Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Sweet potato and carrot soup with ginger

Sometimes, only soup will do. Either because the weather turned and the cold makes your body yearn for something to warm it up, or because your soul needs something comforting, something smooth and tasty that feels like a hug.

 


 

Soup can accomplish that. This soup did it for me. For all three of us. Aris loved it (if this is something one can say about a two-year-old) which was a surprise because it was the first soup I actually served to him as, you know, soup, not mixed with other ingredients to bulk it up; just plain old soup, with bread to help him and dunk it into the liquid, and he really liked it. He didn’t eat a lot, granted, but it was a great first step. As for us, we devoured it.

 


It’s sweet and aromatic from the spices and the ginger, which gives it a slight peppery kick that, if you want, you can intensify by adding more ginger. I didn’t, as I knew Aris was going to eat it too, otherwise I would add double the amount. The good squeeze of lemon when serving the soup, gives it a welcomed citrus acidity to offset the sweetness of the root vegetables which really balances all the flavors of the dish. 

 



Sweet potato and carrot soup with ginger


Ingredients

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 red onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, sliced

2 cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced

3 medium-sized orange sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced thickly

3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and sliced

1 tsp vegetable stock powder or 1 vegetable stock cube

1 Tbsp tomato paste

Sea salt

¼ tsp sweet paprika

¼ tsp turmeric powder

¼ tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cardamom

200 ml coconut milk, full-fat

Freshly ground black pepper or hot chilli flakes & lemon juice, for serving

 

Preparation

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the onion and sauté to soften. Add the garlic and sauté, being careful not to burn it. Then add the sweet potato and carrots, and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ginger, vegetable stock (powder or cube), tomato paste and all the spices plus the salt, and mix well. Add enough hot water to completely cover the contents of the pot and then add 1 cup more water. Mix well, turn heat up to high and when it starts to boil, turn heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the coconut milk and simmer for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.

Turn the heat off and leave to stand for 5 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until creamy and smooth. Check the seasoning and serve with some black pepper or hot chilli flakes and lots of lemon juice to cut through the sweetness.

Enjoy!

 



Monday, October 25, 2021

Tomato, feta and black garlic tart with puff pastry

When I was in Greece last month, I took tomatoes, good tomatoes, for granted. They were just there, everywhere, juicy and ripe, as red and as sweet as they could be. And then I returned to the Netherlands, the land of the greenhouse tomatoes, which, don’t get me wrong, have served us well all these years, they’re decent, but the mere sight of them left me with a deep longing for the sun-kissed, -hugged and –made love to Greek tomatoes.

 


 

While at the local open market the other day, I spotted the ones you see in the photos of this post. My heart skipped a beat and their vibrant color and even aroma, made me hopeful and giddy. Fresh, in season, naturally grown tomatoes! I may have elbowed a couple of people trying to get to them before they did, but hey, all is fair in love and war (of the tomatoes).

 



 

Once home, I will admit that I ate a couple of them on the spot, over the sink, with a good sprinkling of Greek coarse sea salt from the island of Elafonisos that I got as a gift from a friend while in Greece, and they were very good. Not as good as the Greek ones, don’t get it twisted, but they were good enough to make me smile.

 


 

Some of them we ate sliced, over sandwich bread (I know! But I’m not one to turn my nose up to good white sandwich bread) slathered with homemade mayonnaise and with lots of sea salt and white pepper. And the rest went in this glorious tart. Yes, glorious. Because not only these tomatoes were involved, but feta was involved, and black garlic too, which is like the love child of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, with a pinch of tamarind and a dash of molasses, and very addictive indeed.

 


 

I used puff pastry but shortcrust or any other galette/tart pastry, like this spelt pastry, or this whole-wheat one, would do as well. The flavors were sweet and salty, savory and umami, buttery and tart. What more could you ask? Go on then, make it, before all the good tomatoes are gone, it’s so easy and quick and it can be your next lunch or dinner.

 




Tomato, feta and black garlic tart with puff pastry

Guys, feta is Greek. Please don’t talk to me about any other feta. It’s like talking to an Italian about the Parmigiano Reggiano your country makes. No. Unless your country is Italy, your country does not make Parmigiano Reggiano, period. Let alone good one. Same with feta. Let’s aaaaalways use the Greek one, okay? Otherwise, you’re using something else. Barrel-aged, semi-hard to hard (not dry) feta would be best here. Yeap, there are different kinds of feta in Greece.

To those who have never used or eaten black garlic before: black garlic is supposed to be tender, soft and sticky, not dry and hard. The first time I ever bought the stuff a long time ago, it must have been on the shelf for ages, not properly sealed, and it was so dry I couldn’t tear it apart no matter how hard I tried. I thought I was doing something wrong, I wasn’t. Lesson learned, if it’s dry, toss it out.

 


Yield: 1 large tart, 6 large pieces

 

Ingredients

1 rolled-out sheet of puff pastry, about 25x40 cm (you could always make your own puff pastry too)

85 g feta, hard or semi-hard

130 g Greek yoghurt, 5% fat

2 black garlic cloves, peeled

2-3 tomatoes of different colors and sizes, thinly sliced

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Ground sumac

Extra virgin olive oil

1 egg, beaten lightly with a fork, for glazing the pastry

Fresh mint leaves, for finishing

 

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 185-190 C.

