Since moving here to Athens I have noticed how my kitchen tends to revolve around the seasonal produce in my weekly market – my local laiki (as open air markets are called here). Every week, I am on the lookout for greens in the laiki and lately I’ve noticed that spiny chicory (σταμναγκάθι), that bitter green from Crete I used in my winter tsigarista (greens sautée), has begun to make its appearance in a number of stalls.
And, sometimes I stumble across unusual greens. Earlier in October, my favourite salad and herb stall was selling fresh ‘new crop’ cardamom. I had never seen cardamom greens before. The seed pods and the spice ground from the seeds are commonly known, but not the greens. Fresh cardamom, according to many internet recipes, is often paired with steamed fish and Asian flavourings. However, I found the greens lose some of their pungency when cooked. My favourite way of using this green is fresh in salads, providing a nice peppery bite to other greens much like mustard leaf does.
Autumn fruits – apples and pears – are now abundant. Pomegranates, persimmons and pumpkins have also make their appearance.
Plum season was fleeting and damsons were the last available. Damson cheese was made and more purée frozen for future gelato making.
Quince are back (hurrah!), but I still miss my productive quince tree back in the UK. Here in Athens we converted the quince to a ruby red delicacy using a recipe posted back in 2014 from the fabulous blog, Please Pass the Recipe. It has become a favourite.
We’ve also preserved yet more herbs from the kitchen garden after the massive production of basil oil and pesto. A wonderful herb basis for a marinade or salad dressing can be made ahead when the herbs are fresh in the garden, chopped and frozen in a little olive oil in ice cube trays.
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Four Herb Marinade
The quantities (units) here are done in volume proportion – that is, for 3 packed cups of basil you will need 1 cup oregano leaves, 1/2 cup mint leaves and 1/8 cup (= 2 Tablespoons) thyme leaves.
- 3 units fresh basil leaves
- 1 unit fresh oregano, stripped from stalk
- 1/2 unit fresh mint leaves
- 1/8 unit fresh thyme, stripped from stalk
- Olive oil
Clean, dry and finely chop all the herbs together. Pack them into ice cube trays and cover with olive oil. When they are frozen, remove the herb cubes and store in a plastic bag or other container in the freezer until ready to use.
To make the marinade, take one or two cubes from the freezer and place them in a bowl to defrost. Once defrosted, cover with red wine vinegar. Add finely sliced spring onions (scallions) to the marinade. Cover and let it stand for at least an hour at room temperature. If using as a marinade for roast vegetables, mix with vegetables once have been roasted. But, if using it as a salad dressing, add twice as much olive oil as the quantity of red wine vinegar used. Whisk it and apply as much as required for your salad.
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Tomatoes and other summer vegetables continue to be available in the market, but I suspect this will tail off soon. Until that time we are enjoying tomato salads – delicious with a dressing using the newly made four herb mixture described above. Also, one of my favouite uses of late summer toms is a fantastic soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. This year I swirlled in some of my basil oil. Preserved herbs are already coming in handy.
My local laiki is filled with people shopping for fruits and vegetables, fish, olives, cut flowers, dried beans, nuts and herbs. Laden with bags, many of us wait in the queque for freshly grilled souvlaki – our little reward at the end of the shopping foray. I enjoy each week, checking out the stalls, noticing what’s no longer there, what’s just appeared, experiencing the gentle rhythm of the seasons in the market, in my garden and in my kitchen.