Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fasolakia ladera (Greek braised green beans in a fresh tomato sauce), a lighter version

Fasolakia is a classic Greek dish of green beans braised in a tomato sauce laden with olive oil. Potatoes are usually included in the dish, sometimes carrots as well, but not this time.

What’s also not included this time is the copious amounts of olive oil. Not because I have anything against my dishes being drowned in olive oil, I am Greek after all, but simply because, sometimes, you want a lighter version of a dish, that’s all.

So, here it is, my lighter version of fasolakia.

Have your feta and bread ready, the classic accompaniments to this dish, and enjoy!

P.S.1 This is a Greek dish that belongs to the category of “ladera”. Ladera means “with oil” or “oily” (ladi is the Greek word for oil) and denotes dishes, specifically vegetable main dishes, that are prepared with olive oil and without the addition of any other type of fat.
There are two varieties of ladera: a) vegetables that are braised/stewed or baked in an olive oil and tomato sauce, and b) vegetables that are braised/stewed or baked in an olive oil-based sauce without tomato and with the addition of a variety of fresh herbs. This dish is of the first variety.

P.S.2 Promise to share with you the olive oil-heavy version of fasolakia —potatoes and all—, soon.

Fasolakia ladera, a lighter version – Greek braised green beans in a fresh tomato sauce

This type of flat green beans (called barbounia in Greek) are best for this dish but, frankly, you could use any other type of fresh green bean available in your part of the world. In Greece, I also use tsaoulia beans. You could even use frozen green beans if you want to make this in the winter. The beans will take a bit longer to cook but they will be delicious nonetheless.

This will probably be your last chance to use fresh, sweet tomatoes this year, but even if you can’t find good fresh tomatoes, you can always use good quality canned tomatoes, preferably whole tomatoes that you can smash up with your hands or a fork before adding to the pan.

Yield: 2 servings

800 g fresh flat green beans (weight after you trim them will be around 600 g), rinsed well
4-5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 red onions (about 150 g), peeled
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
250-300 g fresh tomatoes (or canned whole tomatoes)
1½ tsp tomato paste
A handful of fresh parsley, stalks and leaves, roughly chopped
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp dried red chilli flakes (use ¼ tsp chilli if you don’t enjoy the heat of chilli)
Freshly ground black pepper, 7-8 grinds of the pepper mill
1 cup hot water

Special equipment: small food processor

Using a small, sharp knife, top and tail the beans and also cut off the vein/string that runs around the sides of the bean. If you leave it on, the beans will be unpleasant to eat. Cut the beans in half if they are too long.
Add the onions and garlic in a small food processor and process until they are finely chopped and they start releasing their juices.
In a large and wide pan with lid, heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and garlic and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until they dry out a bit. You don’t want them to brown. Then add the prepared green beans and toss them around for 1-2 minutes in order to get covered with the olive oil and onions.
In the meantime, in the same food processor, add the fresh tomatoes and process until they become almost liquid but there are some small pieces still intact. If you are using canned whole tomatoes, you can smash them with a fork or your hands, or process them in the same manner in the food processor. Add them to the green beans together with the tomato paste and stir well to mix all the ingredients together.
Then add the paprika, dried red chilli flakes, black pepper, salt and the water and stir well. Put the lid on the pan and bring to the boil. Then turn heat down to medium-low and allow the beans to cook, stirring them from time to time and checking if they need more water (you don’t want them to dry out or catch), for 50-60 minutes or until they are tender and you have a nice, chunky and somewhat thick sauce. You don’t want the sauce to be watery, so if this is the case, take the lid off and cook for a few minutes so that the excess water evaporates and the sauce has the desired consistency. Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed.

This is a dish that is best served lukewarm or even at room temperature and it tastes better the next day. Bear in mind that due to the fact that this dish doesn’t contain a lot of olive oil, the next day it will not be as juicy, but it will be more flavorful.

Serve with fresh bread and feta, and enjoy!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blistered Padrón peppers

Some of the things that happened these past couple of months:

My blog was featured on CNN Travel as one of five Greek food blogs you should be following!

I went on vacation to Greece and had the best time at home in Athens with my family and friends, however, the most fun was had in the island of Evvoia.

