Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Greek marinated pork tenderloin souvlaki with loquat and dried currant bulgur pilaf, charred red peppers, tzatziki and grilled bread with olive oil and oregano

When I’m inspired by an ingredient, it can lead to the creation of one of the most heavenly cakes (I’m too in love with my loquat cake, I know), but it can also lead me to create a whole savory feast like this one.

It all started with loquats. I wanted to incorporate them in a savory dish and I thought, why not a bulgur pilaf? Yes! That was a great idea; with hot and warming spices, herbs to pair with their fruitiness, dried currants and grape molasses to counteract their tartness, mint to freshen it all up and yes, that was it.

But we are meat eaters in this household, and no matter how great a dish bulgur pilaf can be, I wanted to create a whole feast around it. I immediately thought of pork souvlaki, Greek grilled pork skewers, but I didn’t want it to be heavy, so the classic and insanely flavorful pork neck that’s traditionally used to make Greek souvlaki was out of the question. I opted for pork tenderloin instead, which I use often because it’s lean (even leaner than chicken breast), tender (of course) and extremely tasty and juicy when cooked properly. Marinating it does the trick of adding extra flavor and making it even more tender.

I marinated the pork overnight in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, Greek dried wild oregano, fresh rosemary among other ingredients, and the next day, skewered it with some red onion and green bell peppers.

Together with a proper tzatziki, a few freshly grilled and utterly juicy and scrumptious charred long red peppers, and grilled bread with olive oil and oregano which is a staple side for souvlaki in Greece, it was a feast to surpass many.

Above all, it is balanced in both flavor and texture, and it’s not just a meal, it’s an experience, the way we Greeks do it; sit at the table, share food, enjoy it slowly with good company and a few beers.

Juicy, tender meat, smoky red peppers, thick and vibrant tzatziki, crunchy bread and incredible flavors from the bulgur pilaf; slightly hot and spicy, refreshing from the mint and deeply earthy from the bulgur wheat, juicy from the sharp loquats, sweet from the currants with a honeyed acidity from the molasses, a nice warming flavor from the cardamom, crunch from the almonds and intensely aromatic overall.

There’s such a beautiful array of flavors and textures in this dish. We absolutely and unequivocally loved it and I hope you enjoy it as well!!

Greek marinated pork tenderloin souvlaki with loquat and dried currant bulgur pilaf, charred red peppers, tzatziki and grilled bread with olive oil and oregano

I use a cast-iron grill/griddle that I place directly on my gas stove top. If you don’t have that, you can use a regular grill/griddle pan (use a heavy, good quality pan for best results) or an outdoor grill.

Bear in mind that you will need to start the night before with marinating the pork.

The bulgur can be served also with fish or on its own with some good feta or yoghurt even. Also, apricots would go great in the dish if you cannot find loquats.

Yield: enough for 4 people


for the Greek pork souvlaki (makes 9-10 large skewers)

for the marinade
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp Greek wild dried oregano
2 tsp Greek dried mint
1 dried bay leaf, cut into 4 pieces
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tsp sweet red pepper powder
Freshly ground black pepper, 8-9 grinds of the pepper mill

600 g pork tenderloin, cut into small, equal-sized cubes (5-6 cm)

1-2 green bell peppers, cut a bit larger than the pork
1 red onion, layers separated and cut a bit larger than the pork
Sea salt

Lemon, for serving

for the loquat and dried currant bulgur
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, grated or chopped finely in a food processor
7 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 dried bay leaves
½ tsp Greek boukovo (hot red chilli flakes) or Aleppo pepper (pul biber)
40 g dried currants
2 Tbsp blanched halved almonds
300 g coarse bulgur wheat
1 Tbsp petimezi (Greek grape-must syrup/grape molasses)
600 g hot water
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
230-250 g fresh loquats (weight after peeling and stoning 200 g), peeled, stoned and roughly chopped (read here how to prep them)
2-3 fresh mint sprigs, leaves picked (keep ¼ of them for serving)

for the tzatziki
500 g Greek yoghurt, full-fat
70 g peeled (and deseeded preferably) cucumber, cut into tiny cubes
3-4 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you want it, I prefer it veeery garlicky), peeled and grated
A handful of dill, chopped finely
½ tsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

for the peppers
4 long red peppers
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil

for the bread
Sourdough bread or baguette, thickly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Greek wild dried oregano

