It’s been a long time since I last posted about the happenings in my kitchen. Like the rest of the world, we are on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. On one of those low points, life seemed to go into stasis. Lockdown during our winter months here in Greece meant that we carried on as usual, but it developed into a rut. The late spring weather has improved matters, as has the vaccine rates and the new freedoms allowed to shop, travel and meet socially. We are now cautiously emerging from our chrysalis. This past month has been all about exploring ingredients.
In celebration of the lifting of lockdown in mid-May, we took a stroll around the neighbourhood to check out a deli we were told about, but had never visited. We discovered that it stocks my favourite pasta, Tuscan pici, and a British mango chutney so that means I’ll be making curries again soon. It also has a good selection of both Greek and foreign cheeses and charcuterie. A sharp almost-Cheddar-like cheese they carry is to die for. It is from one of the Aegean islands (Paros, I think, but will need to check when I go back to shop again). I can see that I will be shopping here for those little luxury items in future.
Our local laiki (open air market) is still going strong – one of the few places we shopped during winter lockdown. By nature, it sells seasonal fruits and vegetables. Recently, after being given a bunch of radishes by my “greens” man, I thought to experiment with a radish green ristotto. Another recipe for the greens that struck my fancy was radish green ‘pesto’. The quote marks were put there since some purists believe that pesto can only be made with basil. I use the term loosely as I recognise there are sorts of fresh – mostly green – sauces made in a similar way to traditional pesto. With the actual radishes, I originally thought I might pickle them, but then got the idea from the internet to roast them. Yes, they do taste a little like roast potatoes as advertised.
My garden has also produced artichokes. These are globe artichokes that I use to make a typical Greek recipe – Αγκινάρες αλά πολίτα. It is a vegetable stew made in the oven with potatoes, carrots, peas and flavoured with lots of dill and lemon.
Our first trip outside of Athens in 8 months was to Laconia. The Olive Museum in Sparta (one of the thematic Piraeus Bank museums scattered around Greece) is all about the olive: botanical, paleontological, archaeological, historical, early industrial which includes by-products such as soap. Not surprisingly, it is situated in one of the largest olive oil producing areas of the Peloponnese, like the neighbouring region of Messenia (the home of Kalamata). The museum is housed in an old brick factory at the edge of of Sparta. The walls also feature commissioned art work. The one below (on the left) is a triptych mosaic depicting olive leaves on branches made up of elongated schist and shale fragments which you can see in a closeup on the right. This is not our first time to this museum, but it struck me this time that the mosaic appears to be inspired by another display: fossil olive leaves found in the caldera of the volcano on Santorini that date back 60 to 50,000 years before present. Naturally, olive oil is a major ingredient in my kitchen – as in all Greek kitchens, an ingredient that can be traced back to the Neolithic.
Fresh and fragrant green olive oil is brilliant simply for dipping bread and essential in simple Greek salads. Of course, it is essential in a great many other foods. While we were away had a creative variation on a classic Greek salad made with Cos or Romaine type lettuce (marouli or μαρούλι in Greek), tomatoes, cucumber, feta, a touch of wild mint and broken bits of carob rusks (Παξιμάδι Χαρουπιού in Greek) – all drizzled with a dressing made with local Laconian olive oil and fresh lemon juice. I am going to try to source those carob paximadi (sometimes called dakos). I may even consider making them, like my barley dakos, but from carob flour made from dried, roasted carob tree pods which tastes a little bit like chocolate. Carob bread is an old Cretan tradition as are paximadi/dakos; it shouldn’t be difficult finding a recipe.
We stayed at a lovely little place in the Tayegetos mountains above Sparta near the Byzantine world heritage site of Mystra. At a nearby family eatery, we bought some of their own orange blossom honey. In addition to the plentiful olive trees in the region, it is also rich in orange groves. The honey is nice and thick like most Greek honeys with a beautiful aromatic scent and subtle flavour. It pairs very nicely with that sharp cheese I mentioned earlier.
Inspiration from travel, ingredients brought back to the kitchen from trips near and far have given my kitchen a new boost. Have a look at my other IMK posts (under Diaries in the menu) and with other IMK bloggers who connect at Sherry’s Pickings. Hoping everyone has been faring well in your own kitchens.