Our adopted Greek New Year rituals were enacted again this year. A (real) pomegranate was smashed on the doorstep for prosperity and the new 2018 gouri (good luck charm) hung in the kitchen.
The blue glass eye (mati) reminded me of the eye opus sectile mosaic we just saw on a cold and rainy visit during the last days of December to the UNESCO world heritage site of Mystra near Sparta. Cracked and ancient, it graces the floor of the mid-14th century church of the Peribleptos Monastery located in the Byzantine city. Certainly an old motif.
I also was given a new ceramic pomegranate – a modern, funky stylised one by the Greek designer Liana Papalexi – to add to my growing collection.
I draw the line with the Greek New Year tradition of hanging an onion (or traditionally the bulb of a sea squill) that symbolises the ability to sprout new life in front of the house. On New Year’s day the bulb is taken down and brought inside to be used to lightly rap the heads of children in the household for good luck throughout the year. For us, onions stay in the pantry or occasionally get chopped up for cooking. However, my annual Vasilopita (a sweet holiday bread for Saint Basil) was made, the ritual cutting performed and the prize (coin) won. The aromatic sweet bread makes an excellent breakfast with coffee. More Saint Basil’s cakes/bread will be made and consumed during the month – clubs, other organisations or corporate bodies have their own special Vasilopita cutting ceremonies throughout January. I’ve also prepared another and very different sort of Vasilopita at home – a new experiment for me this year. But more on this soon in a forthcoming post. I’ll give you a hint – it is savoury and a tradition more common in Northern Greece.
Because we also follow the British custom of making curry with some of the leftover holiday turkey, I always like to have a good supply of mango chutney. This is sadly not a common condiment stocked on the shop shelves and when (imported) mangos do appear in the market, they are quite expensive. So, I cudgelled my brains for an acceptable alternative. My new find was a recipe for persimmon chutney – very similar to my recipe for mango chutney with nigella seeds. In December persimmons (lotos, Greek λωτός) are still plentiful in the market and at a decent price (unlike those mangos). The result: brilliant, but slightly different. We now have ample supplies of chutney for curries.
Another condiment also caught my eye. Now, I’m not one for a palette smear of this condiment or an artistic dribble of that sauce on a plate. It always seemed a bit pretentious to me with more thought to the eye than to the palate. But, when we were out a restaurant in the Acropolis region of central Athens and were presented with a meze dish of chèvre cheese logs encrusted with sunflower seeds, cut into segments and placed on a (not so stingy) smear of beetroot and ginger jam, I was in heaven. The combination is superb – just cut into the creamy chèvre with its crunchy crust and scoop up a little of the ruby jam…. I had to try it out at home – not only a new recipe, but a new departure on presentation.
Beetroot & Ginger Jam
- 400g peeled and cubed beetroot (approximately 2 large beetroots)
- 15-20g crystallised ginger
- 500ml to 1 litre water
- 100g sugar
Peel and cube the beetroot. Cut the crystallised ginger into small pieces. Put the beetroot and ginger into a large pot and pour in 500ml water to start so that the beetroot is just covered. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half (until the beetroot is very tender). Check periodically and top up with water if it is getting too low. Uncover; purée the contents and add the sugar. Simmer uncovered until the jam thickens – about 5 to 10 minutes. Pot up as you would any jam.
Recently, I also made a sourdough version of Chinese scallion pancakes, originally posted by Maree on her blog, Around the Mulberry Tree. They were really delicious and very easy to do. I actually made them up to the snail shape, slightly flattened them and then put them in the freezer. To make the pancakes, I got the required number out, put them on a tray in a warm place and covered them (to prevent them from drying out). Once defrosted, they could be rolled out to a thin “pancake” and cooked on the griddle. They reminded us of chapatis, albeit onion flavoured, and were great with the pheasant paté, but I think they would also be perfect for a curry along with the persimmon chutney mentioned above. They might even be good with a smear of beetroot and ginger jam and a bit of cheese. They seem to be very versatile flatbreads and something I will continue to make whenever we have excess spring onion tops – or even try them out with chopped chives which we have in plentiful supply in the garden.
As an inevitable consequence of the holiday gift giving, new cookbooks are now in my kitchen. I recently ran across an Icelandic word, jólabókaflóð, that describes a “flood” of books specifically at this time of year. Interesting that there is a single word to describe this phenomenon. Two of my new cookbooks are on Georgian Food – a new food exploration for me.
Just before Christmas I was at last able to find caraway seeds here in Athens at a fabulous spice shop new to me (but certainly not a new shop) in the market district. It is now on my radar and I will pop in again to top up on spices. Apparently caraway is better known as κιούμελ, a transliteration of the German for caraway – kümmel. Most places looked blankly when I asked for αγριοκύμινο (Greek for caraway) and tried to sell me κύμινο (cumin). Now that the ingredients are in place, sourdough pumpernickel bread is on the list of things to make.
You can probably guess what my New Year’s resolution is. A perennial favouite of mine is to expand my horizons (which I also blogged about last year). It is a resolution I never fail to follow unlike those promises to exercise more which always seem to go belly up within the month. My resolution is to explore new places, expand my knowledge with new ideas, try new things. They needn’t be spectacular places, grand ideas or complicated things; the only requirement is they should be about learning, seeing and experiencing new things (… and to try to exercise more).
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!