Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Lemon cake with Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios

Since last week, the weather has taken a turn for the worse and it seems that spring is playing hide and seek, which I don’t mind at all. I don’t know why, but I’m not eager for the cold weather to go away just yet.

I’m still in winter mode and the weather conspires in my favor with heavy rain, howling winds and skies that have the most beautiful shades of dark blue and grey. Staying inside, watching movies and cooking was the perfect way to spend the weekend.

A cake felt necessary somehow.

I have baked this one numerous times. It is so good. It’s irresistible, even for a chocoholic like me. It’s a lemon cake with a Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios.

The cake has the full flavor and aroma of the citrus fruit, it’s very moist and buttery, with a soft and dense crumb yet still very light. The glaze has the sweetness and fragrance of the thyme honey and is creamy and smooth, with the chopped pistachios on top adding texture.

It is perfect as a light, low-profile dessert after a big meal, or served thinly sliced with a cup of tea or coffee.

Lemon cake with Greek wild thyme honey glaze and pistachios
Adapted from Patisserie made simple by Edd Kimber

I don’t usually mention it in my recipes, but whenever I use lemon zest, it is from organic, unwaxed lemons. Unless you have picked the lemons yourselves from your backyard lemon tree (I have many of those in my home in Greece – sigh!), then please use unwaxed.

If you don’t have or can’t get hold of lemon extract, grate the zest of one extra lemon.

Yield: 1 cake / 8-10 pieces


for the cake
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing the pan
250 g caster sugar
Zest of 2 lemons, grated
1 tsp lemon extract
4 large eggs
220 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
125 g sour cream (or full-fat Greek yoghurt)

for the glaze
160 g icing sugar
75 ml (5 Tbsp) cream, full-fat (35%)
1 Tbsp Greek wild thyme honey (or a floral honey if you prefer)
Pinch of salt

A handful of shelled, unsalted pistachios, chopped

Special equipment: stand or hand-held mixer, jug, sieve, loaf pan (23 x 9 x 8 cm), baking paper


for the cake
Butter the bottom and sides of your loaf pan and line it with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 180°C.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the softened butter, the sugar, the lemon zest and lemon extract, and using the paddle attachment (or your hand-held mixer), beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs into a jug and beat them lightly with a fork. Add the beaten eggs to the bowl in four additions, beating well after each addition to fully combine them.

Sieve together in a separate bowl the flour and baking powder. Add half of it into the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add the sour cream (or yoghurt) and beat on medium until fully combined. Then add the rest of the sieved flour and baking powder into the bowl and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Don’t overmix the batter or the cake will be tough.

Empty the cake batter into your prepared loaf pan and straighten the top with a spatula or the back of a spoon.
Place the pan on the low rack of your oven and bake for 35 minutes. Then transfer it to the middle rack of the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Once ready, take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire rack. After 15 minutes, remove the cake from the pan, lifting it up from the baking paper and allow it to cool completely on the rack.

for the glaze
In a medium-sized bowl add all the ingredients for the glaze and using a hand whisk, mix them well until you have a smooth glaze.

Take the cooled cake, remove the baking paper from the bottom and place it on the wire rack. Using a spoon or a spatula, glaze the cake and top with the chopped pistachios.

You can keep it at room temperature, covered, for 4-5 days.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Marinated beef stir-fry with Savoy cabbage and cashews

You couldn’t tell by the recipes you see on this blog of mine, but I have a deep love for Asian cuisines; Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Japanese, Indonesian. I cook and eat dishes from these countries quite often and I’m not sure why my love for these cuisines is not reflected here. I will try to rectify that, however, and share with you my favorites.

When I was about seventeen, I became obsessed with Chinese food that was not particularly popular or widespread in Greece at that time. I bought cookbooks which were actually among the first cookbooks I have ever purchased, I persuaded my mom to buy me a wok and chopsticks, and my adventure in the kitchen began. Up until that time, I had learned everything about cooking from my family—my mom, my grandmother and grandfather—so this was the first time I was venturing out on my own and exploring other flavors, aromas and way of cooking. It was thrilling!