Extra lemon, for serving

Special equipment: wooden skewers, grill/griddle pan


for the Greek pork souvlaki
The night before, start marinating the pork.
In a large glass bowl, add all the ingredients for the marinade and mix well with a spoon. Add the pork pieces and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, prepare the wooden skewers for the grill by soaking them in water for at least 30 minutes.
Heat your grill/griddle over a medium-high heat. I oil it lightly with sunflower oil before I turn on the heat.
Thread the peppers, onion and pork onto the wooden skewers. Start with a piece of pepper, then 2 pieces of pork, one piece of onion, 2 pieces of pork and finish with a piece of pepper. Don’t throw away the marinade that’s left in the bowl.
Once you’re done skewering all the meat, season well with salt and place on the well-preheated grill. Using the rosemary sprig from the marinade, brush the meat with the remaining juices of the marinade. Throw away the rosemary.
Cook the pork for 6-7 minutes per side, until slightly charred and meat juices run clear. Don’t overcook in order to stay tender.
Serve with plenty of lemon juice squeezed over the top.

for the loquat and dried currant bulgur
Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a large saucepan and sauté the onion until soft. Add the cardamom pods, bay leaves, boukovo or (Aleppo pepper), currants and almonds and sauté for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the bulgur wheat and sauté lightly. Then add the grape molasses and the water, season with salt and black pepper and stir well. Bring to the boil, put the lid on, turn heat down to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. At this point, the bulgur should be almost done. Add the chopped loquats and chopped mint and stir gently. Continue to cook on low until the bulgur is cooked and has absorbed all the water. It shouldn’t be mushy or al dente but it should be fully cooked, tender yet retaining its shape. Remove the pan from the heat and leave with the lid on for 10 minutes before fluffing the bulgur with a fork.
Serve with a few whole, small mint leaves as a garnish.

for the tzatziki
Best made about an hour before serving.
In a large bowl, add all the ingredients and mix well with a spoon. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Keep covered in the fridge until time to serve.

for the peppers
Heat your grill/griddle over a medium-high heat. I oil it lightly with sunflower oil before I turn on the heat. Place the whole peppers on the grill and cook them until they collapse and soften, and they are charred. Be careful not to overcook them, an indication of which is when they start releasing a lot of juices.
Serve sprinkled with sea salt and, if you wish, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil.

for the bread
Heat your grill/griddle over a medium-high heat. I oil it lightly with sunflower oil before I turn on the heat.
Arrange the bread slices in a platter/pan in one layer and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with dried oregano (a pinch for each side of a bread slice). Turn around and do the same on the other side of each slice.
Place the bread slices on the grill and cook on both sides until they have grill marks and they are crunchy but not hard.
You can add a tiny squeeze of lemon over each one when you eat them.

Serving the whole feast
You can either serve each individual dish in its own plate/bowl etc., or you can do what I did if you have a huge serving platter.
Add the bulgur in the middle, top with the pork souvlaki (the bulgur will absorb all the delicious juices from the pork) and sprinkle with some fresh mint. Arrange the peppers around the bulgur and dollop the tzatziki in between. Serve with the bread, some extra lemons for squeezing and any remaining quantities of the dishes in separate bowls/plates for extra servings.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Loquat cake flavored with orange and rosewater

Loquat trees can be found in many areas in Greece, even in Athens where I’m from, and you can simply reach up, pick the fruit from the tree and eat it right then and there. It’s unfortunate that not many people eat loquats or that they only use them to make jam, because loquats have so much potential and can be used not only in sweet but savory dishes as well.

I think many people simply don’t know what to do with them or they don’t realize how flavorful they are. Loquats have a very unique flavor. They are tart at the beginning but that tartness is never lingering as it is succeeded by a gentle sweetness and an aromatic, fresh and fruity flavor that I can’t really describe. It is reminiscent of stone fruits like apricot or plum but also nutty, almondy somehow.

