Well, the time has finally come for me to make some Greek food. It was probably the biggest thing that I fell for during my time in Athens and there has been a real agony of choice when it came to picking something to make. This is, after all, one of the big cuisine nations that I have been spreading out during my world cooking challenge and no matter what I picked I know that my Greek colleague at work say I missed something perfect.
When you think of Mediterranean cuisine, then you will either be thinking of Greek or Southern Italian food. At the foundation of so many Greek foods is olive oil thanks to the abundance of olive trees which, in myth, where the offering of Athena in order to gain patronage of the city of Athens. Many of the best olive oils in the world come from Greece and they know how to use it to make sweet dishes, savoury dishes or just find a way to enjoy it with some vinegar and bread.
Alongside the olive oil you get many different ingredients depending on where in Greece you are looking. Thanks to the exportation moussaka and gyros most of us will probably closely associate lamb with Greek food. We also tend to think of filo pasty (like with spanakopita), feta cheese, an assortment of dips (many of which shared with other nations that used to form the Ottoman empire) and liberal portions of oregano. All this adds up to a cuisine that is amazing to eat, but difficult to isolate major dishes from without going stereotypical.
Since we had company staying this week, I felt the need to go a bit big and thought that kleftifko would make for a cool showstopper of a main meal. Also, I had an amazing pork kleftiko whilst in Athens so wants to try and make it myself, but with the more traditional lamb meat. Now, I know that traditionally this is cooked in a package made from parchment paper, but I found a really great recipe that meant I could slow cook it and have it as a treat when I got back for a long walk in the local meadows.
I could make a Grecian main dish without making my own hash of a Greek salad, now could I. My main issue with Greek salad is the typically large amounts of raw onion, so I decided to go without it. In the end, the kleftiko is the main dish here and this salad was just a nice extra which made use of some Minoan olive oil that my mum brought back from a recent holiday.
Given the eight hours of slow cooking and that I was cooking for company, I am happy to report that this kleftiko went down really well. Thanks to the slow cooker, you could smell the garlic and herbs of the cooking lamb at the bottom of the stairwell (keep in mind, I live on the third floor). The sprinkle of feta on top really added to this dish and I ate my share very quickly. Leftover lamb and potatoes were fried up the next day and put in a delicious wrap with some of the Greek salad that we didn’t finish.
For dessert I wanted to make something I had never tried before. My Greek colleague sent me a recipe for some biscuits that he brought into the office and, using that same site, I found this recipe for Portokalopita – or Orange Cake. In lieu of flour, this recipe uses crushed pieces of dried out filo and the whole thing is flavoured with a homemade orange-cinnamon syrup.
Needless to say, this may be one of the nicest desserts that I have ever made for this challenge and I already have some demand to make more of it in the near future. Thanks to the abundance of syrup, this is an incredibly moist cake without being at all cloying. It’s also one of those rare cakes that is sweet enough that a small amount (not pictured) is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth. I want to see if there are similar cakes out there using different flavours (lemon, rose, pistachio etc) because it feels like this could be a good base recipe to have some fun with.
Speaking of fun, man, doing the research and cooking of these Greek foods has been some of the most fun that I have had doing this list for a while. It’s a trip to Asian cuisine next time. The hub has picked Pakistan, so let’s see what I end up making.