I finally got a proper tan, for my standards at least, after of course I got a sun burn, and now I only have the memory of said tan because there’s no sun in Holland at the moment to sustain it.

I swam in the bluest seas and stepped on more than one sea urchin. Ouch!

I ate and drank more than I should.

I discovered that I’m allergic to cats. My dream of becoming a cat lady when I grow old, is officially shattered.

I learned that taking a leap of faith can only lead to good things.

I cooked a lot, as always.
Like these peppers. The best mezes there is.

If I could live on mezedes, I would. Small plates with all things delicious, savory and different from one another, never too much of anything that you get bored. Variety, different flavors and textures, complementing each other and creating a complete meal.

This could definitely be a part of my dream meze spread.

Peppers, shallow-fried in olive oil until they blister and char and become impossibly delicious. A good sprinkling of coarse sea salt which brings out their savory and fruity flavor even more, a drizzling of good olive oil on top and you’re set. The perfect mezes for ouzo, wine, beer or whatever is the alcohol of your choice, and a great accompaniment to steak or burgers.

By the way, speaking of peppers, have you tried Spetzofai (Greek peppers and sausage dish)? If not, you need to get on it, asap.

Blistered Padrón peppers

If you can’t find Padrón peppers, you can use any other small, mild or mildly hot green peppers. Shishito peppers (Asian variety of similar peppers) are a good substitute. If you are in Greece, kerato peppers are a good substitute, even though they are longer than the pimientos de Padrón.

Padrón peppers are usually mild-flavored but some of them are very hot, so when you eat them it’s like playing Russian roulette, something that intensifies the pleasure, at least in my opinion.

Yield: 4 meze servings

300 g Padrón peppers (or other similar variety / see notes above), rinsed and patted dry
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the top
Sea salt flakes (I use Maldon)

In a large and wide heavy-bottomed frying pan (like a cast-iron or iron pan), add the olive oil and heat over a medium-high heat. When the oil gets super hot and starts to smoke, add the peppers in a single layer and fry them for about 2 minutes or until their flesh softens and they blister and char on the bottom, without disturbing them at all, otherwise they won’t blister properly. Also, you need to be careful of any oil splattering on you, therefore, I would suggest you use a splatter protector/guard.
Turn the peppers on the other side and fry them for a further 2 minutes in the same manner, again without moving them around in the pan at all.
If your peppers are large, you should fry them and let them blister equally on all sides.
When ready, transfer them to a platter, drizzle with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with lots of sea salt.
They are best eaten straight away but you could keep them at room temperature and have them later.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chocolate, hazelnut and crushed meringue ice cream terrine

Sometimes, you want a dessert that’s rich, smooth, chocolaty, nutty, creamy, luscious and crunchy all at the same time.

You want a frozen dessert that’s more than ice cream; that’s far easier than regular ice cream; that’s more decadent yet lighter than ice cream.

A no-churn ice cream that’s flavored with coffee liqueur and vanilla, that includes crushed meringues, with finely ground hazelnuts folded in the mixture and layers of melted dark chocolate swirled through it, and drizzled with a dark chocolate magic shell that hardens when it hits the ice cream and becomes so very irresistible.

Enter the ice cream terrine, which actually reminds me a bit of Viennetta. It’s luscious, with a smooth flavor and creamy texture, almost like a semifreddo or a parfait but far lighter as it doesn’t contain any eggs.

The coffee liqueur and the vanilla bring their wonderful aroma and taste, while the finely ground hazelnuts and crushed meringues add crunchiness and their unique flavor notes. The melted dark chocolate that’s swirled through the mixture creates layers that have the texture of a soft biscuit or brownie that’s incredible and makes for a delicious surprise when you bite into the terrine.

The magic shell that’s poured on top adds a crispy texture and gives even more chocolate flavor —which you can never have enough of in my book— and the berries served on the side bring freshness and lighten up the dessert which, admittedly, is quite rich, but if eaten in thin slices is just perfect.

Chocolate, hazelnut and crushed meringue ice cream terrine

Use meringues of the crispy kind, not the chewy ones.
You could use flavored meringues instead of plain ones if you’d like; I would suggest mocha, coffee or caramel as they work great with the rest of the ingredients.

