Ladopita (Greek #5)

Do you like Marmite? I don’t, although I’m trying to get used to it slowly, somehow it feels like it is something I should enjoy. My point is, this cake is like Marmite, as in you either love it or you hate it. So far, a handful of my friends say they enjoy it, while the rest could happily survive without trying it ever again in their lives. But don’t let this put you off; you should give everything a go. Especially something so traditional and local and simple yet special as this.

As far as I’m aware, this cake is made only on a small island in Greece, on which I grew up. It is made by grannies on villages in large batches and then given away as presents to family and friends. At least that’s what happens in my family. It really is a matter of pride, to be able to make one of those well! People grew up on this stuff, because it involves such cheap and common ingredients and lasts well for a few weeks. Everyone knows what one should taste like, and they are very critical of any alterations of the recipe (even substituting honey for sugar is frowned upon!).

My mum attempted making it once. I was about 10 years old. I remember a lot of running around in the kitchen, some panicking and a lot of vigorous mixing. The end result was nice I think, but it didn’t compare to my granny’s version and I think my mum decided she would never manage to make one as good as the original one. Having been so critical of other people’s efforts, she decided to not put herself in that position again.

So what chance did I stand?! Although it could well be a failure, I was safe in the knowledge that my parents would not have to taste it and any criticism would come only from people that didn’t really know what a good one tastes like. And myself.

But I’ve just realised I haven’t even told you what I’m making yet! This Greek “cake” is called Ladopita. And that translates to “Oil Pie”. Olive oil of course. I wonder how many people have just closed this tab. Oh well. There you go:

Ladopita

Ingredients (This is a quarter of the standard recipe and makes about 20 pieces. It’s enough, trust me.)


2 glasses of water
1 3/4 glasses of olive oil
1 glass caster sugar
around 500 gr all-purpose flour
sesame seeds
ground cinnamon

I know that using glasses isn’t really the best way to measure things, and I have already expressed my disliking of the cups method, but this is a traditional Greek recipe. I wouldn’t dare spoiling it by making you use scales! It’s easy to estimate what half a kilo of flour is from a 1.5 kilo packet. Just use a standard water glass, about 250 ml. You can decide how much flour you need by judging the consistency of the mixture.

I am including quite a few rubbish pictures to help guide you through the process. First, heat up the oil in a big pot. Add the flour slowly and mix until smooth and creamy. It will look a bit like this:

Now you need to keep stirring over a medium heat to make sure you cook the flour without burning it. It might take a bit. Don’t get impatient, this is very important. In the meantime, pop the sugar and water in a pot and let it boil for 5-10 mins until it becomes a bit syrupy.
 
Your mixture is starting to look darker. First a bit like chestnut paste, and then it should take a brown-ish colour.
 
This is where I stopped. I think it needed a bit longer. If you keep stirring it won’t stick to the bottom, so you can wait until it gets a bit darker.
Now, add the syrup in batches. You should probably take the big pot off the heat. The first batch of syrup you add is going to make the mixture go mental. You’ve been warned hence you’re already more well prepared to do this than I was. This is how it looks after you start adding syrup. I think there is a drastic change because the hot syrup cooks the flour really quickly. It is very important that you keep stirring so it is all smooth, although this step won’t take more than 5 minutes.
 
You can now add a bit of cinnamon to the dough. Take a baking tray, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on the bottom and spoon in the dough. 
 
It looks all messy on the top so you need to take some baking paper, pop it on the top and then press down on the dough with your hands so it all becomes smooth and flat, like this:
 
Then, you sprinkle cinnamon, sesame seeds and a bit of sugar (preferably granulated) and, using a knife, cut it in diamond-shaped pieces, all the way to the bottom. This is very important as it will be quite hard to cut it in pretty pieces after it’s cooked.
 
Pop it in the preheated (200 degrees) oven for about an hour. You can check with a knife if it is cooked in the middle. It should be looking golden brown on the top.

You can enjoy it as an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee, especially if dinner is still a long time away and you’re feeling a bit hungry. It’s quite filling! It should be crumbly on the inside without being dry. It keeps for at least a couple of weeks out of the fridge. Just cover it with some cling film so it doesn’t dry out.

I think overall mine was a good effort! It wasn’t as hard to cook as I thought it would be, it was just a bit intense for a few minutes when I added the syrup. Certainly not time consuming! It was of course no match for the original version and I probably wouldn’t dare serve it to my granny, but I think I could convince my parents to have a taste without feeling embarrassed. 
If you decide to give it a go –  and you should! –  I’d love to hear how it went.

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions
Lihnarakia
Beef with Aubergines

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: Cheeeeeesy!

