I HAVE just returned from spending some time on the Greek islands, two weeks without a cloud in the sky certainly is uplifting for the soul.
I ate fresh food, prepared with care, from a bounty of local produce.
The food was simple and well prepared using recipes that, I imagine, stretch back through the generations.
In almost all taverna the dishes were served in large portions without much fanfare, perhaps an olive placed in the centre of a plateful of tzatiki but otherwise it is all about the flavour not about the fuss.
Plates are served family style and are created for sharing.
All around us were big boisterous tables of family members passing food to each other, talking, eating and spending time around the table.
The traditional Greek salad can seem simple but done well with fresh tasty ingredients it makes for a great light meal.
I like the way tavernas served the feta in a large wedge on the top for you to crumble over the salad as you choose or to eat with bread on the side.
Seafood was a staple at dinnertime but it would be very hard to recreate the dishes at home.
The octopus and mackerel were hung to tenderise in the hot Greek sun every morning and left until late in the evening when dinner was served.
They were then charred on a fire grill, usually in the open air by the sea.
Early each morning fishermen or taverna owners could be seen cleaning the octopus on the seashore and beating them against the rocks to tenderise the flesh.
The beating breaks down the muscles and helps remove the slimy coating, then hanging them on a line allows the sun to extract the moisture.
If an octopus were placed straight onto a chargrill from the sea, the water it contains would start to evaporate and reduce it to a chewy mess.
By removing the water in the sun it allows for a crackling-like outer skin and a soft interiour. A rub of dried oregano and salt and a squeeze of lemon juice is all that is needed.
At home I simmered octopus to tenderise it and used frozen octopus.
The quality of octopus does not suffer noticeably when it is frozen, it does not hurt the flavour at all, and becomes tender more quickly.
It is a bit of an adventure cooking this miraculous creature and one that takes time and patience but by using frozen octopus the cleaning has all been done for you and the cooking time reduced somewhat.
QUICK MID-WEEK MEALS
2 tsp of dried oregano
3 tbs of olive oil
1 tbs of red wine vinegar
8 ripe vine tomatoes, as fresh and as sweet as you can find them, cut into chunks
1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded and sliced
1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 red onion, very thinly sliced
a handful of black olives, stones still in
a handful of large capers
4 slices of feta cheese
Mix the olive oil, vinegar and oregano, setting aside a little oil and oregano to drizzle over the salad at the end.
Taste the dressing and season it well.
Layer the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and pepper in four bowls in that order and gently coat in the dressing.
Toss the olives and capers over the salad and lay a slice of feta on each bowl.
Sprinkle with the remaining oregano and oil and some cracked black pepper.
Serve with some bread to mop up the juices and take care when eating the olives.
1 kg of courgettes, roughly grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
a small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
a small handful of dill leaves, finely chopped
a small handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 cup of breadcrumbs
100g of feta cheese, crumbled
flour for coating
a dash of olive oil
2 tbs of greek yogurt
Place the grated courgette into a sieve or colander and salt it with 2 teaspoons of salt, tossing it all so that the courgette gets coated.
Allow the liquid to drain into a bowl or saucepan then discard it.
Squeeze the courgette every now and then until all of the moisture is removed.
Mix the eggs, the drained courgette and herbs with the breadcrumbs and feta.
Take a small handful of the mixture and press it into a patty. If it is too wet add a little flour or some more bread crumbs. Season the mixture.
Make it all into patties and toss them in flour. Set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes to settle.
Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the croquettes on each side until cooked through and golden on the outside. Serve with the Greek yogurt or some tzatziki.
SOMETHING FOR THE WEEKEND
1.5 kg of octopus. I use frozen
1 kg of waxy potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 bay leaves
a dash of good olive oil
1 tsp of smoked paprika
1 tsp of dried oregano
4 slices of lemon
Make sure the octopus is completely defrosted.
Frozen octopus will have been cleaned out thoroughly before freezing and the process of freezing will actually help to tenderise it.
Unlike other seafood that can spoil when put in a freezer, octopus can benefit.
Simmer the octopus in water for an hour. The octopus will emit its own juices to flavour the water as it cooks.
After an hour add the potato chunks and bay leaves and cook for a further 20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through. Discard the bay leaves.
To test that the octopus is cooked pierce the fattest part with the point of a sharp knife. It should give way immediately almost the same as the cooked potato does.
Place the octopus onto a chopping board and allow to cool enough to handle then chop it into bite size pieces.
Place the drained potatoes on a plate and lay the octopus on top.
Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with paprika and dried oregano. Serve with some lemon and salad leaves on the side if you wish.
Half medium cucumber, peeled and roughly grated
150g of Greek yogurt, this is thicker than regular natural yogurt
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbs of good quality olive oil
1 tsp of lemon juice and the zest of 1 lemon
a small handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
Place grated cucumber into a sieve and place the sieve over a bowl.
Sprinkle it with about half a teaspoon of salt and set aside to allow the liquid drain from the cucumber. It will take about half an hour for it all to extract.
In the meantime mix together the yogurt, garlic, oil and lemon juice and zest. Stir in the mint and season to taste.
Set aside and allow the flavours to mingle.
Stir in the cucumber once all of the liquid is extracted and sit aside again for another half an hour for the flavours to combine and serve with crunchy bread or as a dip for the courgette fritters mentioned above.
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