I was intrigued by the exotic ingredients, those I could find that is, and the unique flavors, and apart from the basic dishes I learned how to cook, like fried rice, stir-fries, noodles and spring rolls, I also taught myself how to eat with chopsticks. I never gave up until I learned how to use them properly, no matter how difficult it was for me, and I remember I ate every kind of food with chopsticks in order to practice. It was hilarious.

I used to invite my friends over for dinner to show off my skills and introduce them to Chinese cooking and they were so impressed. They found it delicious and I was so proud. I guess I have always had that deep-rooted need to feed people and see the satisfaction on their faces.

Then my obsession moved to the subcontinent of India and the intoxicating flavor of spices and herbs that were not so unfamiliar to me since my family’s style of Greek cooking (Politiki cuisine) is very much dependent on similar spices.

When I moved to Holland a few years ago, I discovered even more Asian cuisines, and since there’s a huge Asian community in The Hague, with shops that have everything I could ask for, I began experimenting and learning more about them. My love blossomed as I began discovering the Indonesian cuisine, very widespread here in Holland, as well as the Vietnamese and Malaysian.

I can safely say that I cook at least once a week an Asian or Asian-inspired recipe, and it’s about time I shared some of them here as well. This one is Chinese-inspired and based on the technique of stir-frying.

Beef, very thinly sliced, is marinated in a mixture of fresh, fiery, red chilli peppers, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and Chinese five-spice, and then is added to a piping hot wok and stir-fried. The majestic and beautifully deep green Savoy cabbage, cut into long strips, is added to the pan, along with some cashews and the juices of the marinade, and a few minutes later the dish is served with rice noodles and a good squeeze of lime. The zingy, bright, salty, sweet and spicy flavors blend to create a sumptuous and light dish with various and interesting textures.

Chilli and ginger-marinated beef stir-fry with Savoy cabbage and cashews
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I discovered Savoy cabbage when I moved to the Netherlands; I have never seen it in Greece. You can substitute it with Chinese cabbage or kale if you can’t find Savoy cabbage where you live.

Stir-frying is a method of Chinese cooking where ingredients are fried quickly in very little oil in a hot wok and stirred continuously. To successfully stir-fry, it is crucial that you have your mise-en-place ready so that you don’t need to stop halfway through the cooking and chop or prepare an ingredient.

Use a tender beef cut like fillet, topside or top rump that doesn’t have fat or sinews, cut into thin strips as it will only cook for a few minutes.

Apart from rice noodles, you can also use egg noodles, soba (buckwheat) noodles, or rice.

Yield: 2 servings


for the marinade
1 fresh red chilli pepper, finely sliced (keep seeds if you don’t mind the heat)
1 large garlic clove, mashed or grated
2 tsp grated ginger
2 Tbsp soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar

300 g lean beef (fillet, topside or top rump), cut across the grain into thin strips
50 g unsalted cashew nuts
4 large leaves (about 150 g) Savoy cabbage, central veins cut off
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
Juice from 1-2 limes

100-150 g rice noodles (cooked according to package instructions), to serve with the stir-fry

Special equipment: wok (or deep frying pan), colander


In a medium bowl, add all the ingredients for the marinade and mix well with a spoon. Add the beef strips and mix well to coat with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes and up to 4 hours. The longer you have time to marinate the beef the better the flavor will be.

Heat your wok over medium heat. Without adding any oil, and once hot, add the cashews. Toast them, stirring frequently so they don’t burn, for about 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove them from the wok and onto a plate.

Stack the leaves of the cabbage one on top of the other and roll them up. With a large knife cut them into strips and place them inside a colander. Place colander in your sink, boil 1 liter of water in a kettle (or as much water as your kettle holds) and pour it over all over the cabbage to wilt it. Leave to drain.

Cook the noodles at this point, according to the packet instructions, and while they are cooking, heat the sunflower oil in the wok over high heat.