Yield: 12 slices

100 g good quality dark chocolate (55-60%), chopped
400 ml cream, full-fat (35%), cold
85-100 g ready-made, crispy meringues, crushed but leave some smaller pieces to add texture
1 Tbsp coffee liqueur
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
60 g finely ground blanched hazelnuts
Pinch of fine sea salt

for the magic shell
50 g good quality dark chocolate (55-60%), chopped
25 g extra virgin coconut oil

Fresh berries or cherries (depending on the season you’re making this in), to decorate

Special equipment: hand-held electric mixer, loaf pan (23 x 9 x 8 cm), plastic wrap

Take your loaf pan and line the bottom and sides with plastic wrap. There needs to be an overhang on all four sides as you’ll have to cover the ice cream terrine completely with it.

Put the chocolate in a small bowl and melt it in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (bain-marie) or in the microwave, being careful not to burn it. Then leave to cool to room temperature, stirring from time to time.

In a large bowl, add the cold cream and beat on medium-high speed until thick but still fluffy and soft. Add the crushed meringues, finely chopped hazelnuts, coffee liqueur, vanilla extract and salt and fold them in the whipped cream with a soft spatula, being careful not to deflate it.

Add half of this mixture to the prepared loaf pan and use the spatula or the back of a spoon to smooth the top. Pour half of the melted and cooled chocolate along the center and use a skewer or the handle of a spoon to swirl it in. Don’t overdo it but make sure to cover the whole surface of the mixture so there’s chocolate all over, not only at the center of the ice cream terrine.

Then, add on top the rest of the whipped cream mixture and smooth the top. Pour the rest of the chocolate and swirl it in again.

Then, smooth the top and cover with the overhanging plastic wrap, tapping it gently onto the ice cream to get a proper seal but without squeezing the mixture.
Wrap the loaf pan all around with more plastic wrap and place it in your freezer for at least 8 hours but preferably overnight.

for the magic shell
Place the chocolate and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (bain-marie) and melt, stirring often. Alternatively, you can melt them in the microwave. Allow to cool slightly before drizzling over the ice cream. It takes 30-50 seconds to harden once it hits the ice cream.

The next day, before you want to serve it, remove the ice cream from the loaf pan by lifting it up from the plastic wrap. Unwrap it and invert it onto a plate. Drizzle with the magic shell and decorate with fresh berries, cherries etc.
You may want to leave it for about 20 minutes in order to soften a bit before you cut it.
Serve sliced with berries on the side.

You can keep it in your freezer, wrapped with the plastic wrap for 4-5 days.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Persian herb omelette (Kuku sabzi) with feta

I’ve always appreciated the magical qualities of eggs; their ability to turn into fluffy meringue, to create a thick and rich crème anglaise and of course add volume to cakes of any kind.

Eggs are one of the few foods I would gladly eat every single day. They are so versatile: poached, on top of avocado toast; scrambled into silky ribbons and gently placed over toasted sourdough or mixed with freshly grated tomatoes thus creating the incredibly delicious Greek strapatsada/kagianas; fried in extra virgin olive oil, sunny side up, yolks oozing golden liquid, whites all lacy and crispy; soft boiled and burst open onto a bowlful of chicken fried rice. The possibilities are endless, and exciting, much like this omelette. A Persian herb omelette with feta. An omelette unlike any other, because let’s face it, the Iranians know how to eat.

It is called Kuku sabzi and I have found many interpretations of this dish around. This one is my favorite. It’s a dish that’s traditionally served on the Persian New Year and it involves copious amounts of herbs being held together by eggs, because that’s what this is, herbs with eggs rather than eggs with herbs.

There’s walnuts, turmeric and dried fenugreek in there, and also barberries, a very traditional Iranian dried fruit that’s acidic, quite tart and a tiny bit sweet. There’s also feta which is not traditional but I am Greek and a feta-fiend so of course I had to add it, and it bulked up the omelette as well, making it even more filling and satisfying. I served it with Greek yoghurt sprinkled with some more fresh herbs and it was the best meal ever.

The herbs I used in this dish are parsley, dill, mint and chives. Coriander is usually added as well but I am categorically opposed to adding this herb in my food, so I omitted it. It’s a very easy dish to make and the only thing that’s tricky is flipping the omelette. Υou’ll surely need a nonstick pan that you trust, otherwise I would suggest you finish the omelette in the oven for a couple of minutes so you don’t run the risk of it breaking up.

