more sophisticated. I am no longer content with what I used to eat five or six years ago.

However, nothing will ever change when it comes to my food, Greek food. The appreciation I have for my country’s food has only grown and I have learned that I don’t need to mess with it in order to prove something, or try to make it better. It is unique.

Perhaps it’s the fact that for the last six years I don’t live permanently in Greece that has made me crave it more, or the fact that I am exposed to so many different types of culinary cultures here in the Netherlands that I don’t feel the need to fuse traditional Greek cooking to make it more modern or hip. I love it for what is.

Sure, I love experimenting with all types of cuisines and I truly enjoy new combinations, but you’ll find that when it comes to the traditional dishes of my country, I keep them very much intact. I love them that way.

There is so much room to experiment with flavors on other plains, on dishes based on Greek ingredients, the Greek staples if you’d like, but I will never cook mousaka with anything other than the ingredients it was meant to be cooked with. I leave the evolution, or destruction, of our culinary history and tradition to others, and there are plenty of them out there.

Fava (not to be confused with the fava bean which in Greece is called kouki/ κουκί) is a traditional Greek dish of yellow split peas (lathouri in Greek/λαθούρι). It is a purée, flavored with onion and cooked and served with olive oil. It is usually served at room temperature as a mezes, to be eaten alongside other small plates of food, or as an appetizer before a fish-based main dish. In my home though, we always have it as a warm main dish, simply because we love it so much. Especially me.

It is easy and quick to make, it is frugal, hearty and nutritious, and absolutely delicious to boot. Served topped with a good drizzling of Greek olive oil, and a side of anchovies or sardines, black olives (I prefer Kalamata), raw onion, feta and fresh crusty bread, fava is the epitome of traditional, rustic Greek cooking.

PS. Speaking of good Greek olive oil, unfortunately it is not always easy to find in the Netherlands. A few months ago, I was fortunate and very happy to receive a small bottle of Greek extra virgin olive oil along with a jar of Greek olives and Greek thyme honey from a young Greek couple entrepreneurs Nikoletta and Kostas of Karpos fine food who have started a business here in the Netherlands importing these goodies from the region of Amaliada in Greece. They were very sweet to send me their products and I have to say, all three were excellent. I encourage those of you who live in the Netherlands to visit their Facebook page and get in touch with them if you want to get some Greek olive oil, olives or honey. I love supporting these kinds of small businesses, especially from fellow Greeks and I hope you do too.

Greek Fava (Yellow Split-Pea Purée)

Fava can be made a little bit chunky or very smooth depending on your taste. I like it both ways. This one was made in Greece, I cooked it with my grandmother, I love to cook with her whenever I’m home, but I also made fava last week and I made it super smooth.
Santorini is famous for her fava. If you do manage to find some, do use it.

Yield: 4-6 main-course servings

500 g yellow split-peas
1.2 liters water
2 medium-sized onions, cut into four
100 ml olive oil
Freshly ground white pepper

Olive oil, to serve

Special equipment: colander, immersion or regular blender

Add the yellow split-peas to a colander and rinse well under cold running water. Add them to a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the water and place pan over high heat. Bring to the boil and using a spoon, remove the scum that gathers on the surface of the water.
Add the onions, a little salt and freshly ground white pepper, mix well with a spoon and once it begins to boil, turn heat down to low, put lid on ajar, and simmer, checking from time to time if it needs more water, for about 20 minutes or until the split peas have softened.
In the end you don’t want it to be too runny (if it is, remove the extra liquid), but moist. Add the olive oil and stir well.

Take the pan off the heat and leave fava like this for 5-10 minutes. Then using an immersion blender, blend everything inside the pan until smooth (if it’s runny don’t worry, it will thicken up as it cools). You can keep it a little bit chunky if you prefer. If you have a regular blender, transfer split peas little by little to the blender and purée. Then return to the pan.
Check the seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Serve fava on plates, drizzled with a little olive oil on top.
Using your fork, mix the olive oil in the fava until incorporated. Serve with red onion, cut into four, sardines or anchovies, black olives, feta cheese and crusty bread.

You can also serve the fava at room temperature.
You will notice that once it cools, it thickens. Don’t worry, once you reheat it, it will be smooth and loose again.
The next day it will be even tastier.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Inspiration January 2014: Audiovisual

Today, I made this loaf.

I haven’t shared my sources of inspiration in a while, since March 2013 to be exact, so let’s kick it off for 2014.

Minimizing food waste, Copenhagen-style. Impressive idea.

This documentary.

This movie. And this.

This spoke so deeply to me you cannot imagine.

A different kind of dance.

A cappella.

Buttermilk and cream scones.

Little people tasting things for the first time.

I don’t know if this works, but I want to try it.

Cheese soufflé*, from the shepherd to the oven.

Listening to this. And this.

*My own cheese soufflé recipe here, if you’re interested.

Have a good weekend!

Previously: Inspiration November 2011, March 2012, July 2012, October 2012, March 2013.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pear and vanilla honey

Pears were never my favorite fruit. That slightly grainy and at the same time slippery smooth texture put me off. S on the other hand, loves them. From autumn till late winter, pears adorn our oversized fruit bowl and he always seems to munch on them after dinner.

