Following the BBC programme, Trust Me, I'm a Doctor, shown on Wednesday 14th February, I thought I would re-post my recipe for Beetroot Leaves and Stalks Soup. In the programme, recent research has shown that nitrate-rich vegetables and particularly beetroot help reduce blood pressure and make physical exertion easier.
Those of you that have read my Cretan cooking blogs before will know that I love to twist Greek terms to something in English. I do this all the time to help me remember difficult Greek words. This time it has a connection with my novel, Discrete Reversal, because the Greek word for beetroot, παντζáρι, is pronounced 'pants Harry'. I leave it to you to decide whether 'pants' is a noun or a verb!
Unless you have an allotment or a farmers’ market where you live, you might be a bit stymied with this recipe because beetroot is mostly sold without the ‘tops’. However, as with much Cretan village cuisine, ‘waste not want not’ is a central theme. It is said that in wartime, Cretans survived on snails and horta, which is basically a dish of weeds much like dandelions. Here our markets and many ‘supermarkets’, sell beetroot complete with leaves and stalks and you pay by the kilo for the privilege. Nearly every week I buy eight small beetroot (I prefer the small ones for roasting whole) and of the 2kg total, more than half is leaves and stalks, much too valuable as a food and vitamin source to be thrown away.
This recipe is not a well-publicised Cretan dish in the usual sense of the term, but is more an adaptation of the principle of being frugal, something that modern society might wish to rediscover.
A word of advice (well, several words): A recipe gives the basics but the chef makes the meal taste good. Once you have the basic soup it is for you to add spices and seasoning until it is superb. Now to me, good food is a ‘whole tongue’ experience…all of it ideally should be involved, because without that balance, some ‘je ne sais quoi’ will be missing’. I am NOT a chef, but I am a glutton, so I add things until my glutton’s tongue is happy. Do not be afraid to add a little sugar, honey, lemon, or Worcester sauce for instance, until you like what you have made. If this frightens you, put a little in a bowl and try your additives. My Beetroot Leaves and Stalks Soup won’t be exactly like yours, but so what?
Continuing with the ‘waste not, want not’ theme, we shall now make one of my favourite soups. Aw shucks! A little research shows that bean casings are not what I call them, hence the name in the title. I have found scant evidence that this soup is a pan-island staple, perhaps because the ingredients are quickly consumed cooked and eaten in the same way they eat cabbage or horta. That is hot or cold and lined up for a swimming lesson in a sea of lemon juice or sometimes vinegar. Unlike the Cretans, I don’t have a huge appetite for an excess of lemon or salt, but I do love to shower pepper onto hot horta or similar boiled vegetables.
I hated broad beans as a kid; maybe they were too big or too old, but they had what I remember as a bitter iodine taste. Nowadays, I love broad beans, what the Greeks call κουκιά (pronounced koocha in Crete) but preferably a little ‘narrower’ in their immaturity – their youth, their tenderness, their sweetness. Before you liberate the beans from their pods or shucks, consider what you are missing by just discarding the pods because, apart from other things, they make a sooouperb and tasty soup. Don’t make the mistake I made the first time I tried to salvage the pods. Do not remove the beans first or you make life hard for yourself and why do that when others do it all the time?
First thing you must do, is remove the strings that run down both edges of the pod. It is best to do this with a sharp knife, but impatiently I used a potato-peeling gadget, which takes the strings and a fair old chunk of pod too. The de-stringing must be done conscientiously otherwise you’ll be fishing out bits of pod ‘string’ from your teeth when you consume your soup...I hate that! Why don’t you just sieve it, I hear you cry? Go on then have it your way, plus you’ll have a sieve to wash-up too.
A few weeks back I posted a picture of a drunken, legless Madame au Bergine. Not all Cretan aubergines get themselves into such a state. Yet I do believe they are at their best when half cut and like many semi-comatose drunks, they may be found smeared with tomato, cheese and other things. Fortunately, like tomatoes, aubergines are a fruit and like many fruits, their flavour can be brought out when ‘stewed’ in a little wine. Today, then, I shall present for two people: ‘Drunken aubergine’.
