Stuffed red peppers (Yemista)

Yemista is the term used to describe stuffed vegetables such as capsicum, tomatoes and zucchini.  These are often stuffed with the same fillings, usually rice and ground meat, and baked together.  At times you may see wedges of potatoes added amongst the vegetables to extend the dish.

I love the aroma of the red peppers cooking in the oven and their glorious red color.

This is one of our family favourites.

Yemista (Stuffed Red Peppers)

8 medium sized red capsicum
700 grams minced beef
1 bottle tomato passata 680 mls
½ bottle water
450 grams medium grain rice
chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
I onion finely chopped

Wash the capsicum and slice the tops, keeping them to place back on after.

In a large frying pan sauté the onions in a little olive oil until soft.  Add the mince and tomato passata and mix well, add ½ bottle of water, the rice, parsley and season with the salt and pepper.  Cook only for about 5 – 10 minutes then spoon mixture into the peppers and put tops back on and place in a large baking dish.   You can lay them down or sit them up, whichever way they fit, it really doesn’t matter.   Drizzle a little olive oil on them and place in the oven at 200oC for about one hour or until cooked.  You may need a little water in the bottom of the dish.

Serve with a green salad, fetta cheese and fresh bread.

Gourmet culinary tour of Greece

Hi Everyone,

Join me  for the ultimate gourmet culinary tour to Greece in June 2014.

It will be 10 glorious days of luxurious foodie indulgence, traditional Greek culture and living the Mediterranean lifestyle that we love so much.

The tour begins in Athens where we will explore the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus and the Ancient Agora.  We will visit the colorful central marketplace of Athens, tasting local delicacies along the way.

The magical island of Crete is next where we will stay in a traditional style villa, living like a local.  Visits to local wineries, shopping for the freshest local produce to be prepared later for that night’s dinner.  We will also spend some time in Chania, the town centre, exploring and dining at the breathtaking seaside tavernas in the old port.

We finish with stunning luxurious accommodation in Santorini.  We will be visiting local wineries, cooking with local chefs, enjoying shopping, restaurants, magical blue waters, cobblestone laneways, sun and a breathtaking sunset.

We hope that you return home inspired and rejuvenated.

For more information you can contact me via email or

Jaqui at Touchdown tours,
Email: travel@touchdowntours.com.au
Toll free: 1800 657 441
Telephone: (03) 9482 5215

Hope to see you in Athens next year.

Spanish omelette

How do you like to cook potatoes?

The humble potato can be transformed into many delicious Mediterranean meals.

When my children were young, one of their favourite quick meals was fried potatoes (chips) with egg…delicious on its own or accompanying a stew for a more sophisticated dish.

I love the comforting combination of potato and eggs and it seems that each country has their own variation as to how they put these two together.

The Spanish omelette is perfect.

Spanish omelette

4 large potatoes
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
6 eggs
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare potatoes by peeling and slicing into thick slices, about 4 mms.

In a deep frying pan pour in some olive oil, about 1/3 cup and heat.  Add the potatoes and onions and cook on a medium heat, turning occasionally, until they are cooked.  This should only take about 10-12 minutes.  Pour out any excess oil from the frypan.

In a large bowl beat the eggs using a fork and season.

Pour over the potatoes and onions and cook over a medium heat.  When the sides are cooked you can slide it onto a plate and then place the frypan over the plate and return the omlette to the frypan upside down.  Return to the heat and cook the other side.

Serve hot or warm.

Cabbage rolls

I love these charming cabbage rolls.  I used to love helping my mother make them…they are a little fiddly, so it is nice to have someone to share the job.

My mother called these cabbage rolls ‘sarma’.  I never did ask my mother why this was, but I do think this name comes from the Turkish language.

There are many ways of serving and preparing this meal. In Northern Greece these cabbage rolls are prepared using pickled cabbage (toursi) and pork mince, which is also lovely.

They are delicious served with the traditional avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce), Greek yogurt or, my favourite, simply a squeeze of lemon…served with some fresh, crusty bread and feta cheese, it makes a perfect meal.

Delicious…serve your favourite way.

Cabbage rolls

I large cabbage
750 grams minced beef
1 onion finely chopped
300 grams medium grain rice
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
egg and lemon sauce (optional)

Wash cabbage well and with a sharp knife carefully cut into the core and remove it.  Place the cabbage into a large saucepan filled with water and bring to boil, simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove carefully, drain and allow to cool.  Start removing cabbage leaves one at a time when cool enough to touch and set aside.  You can put the cabbage back into hot water if it becomes difficult to detach the leaves.  Trim the hard stems of the leaves and cut into 2 or large enough to roll.

In a large bowl combine meat, onion, rice, parsley, seasonings, tomato paste and oil.

Line a large casserole dish with 2 or 3 cabbage leaves.

Place a cabbage leaf into the palm of your hand and place 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture in the leaf, fold bottom over it, sides in and roll up.  Place in the casserole dish  seam side down, repeat until all the mixture is finished.  You may have more than one layer of cabbage rolls, make sure they are packed tightly.

Pour 1 cup hot water over and drizzle some olive oil.

Place a heavy plate upside down over the rolls to keep them in shape.

Simmer for about 45 minutes or until cooked.

When cool you can pour over egg and lemon sauce or if you prefer just a squeeze of lemon juice, which is what I prefer.

Keftethes (meatballs)

These delicious keftethes (meatballs) are perfect on a meze platter accompanied with tzatziki and fresh crusty bread.

I like to add some feta cheese, olives and a Greek salad and make it a complete sharing meal.

