Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spanakorizo

In the Greek Orthodox religion, a number of people fast during the forty days of Lent leading to Easter Sunday, yet most people fast only during Holy Week. Abstaining from eating meat, fish, dairy products and eggs is common, but there are some people that go as far as not consuming olive oil, an ingredient that is never absent from any type of Greek meal. That is some hard-core fasting in my book. It is difficult enough not to eat meat and fish for me.

Nature is at its best right now as far as vegetables are concerned so it isn’t too hard to find something flavorsome to eat. The fact that Greek cuisine has numerous vegetable dishes that are both delicious and imaginative is a plus for anyone looking to eat well and fast at the same time.

Like this classic Greek dish. Spanakorizo (σπανακόρυζο) literally means spinach rice and is a dish falling under the category of “ladera”, Greek vegetable dishes with an olive oil-based sauce. Spanakorizo is creamy, with the rice being somewhat al dente and the spinach silky and juicy, the green onions and dill giving a fresh note and the lemon juice adding a much needed acidity to balance the astringency that the spinach leaves in the mouth.
It is an easy and quick dish to prepare and if you end up with leftovers, you have an excellent lunch option for the day after, as spanakorizo tastes even better the next day.

Spanakorizo (Greek Spinach Rice)

The rice used in this dish is Karolina rice, a very typical type of white, medium-grain rice used a lot in Greek cooking, but the Italian Arborio would work perfectly as well.

Spanakorizo is usually made with lemon (that’s the way we have always cooked it in my family) but it can also be made with a red tomato sauce. I will have to give you that recipe another time.

Accompany the spanakorizo with some feta, fresh crusty bread and lemon to squeeze over the top.

Yield: 4 servings

1 kg fresh spinach
150 ml olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
8 green onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
40 g fresh dill, divided into stems and leaves, finely chopped
150 g Arborio rice
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon, plus extra for serving

Special equipment: large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, colander

Clean the spinach, cutting and discarding the thick, hard stems with a knife. If the leaves are large, cut them into smaller pieces. Rinse them well under cold running water and drain them in a colander.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the olive oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chopped onion, green onions and dill stems and sauté until they soften but don’t color.

Add the spinach, the rice, salt and pepper and stir until the spinach settles. It will take a few minutes as there’s a lot of spinach.
Put the lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, making sure to check after 10 minutes to see if it needs more water. Spinach usually releases quite a lot of water while cooking so you will most probably won’t need to add any water but to be on the safe side, check, and if you find that it looks dry, add a little (no more than ¼ cup).

The spakanorizo, as already mentioned, is ready after 15-20 minutes of cooking or when the rice is cooked. The rice must be a little al dente and not mushy and the spinach must be soft but not mushy. Also, the dish should be wet but not soupy, and it shouldn’t be dry.
When ready, check the seasoning, adding more if needed, add the chopped dill leaves and the lemon juice and stir. Take the pan off the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on.

Serve warm or at room temperature with extra lemon juice.

Pin It

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Greek fried calf’s liver with onion and parsley

Calf’s liver two days before Holy Week? Yes, because if you have low iron levels and your doctor tells you that either you start eating more red meat or you start taking iron pills, well, I chose meat, calf’s liver to be exact as it’s been a favorite treat of mine since childhood. Now, unfortunately, I neglect to buy it. How come this never happens with chocolate?

So I finally got some liver the other day from the butcher and of course I ended up eating it alone as S is notoriously anti-liver of any kind. I didn’t complain. Don’t go thinking however that I ate all the liver you see in these photos, no, these were taken back in October when I was home in Greece and the pictured liver was cooked lovingly by my grandmother.

This is my favorite way of eating calf’s liver; in the style of Greek cooking I was brought up with, the “Politiki cuisine” (read about it here). You cut the liver into cubes, flour and shallow fry it in olive oil. You serve it with a good amount of finely sliced red onion mixed with chopped flat-leaf parsley and you’re set!

The liver needs to be pinkish inside otherwise you end up with a chewy mess and you don’t want that. It should be eaten freshly fried accompanied by a small glass of ouzo, some hand-cut fried potatoes and a horiatiki (Greek) salad.

I don’t know if any of you are fasting or not, and trust me I don’t want to be the one who tempts you to break your fast, so I will suggest you have this dish on Easter day. It makes the perfect, pre lamb-feasting meze.

Sikotaki Politiko (Greek Fried Calf’s Liver with Onion and Parsley)

This for me is the best way to cook calf’s liver, not to mention one of the simplest.
There are no specific measurements for this recipe as they are easily adaptable to the amount of liver you want to serve.

Calf’s liver slices
All-purpose flour
Olive oil, for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon, for squeezing juice on top

Red onion, thin half-moon slices
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Remove the outer membrane from the liver slices as well as any nerves. Cut the liver into bite-sized pieces.
In a large plate or round pan, add flour and add the liver pieces. Toss to coat them well with the flour.