You will take one plump, ripe aubergine; render her half cut by bisecting along her length. Then flatten her bottom discreetly to help her to stay level, smear her upper reaches (carefully) with tasty choice tomato, then get her well stewed, add a little feta cheese (or other white crumbly cheese, such as Caerphilly) and anything else that takes your fancy for her crowning glory.
Her name in Greek is μελιτζάνα, which is likely to stress out your tongue even before eating has begun, so my name for today’s dish, in Greeklish is: Mel, it’s Anna – half cut and very tasty.
· 1 plump ripe aubergine, halved lengthways, with flattened bottoms
· 2 tbsp red wine
· 4 tbsp water
· 4 tbsp passata
· ½ tsp dried oregano
· Salt and pepper to taste
· 50g Feta or other crumbly cheese
· Fresh Tomato/Basil leaves for garnish
A good fava is rich and creamy and this can only be achieved by making sure it does not dry-out or stick to the bottom of the pan during cooking. In many ways it is a very simple dish to make, but it does need a lot of loving, tender, care. It must never be neglected during cooking.
- 1 cup of yellow split peas
- 2-2½ cups water
- 1 small onion (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp salt (guide)
Any size 'cup' can be used as long you use the same size for the water.
METHOD (Approx cooking time for above quantity is one hour)
‘Fava forgive me…’
‘For you have sinned? Yeah, I’ll forgive you, but what about your guests? How will they feel eating me, so lumpy and tasteless? You really must learn how to make me as I should be, smooth, tasty and with just a touch of hidden depth.’
‘You have hidden depth already, dear Fava.’
‘No sweet chef, that is not what I mean…you use my depth as a means of hiding the lumpy bits, not forgetting the burned bits where you’ve got me too hot under the collar and burned me on the bottom. You must learn to craft me as a dishy perfection, as I truly should be…so desirable that all your guests will yearn to have me in their mouths…’
A week ago, I was invited to a Cretan village home for dinner. The old lady had killed one of the twenty rabbits she kept specially and served a wonderful Stifado along with Horta, Makaronia and oven-roasted potatoes. Each time I emptied my plate, it was filled again as was my wine glass. These were not rich people, in fact, during this pan-Hellenic crisis, few people are rich but the richness of their generosity and the tastiness of the food was overwhelming.
However, few tourists will ever experience the warmth of such a household or sample the delights of traditional village fare. In fact, many ex-pats living here have never enjoyed such company or sampled their simple but tasty food because they are separated by language and custom. It is not the Cretans’ fault that we Brits do not integrate and so do not sample their culinary delights. We find it hard to make any serious attempt to communicate in the difficult Greek language, let alone the Cretan dialect that is the key to the village world.
Yet everywhere tourists go in or around the resorts, they are assailed by signs saying ‘Traditional Cretan Food’ and ‘all our food is cooked in olive oil’. Tourists could be forgiven for believing that Cretans survive on a diet of chips and grilled meat, be it pork, lamb or chicken. Some tavernas have Cretan specialties on their menus, such as mousaka, stifado and kleftiko yet often serve these dishes tailored for tourism accompanied with…yes, you’ve guessed it…chips.
Few tourists will stop at a local kafenion, deterred perhaps by the gathering of old village men and a false belief they will find no food of any description. They would stop if only they knew what a treasure trove of tasty dishes would be brought forth by the magic incantations ‘raki’ or ‘krasi’. This will very often bring them not only an alcoholic beverage but also a few plates of simple foods like olives, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, bread, pieces of sausage…the list goes on depending on the location. Yet, while the proprietor will manage to communicate that chips with something can be provided, it is unlikely that many tourists will be treated to the delights contained within a huge saucepan simmering on the wood stove. This is not because it is the sole domain of the locals and tourists aren’t welcome to it, but because they are unaware of these treats. Yet treats they are.
Some while ago in England I bought a recipe book of Cretan cookery aimed at the largest possible market and designed to encourage tourists to prepare what they may have sampled whilst on holiday in Crete. This feature of my website aims to supplement these wonderful books with their array of complex recipes by giving an insight into those simple foods that form part of the truly historical and healthy Mediterranean diet and how to find them in the local kafenion.
DO YOURSELF A FAVA - TUNE IN AGAIN SOON.
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