In a small bowl, mash together the feta, yoghurt and black garlic cloves using a fork to get it as smooth as you can, although it is expected to be grainy. Add freshly ground black pepper (3-4 turns of the pepper mill) and a couple of pinches ground sumac, and mix well. 

 

Place the puff pastry sheet on a baking pan lined with baking paper and lightly score a frame, using a knife. Spread the feta mixture evenly inside the frame using preferably a small, bendy, offset spatula, so you don’t make any holes in the pastry.

Arrange the sliced tomatoes on top, overlapping them slightly but not too much so they bake evenly. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper, a little sumac and finally drizzle with a little olive oil. 

 

Brush the frame with the beaten egg and place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry has a nice golden brown color and the tomatoes have softened and cooked.

Remove the tart from the oven and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil and scatter a few fresh mints leaves over the top.

Cut into pieces and enjoy warm!

 


 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Veal biftekia (Greek meat patties) with koulouri and tzatziki

Nothing beats a nice, charred and juicy Greek bifteki (meat patty) for dinner, any day of the week, especially when you serve it on top of a sliced, homemade koulouri (Greek, sesame-coated bread ring) and some refreshing, pungent tzatziki

 

 

Last week, while shopping at a large super market that oftentimes carries unusual and rare vegetables and fruits, I came across a basket full of wild garlic. Wild garlic, this time of the year! I couldn’t believe it. Don’t know where it was from, but I couldn’t resist getting it because I adore wild garlic. I used it in the beef patties, but since it’s not in season now and even when it is it’s difficult to find in many places, you can substitute with regular garlic. I also used it in the tzatziki, the recipe for which can be found here and of course, the bread rings recipe is here

 





Veal and wild garlic* biftekia (Greek meat patties) with koulouri and tzatziki 

Needless to say that the quality of the veal you use is key in the flavor of the biftekia. Buy ground veal with some fat in it as it will give your biftekia extra flavor but not too much fat as they will be too greasy and heavy. Also, what’s important in the final flavor and texture is the proper mixing of the ingredients and the resting of the mixture in the fridge. 

You can make great souvlakia with these biftekia too. Just shape them into longer ovals, put them inside a Greek pita, add tzatziki, tomato and onions, or your own favorite ingredients, and dig in.

*As mentioned above, you can substitute the wild garlic for regular garlic since it's not in season now.

 


Yield: 9 small-ish biftekia or 4 large ones

Ingredients 

for the biftekia (meat patties) 

500 g ground veal 

2 red onions (about 110 g net weight)

1 large handful flat-leaf parsley

3 wild garlic leaves (with stems attached) or 1 garlic clove

1 tsp pul biber (Aleppo pepper) or hot chilli flakes

1 tsp sweet paprika

¼ tsp Greek dried oregano

Freshly ground black pepper, 20 turns of the pepper mill

1 tsp sea salt

2 Tbsp olive oil, for cooking

to serve

tzatziki (you can substitute the wild garlic in the recipe with 2 garlic cloves)

koulouria/simitia (Greek bread rings)

lemon

tomatoes or cherry tomatoes

 

Preparation

In a small food processor, add the onion, garlic and parsley and finely chop. Add all the ingredients for the biftekia, except the oil, in a medium-sized bowl that fits in your fridge, and mix very well, kneading the mixture for 5-6 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and place the bowl in the fridge for 2 hours.

Shape the patties. Give them an oval shape and then flatten slightly the tops.

 

Heat a frying pan well over medium-high heat. Okay, now I gotta talk about something. Frying pans. Not all are created equal. Even though I use from time to time non stick pans, like Tefal, I tend to avoid them for two reasons. First, because they are harmful to our health and second, because as far as meat (chicken, steak, offal, patties) mushrooms and tofu is concerned, they can’t cook them well. How well a pan conducts and retains heat is dependent upon the material the pan is made of and of course this affects cooking. For example, copper heats up super fast and also gets cold super fast once off the heat. Iron/cast iron on the other hand takes a bit of time to heat up but retains that heat well after it has been taken off the heat. Carbon steel pans heat up quickly and retain heat well after they have been taken off the heat. Also, whether or not a pan has the ability to create a natural patina, like iron and steel pans do, is crucial in the final flavor and texture of the cooked meat. You are familiar with the Maillard reaction, no? If not, you can read about it here.

So the pan I use is a carbon steel pan with a beeswax layer by de Buyer (Mineral B model), which creates a non stick patina with time and cooks better than any other pan I have ever used, including my beloved yet hardly used anymore le Creuset cast iron pan. Also, the double sided grill/griddle from le Creuset, which I have been using for maaaany years, especially for making pork souvlakia is also excellent for cooking meat patties. I prefer, however, the de Buyer pan as it is less heavy (talking about the small one here; the larger one I have is almost as heavy as the Creuset griddle, if not heavier). Ugh! Let's get back to the recipe. As soon as the pan heats up, lower the heat to medium and add the olive oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the patties and cook to your liking. I like them well cooked, so for small-ish patties, I cook them for 7 minutes per side.

serve the dish

Cut the bread rings lengthwise, place the biftekia on top so the bread soaks up the juices and becomes even more delicious, add the tzatziki and tomatoes and squeeze lots of lemon juice over the patties.

Dig in and enjoy!