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Beef with Aubergines (Greek #4)

Note to self: next time I’m ill, I should make soup. Not spend a couple of hours preparing something yummy and then not be able to taste it because my nose is blocked and my tastebuds have died.

I think it was nice. People that tasted it said it was nice. And you can’t really go wrong with beef and aubergines. And if there is one thing that can improve pasta, it’s cooking it in meat juice. Maybe I should start cooking all pasta in meat juice, or even better, roast it in butter and then simmer it in veal stock.

This dish falls under the kokkinisto category of Greek cooking, which translates as “made red” and is a general term for tomato stews. When meat is involved, I love using spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and the brilliant all-spice. It’s not a kokkinisto without them. My general rule is to go easy on them with beef, since it’s quite strong, but use them liberally with chicken. Chicken kokkinisto is definitely in my top 10 favourite dishes, in a similar way that the French (and not only!) love their coq au vin. It’s aromatic and saucy and rich, perfect winter food.

Hang on, I’m still talking about chicken? I’m making beef here. Concentrate.

Beef with Aubergines

Ingredients (serves 4 very hungry people)

1 kg beef, diced
4 large aubergines
500gr orzo pasta (or other small sized pasta)
3 large onions
1-2 glasses of red wine
1 can good quality chopped tomatoes (they really do make a difference)
1 carton creamed tomatoes (or enough to make the sauce red and tomatoey)
5-6 all-spice berries
half a teaspoon cinnamon
half a teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of oregano
olive oil
salt, pepper

First, chop the onions and fry them in the olive oil. When they start getting soft, add the meat and let it brown. Add the wine, wait for a few minutes for the alcohol to evaporate and add the chopped and creamed tomatoes. Cook for as long as you like – the longer the better as it will make the meat tender. Add the spices and pepper, but not the salt. Someone told me that it makes the meat tough if you add it early on. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. Especially with Sainsbury’s beef, you need all the help you can get.

Slice the aubergines, brush them with olive oil and grill them. Arrange on kitchen roll to get rid of any extra fat. Then slice them in quarters.

When your stew has stewed enough, add the aubergines, the salt, some boiled water and your pack of pasta. It is a bit tricky here: make sure you stir enough so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom but don’t add too much water or you will end up with a soup and don’t stir too much or your aubergines will disintegrate.

When the pasta is done, you’re done. Grate some cheese (preferably something salty and strong, like pecorino) and enjoy. It’s perfect for winter so if you try it, let me know how it went!

 

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions
Lihnarakia

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: This is scary.

Ping’s Seafood, New York

This draft has been sitting in my posts list for a while now, well, since I came back from New York at the beginning of December. I had completely forgotten about it until today, I read this post by Cheese and Biscuits and got a huge craving for dim sum. There is one restaurant in Cambridge that does dim sum, Charlie Chan, and if anyone has visited it and can recommend it, I would love to know! For now, here you go:

This is going to be an entirely positive post, so hopefully I won’t be offending any more people! Well, unless they are particularly interested in the well-being of crustaceans.

I don’t really think I can write a blog post about New York, since so many people have been there so much more often than me and hence my experience of three days will probably be obvious and naive. Summary: New York is BIG. America is pretty big in general, but no other place I’ve ever been to has so many big things together in such little space. I think I spent my first two days looking up and being amazed at how tall the buildings were. I certainly overused “wow”.

I didn’t really think New York was particularly cheap when it comes to food, but maybe that’s because I was comparing it to Cambridge rather than London. The only meal that I really felt was a bargain was this one, where we stuffed our faces in dim sum and then paid $12 each, tip included.

China town is an experience, with all the crazy shops and the alive or dead animal displays that you come across. Certainly not a vegetarian’s dream. This place was recommended to us by a friend, which filled me with some confidence but I was still terrified when we walked in and were attacked by a trolley of food with someone shouting “Pork!” “Prawn!” over us. Yep, that was my first time in a dim sum restaurant.

I can’t remember every single thing we ordered but some of them were so nice that got re-ordered, like the pan-fried pork dumplings (top left).

This deep fried prawn inside half a green chilli pepper was really tasty, if somewhat hot. Actually, too hot for me. After the first bite, I decided (while crying) that it is wiser to remove the chilli. It was still a little bit hot without it, which was nice.

I was a big fan of the sticky rice wrapped in the lotus leaves. It had a sweet sausage filling and it was delicious. Others declared it “too sticky”. I happily finished it off.

And when I ordered the coconut jelly for dessert, everyone looked terrified. I persuaded them to try it and, after some reluctancy, the whole thing was gone in seconds. Thinking about it, maybe I should have kept it for myself.

