Where we're going this evening - Greece
I had rather a lucky escape this week - whilst thinking of where in the world to travel for my next culinary experience, I happened across Goa, and started to look at the Goan cuisine. I spent quite a few days wrestling with ingredients that not only would I struggle to get hold of, but I had never, ever heard of.
I'd settled on a main course which I thought I could find (more or less) what I needed for and started to assemble them. It bothered me that I couldn't do a sweet - I didn't know what 'rawa' is, or where to get hold of 'jaggery'.
Never mind, it was the best that I could do, so I started to research the tropical island and it's history. Except it is not a tropical island, it is a state within India, thus immediately ruled itself out of the running for 'G is for...' - ha!
So Greece it is - and what do we know about this economically trouble nation? Well, rather more that we know about Goa, for a start, and that's a fact.
Greece is at the most south-westerly part of Europe, and consists of a rocky peninsular surrounded by hundreds of beautiful islands. The wonderful coastline, sunny Mediterranean climate and white sands make Greece a popular tourist destination.
The country is about half the size of the UK, but with all those idyllic islands, the coastline is the eleventh longest in the world. The population is 11 million - a sixth of that of the UK - and about a third of those live in and around the capital, Athens.
You thought that we had a lot of history going on in Egypt a couple of weeks ago, well, the ancient Greeks will give the Egyptians a run for their money. While the Britons were still running about in animal skins and living in mud huts, the ancient Greeks were writing wonderful poetry, watching plays and debating matters of great philosophical import.
More recently, it's all gone a bit wrong for the good people of Greece. They jumped into the common currency of the Eurozone which held many advantages, but failed to realise the basis premise that even if you can borrow money really cheaply as you are in the club, you do have to pay it back at some point, and if the economy goes a bit loopy because of world recession and you're living above your means, it's going to come back and bite you on the bum at some point.
There are many famous sons and daughters of Greece - Telly Savalas, Maria Callas and Jennifer Anniston are all of Greek lineage - and mum will not forgive me unless I mention Nana Mouskouri, her favourite singer in the whole world. And who hasn't fallen in love with Greece along with Shirley Valentine?
So let's do Zorba's dance and say Γειά σου to the Greeks...
Like much Mediterranean cuisine, the Greeks use a lot of olive oil. Also featuring are goat, herbs and honey. Yum. Fish is also a big deal, as you would imagine with so much shoreline, and hearty fare generally. And ouzo to drink, but not round here, thank you.
I've cooked couple of Greek dishes already in the international cookery short course that started all this nonsense off, and I thoroughly enjoyed the lamb parcels with veg (kleftico) and vegetarian moussaka which were on the menu at that point - both of which are now staples in my repertoire as they are easy to make and extremely tasty. Hurrah!
So I've gone for a fish dish with garlic creamed potatoes, and biscuits commonly eaten at Christmas. Will these dishes join the others in my recipe book?
Bakaliaros Tiganitos - recipe from about.com
Soak salt cod overnight & rinse and rinse again, then cut into 2" pieces (note: I'm all for salted fish where you can't get fresh, but - frankly - I'm not going to walk past the fresh fish counter in order to buy salt cod) Combine flour & water to make a thick batter, season and coat the fish, then fry for a few minutes until golden brown.
Skorthalia - recipe from about.com
Peel and simmer potatoes until tender, them cream with plenty of crushed garlic. Slowly beat in olive oil and a little white or red wine vinegar to taste. The potatoes can be left quite stiff, or with more oil/vinegar blended to a dip consistency.
Melomakarona - recipe from about.com
Blend orange zest infused sugar with olive and vegetable oil. Beat in flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda. Add in a splash of brandy and orange juice and mix to a dough. Split into walnut sized pieces and roll into ovals which are flattened slightly with the back of a fork.
Once baked, dip in a syrup made up of reduced honey, sugar, water, cinnamon, and lemon peel, and let the biscuits absorb. Fish out and press into chopped walnuts (note: yuk - I used chopped mixed nuts) and finish with a sprinkle of cinnamon
And what have we learnt?
- The batter for the fish was easy to make, being just flour and water. It coated the fish better than I thought it would
- Leftover flour and water batter mixture can always come in handy to stick down any curling wallpaper that I might have around the house.
- Hot countries don't use butter to bake with (it would all melt to a puddle) but they do use oil. Although I've always used cakes/biscuits with butter and not oil, the resultant dough (eugh! greasy!) actually produces extremely tasty cookies. The texture is different to melted method cookies, or rubbed in method cookies, but rather moorish nonetheless.
- Be wary of putting sugary syrup over perfectly tasty cookies in case it ruins them. I don't have huge sweet tooth and have made the error previously of adding syrup to sweet pastries with the result the the whole lot went in the bin - for this tightwad to admit that is very painful indeed
- If you are making a batch of syrup to steep the cookies in, don't go and have a bath and leave the syrup to reduce over a low heat as (a) it will produce caramel and (b) that plastic spoon that you left in the pan will melt and add a certain something that you had not counted on
And out of 10?
- for the fish battered bakaliaros - a reasonable 7/10 - nice, but if I've tasted better batter.
- for the garlicky mash skorthalia - when the consistency is of mashed spuds, this creamed garlic potato dish merits a 7/10. When I kept some potato aside to add much more oil and vinegar in order to bring it to a dip consistency, a gloopy 5/10.
- for the cinnamon orange melomakarona - jury out on the syrup/nuts addition to the cookies (due to having to buy more in the way of honey, not to say a new stirring spoon), but as they are, they are jolly good - a nicely orangy 7/10. Easy to make - if a different method to that which I am used to.