The classic cookbook of Greek cuisine, Rosemary Barron’s Flavours of Greece is regarded as the most authentic and authoritative collection of Greek recipes. Food explorers and cooks of all levels will enjoy more than 250 regional and national specialties—from the olives, feta, and seafood of mezes; to delicate lemon broths, hearty bean soups, grilled meats and fish, baked vegetables and pilafs; to fragrant, gooey honey pastries.
Based on decades of research and refinement from Barron’s legendary cooking schools on the island of Crete and in Santorini, these delicious recipes have set the standard for contemporary Greek cuisine, showcasing seasonal foods and flavors perfect for informal eating with family, friends, and entertaining.
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The Greek Kitchen
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For modern Greeks olives and bread are the basic necessities of life, as they have been for centuries. The olive groves of modern Greece – still, mysterious, and peaceful places – date back to around 450 BC when olive oil was first recognized as a valuable export commodity and the land was given over to olive cultivation. As Lawrence Durrell put it, olives have "a taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water."
Olives thrive in the Mediterranean climate of long hot summers and mild winters with only short periods of frost. The difference in flavour and texture are to some extent influenced by their situation – olives grown on the arid rocky hillsides, for example, tend to be small and the richest flavoured, while those grown on the coastal plains are fatter and fleshier.
The taste is also affected by the degree of ripeness when an olive is picked and by the curing method used. Some Greek producers, using centuries-old methods, still supply olives of a very high standard and a great diversity of flavour. In each olive-producing area the local people delight in the flavour variation that makes their olives different from others and, they claim, better.
All olives are bitter and inedible when picked. As an olive matures it changes from green to black. Most olives are picked when young or just mature but, if local taste and custom dictates, some olives are harvested at a very late stage when their skins are leathery and wrinkled. In the two-stage traditional curing process the olives are first soaked in water for 3-30 days to remove any bitterness, then immersed in brine, the strength of the brine determining the saltiness of the cured olive. Occasionally the olives are packed into rock salt rather than steeped in brine.
Olives are usually harvested in autumn and considered sufficiently cured by early spring. They are then packed in either fresh brine, brine and vinegar, olive oil, or olive oil and vinegar for storage. They can be used straight from the pot or marinated in herbs, lemon juice or vinegar, and olive oil to serve as a meze.
It is worth seeking out imported Greek olives to give an authentic flavour to the recipes in this book. Although there are only a few commercially important types of olive grown in Greece, regional preferences for ripeness and curing method, as well as the local environment, give an imposing variety of olives for sale. Most are not exported and can only be sampled in their place of origin, but here is a list of those more commonly available in Greek shops, good supermarkets, and speciality shops:
Amfissa From the olive groves surrounding Delphi. Picked when ripe and oil-rich, Amfissa olives are round and black with a mellow, pleasantly nutty flavour. Perfect with cheese and crusty country bread.
Atalanti Large, luscious, and fruity olives in shades of purple and greenish-purple. Atalanti are gathered half-ripe and cured in brine. The effort and time required to produce these lovely olives means that they are particularly at risk to modern lye-curing methods; check before buying. Exquisitely flavoured, they can be served straight from their brine or sprinkled with a few drops of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a little dried rigani or thyme.
Cracked Green The ubiquitous countryside olives, picked just before their colour changes from light to dark green. This olive too is at risk from modern 'short-cuts' in curing; buy from a reputable supplier. Strong and sharp, they are an ideal meze to serve with ouzo. Or marinate them for a few hours in olive oil, a few drops of red wine vinegar, bay leaves, a little crushed coriander seed, and slivered garlic.
Elitses Tiny, sweetly-flavoured, purple-brown olives, similar in appearance and taste to Niçoise olives; they are grown extensively on Crete. Use whenever a mildly flavoured olive is called for.
Khourmades Named for their shape and appearance, khourmades ("dates") are large, dark brown, and attractively wrinkled. Some of the best come from the island of Chios where they take pride of place on the meze table.