Keftethes

500 grams minced beef
2 thick slices day old bread (crusts removed) or
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 finely chopped or grated onion
plain flour for coating
olive oil for frying

Soak the bread in water and squeeze out excess and crumble, if using bread.   Mix with other ingredients well, the mixture should be moist.

You can use beef or lamb combined with some pork if you prefer or simply the meat of your choice.

Leave in the fridge for about 1 hour.

Take small pieces of the meat mixture and roll into walnut sized balls, coat in flour and fry in hot olive oil making sure that the oil is not too hot, you don’t want to burn the keftethes.  Take care not to overcrowd the frypan and cook over a medium heat, turning a couple of times so they are golden brown in color.

Can be served hot or at room temperature.

Pastitso with creamy bechamel sauce

Pastitso, moussaka, avgolemeno sauces, fish stews and greek salads are considered a perfect example of traditional Greek country cooking and certainly a favourite in my home.

It is probably Tsemelmentes, one of the most influential chefs of his time and whose names is still synonymous to ‘cookbook’, who recreated some of these dishes as we know them today.  He introduced french style methods into the Greek cuisine preferring butter to olive oil and heavier sauces, bringing bechamel sauce and a Greek version of bouillabaisse to our tables.

A favourite in my home is pastitso.  I love to make a big tray so there is plenty for leftovers the next day and it is perfect served with a Greek Salad.

Here is my recipe for pastitso…

Pastitso

700 grams minced beef
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
olive oil
1 bottle tomato passata
½ bottle water
splash of red wine
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste
100 grams fetta cheese
750 grams rigatoni
1 tablespoon butter
Béchamel sauce

Cook pasta in a large pot of water.  When cooked, drain and toss in the butter and season with a little salt.

Saute onions and garlic with a little olive oil in a large saucepan.  Add the mince and brown, adding the tomato passata and water, mix well and add a splash of red wine.  Season to taste adding oregano and bay leaf.  Cook for about 20 minutes until almost cooked.

While the pasta and meat sauce are cooking prepare the béchamel sauce and set aside.

In a large baking dish place half the pasta, then top with mince mixture and crumble the fetta cheese over then.  Top with the remaining pasta and then finally the béchamel sauce.  Bake in a 200oC oven for 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with a delicious big Greek salad.

Bechamel sauce

4 tablespoons butter
4 cups (1 litre) full fat milk (warm)
2 eggs
4 heaped tablespoons plain flour
salt and pepper

In a saucepan melt the butter and stir in the flour until combined.  Pour the warm milk in slowly, stirring all the time as you pour, add eggs and mix well, season to taste.

I prefer no seasoning as I like the sweetness of this sauce.

Stir and cook until it is a custard consistency.

Winter fruits

Winter brings to our kitchen table gorgeous apples, pears and quince, which I love to poach, bake or simply make compotes with.  You can experiment using your own combination of fruits, adding aromatic spices or some berries to them.

Baking these elegant and delicate winter fruits is something I adore.  Perfect with roast meats such as a slow roasted pork belly or duck, I like having apple or quince as an accompaniment to these meats.

My favourite of course is as a sweet, as I do confess I have a sweet tooth.

I like to take shortcuts sometimes, so tonight I am baking a rustic open tart using store-bought short crust pastry.  Place the pastry on a prepared baking tray and pile on the poached fruit (I used apples and quince) sprinkle with some almond flakes, fold over the edges and bake in a medium oven 180°C for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with custard, icecream, yogurt or cream.

I poached the pears in some water flavored with vanilla and brown sugar…I also added some frozen blueberries…delicious with some Greek yoghurt.

Hope there is some left for my breakfast tomorrow.

Rizogalo – rice pudding

This sweet creamy rizogalo fills me with childhood memories.

As a small girl I remember coming home from school and finding small plates filled with rizogalo lined up on the kitchen bench, still hot and sprinkled with aromatic cinnamon.  There was always enough for that afternoon eaten warm and another for the next day, cold from the refrigerator.

Perfect comfort food on a cold winters day…or any day really.

Rizogalo

150 grams medium grain rice
600 mls full-fat milk
30 grams cornflour
140 grams caster sugar,
ground cinnamon, to serve

Place rice and 300 mls water into a saucepan and simmer over a low heat until the rice is cooked and water has absorbed.

Add the milk slowly and keep stirring.

Mix the cornflour with a little water to make a paste and add to the rice mixture, together with the sugar.  Keep stirring until it thickens.

When ready, pour into individual bowls and serve with plenty of ground cinnamon.

Cloves

Cloves are small nail-like shaped flower buds that are dried…they have an aromatic sweet flavor, and can be bought whole or ground and are available all year round.   Ground cloves are commonly used in baking, and whole cloves flavouring sauces.

I love using cloves when stewing fruits such as apples and quince, making preserves, in sugar syrups and cakes.  I also love them in meat dishes with a red sauce with other spices… my favourite dish of course, being stifado – delicious.

I love the warmth of this dish, the sweetness of the cooked onions and the exotic aromas of the spices.  It is often made with rabbit, but I love it with either veal or beef.

Here is my recipe for –

Beef Stifado

2 kilos pickling onions
olive oil
1 kilo stewing beef (or veal) cut into chunks
1 x 680 mls tomato passata
¼ cup red wine
salt, to taste
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
10 whole cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Peel and cut off the tops and tails of the onions and put aside.

In a large casserole dish, heat some olive oil and brown the meat.  Add the onions.  Pour in the tomato passata and 2 cups water and wine.  Season with salt, add bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and peppercorns.

Cover and simmer for about 1 – 1 ½ hours or until meat and onions are tender and soft.

Serve hot.

Serve with fresh crusty bread.