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Minestrone soup with pumpkin and mushrooms

Minestrone soup with pumpkin and mushrooms

This minestrone is a more wintery version of the popular soup with pumpkin and mushrooms However, I suspect minestrone soup can have as many variations as the combinations of vegetables and meats that can be found in a refrigerator. It’s a soup that reminds me 

Christmas “Kouloura”, a sweet ceremonial bread

Christmas “Kouloura”, a sweet ceremonial bread

In Zakynthos, my grandmother’s island, we make the round “Kouloura” on Christmas Eve. It is a lovely Lenten sweet ceremonial bread. Every year since I got married, we gather around the table, raise the Kouloura together in our hands, over the incense burner and chant 

Purple risotto

Purple risotto

I’ll never cease to be amazed by the incredible wealth of traditional kitchens and their ability to create hearty and delicious dishes out of almost nothing. The ingredients of this dish are simple and economical, but with a little artistry from the cook, they also become fine dolmathes, stuffed cabbage leaf parcels, a classic choice for winter’s festive tables. You see, they are delicious, presentable and symbolize abundance because of the many rice grains and plenty of cabbage leaves. The everyday version of this is “lachanorizo” cabbage with rice. Delicious and fast, this Lenten dish leaves time for the preparation of the holidays.

So here I decided to give the dish a little festive upgrade in order to accompany this delicious ossobuco. Red cabbage gives it an unusual blue/purple color. It’s darker than what you see in the photo and can stay that way if you skip the lemon juice at the end. You could serve it with lemon wedges to be squeezed on each plate. Then everyone at the table can witness the transformation from blue/purple to purple/fuchsia in front of them. The kids will be fascinated (hopefully). Along with the pine nuts, I added some pomegranate seeds. Give them a try.

Recipe for purple risotto

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1 small red cabbage, cored and roughly chopped
  • 300 g short-grain rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 litre homemade broth, warm
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 50 g pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • juice from a lemon
  • parsley or dill, finely chopped

Soak the raisins in hot water, for a few minutes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the leek lightly for 5 minutes over medium heat. Once soft, add the cabbage, season with salt and pepper and stir well. Covering for five minutes and allow to wilt. Turn up the heat, add the rice and mix well. Add the bay leaf and half the hot broth and stir. Once it boils, add the raisins, cover, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Check a couple of times in the meantime, to stir and add more broth if needed. That depends on how much liquid the cabbage leaves while cooking. When the rice is done, add the pine nuts and lemon juice, stir well, sprinkle with dill or parsley and serve.

Doesn’t that work out with the ossobuco?
Ossobuco with purple risotto

Ossobuco with purple risotto

Osobuko, the perfect cut of beef for a no-fuss, delicious Sunday dinner. Minimal effort is required as it only needs time, care and quality ingredients. I have used a free-range beef shank, cut into slices of about 4 cm. This thickness allows it to keep 

Stuffed casserole peppers

Stuffed casserole peppers

Although “gemista” (stuffed oven-baked vegetables) are served in every Greek house during the summer, with infinite variations, stuffed casserole peppers can be made all year round. The only difference is that in winter I prefer to fill long red sweet Florina peppers, while in summer 

Skillet calamari with zucchini

Skillet calamari with zucchini

This skillet calamari with zucchini is incredibly fast, flavorful and nutritious. If the calamari is cleaned, it takes only 10 minutes to prepare, it needs very little cooking over a very high heat. My cast iron pan is ideal for this and I am so happy it’s becoming popular in Greece again.

Considering their drawbacks first, cast iron skillets are, there’s a learning curve to using one and if it’s not enameled, you need to remove acidic foods from them as soon as they’re ready because they might get a somewhat metallic taste if left in the pan for too long. That’s it, no more negatives. On the plus side, they are quite economical both because the initial cost of acquiring one is reasonable but also, above all, because they’re virtually indestructible and safe to use. If your grandparents happen to have one lying around because they’re too heavy for them to use, ask if you can take it off their hands and put it to good use, even its got traces of rust. With a good scrub and seasoning, it will be like new.

With regular use it becomes almost non-stick, with the added advantage of being able to safely heat it to a high temperature, while the (most) non-stick pans have restrictions and are not supposed to exceed a certain temperature. Water is the cast iron skillet’s enemy, so you have to dry it thoroughly. After washing it with the help of a brush, I usually heat it a little on the stove to dry completely, then coat it oil and let it cool. That’s it. See here for its care.

Back to our recipe now, it’s very fast to make and you can serve it as is. If you’d like to stretch out any leftovers, you can serve them over with rice or even cauliflower rice. It’s a great summer recipe when you want to spend more time outside and zucchini is in season. If you want more zucchini ideas, see here. If the squid is small, you don’t have to cut it at all. Otherwise you cut each one in half for large bites, bearing in mind that they will shrink quite a bit in cooking. Here are more seafood ideas. If you use a cast iron pan, it’ll stay warm after you turn off the heat, so make sure you serve right away.

Squids with zucchini in the pan
The skillet I was telling you about, in action…

Skillet calamari with zucchini – recipe

  • 850 g Calamari
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or ghee
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper, or sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 5 zucchini
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Cut the zucchini in four lengthwise and then into slices. Clean and wash the squid. Then leave to drain in a colander. Heat the skillet to very hot. While it’s heating, cut the squid into large bites if necessary and put the tentacles aside.