I can’t say that I have somehow miraculously converted to eating them, but this recipe made me reconsider my relationship with the fruit. Let me introduce you to the pear and vanilla honey and to make things clear, it doesn’t contain honey. This is like a jam but with a honey consistency. And it is dreamy.

The idea of making this came from an experiment I made a long time ago with apples. I wanted to make apple jelly but ended up making apple honey. It never occurred to me to apply the process to other fruits but when I had some Conference pears staring at me from the fruit bowl, the decision was made. Pear honey it was.

I made it a couple of times since that first time and S polishes off a couple of small jars all by himself. As for me, it is something I go for in the mornings instead of my beloved strawberry and raspberry jams. That speaks volumes about how good it is.

What you do is simple. You add some chopped pears to a pan along with a split vanilla bean and a little lemon juice. You simmer until the pears soften and the smell is sweet and tempting and then you purée the whole lot. You add sugar, simmer for a while longer until it thickens and bubbles like amber-colored lava, and you’re done.

It is incredibly aromatic and not very sweet, with the right amount of acidity from the lemon and a spicy quality from the vanilla. With a smooth and ever-so-slightly grainy texture from the pear, it flows like honey without the stickiness.

I made brioche the other day and when I smeared some of the pear honey over a thin slice, it was magical. It was what breakfast dreams are made of. A couple days ago though, when I was craving a savory nibble, I paired the pear honey with mature Gruyère cheese and some crusty bread, and I was enchanted by the combination of savory and sweet.

Pear honey, you are a wonderful thing.

PS. I need to share the recipe for this brioche bread, soon.

Pear and Vanilla Honey

I used Conference pears; the most common European pear. Their flesh is grainy, sweet and juicy and perfect for this pear honey.
Use ripe but not overripe pears.

By the way, the pear honey is a perfect pair to these Parmesan biscuits.

Yield: about 600 g (3 small jars)

1 kg whole pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped (about 750 g after peeling)
Juice of 3 lemons (130-140 ml)
300 ml water
1 vanilla bean, split
390 g caster sugar (less or more depending on the amount of pear purée you end up with, read on recipe for details)

Special equipment: medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, immersion or regular blender, fine sieve, measuring jug, glass jars with lids

Add the peeled, cored and chopped pears to a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed pan (I use a Dutch oven) along with the lemon juice, water and split vanilla bean. Stir and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Then, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue to simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until pears are soft, stirring from time to time.

Remove the split vanilla bean carefully from the pan, scrape out the seeds carefully (the bean will be hot) and add them to the pear mixture.
Using an immersion blender, purée the mixture in the pan until smooth. If you’re using a regular blender, transfer the pear mixture little by little to it and blend until smooth.

Press purée through a fine sieve and into a measuring jug and write down how many ml of purée you have. Return purée to the pan and add the sugar. You must add 275g of caster sugar for every 600ml of purée. My purée was 850ml so I added 390g of caster sugar.

Place pan over low heat and stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Turn heat up to high and boil for 15-17 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens and becomes like very very thick syrup that holds its shape when spooned onto a cold plate.

Pour the hot jam into small sterilized jars and turn the jars upside down. (Read here on how to sterilize glass jars). Once the jam has cooled completely, put the jars in the refrigerator. It’s better to leave the jam sit for a couple of days before you try it. It will give it time to develop in flavor.

The jam will keep for about 3 months in the fridge. Once opened, it will keep for 1 month.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Fish II

I very much dislike it when people start getting all healthy on me in January. Insipid soups and tasteless veggie meals annoy the hell out of me and so do people who regret eating a little more during the holidays that they feel they have to starve themselves when the new year begins.

How can I be deprived of my comfort foods during January? How am I supposed to beat my winter blues without some delicious food at my dinner table?

I understand that keeping a balanced diet is crucial and you can’t go on forever eating carbs, meat and chocolate but the holidays are not an excuse to binge-eat either, especially if it’s going to make you eat copious amounts of broccoli and carrots throughout January.

So keep that in mind when I suggest you eat more fish. It’s not because fish are healthy and good for you, but only because they’re the most delicious thing nature has to offer.

I can’t get enough of fish, especially since my holidays were filled with the robust flavors of pork and game. Fish’s subtle flavor and delicate texture is all I dream about when it comes to lunch and dinner, especially when they’re little whitebait or red mullets.

These photographs were taken in Greece in late autumn. I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the fish the other day when we had the exact same thing, because fresh Greek fish look stunning. Plus it gave me the opportunity to eat my food hot and steamy, straight from the frying pan and not have S complain about me taking photos and the food getting cold.

Fried fish with crispy skin and tender flesh, still juicy and smelling of the sea. Ah, there’s nothing like it. Paired with ouzo, some hand-cut potatoes fried in olive oil and boiled seasonal greens (I used kale this time but if I was in Greece I would choose zohous) with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of olive oil, it brings the sunshine and warmth back into our January lives.

Greek Fried Whitebait (Marides Tiganites)

The smaller the fish, the tastiest they are. As long as they’re fresh, there’s not much more you need to have a good meal.

