Have we discussed Greek food yet?
I don't think we have.
I think we should.
I can't wait.
Earlier this year I travelled around Europe with a group of my closest friends. Apart from it being one of the greatest holidays of my very short life, I got to sample some deeeeelicious food I hadn't ever had the pleasure of consuming.
The major highlight for me was Greece.
I feel like Greek food in Greece is like Indian food in India. There is just no equivalent outside the borders of the beautifully tanned and olive ridden country. Sure I've had some great moussaka at various restaurants throughout Sydney, but honestly, nothing compares to the real deal.
For some reason, the oregano is more floral.
The feta, more salty.
The tomatoes are as sweet as strawberries.
And the potatoes are the most beautiful waxy texture.
The fish is juicier.
The lemons are fruity.
And the olives are more robust.
Everywhere we went I was overwhelmed by the unflailing hospitality of Greek people. Smiling, smiling people.
Every restaurant we ate at we would undoutedly get shouted carafes of house wine by groups of local, smiling, grey haired and chubby men, having to regularly pause our meals to raise our glasses and cheers them - once, twice, seven times.
Every waiter would be bursting to talk to us about what to eat, who made it and why it's they think it's best dish in the world. And why their restaurant is the best in town.
Every meal was devoured slowly and purposefully, mainly because the heat forced us to slow down but also because the food was cooked to be eaten that way.
Honestly, Greek food completely exceeded my expectations and the flavours are something I crave often.
Me, Paris, Casey, Bridget, Steph - Sunset at Santorini
Swordfish souvlaki smothered in oregano and lemon and a side of simple veggies.
Our first meal in Greece was at El Plantos restuarant in Athens - the lovely old couple that own it made the best spanokopita I've ever had in my life. The restaurant was outdoors. And there were ceiling fans which made our serviettes float around all meal and did nothing to help our sweaty backs. It was impeccable.
I can't for the life of me remember what this dish is called but it was just lovely garlicky stewed tomatoes and eggplant on soft, waxy potatoes. Unfussy and moorish. With obligatory, somewhat hard to swallow, local wine.
I was obsessed with the truck load of zucchini flowers that were being delivered at a restaurant that we were eating lunch one day. I had a chat to the young guy delivering them and he insist that we all take some home... typical Greek male flirtiness. Since we were staying in a hostel we didn't really know what to do with them apart from take a photo and then carry them home like flowers.
These delicious memories I have are probably why lately I've been going a bit Greek-mad. The other night I decided to pay homage to my experiences and cooked up a big lamb shoulder flavoured with lemon zest, dried greek oregano and lashings of garlic for my family. Alongside I decided to serve slow baked potatoes, with lemon, fennel, and olives. Dill is used extensively over there, and so I went heavy handed with great handfuls of the stuff. A tray of slow roasted tomatoes and hunks of firm greek
feta smothered in oregano was also served, as well as a chunky, garlicky mess of smokey baba ghanoush.
And when it was my friend Casey's birthday last weekend, I decided that it was the perfect reason to make a greek feast for the group of us who travelled together to the Greek islands last year.
Spanokopita is one of those amazing peasant dishes that just works so well - straightforward, easy, nutritious and bloody tasty. Casey's two favourite things in the world is Badoit and potatoes. So I roasted up some lemony, zesty potatoes for her and also a simple rocket, parmesan and walnut salad. Finished with a non-Greek inspired dark chocolate mousse with cherry and pomegranate compote.
Spanokopita (Spinach and Cheese Pie)
2 large bunches of spinach (the big one with white stalks)
1 brown onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 big bunch of mint
1 big bunch of dill
Salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg - about 2 teaspoons.
10 sheets of filo pastry
200g greek feta cheese
Finely dice the onion and garlic. Rinse spinach and make sure it is dry before chopping up. Saute garlic and onion off in some olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until translucent and golden. Chuck in the spinach and cook off for about 5-10 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Season with salt and pepper and add in the nutmeg.
Remove from the heat and add in the roughly chopped mint and dill. Set aside in the fridge to cool completely.
To assemble the pie, layer up a few filo sheets that have been brushed with olive oil to stick the sheets together. Spoon the cooled spinach mixture into the centre of the pastry and add on top chunks of broken up fetta cheese. Now using more sheets make layers around the side and top of the pie... This is a bit hard to explain but you don't have to do a circular, free-form pie you could use a baking dish and place the filo on top if this is too hard. Brush some more olive oil over the top of the pastry before baking a moderate oven for about 30 minutes.
5 large potatoes (I tend to go 1 per person)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 a cup of lemon juice
1/2 a cup of stock (chicken, vegetable)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Lots of dried Greek oregano (from delis)
Peel the potatoes. Then using a fork, rough up the skin of the potatoes by scraping the fork over the flesh of the potato. Cut the potatoes up into nice big chunky pieces. Place in an oven proof dish. Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, stock, garlic, salt and pepper and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle over a generous amount of greek oregano and stir to coat potatoes. Cook the potatoes in a preheated oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160°C to continue cooking until soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. The high temperature at the beginning means the liquid will evaporate and the lemony, garlic residue will stick to the potatoes and make them deliciously crunchy.
Dark Chocolate Mousse
with Cherry and Pomegranate Compote
250g dark chocolate, chopped up
3 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup whipping cream
A big handful of cherries, pits removed
1/2 a pomegranate
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 a cup of water
To make the mousse, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave. While stirring slowly pour in the 3 egg yolks and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Carefully pour in the melted chocolate and cocoa and fold into the cream mixture. Spoon into serving glasses and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight, before serving.
For the compote add the pitted cherries and pomegranate seeds in a saucepan with the sugar and water. Cook over a low-medium heat for about 10 minutes until the cherries have started to break down slightly. Remove and set aside to cool before spooning over the mousse.