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.
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The Sausage Strikes Back.

Hearty, yes. Healthy? Not so much.

Should I feel guilty about my blatant love of bacon?  Should I look at the floor in shame the next time I see a sausage?  I think not.  Sausages are awesome and the English are not alone in their affection for them.  The Spanish, the French, the Germans and even the Greeks produce their own types of sausage using a range of ingredients and techniques.  There are sausages on every continent and over four hundred and seventy varieties of sausage in England alone.  Among my favourites, Cumberland sausages stand out, but today I chose to use Linconshire sausages in a famous dish called toad in the hole.

I say famous, but it’s the title that has made it so, rather than the qualities of the dish itself.  Perhaps I’m being unfair because it can be a very tasty dish.  I’d love to tuck into this on a cold winter evening when the wind is whistling through the trees and the tiles on the roof chatter like teeth in the storm.  Ahem, where was I?  Ah, yes, sausages in batter.

Toad in the hole

7 Linconshire sausages

300ml cold water

1 onion (quartered)

3 cloves garlic (peeled and halved)

1 leek (sliced)

1 egg

130g plain flour

3 sprigs fresh thyme

3 sage leaves (sliced)

sea salt

pepper

vegetable oil

I’ll be perfectly honest, I had never made toad in the hole before this and there was a certain amount of trepidation when I made the decision to try it out.  How hard could it be?  Batter, sausages, cook until golden.  Surely everyone can manage that!  I decided to brown the sausages first in the frying pan before adding them to the baking dish.  It should be a one pot wonder, but I don’t like pale sausages.  I fried the sausages on the lowest heat for about fifteen minutes until browned and cooked through.  I then beat the egg with the water and made a thick batter by adding it to the flour and whisking.  I ground some black pepper into the batter.  For me, this is almost a reflex action and sometimes I have to stop myself adding pepper to things!  I had to prepare the herbs and vegetables which gave me some time to heat the oil in the dish I was to cook the toad in.  I chose a shallow, square dish, but it doesn’t matter too much as long as you can get all your sausages in and get the oil hot enough.  I set the oven to the highest heat possible and put the dish in the centre with enough oil in it to just cover the base.  The oil needs to be smoking hot.

When the oil was ready, I removed the dish from the oven, poured the batter in and then began to arrange the ingredients.  I started by placing the sausages in the batter and then spread out the leeks and onion.  Next, I pushed the halves of garlic here and there and sprinkled the sliced sage over.  I finished off by laying the sprigs of time across the batter and sprinkled a generous amount of sea salt over the whole dish.  This all had to be done in a matter of seconds so as not to let the oil cool.  Straight back into the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Once the top was golden and the onions beginning to burn, I took the toad out and served it with peas and roasted carrots.  Gravy?  Of course.