In conclusion, brilliant. It’s just crazy that you can get so much nice food for so little money. How do they do it? Actually, I probably don’t want to know. But I need to find a dim sum restaurant close to me.

8/10

Lihnarakia (Greek #3)

I kept my word this time and made those Cretan treats I promised! They are called Lihnarakia and they basically consist of a sweet pastry enclosing a lemony, sweet, cheesy filling. And of course, with a good sprinkle of cinnamon on top. It was a bit of an adventure: Not only I’m not experienced with pastry, but I had never tasted one of these before today. Or seen one actually. But the idea sounded pretty good.

The cheese that is traditionally used is sweet mizithra. I couldn’t find it in England so I decided to ricotta as a substitute. I don’t know how traditional it is, since I’ve never actually tasted mizithra (shameful for a Greek, I know!). It tasted good though and that’s what matters! Having said that, it’d be great if someone who knows better can suggested a closer alternative or tell us how the two actually compare.

Anyway, on to the recipe, which I got again from Elias Mamalakis’ website. Unfortunately, I have been lazy and not changed the measurements from the confusing cups system to metric. I do think though that both the pastry and especially the filling are not too sensitive to changes of the ratios.

Lihnarakia (makes about 25- I halved it)

For the pastry:

1 sachet dry yeast
4 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs whipped with a pinch of salt
3 tbsp greek yogurt

Whisk the olive oil with the sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the whisked eggs, the sugar and the yeast mixed with a teaspoon of the flour. Mix until smooth and then slowly add the rest of the flour until it reaches a workable consistency. Transfer onto a floured surface and knead for a few minutes. Place it back into the bowl and cover with a towel. Let it rest while you’re preparing the filling.

For the filling:

4 cups ricotta
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 tbsp sugar

This is pretty straightforward as you can probably guess. Whisk everything together. Don’t worry if it’s not very smooth, as long as the bits are bits of cheese rather than bits of butter.

To assemble them, roll out the pastry into a thick sheet. I did this with my joke rolling pin so it must be quite easy with a proper one. Using a glass, cut circles of dough and then roll them out a bit more to make sure they’re not too thick. Put a spoon of filling in the middle.

I found the shaping a little bit tricky: the instructions tell you to lift the ends of the pastry and seal it at the top making 8 tips. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be completely sealed, mine opened up a little, either after shaping or during cooking. I don’t think it really matters.

For the top:

1 egg yolk whisked with a bit of water
1/2 tbsp cinnamon

Place them in a buttered tray and brush the tops with a little egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in a preheated oven (180 degrees Celsius) for 20-30 mins or until golden at the top.

They might sound a bit labour-intensive but the dough is really quite easy to handle and, after getting over the fact that you can’t seal them properly, the shaping is okay too. In any case, the flavour will compensate you for your effort! The pastry is crumbly and light while the filling is creamy and tastes fruity and sweet. Definitely worth giving them a go, and I’d love to hear about the results!

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai
Stuffed Onions

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: I think I might be overdosing on aubergines.

Stuffed onions (Greek #2)

You know how I said that the next dish would be summery and vegetarian? Well, this one is neither. Maybe a little bit summery but definitely not vegetarian. Not even suitable for those fake-veggies that eat fish but not meat. See, I was going to make something summery and vegetarian, but when I told Alex what I had in mind he said that I would be cheating if I made it. Apparently I promised to make things I’ve never made before. What was I thinking?!

Anyway, a promise is a promise. Get ready for some stinky food, since dinner tonight is Stuffed Onions. I am not sure which area exactly they come from, since they are so many different versions of them around the internet. Most of them say they come from the Dodecanese, so pick your favourite island. They recipe I chose is the one from Elias Mamalakis’s website. It’s in Greek, so I’ll re-write it here in English. I’ve made a couple of changes too.

Stuffed Onions

Ingredients (serves 4-5)

6 large onions
2 aubergines
500 gr beef mince
1 1/2 cups of rice
1 glass of white wine
2 tomatoes
300 gr creamed tomatoes (or tomato puree diluted with water)
fresh parsley
olive oil
salt, pepper

To prepare the onions: Slice off the ends and peel them. You want to cut a larger bit from the top (the side where green things start growing out of if you leave them for too long). Boil them whole in salted water for about 20 mins, or until soft. Take them out, let them cool down so that you can handle them and pull out a couple of layers from each one. Put them on a tray and chop up the insides.

For the aubergines: You can either chop them up whole or, if you want to stuff them too, remove the flesh and set them on the side together with the onions.

