Most of last month was spent travelling, so I’ve been away from my kitchen. We had fabulous meals out – lots of fresh vegetables in addition to the usual fish and meat. I know others who travel sometimes search in vain for fresh vegetables. But, when you travel in Greece, vegetables are always on the menu. I am still dreaming of a vegetable platter we had as a seasonal meze – roast red peppers from Florina, delicately steamed baby broccoli, ruby beetroot wedges and perfectly cooked “greens” (vlita), laid out individually, all dressed with fresh green olive oil and served with quarters of lemon. You can always count on horiatiki being served in most places (except in the depth of winter where lettuce or cabbage salads predominate). Horiatiki is the standard Greek “village” salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions topped with a scattering of olives, and a dressing of fresh green olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice with a sprinkling of dried oregano. Sometimes a chunk of feta or slices of raw peppers are added for more flavour and colour.
If you are lucky, you will eat at a place that grows its own, providing super fresh produce. The countryside still has these wonderful tavernas that must have once been wayside inns – Ottoman hans – along old routes, now relegated to rural areas with the construction of faster modern highways that lead major traffic away. We happened upon one such wonderful place where the border of northern Thessaly and western Macedonia meet. The taverna is called Platanos after the huge plane trees that grow in its forecourt. Here we had what was the best souvlaki we have yet to come across – and of course a horiatiki that was quite likely fresh from their garden. You could see the veggies growing in a patch behind the taverna next to their chicken coop.
For the first week we were away, we had this view (below) from the kitchen/dining area of the house we rented with its large picture window. It was located on the coast of Lake Orestiada looking towards the town of Kastoria. I’m afraid we didn’t do a lot of cooking in the kitchen beyond brewing coffee to be sipped watching dawn over the lake. We are obscenely early risers. By 7 o’clock, the light was up and the birds are out – geese, ducks, pelicans and storks – and a tad later the rowers. This is one of the best lakes in Greece to row (scull) to train for the Olympics or the Balkan Rowing Championships.
One memorable meal in Kastoria (there were many) was at a lakeside place that specialised in mezedes (small plates), we had their version of fish n’ chips. It was beautifully battered salt cod (bakaliáros) and fried potatoes. Although, carp is the main fish that is found in Lake Orestiada, the locals tend to eat seafood brought in from the coast (including salt cod) or farmed trout that comes from nearby mountain streams. While eating our Kastoria fish n’ chips, a procession of geese waddled by. Goose was not on the menu.
On the further end of the same lake, we had a taste of an exceedingly ancient kitchen – at the reconstructed neolithic lakeside village of Dispilio. The reconstruction is based on the excavations of a neolithic site found nearby. Each one room hut would have been kitchen as well as living and sleeping quarters. To instruct school children who visit the place (it is part of the curriculum in local schools), a diorama was constructed in one of the huts to show life at the time – including the hearth, cooking pots and a grinding stone. Goose, other birds and fish were most likely on the menu here.
Further north (at the borders with Albania and FYROM), we headed into bean country to another lake. On Lake Prespa we lunched on trout accompanied by a fabulous bean salad. You can read a little about the Lake and Prespa Beans in my previous post.
Naturally, we brought kilos of Prespa beans back to Athens along with rye flour, barley flour and Macedonian mustard from a deli in Kastoria. Later, in Metsovo in the Pindos mountains, we stocked up on cheese, wine and hilopites, the latter a particular shaped pasta from Epirus. We’ve already made headway into the cheese and wine. The new INIMA range of Averoff wine takes its name from the Vlach word for soul – a very poetic name for superb wines. I’ll be posting more on Metsovo cheese in a post later this month.
We’re now gearing up for the new academic year, well stocked with northern supplies. We’ve also been sorting out the pantry here in Athens and discovered the barrel of olives we had brined last December, which I blogged about in that month’s IMK: In My Olive Kitchen. It had been set aside and nearly forgotten – a happy coincidence as it turns out. What we thought was a failure turned out to be a great success. Brining took its time to work its magic! Now we have a huge supply of very tasty Kalamata olives.
With any luck, more IN my [own] kitchen next month!