Ionian Green Grown on the Ionian islands, picked young, and cured in a light brine. Lovely mild, mellow olives to serve just as they are. Or sprinkle with lemon juice, olive oil, and a little finely chopped preserved lemon and parsley.
Kalamata Probably the most famous Greek olives and a favourite the world over: Large and glossy, purple-black, almond-shaped, and with a distinctive flavour from the red wine vinegar used in the curing. Good Kalamatas are meaty and firm, at their best 4-5 months after curing, but can be kept longer. Named for the town of Kalamata (at the entrance to the Messenia Valley in the western Peloponnese), they are the perfect olive for many salads, and especially good marinated.
To use these olives in cooking, first blanch them for 5 seconds in boiling water.
Nafplion Grown in the eastern Peloponnese and picked in September when young and under-ripe. Their mild and slightly nutty flavour is good in salads and Nafplion is the traditional olive to serve with taramosalata. Occasionally I like to mix them with a little finely chopped preserved lemon, olive oil, and crushed coriander seeds.
Thasos or Throumbes Grown on the island of Thasos in the northern Aegean, these olives are salt-cured (a process that produces a wrinkled skin and concentrated flavour), then stored in olive oil. They are excellent with myzithra cheese.
Volos Smooth, round brown olives of varying size from the province of Thessaly in central Greece. Their unusual colour and appearance make them an ideal meze olive and they are especially good with the strong country flavours of sausages and offal meats, or kephalotyri cheese.
When buying olives be guided by your nose! Regardless of the curing method used, good olives smell fresh and intriguingly complex, never overwhelmingly salty. Unfortunately, it is now legal to lye-cure (steep in caustic soda) and dye olives in Greece, as it is in every other European Union country; lye-curing means that the one- to four-month natural fermentation period can be completed in a few hours. Avoid flavourless lye-cured or dyed olives by buying only those labelled "naturally cured" or "naturally fermented", and without the additive, ferrous gluconate (or iron gluconate).
Left in the storage solution, olives can be kept for months, although all are best eaten as soon as possible after buying.
Three significant factors influence the quality of olive oil: the growing conditions, the timing of the harvest, and, probably the most important, the way they are harvested – the olives should be picked, sorted, and pressed with care and precision, preserving as much of the fine natural flavour as possible.
Cold-pressed olive oil is made by spreading olive pulp on mats that fit in layers into a wooden press. A weight is placed on the top mat and the pressure releases the oil into a vat below. This exquisite oil, unfortunately, is becoming hard to find, even in Greece, for it is time-consuming to prepare. Extra virgin olive oil (defined by its low acidity, less than 1 percent) is made from the pulp of just-ripe olives and has the best flavour for salads. The pressed oil, standard cold-pressed or extra virgin, is left to settle for a few days to a week, then decanted into crocks, ready for the kitchen.
There have, of course, been modern advances in olive production – picking and oil extraction is now mechanized and there are chemicals available to "persuade" the olives to ripen and fall. But a machine cannot distinguish between ripe, just-ripe, and under-ripe olives nor strip trees on rocky hillsides where the best-tasting olives grow. Nor can mass production, relying on chemicals to accelerate filtering, "improve" flavour, and lengthen shelf life, yield an oil with anything approaching the rich quality, beautiful green-gold colour, and fruity flavour of oils produced by traditional methods.
Olive oil of the highest quality can be expensive, but there is no substitute for it in good cooking. When buying olive oil, use the same discernment as you would when buying wine. Look for a young oil, with a fruity, immediately recognizable, aroma and taste and a good balance of flavour, and buy only a small quantity at first. Although the best village oil does have a distinctive green-gold colour, it is a mistake to use only the colour criterion when buying – unscrupulous producers have been known to alter the colour with additives.
