In Christmas pasts, we used to gorge on films that featured food. Gluttons for punishment, perhaps, after a big holiday meal, but it became something of a tradition. Most of the films were foreign with subtitles like Babettes Gæstebud, translated as Babette’s Feast (Danish), Como Agua Para Chocolate, translated as Like Water for Chocolate (Mexican), Bella Martha, translated as Mostly Martha (German – NOT the Hollywood remake based on this story, No Reservations), Eat Drink Man Woman (Chinese), Chocolat based on British author Joanne Harris’ book by the same name, and of course, Polítiki Kouzína (Πολίτικη Κουζίνα, Greek).
The last film on my list many of you may know by its English name, Touch of Spice. It is a story about the taste of ‘home’ for a young Greek boy growing up in Istanbul, happy memories of his grandfather’s spice shop, and his eventual exile with his parents to Athens in the 1950s before his return as an adult to the city of his birth. It is a story of how flavours and tastes of food are embedded in bodily remembrance and how spices – salt, pepper, cinnamon – resonate with our lives.
Many foods here in Greece are labelled Polítiki which means ‘of the City’, shorthand for Constantinople, modern day Istanbul. So, Politiki Kouzína means food/cuisine/kitchen of the City. Polítiki labelled foods are often slightly spicer than other Greek dishes and originate in households of Constantinople Greeks who brought their cuisine with them. One of the most common winter salads here is simply called Polítiki saláta (Πολίτικη σαλάτα), a slightly pickled cabbage salad flavoured with selino (peppery celery leaf) and Turkish peppers.
Polítiki saláta (Πολίτικη σαλάτα)
Most salads of this sort are made and eaten the same day. They are also chopped into finer pieces, perhaps so they pickle more quickly. I prefer the coarser non-uniform shred and a longer pickling time. The celery leaf is essential, but different coloured bell peppers (about 2) can replace the long green peppers. The salad, packed in sealed jars, will last for a few months in the refrigerator.
- 1 medium size white cabbage
- 5 medium carrots
- 4 long green peppers (not the small hot peppers, but the milder ones)
- 10g sea salt
- bunch of celery leaf
- 350ml wine vinegar (white or red, not balsamic)
- 500ml water
- 3 tablespoons sugar
Clean and remove the outer bruised leaves of the cabbage. Cut in quarters and cut out the core and any large ribs. Shred and place in a large bowl. Peel carrots and grate into the bowl. Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove tops and seeds. Cut the pepper halves in thin slices across the length. Place these in the bowl. Mix the cut vegetables and sprinkle on the salt. Mix and let sit for about an hour to an hour and a half.
Scrunch the cabbage mixture in your hands and place it by handfuls into a separate bowl, leaving any liquid that may have formed in the original bowl. Add chopped celery leaf and mix. Pack into jars, leaving very little space.
Heat the vinegar, water and sugar (which adjusts the sharpness of the vinegar) on the stove until it begins to boil. Turn off heat and while still warm, pour into the tightly packed jars, filling all the spaces. Top the jars with a thin layer of olive oil and seal. Store in the refrigerator.
To serve the salad: I take handfuls out of the jar and drain. I often add other ingredients such as capers and/or olives, more shredded carrots (and sometimes raisins for a sweet contrast), or shredded red cabbage for colour. Or any combination of these things. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and enjoy.