Friday, February 16, 2018

Black eyed bean salad with spices and herbs

This Monday, it will be Kathara Deutera (Clean Monday), the first day of the Greek Orthodox Lent, and the day when the table will be set for a feast of seafood (octopus, shrimp, mussels, calamari), taramosalata, lots of dips and salads, legume dishes (fava, my favorite), lagana (Greek, Lenten, yeasted flat bread) of course, and halva, both sesame and semolina.




I wish I was back home in Athens for this day as my mom and grandmom make the best dishes for Kathari Deutera but instead, I’ll be here, in my little expat kitchen in the Netherlands, where I will be making a valiant effort to celebrate the day with as many dishes as time allows me to cook.


Legume dishes have a great place in traditional Greek cuisine and much more so during Lent. They are filling dishes, substituting the meat for protein intake, keeping you well fed and satisfied. Fasolada, fakes, fava are among my favorites and this one is slowly becoming a favorite as well. Not a stew or soup, but a salad. One of the best legume salads in my book, as all its flavors really appeal to my own particular palate. Hope to yours as well.




A salad of black eyed beans/peas that can be eaten either warm or cold. A salad flavored with fenugreek, fennel and coriander seeds, petimezi (Greek grape-must syrup) and fresh herbs.




It’s a quick salad to make, especially if you opt to use canned black eyed beans, a little more time-consuming if you choose to use dried beans. I tend to go for the dried ones as I prefer their flavor, but there’s no judgment either way.




The flavors are interesting from the warming spices, the meatiness of the beans, the hint of sweetness from the petimezi and the freshness of the herbs. There’s no need to overcomplicate a dish when the aromatics and spices have such a beautiful effect on it, no?




It’s perfect served as a main dish, together with some good bread and feta, and it can surely be served as a side dish/salad, to accompany fish or meat.







Black eyed bean salad with spices and herbs

I believe this could be equally delicious with other kinds of beans as well. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand, but I rather prefer the small black eyed beans because they are tender and have a slightly sweet and nutty flavor.




Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
400 g boiled black eyed beans (homemade or from a can)
1 tsp ground fennel seeds
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
¼ tsp ground fenugreek seeds
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the top
2 medium-sized shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1 tsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp petimezi (Greek grape molasses)
Small handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Small handful fresh fennel leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Preparation

If you’re going to boil your own beans from dried, rinse them under cold, running water, place them in a large pot and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Cover the pan and bring water to the boil over high heat. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, drain the beans in a colander.
Return the beans in the pot and add 2 liters of boiling water. Bring them to the boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium-low and cook the beans until they soften. This may take anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on the beans. Not all beans are the same so you need to keep an eye on them. You want them to be tender but not mushy. Start checking them after 30 minutes to make sure. One way to check doneness, apart from simply tasting one of the beans, is by pressing one with your finger; if it breaks easily, it is ready, if not, you need to cook them for a while longer.
Drain them in a colander and set aside.

If you are using canned/bottle beans, rinse them well and drain them before using them in the salad.


In a wide pan frying pan, add the olive oil and heat over a medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, turn heat down to medium-low, add the shallots and cook until they soften, for about 9 minutes, stirring often. Then add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant. Then add the ground fennel, coriander and fenugreek seeds and sauté for 1 minute. Add the beans and warm them through if they are cold. Then add the vinegar, the petimezi, a little salt and pepper and mix through. Give it a taste and add more salt if needed.
Finish with the chopped parsley and fennel, mix gently and serve in individual plates or a salad bowl. Drizzle with some olive oil and enjoy!

You can either serve it war or cold. It keeps very well in the fridge, in an airtight container, for 2-3 days.




Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Vanilla bean panna cotta

I’m definitely not one to celebrate Valentines’ day. The idea of celebrating my relationship on demand together with millions of others is a rather unappealing thought.




It wasn’t always the case, though. When I was a teenager/very young adult, it was one of the most anticipated days of the year. I got to celebrate it with my boyfriend and expected a card and flowers from him; I expected him to profess his undying love to me and when he did, I was the happiest girl alive.




I still am, because I am with my other half, the man I get to share my life with, the man I am lucky enough to call my partner in crime and without whom I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. And one of the ways I profess my love to him, every single day, is by cooking.




He loves food, and he loves desserts. Unlike me, he is not a hard-core chocoholic, at times he prefers the flavor of vanilla over chocolate, so if I were to make him a dessert for Valentine’s it would be this panna cotta.




It’s easy to make, quick as well, and is very special, if done right. Because you definitely don’t want rubbery or liquid panna cotta on your dessert plate, that’s for sure. It’s all about the recipe, and if you follow this one, you’ll succeed.




A creamy, rich, smooth, wobbly panna cotta, full of pure vanilla flavor from a real vanilla bean and not cloyingly sweet.




It would be perfect served with a raspberry sauce (coulis) that’s slightly sharp and fruity to cut through the richness of the panna cotta, or topped with some fresh raspberries or any other slightly acidic fruit like red currants, but you would definitely love it as is too.









Vanilla bean panna cotta

The vanilla flavor in this panna cotta is outstanding, basically because I use a vanilla bean. If you don’t have that, the next best thing is vanilla bean paste. Please don’t use vanilla extract, it’s not the same. Plus the little black specs of vanilla seeds on the off-white of the set cream give a nice visual contrast to the dessert.




Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
1½ gelatin leaf
250 g cream, full-fat
20 g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scraped (or 1 heaped tsp vanilla bean paste)

for serving (optional)
- Raspberry sauce (coulis) (recipe here)
- Fresh raspberries, red currants or other fruits

Special equipment: hand whisk, fine sieve, dariole molds or ramekins, plastic wrap


Preparation
Add gelatin leaves to a bowl and cover them with cold tap water. Soak them for 15 minutes until they soften.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan, add the cream, sugar, split vanilla bean and seeds (or vanilla bean paste) and place over a medium-high heat. Stir with a spatula to dissolve the sugar and bring to the boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat.
Discard the vanilla bean.
Remove the leaves from the water, squeezing them well with your hands and add them to the saucepan. Whisk well to dissolve the gelatin in the cream. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and into a jug.

Pour the panna cotta mixture into 2 dariole molds or ramekins, dividing the mixture evenly between them.
In my case, I used little brioche molds that were a little tricky to unmold. Some people lightly grease the ramekins before pouring in the panna cotta mixture but I don’t like the grease on my panna cotta and I wouldn't suggest you do this either.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap so it adheres to the cream and leave in the fridge to cool and set, for about 5 hours.

Unmolding the panna cotta: Panna cotta won’t stick to a smooth surface, it adheres to it by suction, so if you create a small air pocket, by running a knife around the mold or pushing the set cream slightly away from the side of the ramekin, it will do the trick. So, once you have taken the ramekins out of the fridge, do what’s described above, and also dip it briefly in hot water to loosen it. Be careful not to get any water inside the ramekin though. Dip the ramekin in the hot water up to ¾ up the sides, holding it by the rim. Then, turn the panna cotta onto individual plates, giving it a firm shake, and serve immediately.

Note: If you make the raspberry coulis, don’t pour it over the panna cotta but around it, as it will look more appealing.




Saturday, February 10, 2018

Alevropita – Greek feta pie

This is the easiest Greek pie there is. A pie that doesn’t include a lot of ingredients and that’s super quick to make. A pie that should definitely become part of your cooking repertoire.




It’s thin, crispy, fluffy and soft all at the same time, full of cheesy flavor from the feta, buttery and so incredibly delicious that you really can’t stop eating it. I can’t, for sure.




It’s called alevropita which translates to “flour pie” and it is essentially a pie that’s made with a thin batter. There are as many recipes and names for this as there are cooks in Greece (zymaropita, kourkoutopita and kasopita are a few alternate names) and it is traditionally made in Epiros in the Northeastern part of Greece where all good pies are made (especially in Zagoria and Ioannina).




The original alevropita comes from Zagori which is located in the mountain range of Pindos in Epiros and if you ever find yourselves in that part of Greece, try all the pies. You won’t regret it.




Some versions of alevropita have a thicker batter, almost like a paste, others more like custard, some include different kinds of cheeses and some even include vegetables. Some people add yoghurt while others add a lot more eggs and omit the milk, some add baking powder or yeast, but those pies are plain wrong; no leavening agent is required in this pie, otherwise it’s a bread, not a pie.
This is the basic version of alevropita and I have to say, the more authentic one. Besides, simplicity is key when it comes to Greek food.




Alevropita should be thin, no more than one centimeter, it should be crispy when it comes out of the oven and it is to be eaten straight away as it doesn’t retain that crispiness when it cools down; it does retain, however, its deliciousness, so if you have leftovers, which I highly doubt you will, you’ll certainly enjoy them.




It’s a pie that you can have for breakfast, take it with you to the office or eat it on the go, it’s perfect for lunch and certainly a great mezes to have with drinks. Pairs perfectly with ouzo and tsipouro, among others.




It’s also the best recipe to have in your back pocket when you’re in a hurry or have unexpected visitors that you want to surprise with something delicious.
So wait not. Go forth and make the easiest large Greek pie there is!









Alevropita – Greek feta pie

For me, this pie should be made only with feta. Others will have you add different cheeses but the texture and flavor, as well as the final result, will never be as good or “proper” as it will be when you use the real deal; Greek feta.

The secret to a good alevropita is the ultra hot oiled and buttered pan that heats in the oven before pouring the batter inside. It’s what makes the pie crispy.

Generally speaking, Greek pies are best baked in special pans (called "sini") made of aluminum, that are very thin and conduct heat well, creating crispy pies. That doesn’t mean of course that you can’t use another kind of baking pan.
You will need a super large pan for this pie, 36 cm in diameter, which for Greeks is a normal size. ;)




Yield: 8 large pieces

Ingredients
260 g all-purpose flour
500 ml fresh whole milk
50 ml water
1 large egg
Pinch of salt
275 g feta (Greek of course!)
½ Tbsp (10-15 g) unsalted butter for greasing the pan, plus extra for topping the pie
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan, plus ½ Tbsp for drizzling over the pie

Special equipment: round pan 36 cm


Preparation
Preheat your oven to 200°C.

Butter the bottom and sides of the pan with ½ Tbsp butter (or enough butter to coat well the sides and bottom of the pan) and drizzle with a little olive oil (1 tsp).

In a medium-sized bowl, add the flour, milk, water, egg and salt and beat with a wire whisk until you have a smooth batter. It will be runny.

Place the buttered and oiled pan in the preheated oven and leave for about 3 minutes until it becomes very hot and the butter and oil sizzles. Make sure to keep an eye on it because it may burn. Remove the pan from the oven and straight away pour in the batter. Immediately crumble the feta on top and dot the top with butter (refer to photo below – I add about 15 very small pieces of butter) and finally drizzle with ½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil.


Place on the lower rack of the preheated oven and bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the pan midway through baking time, until it has a nice crust around the edges and has taken on a golden color all over.

Cut into large pieces and eat immediately. It’s best when it’s hot/warm from the oven and still crispy.

If you have leftovers, it is certainly delicious cold (even though not crispy anymore). If you want to reheat it, don’t do it in the microwave as it will become even softer. Reheat it in the oven, and it will become a bit crispy.