Loquats should be eaten when fully ripe and indications of that is an orange-y color instead of a pale yellow one and lots of bruises and blemishes. Perhaps that’s why people avoid them, because they think they’ve gone bad when they’re actually at their best.

I love eating loquats straight up, —I frequently combine them with cheeses, especially Greek kefalotyri which is a hard and creamy cheese made with sheep and goat’s milk, and some crusty bread— and I have used them in the past to make jam and preserve. I have been meaning to incorporate them in a cake for ages but never really got around to it until a couple of weeks ago when I finally decided to experiment. I’m happy to report that I had great results that exceeded my expectations.

I made a cake with halved loquats, semolina and almonds, flavored with orange zest and rosewater and it was incredibly flavorful with a wonderful texture. I have since then made this cake twice more to ensure it is right, and everyone who tasted it has fell in love with it.

The loquats and almonds are placed on top of the cake batter and during baking they immerse into it, hiding eventually inside the cake, only to be rediscovered with each slice or bite.

It’s a buttery and not too sweet cake, perfectly balanced, and has the distinctive flavor of the sweet and tart loquats, the citrusy aroma of the orange and the floral quality of the rosewater. It has a moist and fluffy crumb with a crispness from the added semolina and halved almonds, juiciness from the fruit and a slightly crunchy top.

The addition of salted butter was a good reminder that I need to use it more often in baked goods as it always adds a certain je ne sais quoi to cakes and biscuits (like in these pistachio and cocoa nib cookies) that makes them exceptional.

Loquat semolina cake flavored with orange and rosewater

Loquats are extremely easy to peel as their skin comes off very easily. Start by pulling the stem upwards, which will also tear the skin all around and from then on it’s easy to peel them, like you would the skin of a tomato.
Then, cut them in half lengthwise, remove the stones (I have found loquats with only one stone and up to six!) and then you will see that there is a thin membrane in the center. You can remove it, especially any part that is too dark, but peel it off, don’t cut it off or you may remove valuable fruit flesh. If it’s too hard to peel, then leave it alone; it’s edible and it doesn’t really affect the flavor.

You could make this with apricots as well, as long as they are juicy so the cake won’t be dry.

I love eating it plain but it would pair beautifully with a scoop of vanilla or this honey and milk ice cream.

Yield: 8 pieces

180 g good quality salted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
180 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
140 g all-purpose flour
5 g (1 tsp) baking powder
60 g coarse semolina
Grated zest of 1 large orange
30 g fresh milk, full-fat
1¼ tsp rosewater
6 loquats (300-350 g), stoned, peeled and halved (see instructions above)
25 g (2 Tbsp) blanched halved almonds

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Special equipment: fine sieve, 20 cm round spring-form pan, baking paper, stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer

Preheat your oven to 170°C.
Butter the sides and bottom of a 20 cm round, spring-form pan and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper. (See here how to cut a round piece of baking paper).

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until creamy, pale and fluffy, for 10-12 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating well on medium-high speed after each addition, fully incorporating each egg in the mixture before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and semolina, add the grated orange zest and mix. Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low, briefly, to incorporate. Then add the milk and rosewater and beat on low until fully incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low just until combined. Don’t overmix. You should have a creamy, fluffy mixture/batter at this point.

Empty the batter in the prepared pan, smooth the top and arrange the loquats on top in one layer as in the photo, pushing them gently into the batter. Sprinkle all over with the halved almonds. The loquats and almonds will sink into the cake during baking.

Bake on the low rack of the preheated oven for 40 minutes, then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 10-13 minutes or until the top of the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. If towards the last 10 minutes of baking, the top of the cake looks too dark to you, cover loosely with a piece of aluminium foil.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 25 minutes. Then, remove the sides of the pan and let cake cool for another 25 minutes before removing the bottom of the pan and the baking paper. Let the cake cool completely on the wire rack before serving.

Serve dusted with icing sugar if you want.

It keeps well for 3-4 days, at room temperature.