Greek olive oils are finally achieving the recognition they have long deserved. Greece, the third largest olive oil producing country in the world (making about 18% of total production), produces 75% of the world's extra virgin olive oil, and Greeks consume more olive oil than anyone else (about 20 kilos per person a year). The unique, richly-flavoured olive oils of Crete and the Peloponnese, in particular, are worth searching for here. The ancient Greeks considered the best olive oil to be from slightly under-ripe olives, and both these regions of antiquity produce a special olive oil (agourelaio) from green olives, picked in the late autumn, at the start of the harvest. Buy olive oil only from shops where there is a high turnover and where the oil has been carefully stored in airtight containers, away from heat or sunlight. In your own kitchen, store olive oil in a dark cool place – it does not require refrigeration.
Greeks appreciate fine olive oil and demand high standards from commercial brands. If economy in the kitchen is an issue, it's worth keeping both extra virgin and virgin olive oil on hand. Use the extra virgin olive oil in salads and in dishes requiring a last-minute addition of oil; use the less expensive virgin olive oil in cooked dishes or for deepfat frying (virgin olive oil has none of the "debris" left in extra virgin oils).
Sea Salt/Alati tis Thalassas
Salt was important in the ancient world, both to enliven frugal diets and as a preservative, but in recent years we have become more aware of the health risks associated with too much salt. However, it is possible to use salt to gain maximum taste advantage without endangering health. For example, adding lemon juice to salt strengthens its flavour, so you can use less salt but retain the taste, and relatively small quantities of strongly salted foods (such as olives) satisfy the body's natural requirements for this important mineral.
Sea salt, the type commonly used in Greece, is a wonderful flavour-enhancer, and it also contains other trace minerals beneficial to health. When a villager explains how to make a dish, salt is never far from the top of his or her list of ingredients. It is considered a digestive, an appetizer, and has an ability to balance and mellow flavours. It also deepens colour and aroma and has the effect of drawing out liquid – which is why villagers always add salt to grilled food after cooking, not before.
Sea salt is more expensive than other types but you use less of it. It's a good idea to keep two varieties of sea salt in your kitchen – fine-grain for most cooking, and coarse-grain for some dishes and for the table.
Only wine vinegar, mainly that made from red wine, is used in the Greek kitchen and it's a commodity that's taken seriously. As much care is taken over vinegar making as wine making and often the village winemaker has a dual role as the local supplier of good vinegar. In one old village house I once occupied, a huge earthenware pot stood in a corner of the courtyard – this contained the village vinegar supply and during the day villagers would stop by for a ladleful of vinegar, sometimes bringing a little wine to top up the pot.
One of the first "food additives," vinegar is a digestive, a preservative, and a versatile flavouring agent. There is an enormous difference in flavour between good- and poor-quality wine vinegars, and it is an important distinction since the quality of the vinegar affects the quality of the dishes and sauces made with it. The quality depends primarily on the quality of the wine converted or soured by the vinegar "mother" – a self-perpetuating colony of harmless bacteria that float around in the wine while slowly acidifying it.
To make your own wine vinegar Stand a large glazed earthenware crock on a shelf or in a corner, and add leftover red wine whenever you have any available. When you have about 600 ml/1 pint, add 4 tablespoons good-quality red wine vinegar, loosely cover the crock to keep it dust-free but open to the air, and leave undisturbed for a week or two. A "mother" will form. Continue adding red wine, tasting occasionally to see if you are satisfied with the vinegar. Once you are, decant most of it into bottles and seal. Add more red wine to the "mother," which will continue to grow – eventually you will need to break it up and donate bits to your friends!
If you cannot find aged red wine vinegar imported from Greece, or make your own, substitute Italian balsamic vinegar, but use less than is called for in the recipe.
