Things got meze- part 1

As a child, when I went to a friend’s house “for tea”, I was never given stuffed peppers, pastitsio, stifado or any other dish that my mum would spend hours preparing.  I was well aware that mum had special cooking powers that she had acquired whilst in Crete and that other mums (poor souls) had access only to their native cuisine.  Therefore, I did not expect anything more than pizza and chips or fish fingers and chips or something similar (with chips).  What interested me, even as a youngster, was the reaction of my peers to some of the meals that I’d grown up on.  Let’s just say that not all children are as open-minded as one would hope.

In the global society that we inhabit today, children are exposed to a variety of different cuisines, sadly many of them will be in some form of take away.  I say sadly because it’s unlikely that the majority of children that eat food from different cultures will be enjoying an authentic experience that truly represents the country of origin.  However, it’s certainly encouraging to see children eating new and diverse food.  Children tend to pick up on the types of food eaten in different countries and often use this as a way to identify those places.  Food associations can be very strong.

Last year I invited friends and family round for a Greek night.  It was a chance for me to cook some of the food that I loved and to share it.  I was most surprised about the perceptions of Greek food that people had and how little people knew about it.  In that respect, the night was a success because lots of people were able to widen their experience of Greek cuisine beyond, the almost ubiquitous, moussaka.  This week, some friends came round for meze- small portions of (Greek) food traditionally served with drinks.  I was excited about seeing them and not least because they had requested some Greek food.  No fish fingers then.

I’d like to share two of the recipes from the meze that I think are fun to make and really tasty.  The first is a vegetarian snack that could be easily adapted for other vegetables and ingredients.

Courgette and feta fritters

150g feta

2 courgettes

2 eggs

200g plain flour

2 tspoons baking powder

100ml soda water

handful fresh mint (chopped)

salt

pepper

olive oil

Courgettes pack serious amounts of water.

Begin by making the batter.  Throw all of the dry ingredients into a medium-sized bowl and then add the eggs and water whisking constantly.  The more air you get into the batter, the lighter the fritters will be.  I used to make these with just a little water added, but after spotting Annabel Langbein‘s addition of soda water, I’ve not looked back!

Grate the courgettes into a bowl lined with either a tea towel or kitchen paper.  Lift the courgettes out and squeeze as much water out as you can.  Discard the water and mix the grated courgettes into the batter with lots of chopped fresh mint, plenty of beautiful black pepper and salt to taste.  Finally, crumble the feta into the batter and gently stir it.  Don’t break the feta up too much or it’ll be lost in the mix.  It’s nice to get little chunks of feta throughout the fritters.
Heat a frying pan and drizzle a little circle of olive oil around it.  When hot enough, drop spoonfuls of the batter onto the oil at intervals.  When the underneath is golden, flip the fritters over.  It’s possible to dry fry these in a non-stick pan, but the fritters will look pale and wan.  Place the fritters on a plate with some kitchen paper to soak up excess oil.  To be honest, the fritters retain most of the oil and are not greasy to touch.  I like to sprinkle sea salt over them when they are first cooked and they’re great with tzatziki.  The batter mix is a winner and works really well with a host of different vegetables.  It’s very versatile and perfect for summer!  Enjoy.

The Curse of Boredom or: Why I have to create.

The sun has got his hat on.  In fact, he’s had it on all day and promoted numerous gardening activities in the neighbourhood and general lethargy in our household.  The heat coaxes you into slowing down and the brightness makes it much easier to just let those eyelids drop.  Summer sure can be pleasant, no doubt.  Left to my own devices while N and the baby napped, I was going to be able to soak up every generous ray of sun and have a few chilled drinks.  Settling into a hot garden chair and kicking off my flip flops, there was only one thing that could possibly spoil this blissful peace.  Me.

No matter how idyllic the beach, forest, mountain or garden, there’s no keeping me still for very long.  I need to do stuff.  I need to be active.  I need to be making things.  There are exceptions to this rule and I’m incredibly lazy when I wish to be.  Today, however, I could not sit still.  I crept into the kitchen to see what was in the fridge/cupboard/freezer/fridge again.  Nothing jumped out.  Sigh.  I flopped down at the PC and had a quick browse on the internet.  Then, suddenly, I spotted something that I had all of the ingredients for.  A quick glance over my shoulder to check the fruit bowl and yup, there was a solitary lemon available.  Great!  Former pastry chef and now citizen of Paris, David Lebovitz was about to provide me with my entertainment for the next hour.

Of course, I couldn’t resist messing around with the recipe and adding my own bits and bobs.  The main ingredient, however, was not going to change.  A single lemon.  Not just the juice.  All of it!  I added blueberries and some mace and ginger to the recipe for my own taste, but kept most things the same including the timings.  I quite enjoyed making these lemon and blueberry slices.  I think they’d work well as tartlets.

What to do with a solitary lemon?

Lemon & blueberry slices (adapted from David Lebovitz)

For the base-

140g plain flour

120g melted butter

50g caster sugar

1/2 tspoon vanilla extract

1/4 tspoon ginger powder (optional)

1/4 tspoon powdered mace (optional)

1/4 tspoon salt

For the topping-

1 lemon

200g caster sugar

3 eggs

4 tspoons corn flour

45g melted butter

1/4 tspoon salt

handful of fresh blueberries

After lining a small, rectangular tin with foil, I began making the base for the slices.  First, I combined all of the ingredients in a bowl to form a sandy coloured dough.  I pressed this into the lined tin and baked it for twenty-five minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.

Meanwhile, I prepared the lemon topping using a hand blender.  I cut the lemon into chunks and blended it with the sugar, eggs, vanilla, corn flour, butter and salt until smooth.  There were still some bits of lemon that would add plenty of what Lebovitz calls “zing”.

When the base was golden, I pulled it out of the oven and poured the yellow lemon mixture over it all. I then dotted it with the fresh blueberries. I turned the oven down to 150 degrees and baked the mixture for another twenty-five minutes until it wouldn’t wobble.

After that, I went for a stroll along the beach with the dog, the baby and N, who was wondering why I hadn’t spent the afternoon sunbathing.  When we got back, everything had cooled and was ready to be cut and dusted with way too much icing sugar!

Upon tasting the slices, I was quite impressed, but being completely honest, they weren’t sweet enough for me.  I agree that using the entire lemon is a stroke of genius (nice one, Mr. Lebovitz), but they were a little tart- pun definitely intended.  I’m a big fan of mace, but again, I don’t think it’s for everyone.  This is definitely a recipe that I’ll return to this summer and perhaps update with something new.