Once the pan is hot, add the oil and calamari in two batches and cook, stirring for just 2 minutes and set aside. Then cook the tentacles for 1′ and set aside along with the rest of the calamari.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté until soft without color and add the garlic and spices. Stir well and add the zucchini. Sauté for 5 minutes until cooked while retaining its bite. Then add the calamari to warm through along with the lemon juice. Stir well, correct the salt and pepper and serve the calamari immediately, sprinkled with the zest.

Squids with zucchini on the plate
This is real fast food.
Braised beef with zucchini

Braised beef with zucchini

This braised beef with zucchini (or courgettes if you prefer) is a classic Greek summer dish. By early summer, the farmers’ market stalls are filled with bright green zucchini and sun blushed tomatoes, perfect for this delicious casserole. As my grandmother used to make it, 

Pea soup

Pea soup

This pea soup is fast, delicious, nutritious and is made with minimal effort and prep. We all have days when we just don’t feel like cooking, but still want something healthy, tasty and good value with household staples. I’ve used frozen fine peas here. If 

Salt cod with chickpeas – Bacalao con Garbanzos

Salt cod with chickpeas – Bacalao con Garbanzos

Salt cod with chickpeas is also made in the island of Crete , however, we will be making Bacalao con Garbanzos, a version of the traditional Spanish recipe. This is a healthy, colorful, aromatic dish packed with nutriens from the vegetables, pulses and fish. It is also well suited to quarantine cooking as all ingredients can be kept for a while in the fridge and pantry.

When I say a “a version”, it is because traditional recipes have many presentations, as they have been developed over the years, by generations and generations. So, they appear in different versions with slight differences in technique or ingredients, according to what’s available from one place to another. However, what they usually have in common, is the economic management of seasonal materials, as well as their wise combinations, maximizing nourishment and enjoyment.

In this case, the fish enhances the absorption of iron from chickpeas, while vegetables, such as peppers and tomatoes, supplement vitamins and nutrients. The smoked paprika completely differentiates the dish from it’s greek counterpart. You can replace it or mix it with sweet paprika if you don’t think your young partners will accept it.

It’s also a traditional dish of Catholic Lent. I imagine that the dried legumes and the salt-preserved fish were suitable for the end of winter and the beginning of spring, when the new crops are still scarce. Such delicious dishes are meant comfort us until the rich bounty of warmer seasons arrives.

Cod with chickpeas, gently steweed together for a deliciously tender dish

It’s a dish that was cooked in quarantine conditions. So, all its ingredients can wait in your pantry (which includes the modern fridge in my book), now that we’re limiting our market visits. The cod is preserved in salt, the chickpeas are dry, the tomatoes are canned and onions and garlic can wait for us patiently in the right conditions. Peppers keep in the fridge, but if you don’t have fresh ones, you can use a jar of roasted red ones. You’re just going to add them towards the end along with the fish, since they’re already cooked.

Salt cod needs to be rehydrated and de-salted. So, ideally, preparation would start two days before cooking. First you need to pull off the cod’s skin with the help of a sharp knife. Then you put it in a large glass basin with plenty of water to soak. You can place a small plastic grid in the bottom of the basin, so that when the melted salt falls to the botom the fish will remain higher up. Cover the basin and place in the fridge. You change the water every six hours over 48 hours. You can de-salt it in 24 hours, but you will need to change the water every 3-4 hours. I do it over 48 hours, alongside the preparation of the chickpeas.

For the chickpeas now, we’ll soak them for 24 hours and then sprout them for another 24 hours, as described here. This way they become easier to digest and more nutritious. Before cooking the dish, you will need to gently boil the chickpeas for 40′, if they have only been soaked and 20′ if they have also been sprouted. Boil them until soft but not melting. You can replace them of course with two drained and washed cans of chickpeas. They are not readily available in Greece.

Salt Cod and Chickpeas Recipe

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 kg dried chickpeas
  • 800 gr. salted cod
  • 2 red peppers, roughly chopped
  • 2 green peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, sliced and optionally 5-6 pearl onions, whole
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 400 gr. tomato, grated
  • 1 tbsp smoked or sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric, ground
  • 1 tsp cumin, ground
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 120 ml cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, be very light-handed with the salt as the cod is well seasoned

You soak the cod and soak & sprout and boil the chickpeas as above. Keep half a liter of the boiling liquid and strain them.

Heat a large, wide saucepan or a deep skillet. Heat the oil and sauté the onions, leek and peppers with a little salt, for 5-7 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, bay leaf and cumin. As soon as they release their aroma, add paprika and turmeric and stir well. Next, pour in the vinegar. Once it’s almost evaporated, stir in the chickpeas, tomato and half the water. Keep the rest of the water aside, and add a little if the sauce seems dry during cooking.

Bring to the boil, cover and lower the heat. Let the sauce simmer for 20′-30′ until reduced. Cut the cod into large bite-sized pieces. Then remove the lid and carefully add the fish, pouring the chickpea and vegetable sauce over it with a spoon. Let it simmer for 8 minutes uncovered or until the fish is cooked through and easily flaked. Taste and season if necessary.

Serve if preferred with chopped parsley, lemon zest and a green salad.

One for the cod, one for the chickpeas and one for the ManaCooks, who cooked them…
No-knead turmeric bread with sunflower seeds

No-knead turmeric bread with sunflower seeds

Now that you’ve learnt how to make your own no-knead bread and may even have tried the olive bread with herbs, it might be time to change it up a little with this dutch oven variation for turmeric bread with seeds, a bright yellow crumb