In the meantime, in a large frying pan, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil heats well (it needs to be very hot but not smoking), add the liver pieces in batches, shaking off the extra flour and being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry 1 minute on each side but not more, otherwise it will be chewy.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the liver pieces from the pan and onto a platter, sprinkle with salt and pepper (salt is not added before cooking as it makes the liver tough), and squeeze some lemon juice on top.

In a small plate, mix the onions and parsley.
Serve liver immediately, with a good amount of onion-parsley on top or on the side.

Pin It

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A favorite meal

The other day, I was craving fried potatoes with crumbled feta and dried oregano. So I made just that.

I peeled a couple of large potatoes I found hiding in my vegetable basket among some onions and garlic heads, I cut them into long strips and fried them in olive oil.

I dropped them in a large bowl, added some good sea salt and a couple pinches of dried oregano that I had brought back with me from Euvoia last October, and tossed them.

I divided them between two plates, I took a piece of feta from the fridge and crumbled it on top, adding another pinch of oregano.

On the side, a bowlful of boiled kale left-over from the day before, dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

We ate our meal as the warm rays of the sun were coming through the window.

Greek Fried Potatoes with Crumbled Feta and Dried Oregano

This has been one of my favorite meals ever since I can remember myself. The side of boiled greens (kale, Greek wild greens like zohous or vlita , spinach, chard) is essential.

Floury potatoes
Olive oil (or sunflower oil), for frying
Greek dried oregano

Boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice, to accompany the potatoes

Peel the potatoes and cut them into strips.
Add oil in a large, deep pan (fill it halfway up) or in a deep fat fryer, heat it to 175°C and add the potatoes. Fry until crisp and lightly browned. It takes about 12 minutes in the deep fat fryer and a little longer in a pan.

Empty the potatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and a couple pinches of dried oregano. Toss and serve into plates. Crumble as much feta as you like on top and add another pinch of dried oregano. Serve with the side of boiled greens.

Pin It

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring cooking

I love the fact that it is still light out at 19:30. The days are getting so much longer here and natural light is back for good. This means that I can shoot just before we eat our dinner which gives me more options to share with you all.

Like this pasta dish. This happened the other day when I came home with a bagful of vegetables, a fresh head of romanesco among them, and a large loaf of sourdough bread.

Romanesco is the kind of vegetable that makes me want to just sit and stare at it rather than cook it. It’s so cute and weird with its intensely green color and its little spiky florets; it’s like the prettier, more exciting sibling of the common broccoli and cauliflower.

So after I photographed the hell out of it, I decided to roast it with garlic and serve it in a pasta dish together with homemade sourdough croutons, black Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes, topped with some freshly grated parmesan.

It made a delicious and fulfilling dinner for S and me, with the garlicky, nutty flavor of the romanesco, the briny olives, the crunchy croutons and sweet sun-dried tomatoes, with a nice variety of textures and clear, distinct flavors that paired together in a harmonious way.
Everyday cooking gets much better in spring doesn’t it?

Pasta with Roasted Romanesco, Sourdough Croutons, Kalamata Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Romanesco has a slightly bitter and earthy flavor that is a little milder than broccoli and nuttier than cauliflower. You can treat it just like you would broccoli and cauliflower.

I used a type of pasta called boccole (not a very widely known type of pasta) which looks like shorter rigatoni but you can use any other smallish-shaped pasta you have on hand like farfalle, penne or fusilli.

By omitting the parmesan you have a perfect Lenten dish.

Yield: enough for 2 very hungry people or 4 small portions

2 thick, dark sourdough bread slices (about 100g), cut into cubes
1 head romanesco, broken into florets
4 garlic cloves with skins, smashed once with the blade of a knife
5 Tbsp olive oil plus extra for drizzling over the top
12 black Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped in half
6 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
250 g dried boccole rigate pasta
Parmesan, freshly grated, to your liking

Special equipment: large baking sheet, baking paper, large wide skillet or shallow wide pan

Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Line a large baking sheet with baking paper and scatter the cubed bread in one layer. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the bread is crispy and browned. Take the baking sheet out of the oven and transfer croutons to a plate.

Turn the oven down to 190°C.
In a large bowl, toss romanesco florets and garlic with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Line the same baking sheet with a different piece of baking paper and add the romanesco florets and garlic. Roast for about 16 minutes, until the romanesco has slightly softened and lightly caramelized. Remove from the oven and let romanesco sit in the baking sheet.

In the meantime, boil the pasta in salted boiling water until cooked al dente (to the tooth) or to your liking, stirring often so they don’t stick to one another.

In a large skillet or wide pan, add the remaining 3 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over medium heat. Take the garlic cloves from the baking sheet and squeeze the flesh out of their skins and into the skillet along with the croutons. Sauté for a couple of minutes until golden, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon and being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, the balsamic vinegar and a little pepper, and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the roasted romanesco and the drained pasta to the skillet and toss well to mix.
Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and serve immediately in individual plates.
Top with freshly grated parmesan and enjoy!

Pin It