Results tagged “greece”

Persian cooking classes: Sep-Nov 2009

iran
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Jamileh.jpgSat 26th September, Sat 24th October and Sat 21st November 2009 - 12 noon to 6pm.

This autumn Jamileh Hinrichs, an expert in Persian cuisine, is offering a special series of cooking classes. Class sizes will be kept very small so everyone can join in and learn directly from Jamileh’s extensive culinary experience. You can book the whole course, or pick one date. Feel free to spread the word and invite friends and family.

Persian cuisine is one of the oldest and most sophisticated in the world. The sheer length and breath of the Old Persian Empire (encompassing today’s Iran and parts of Turkey, Greece, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt) has been the cradle of many distinct flavours and cooking ideas.

Places to stay (and cook) in Greece

greece
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pelion

Fancy a beach holiday - soft sand, crystal clear water, grilled seafood in the taverna just behind - but can't face all those other tourists crowding out the Greek islands? The Pelion peninsula could be the answer. All the quality beach you could want, without being too full (at least in May when we were there) - there's no airport particularly close, and it would be extremely hard to get a coach down the narrow windy roads. All the scenery you could want, too - the steep green hillsides are covered in old Ottoman-style buildings, and crosscrossed by ancient stone donkey tracks. You could stay with Gill at the Old Silk House in XXX, and she'll explain how the tracks link up the villages with the beaches below, and even take you on a walk to show you how to find your way around, and how to spot the various kinds of local flora.

olympia

Looking for some culture, but don't want to give up on good food? Olympia, in the Peloponese, is the site of the original Olympic games, and the complex is full of awe-inspiring ruins, excellent museums and of course a running track. You could stay at the Hotel Pelops, where Theo can show you the family collection of Olympic torches (the Spiliopoulouses have a tradition of being part of the torch-carrying ceremony) while you might be able to get a cooking class from Susanna, to teach you some classic Greek cooking using the ingredients from their impressive vegetable garden.

dimitrios

Looking for some culture, but don't want to give up on good wine? Naoussa is home to Archimedes' School (where he taught Alexander the Great) and to the XXX? largest winery in Greece, Boutari. And Dimitris is there to light up his outdoor wood-fired oven, and bake delicious cheese-n-spinach pies.

We ate all the pies

greece
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For most British tourists, Greece is essentially a succession of islands and beaches.  For us, it was mostly a succession of pies.  We'd had börek in Turkey, heard talk of burek in Bulgaria; but it was in Greece that the bourek really came into its own.

Smsausagecheesepies0001.jpg For one thing, we generally avoided the islands (making an exception for Crete), and spent most of our time on the mainland, where most of the food (and wine) is - and discovering quite a different Greece from the one we'd seen before.  But for another, we quickly found that Greeks don't really go for big breakfasts.  After our twenty-three-jam feasts in Turkey, this left us with big breakfast-shaped holes, for which there was only one solution: pies.

OK, and cheese.  And spinach.  And quite a lot of weeds.  But if you try hard enough, you can get all those into pies too.  And we did ...

Barrelled alive: Feta with a capital F

greece
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Smgreeksalad0001.jpgDid you know that 2008 is the official year of Feta cheese?

Neither did we, until we read it in the in-flight magazine on our way from Thessaloniki to Crete for a conference on ‘the Eastern Mediterranean diet'.  This strengthened our resolve to find a Feta-maker and learn all about this crumbly white cheese, which most of us know from its prominent role in the ubiquitous ‘Greek salad’.  And why is it getting its own special year this year?

Roll out the barrels

greece
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Smbarnabyfeta.jpgToday Barnaby met Andonis Nikolopoulos, a feta cheese maker in Floka, a village near ancient Olympia in Greece. 

Having already learnt about Munster in France, sheep's and goat's cheeses in Poland, and bladdered cheeses in Romania, Barnaby thought he probably knew pretty much all there is to know about cheese.  This is not the first time that Barnaby has been completely wrong.

He was quite surprised when Andonis explained to him how real feta is made by adding live yoghurt (not just rennet) to the sheep's milk.  He was even more surprised when he heard that the cheese ferments in tightly sealed wooden barrels - apparently it gives off so much gas that the barrels nearly explode when you open them!

He also realised that he didn't really know what good traditional feta tastes like - rich, creamy, tangy and salty all at the same time.  He wondered about trying to make his own feta, in fact - but now that feta has protected appellation status, apparently it's not supposed to be made by bears.  He was quite disappointed, but we suspect he'll have forgotten about it in the morning.