Remove the beef from the marinade, shaking it so the marinade drips off back into the bowl, and place it on paper towels to dry a bit. Reserve the marinade.
Add the beef to the hot wok and stir-fry it for about 2 minutes or until it has browned all over. Add the cabbage and the marinade juices to the wok and stir-fry for further 2-3 minutes. Add the cashews at the last minute.
Squeeze some lime juice on top, give it a taste and add salt if you think it needs it. Take it off the heat.
Plate the noodles and the beef with the cabbage in individual bowls.
Squeeze more lime juice on top if you want and eat straight away!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Turnip greens and halloumi salad with tahini and turmeric dressing

As with so many of the meals I cook, it all starts with a single ingredient, the inspiration if you will that’ll form the base of a complete dish. Sometimes it’s an intricate dish that may take hours to prepare and cook, and other times it’s a simple and quick one.

This time, it all started a few days ago when I bought a bunch of young turnip greens from the market. I didn’t know exactly what to do with them so they stayed in the fridge, almost neglected, until yesterday, when it suddenly hit me; I would make a meal out of a salad. I do this often, I love turning salads into main dishes. And so it happened.

I had halloumi in the fridge, cucumber that was leftover from a tzatziki I made the previous day and red onion, and then I began thinking about the dressing. I wanted something a bit different, more fragrant and earthy to counterbalance and complement the fresh flavors of the greens and cucumber. Tahini came to mind, an ingredient that is never absent from my kitchen, and turmeric. That was it.

I finely sliced the cucumber and the onion with my trusted mandoline, I whisked the ingredients for the dressing and grilled the halloumi in a hot pan until it was deliciously golden. The ingredients were tossed together, the deep orange-colored dressing was drizzled on top and a handful of toasted sesame seeds were sprinkled to decorate and add more flavor and texture to the salad.

That was yesterday’s dinner.

Young turnip greens, cucumber and red onion salad with grilled halloumi and a tahini and turmeric dressing

The classic turnip greens (turnip tops) are large, much like beetroot leaves. The ones I used in this recipe are young, small turnip greens from turnips grown specifically for their leaves.
Their flavor is slightly spicy and their stalks are tender. If you can’t find them where you live, you can substitute with baby spinach, rocket or tender beetroot leaves.
For those of you reading from Holland, they are called raapstelen.

This dressing is perfect on top of a grilled or baked piece of fish, on top of roast chicken, or mixed with simply boiled legumes like beans or chickpeas to give them flavor.

Yield: 2 main servings or 4 salad servings


for the tahini-turmeric dressing
60 ml (¼ cup) tahini
3½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp cayenne pepper powder
Freshly ground white pepper

for the salad
150 g young turnip greens
120 g cucumber, with skin on, thinly sliced
Half red onion, very thinly sliced
250 g halloumi cheese
A handful of toasted sesame seeds

Special equipment: mandoline (optional)


for the tahini-turmeric dressing
Add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric, cayenne, a little salt and white pepper in a small bowl and mix well using a wire whisk. Taste and add more salt if needed.

for the salad
Cut the halloumi into medium-thick slices and lightly oil them on both sides with olive oil. Heat a skillet or non-stick pan on medium heat and add the slices in one layer. Cook them for about 3 minutes on either side until golden.

Rinse well the turnip greens under cold running water, cut off the roots and drain in paper towels. In a large bowl, mix the turnip greens, cucumber and onion. Arrange on a plate and add the halloumi. Drizzle generously with the dressing and finish with the sesame seeds.
Serve immediately with fresh bread.

You can keep the tahini-turmeric dressing in the fridge for a couple of days. It will thicken in the fridge so leave it out on the counter for half an hour before you want to use it.
Also, the dressing may split. It is only natural because it contains tahini, which always splits. Don’t worry about it, just give it a good whisk before using.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tortiglioni with purple broccolini, ricotta and lemon zest

I used to write a diary, where I kept all my inner thoughts and deepest secrets that I didn’t want anyone to know about and it has been that way sometimes here too; I have written things here that I haven’t even talked about with actual people. Blogging does that to you. It fools you into thinking that you are writing your personal journal intended for your own eyes only.

There have been times when I have written long blog posts that after reading them a second time, they felt too personal, too much information given that I wasn’t sure I wanted to share with the world and so were kept unpublished. And then there are other times when words are so difficult to come out of me that I can hardly formulate a single sentence worth publishing. It is tricky this blogging thing, still after five years, perhaps because of these five years. Finding a balance between what you want or don’t want to say is complicated.