It’s a delicious and savory omelette. The aromatic herbs are very fresh and vibrant, the walnuts give their crunchy texture and earthy flavor, and there’s a gentle spiciness from the turmeric and the fenugreek which is absolutely essential in this dish as it makes it incredibly fragrant. The fruity burst of tangy flavor, acidity and sourness of the barberries blends well with the rest of the ingredients, and the soft feta adds creaminess and saltiness.

As it cooks, the omelette creates a nice thin crust around and at the bottom, yet it remains slightly soft, juicy and creamy in the middle. It is like an herby, fluffy cloud that would be a crime to overcook. It is such a treat and a special dish to serve for brunch, lunch or light supper with some good bread. Hope you enjoy it!

Persian herb omelette (Kuku sabzi) with feta

If you can’t find barberries, you can substitute with dried sour cherries or cranberries; however, they’re not the same.

The size of the pan makes a difference as to how many minutes the omelette needs cooking and how thick/thin it will be. My pan has a 24 cm in diameter bottom and I would suggest you use the same sized frying pan. Also, use a frying pan that has curved wide edges, not straight edges, because you will need to slide the omelette onto a plate in order to invert it.

Fresh, young spinach leaves can also be added in this dish so feel free to experiment.

Yield: 8 pieces (enough for 4 people)

6 large eggs
2 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt (if your feta is very salty, use ¾ tsp salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp fenugreek powder (ground dried fenugreek seeds)
1 cup (20 g) fresh, flat-leaf parsley leaves and thin stalks, finely chopped
1 cup (25 g) fresh chives, finely chopped
1 cup (10 g) dill leaves and thin stalks, finely chopped
Fresh mint leaves picked from 3-4 stalks, finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 large garlic clove, mashed
1/3 cup (35 g) walnut halves (preferably toasted), chopped coarsely
2 Tbsp (12 g) dried barberries
120 g feta, crumbled
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A few extra chopped herbs, to scatter over the top
Edible dried rose petals, to scatter over the top

Greek yoghurt, for serving (optional)

Special equipment: wide, non-stick frying pan (if it a light pan, it’s even better, because you can easily maneuver it), heatproof soft rubber/silicone spatula

In a medium-sized bowl, add the eggs and whisk them lightly. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, turmeric and fenugreek, and whisk well to dissolve and incorporate them in the eggs. Then add all the chopped herbs, spring onions and garlic to the egg mixture followed by the walnuts, the barberries and the crumbled feta, and mix lightly with the whisk to combine.

In a frying pan (see specifications above) add the olive oil and heat over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the egg mixture, spread it evenly with a heatproof, soft rubber/silicone spatula, shaking the pan at the same time. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 4 minutes, then turn heat down to low and cook for a further 6 minutes until the omelette has set at the bottom and around the edges, and when you shake the pan, it moves, which means that it is not stuck to the bottom of the pan (it should have a very thin crust on the bottom). It should have set on top a bit as well.

Note: While the omelette is cooking, run the spatula a few times around the outside of the omelette as this will give it a nice round edge and will prevent it from sticking to the pan.

Now you need to invert the omelette. To do this, first remove the pan from the heat. Then slide the cooked side of the omelette carefully onto a large and wide enough plate that will fit it all in. Then invert the pan, placing it over the omelette, and with one swift and smooth move, invert the plate so that the omelette falls back into the pan, with the cooked side now up. Return the pan on the heat and cook over a low heat for a 2-3 more minutes. It should be cooked through but remain moist and soft in the center, not dried out. It is a fluffy omelette.

Note: If you’re worried that your omelette will break up if you try to invert it, you can certainly just put the omelette in the oven to finish cooking without having to invert it. Just preheat your oven to 180°C and after the initial cooking based on the instructions above, instead of inverting it, place it on the top rack for 2-3 minutes or until set to cook the top part.

Slide the cooked omelette onto a serving plate or invert it onto the plate, depending on which side looks better (if that matters to you).
You can serve it hot, warm or col, cut into wedges, like a pizza, sprinkled with some more fresh herbs and a few dried rose petals.
Accompany it with some Greek yoghurt and fresh bread or whatever else you wish.