Whitebait doesn’t need cleaning at all (from scales or guts), just a simple rinsing.

Yield: 4 servings

1 kg fresh whole whitebait
All-purpose flour
Olive oil (or good quality sunflower oil), for frying
Sea salt
Lemon, for squeezing over the fish

Rinse the whitebait well under cold running water and drain in a colander. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large baking dish, add 2-3 cups of flour and tip in the fish. Shake the pan around so the fish is well coated all around with the flour. If needed, add more flour.

In a wide and deep frying pan or skillet, add enough oil to come halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat and when it starts to shimmer add the fish, one by one, shaking off extra flour before adding it to the oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan because they will stick to one another and not cook properly.
Fry fish for 3-4 minutes until golden on all sides, flipping them around once.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Fry the next batches of fish in the same manner.

Serve hot with a good sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Greek Fried Red Mullet (Barbounia Tiganita)

I prefer the small red mullets but the larger ones are also flavorful. They have many little bones and it’s a hassle to remove but the flavor compensates.

Yield: 4 servings

1 kg fresh whole red mullet
All-purpose flour
Olive oil (or good quality sunflower oil), for frying
Sea salt
Lemon, for squeezing over the fish

Scale and gut the fish or have your fishmonger do it for you. Rinse well under cold running water and drain in a colander. Pat dry with paper towels.

In a large baking dish, add 2-3 cups of flour and tip in the fish. Shake the pan around so the fish is well coated all around with the flour. If needed, add more flour.

In a wide frying pan or skillet, add enough oil to come halfway up the sides of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat and when it starts to shimmer add the fish, one by one, shaking off extra flour before adding it to the oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Fry fish in one layer.
Fry fish for 2-3 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other side, until golden, flipping them around once.

Remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on a platter. I like to dunk my bread in the oil. If you don’t like that, place on paper towels to absorb the oil. Fry the next batches of fish in the same manner.

Serve hot with a good sprinkle of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

See also: Greek Baked Mackerel (Kolios) with Olive Oil, Lemon and Parsley and Greek Baked Whole Tuna with Ladolemono (Greek Olive Oil and Lemon Sauce)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Like fairy dust

Happy New Year! I hope its first few days are treating you well.

I had a pretty rough couple of days but all is fine now, thankfully. I feel tired though and in need of some pick-me-up. I need to recharge my batteries and look to the future with optimism, determination and strength.

I’m not going to talk too much today. I just want to share these chocolate truffles with you. They’re slightly different than your ordinary truffle due to the fact that they are rolled in dried rose-bud dust.

It sounds like fairy dust, doesn’t it? It is even pink, as fairy dust ought to be, and it is magical, aromatic and sweet.

I’m not a huge fan of rose flavor, it reminds me of perfume rather than something I want to eat but here, around these chocolate truffles, it is rather pleasant. It gives them an understated flavor of rose that reminds me of the Greek loukoumi.

Enjoy them and take care of yourselves and the ones you love.

Dark Chocolate Truffles covered with Rose Dust

Apart from the ground dried rose buds that I used to cover the truffles, I also infused the cream with fresh rose petals. I thought it was going to add that extra something to the truffles but it didn’t. The flavor was so subtle that it disappeared in the chocolate. I wouldn’t advise you to do this since the rolling of the truffles in the dried rose dust is enough to give them a beautiful rose flavor.

I used dried rose buds but you can also use dried rose petals. Just make sure that whatever you use is suitable for cooking.

Yield: 30-35 small truffles

250 g good quality dark chocolate (55% cocoa solids), finely chopped
150 ml cream, full-fat
Pinch of sea salt
2 handfuls dried rose buds, stems removed (or dried rose petals)
3 Tbsp caster sugar

Special equipment: spice grinder (or pestle and mortar), plastic wrap

Add the chopped chocolate in a medium-sized bowl.

In a small saucepan, add the cream and heat over medium-high heat. Just before the cream comes to the boil, turn the heat off and pour it over the chocolate. After 1 minute, add a pinch of salt and stir the chocolate and cream with a spatula until the chocolate melts. If for some reason the chocolate doesn't melt completely, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (bain-marie) and melt it.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, until the ganache is very cold and set but still pliable.

While the ganache is setting in the fridge, prepare the rose dust.

In a spice grinder, add the rose buds (without the stems or any green parts) along with the sugar and grind to a fine dust/powder. You can also use a mortar and pestle to do this but it will take more time to turn it into dust. If you separate the rose petals they will be easier to grind rather than a whole compact bud.

Using a ½ teaspoon as a measure, scoop balls of ganache, roll them in your hands to create a rough ball (it doesn't matter if they're not perfectly shaped) and drop them into a plate filled with the pale pink rose dust. Roll them around gently and place them on a clean serving dish.

You can serve them immediately or you can place them in the fridge (in an airtight container) to become a bit harder. The pink dust gets absorbed by the chocolate after a few hours, so it is best if you roll them in the rose dust shortly before you want to serve them in order for the light pink color to be visible. The taste remains the same.

You can keep them in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, for a week. They will become harder but not rock-hard; they'll be fudgy and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.