For the filling: In a large pan, fry the chopped onions and aubergines with some olive oil. When they are soft, add the mince and fry until brown. Then add the rice and the wine and boil until the alcohol evaporates. Next, stir in the tomato puree and some water, let it boil once more and remove from the heat. Mix in the chopped parsley.

When the filling has cooled down a little bit, fill the onions (and the aubergines, if you have some) with a teaspoon. You will probably have too much filling, which is good. Put the rest around the onions, it will get really nice and sticky after it cooks. Cut the tomatoes in wedges and arrange them around the stuffed onions.

Drizzle with olive oil and some more water, cover with foil and let it cook in a preheated oven for at least an hour at 170 degrees. Uncover and let it brown for a further 15 mins.

Serve with bread and some feta cheese if you like.

I claimed at the beginning of this post that I am making something I’ve never made before, but it’s not strictly true. I have never stuffed onions, and they were nice, although a bit annoying to peel when hot. But I’ve made the filling many times before. You can use it to stuff all kinds of vegetables like aubergines, courgettes, peppers or tomatoes. Just remove the flesh and use it in the filling (well, apart from the peppers!).

This dish is best served after it has cooled down to room temperature. If you can wait!

Previously on Round the World in 100 Recipes:
Spetsofai

Next time on Round the World in 100 Recipes: A treat from Crete!

Spetsofai (Greek #1)

This is not your standard Greek dish. It is not eaten next to the beach, with a cold beer in your hand and the temperature hitting the 40s. Instead, think snow, skiing, log fire. Yeah, we have that in Greece too!

It comes from mount Pelion on the peninsula you see above, which I have never visited but I am desperate to. Its beautiful and unique location means that you can ski while having a view of the sea.

As you would expect from a winter warmer, Spetsofai is spicy, rich and full of flavour. The ingredients are very simple but it’s important to pick some nice sausages, preferably Italian ones as I am guessing they will be the closest to the Greek ones. I used some Lefkas ones, from the same producers that make the Lefkas salami which is now becoming quite famous in the rest of Greece.

Spetsofai

Ingredients (for 4 cold and hungry people):

12 sausages
4 long pointy peppers
2 chillies (depending on your taste really, but don’t overpower it)
2 cans of good quality chopped tomatoes
olive oil
salt, pepper
optional: garlic, aubergines

It really is very simple. Cut the peppers in quite large chunks and fry them in some olive oil until soft.

Then slice the sausages 1 inch thick and fry them.

Remove from the pan. In the same one, add the chopped chillies , give them a couple of minutes with some olive oil, and then add the tomatoes and the salt/pepper. Add some water and let it cook for 5-10 minutes. Add the sausages and peppers to the sauce and leave it for a further 5 mins or until it looks saucy but not too watery.

Notes:

  • If you are using garlic, chop it finely and throw it in the pan together with the chillies.
  • If you are using aubergines, slice them, brush them with the olive oil and grill them until soft. Then cut in half and add to the sauce just before the peppers and sausages. You can fry them if you want, by be careful because they absorb a lot of oil.
  • The best peppers for this are the green long sweet ones. If you can find some spicy ones too, you can use them instead of the chillies and be more consistent with tradition. I didn’t, so I substituted for sweet red pointy peppers and green chillies.
  • If your sausages look like they won’t hold their shape very well when sliced, cook them whole first and then slice them and add to the sauce.

Serving possibilities are endless really, but I like to keep it simple with some nice crusty bread. Feta cheese (of course!) goes brilliantly with it. There is no reason though you can’t serve this with some pasta or mashed potatoes.

Next time on Round the World in 100 recipes: Summer might have just come early. And I am turning vegetarian. Weird stuff.

New Year, New Plan

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I don’t like failing. But I am also extremely lazy and I like to have some targets. I never really manage to finish things on time, but setting myself a deadline actually gets me to do far more than what I would do without it. This is the plan here:

Round The World in 100 Recipes

Pick 10 countries.

Now pick 10 different recipes from each country.

I am going to cook and blog about all of them. In 2010.

There will be some countries I am quite familiar with (Greece, England, France) and some others I haven’t got a clue about (Thailand, China, even Spain really). In any case, the plan is to pick recipes I haven’t really made before and try to learn more about each country’s culinary traditions. I might need to buy some books in the process so if you have any recommendations please do comment! And any advice is most welcome.

I think I am decided on 9 of the countries and might pick something quite obscure for the last one just to challenge myself a bit more! It will be approximately a month on each country, giving me 2 free months to overrun or just get a break!

And to start with, I’ve picked Greece.

Not a shocking choice! Well, I do need to use all the meat and cheese and honey I’ve brought back from my Christmas holiday. I promise I won’t cheat; my first dish is going to be something I’ve never made before!