Wine in Cooking/Krasi sti Magiriki
Wine does not feature in Greek recipes as often as you might expect. As an old winemaker on the island of Santorini once told me, wine is made to drink! However, red wine's ability to tenderize tough cuts of meat is used to full effect in casseroles, and traditional nectar-sweet wines are used to flavour sweet dishes. Madeira can be used in place of sweet Greek wines such as Samos or Mavrodaphne, which can sometimes be difficult to find.
Fresh milk, a controlled temperature, and the help of two friendly bacteria (lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus) are the essential requirements for making yogurt. A rich source of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin B, yogurt can also taste wonderful. The best deliciously thick and creamy versions have a refreshing taste and luxurious texture, totally different from the thin and lustreless product that too often passes as yogurt on our supermarket shelves.
Yogurt is used throughout the Balkan region and the Middle East as a tenderizer, to enrich stews, to make sauces, and in salads, desserts, and cakes. And the food-curious visitor to Greece very soon discovers what I consider to be the best snack in the world – a plate of thick white sheep's milk yogurt covered with fragrant Hymettus honey.
The best yogurt I have ever tasted was made in the small Cretan village of Vrisses. It was sold in unglazed flat-bottomed bowls for which each customer paid a deposit; if you brought back the bowl all you had to pay for next time was the yogurt. That memorable yogurt was made from sheep's milk but village yogurt is also made from goat's milk which gives a different, less creamy, sharper flavour.
The easiest way to ensure that you have a good supply of flavourful yogurt is to make it yourself. Despite the complicated instructions often given for yogurt making, it's really very simple. All you need is goodquality fresh milk, a few tablespoons of live yogurt starter, and a fairly warm (about 24-26C/75-80F) draught-free spot.
Live yogurt starter can be bought in Greek or health food shops. Once you have made your first batch, you save some of it to use as a starter for the second batch, and so on. The taste of your finished yogurt depends largely on this starter; 1- to 2-day-old starter will produce a mildly sweet version, 5- to 6-day-old starter a sharper, tarter one. Every month or two you will need a new starter (the bacteria gradually lose their potency). Taste is also affected by the length of time yogurt is incubated – the longer you leave it, the stronger the result.
Both the texture and flavour of Greek yogurt is difficult to reproduce outside the countries of the Near East. I find that Channel Island milk gives a similar smooth, thick, and creamy consistency, but this may not appeal to dieters. Experiment with the milk you have available to find what works best for you. Yogurt added to cooked dishes or salads must be thick; thin yogurt can be strained for a few hours to remove excess water. Left longer to strain, it becomes a delicious creamy cheese.
To make your own yogurt
Makes 1 litre/1¾ pints
1 litre/1¾ pints Channel Island milk or milk of choice 3 tablespoons live yogurt
Heat the milk to just under a boil and pour into a glass, china, or earthenware bowl. Let cool, uncovered, to about 43C/110F (you should be able to comfortably leave your finger in the milk for a count of 5). A skin will have formed on the surface (this makes a special treat later, with honey). To retain the skin, push a little of it to one side and spoon the yogurt into the milk. For yogurt with a textured crust, cover the bowl loosely, if at all; for yogurt without a crust, cover the bowl with a plate. Set aside for 10-12 hours in a warm draught-free spot, such as an oven with a pilot light, until thick and creamy. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. (Remember to make another batch of yogurt before finishing the bowl.)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Flavours of Greece"
Copyright © 2010 Rosemary Barron.
Excerpted by permission of Grub Street.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Greek Kitchen,
Pots, Pans, and Kitchen Tools,
About the Recipes,
Appetizers and First Courses,
Aubergine and Other Vegetable Appetizers,
Fish and Seafood,
Shellfish and Crustaceans,
Octopus, Squid, and Cuttlefish,
Chicken and Game,
Vegetables and Salads,
Pilafs and Pastas,
Notes on Successful Bread Making,
Pies, Pastries, Cakes, and Biscuits,
Fruit Desserts, Puddings and Creams, and Sweetmeats,
Jams and Preserves,
The Wines of Greece,
Menus for Different Occasions,