Yiouvetsi - easy beef 'n' pasta stew

greece
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This has to be the easiest stew recipe I know.  The laziest cook in the world could make this, and produce something as delicious to eat as it is effortless to make.  I swiped it from Susanna Spiliopoulos of Hotel Pelops in Olympia, Greece, when we stayed with her this spring.
 
smyiouvetsicooked0001.jpg
Susanna has her own (very highly regarded) catering business and kindly shared some of her numerous culinary tips with us during our two day cooking spree in her squeaky clean professional kitchen.  For Susanna, good cooking is all about good oil, by which she of course means good Greek extra virgin olive oil, which in her case is pressed from her family’s very own olive grove up the road.

Spinach and cheese pie

greece, turkey
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We found ıspanaklı ve peynirli börek to be as common in Turkey as spanakotyropita is in Greece, and made a point of sampling as many as humanly possible, purely in the name of research of course.  They are essentially the same dish - a savoury pie made of multiple layers of ultra-thin pastry with a spinach and cheese filling.  Sometimes it’s just spinach, or just cheese, but I like it with both. 

Smborek0001.jpgThey come in various shapes and sizes, depending on which country, region, town, village, bakery or home you’re in, and with different fillings.  The form here is nice and simple and works with the packets of filo dough we can find in shops in the UK.  I have made the filling purposefully generous in quantity and moist in consistency as I don’t like my börek dry.  The recipe is loosely based on two very different versions I had the opportunity to make with chefs in Turkey and Greece - Engin Akin in Istanbul and Dimitris Mantsios in Naoussa.

To Romania in a spoon

greece, romania, turkey
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Smspoonberries0001.jpgWhile staying in the Carpathians with our friends Anca and Eduard, we had a lot of conversations about jam.  I don't possibly have space here to tell you about everything we learnt (although I'm sure Anna will try soon) - but here's two things.  First, Romanians have a lot of words for jam.  Second, two of them, dulceață and șerbet, are things we don't really have in the UK, involving interesting ingredients like green walnut and aubergine, and mysterious old social rituals involving teaspoons and glasses of water.

It's often tempting to try to make what you see fit with what you already know.  So, given what we already knew about Ottoman influence on Eastern European cuisine, we quickly jumped to the conclusion that this must be a Turkish phenomenon - șerbet is a Turkish word, after all.  And when we reached Turkey, we did indeed find delicious walnut and aubergine jams.

But something didn't quite fit.  Why use a Latin word - dulceață - for something Turkish?  And although we saw plenty of şerbet in Turkey, we never got offered it in spoons or water.  Well, now that we've arrived in Greece, we've realised it's much more complicated than we thought ...

Spoons away

greece
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Smbarnabysubmarine0001.JPGSo this bear walks into a bar, right, and asks for a submarine.  And the barman says:

"Certainly, Barnaby.  Vanilla or mastic?"

Barnaby had heard of the mysterious "submarine", or υποβρύχιο ("eepovrihio"), way back in Romania.  It's a centuries-old recipe, steeped in history and social ritual (apparently) - but basically a chilled version of candy floss.  Take a spoonful of fondant, dip it in a glass of iced water, and then put it in your mouth.  And repeat.

But he hadn't actually seen one, or got a chance to try it, until he got to Greece.  Once he'd arrived in Thessaloniki, he was excited to find that the ouzerís (just like a Hungarian wine bar is a borozó, a Greek ouzo bar is an ouzerí) still serve them!  So he could sit at a table on the pavement with the old men, watching the world pass by while sucking sweet sticky stuff off a spoon.  Bear heaven.

Ottoman or not?

bulgaria, greece, romania, turkey
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Now that we've spent some time in Turkey, some in Romania and Bulgaria before that, and now some in Greece, it's been interesting to try to spot various culinary connections between them.  It's not all pleasant, but they have a lot of shared history via the long presence of the Ottoman empire in Eastern Europe.  Greece was under Ottoman control for hundreds of years; and while Romania (and especially Transylvania) was nominally independent for much of that time, the word "nominally" should be stressed.

Smtopkapicooks0001.jpg

Ottoman chefs: could they tell their
aubergines from their tomatoes?

In some cases, of course, there are clear similarities in techniques and ingredients, but there's really no way to know whether Romanians influenced Turks, or Turks influenced Romanians, or whether they both just thought that spicy meatballs tasted nice.  But in others, you can get some help from the language: if a stuffed vine leaf in Greece has an originally Turkish name, the odds are that it has at least some Turkish origins.

But sometimes we have to do a bit more detective work.  In Romania, the word for tomato is "red" (roşie), and the word for aubergine is "purple" (vinete): so you might ask your greengrocer for a kilo of reds and a kilo of purples.  This does sort of make sense - tomatoes are red, after all, and aubergines are purple - but why just these two?  They don't call cucumbers "greens".  And tomatoes certainly aren't the only red things in a Romanian kitchen, what with all those peppers around.  Well, a conversation with Anca in the Carpathians, a conversation with Özge in Istanbul, some dictionary work, and all became clear ...
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