Someone told me the other day that it’s not important if anyone reads my blog as long as I enjoy writing it. I had a different opinion but I didn’t share it with her because firstly, I am convinced she has never read my blog and secondly, because I believe she wouldn’t get it. If I did it just for myself, I wouldn’t be writing a blog, but said diary. I believe this applies to all bloggers.

Truth is, I enjoy the feeling that someone out there is reading what I have to say, makes a recipe I have shared, enjoys looking at my photographs, feels something because of what they find here. When I started this blog, I realized there were things to be said, things to be shared, not necessarily heavy stuff but everyday realities and stories about food and life in general. Before starting this blog I never thought anyone would want to read what I had to say. Some people do, though, and I want to thank them. Thank you.

I myself rarely follow a food blog whose author I can’t relate to or am unable to get to know them through their blog. I don’t follow blogs just for recipes but for the person behind those recipes. I want to know them a little, know what they are like as human beings, get a glimpse into their lives a bit. Not every blog post has to be a bearing of their soul, I'm not implying that, but they have to be able to give something. That’s why I never understood why any blogger would leave a comment on my blog without leaving their names too. It’s not about simply leaving a comment but trying to connect in some way, and you can’t do that without being open. Perhaps I’m being romantic but that’s how I see it.

So this food blogger cooked something and finally had time to photograph it. A simple pasta dish yet extremely tasty and satisfying. I found purple broccolini at the market and I couldn’t help but put a bunch in my basket. The idea of this pasta dish was born right then and there.

The broccolini were blanched and then quickly sautéed in olive oil and garlic, the tortiglioni were cooked al dente and gently dropped into the same pan. Ricotta was added to create a smooth “sauce” along with some of the pasta water, lemon zest for freshness and sharpness, and a good grating of Grana Padano for the salty and oumami flavor. It was a delicate pasta dish that smelled of spring.

Tortiglioni with purple broccolini, ricotta and lemon zest

You can also use rigatoni or penne rigate instead of tortiglioni. Also, if you’re in Greece, you can use anthotyro insetad of ricotta.

Broccolini (or bimi in Dutch) is a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It is extremely popular in The Netherlands and has become one of my favorite vegetables. There is a green and purple variety and their flavor is similar to that of broccoli but sweeter, milder and more tender.
You can substitute with purple sprouting broccoli (scheutjesbroccoli in Dutch) or green asparagus. Now is also the season in Greece and all the Mediterranean of wild asparagus, so if you can find it use it! Also, you can cut the small florets of a regular broccoli and use it in this recipe instead of the broccolini.

Update 22.03.2015: My mom found broccolini at one of Athens' open markets, so they can be found in Greece!

Yield: 2 generous servings

200 g (12-13) purple broccolini
250 g tortiglioni pasta
5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, mashed or grated
200 g fresh ricotta cheese
Zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground white pepper
Grana Padano (or Parmesan), freshly grated

Special equipment: grater, colander

Fill a large pot with water, add salt and place it over high heat. When the water starts to boil, add the broccolini and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until the stems are almost tender. Remove the broccolini with a slotted spoon and into a colander to drain and cool a bit. Don’t discard the water! When cool, cut the broccolini in half if they are too long.

Place the pot back on the heat and bring the water you used to blanch the broccolini to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente or to your liking.

In the meantime, in a large, wide sauté pan (one that will fit the pasta as well) add 4 Tbsp of the olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds, being careful not to burn it. Add the broccolini and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Do not toss the broccolini too much or the florets will break up. Season with a little salt and white pepper.

At this point, the pasta should be cooked. Take a cupful of pasta water and reserve it. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta to the broccolini. Add the ricotta to the pan and a little of the pasta water, grate the lemon zest directly over the pan so that the oils of the lemon fall in the pan, and mix gently all the ingredients together, being careful not to break up the broccolini. Check the consistency and add more pasta water in order to have a creamy “sauce”.
Drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil and serve immediately in plates.
Grate as much Grana Padano on the top and enjoy!