Soutzoukakia.

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As Europeans begin to ask more questions about where their meat comes from and sales of supermarket beef drop, I think it’s a good time to share a recipe that champions good quality beef in a very comforting way.

I love meatballs and there are some great recipes out there.  Already, I’ve shared my recipe for Keftedes (Greek meatballs), but today I want to share one for soutzoukakia (soo-zoo-ka-ki-yah). These are usually little sausage-shaped meatballs which are more like kofta and are served in a tomato sauce.  They’re gorgeous and a little spicier than ordinary meatballs.

My mum makes killer meatballs, maybe the best, but my recipe comes close; certainly close enough that I feel no shame in sharing it with you.  These beauties melt in the mouth and will permanently stain whatever clothing they touch, so cover up when you tuck in.  They’re great with all kinds of food, but I love them with a fresh cabbage salad and chunky chips.  They freeze well too, so make a big batch and then tub it up for a rainy day.  We had some on pasta recently and it was a real treat!

Soutzoukakia

For the meatballs

750g minced beef

2 large onions (quartered)

1 slice of white bread

handful of fresh coriander/dill (chopped)

12 fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)

3 tblspoons dried oregano

1 tblspoon ground cumin

3 tspoons cayenne pepper

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

half tspoon ground nutmeg

salt

pepper

For the sauce

3 tins chopped tomatoes (about 400g each)

10 garlic cloves

1 glass red wine

1 cup beef stock

1 tblspoon tomato puree

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tspoon dried oregano

salt

pepper

Make breadcrumbs with the white bread and pour into a large mixing bowl with the beef.  Puree the onions and garlic in a food mixer and add to the beef.  Next, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl and use your hands to squeeze everything together until fully combined.  This takes some time and is best done when the minced beef is at room temperature.

You can leave the mixture overnight to let the flavours develop, or you can get on with making the meatballs.  Wash your hands well and leave them wet if you are going to make the meatballs immediately.  This prevents the mixture from sticking to your fingers.  Break off small chunks (or whatever amount you would like) and roll into a little ball.  Set to one side ready for frying.

In a large casserole, gently heat enough olive oil to cover the base.  Add the meatballs in batches and get some nice colour on them before removing them.  Let them drain on kitchen paper in a bowl.

When all of the meatballs have been cooked, keep the heat low and add the red wine to deglaze the casserole, stirring all the time with a wooden spatula or spoon.  Get all of the bits of meatball off the base and add the tomatoes and the beef stock.  Bring to a rolling boil and stir gently for around two minutes; just enough time to burn off the alcohol in the red wine.

Lower the heat and stir in the puree.  Bruise each garlic clove before throwing into the sauce.  Finally, add the dry ingredients and stir.  Once the sauce is simmering, gently add the meatballs and add enough stock to cover them.  Keep the sauce simmering for at least an hour with the lid off to reduce the liquid.  Stir from time to time and stop cooking when the sauce is nice and thick (or to your liking).  Taste the sauce and season it if necessary.  Remove the bay leaf before serving.

The good news is that soutzoukakia can be served with all kinds of things.  As I said earlier, I love them with chips and a crunchy cabbage salad, but they’re just as good with mash, roasted potatoes or in a hot baguette with some grated cheese on top!  You gotta love meatballs!

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The taste of home.

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I spent a couple of weeks in Crete rediscovering the tastes and smells from my early days there. It was surprising to find that the food which brought back the most memories was not the most memorable itself.

Sitting at a table by the sea, I looked at the myriad of plates and began to add this and that to my own. There was one dish, however, which I mistook for houmous until I tasted it. I dipped in some beautiful bread and suddenly I was four years old again. The taste was rich and comforting and so familiar. “What is this? I recognise the taste, but I don’t know it’s name”. It was fava.

The reason that I love fava so much is because it is a fantastic vehicle for olive oil. It’s very simple to make and there are very few ingredients. The main ingredient is yellow split lentils. When cooked down to a thick consistency, they carry the flavour of extra-virgin olive oil like few other foods can. If peasant food isn’t your thing, or you don’t care for the taste of good olive oil, this is perhaps your time to bail and return when there’s a pudding recipe (next week). If you are like me and crave the good stuff, then fava is a truly wonderful way to make use of that oil in your cupboard reserved for only your best dishes. Will fava wow your friends at a dinner party? Nope, but your tummy will love it!

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Fava

250g yellow split peas

2 onions (sliced)

1 garlic clove (chopped)

extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

sea salt

Rinse the split peas in cold water and then put them into a pan of boiling water with the onions.  Bring back to the boil and simmer.  I usually put just enough water in to cover the peas and then add more as it is absorbed.  When the split peas are thick and mushy, I transfer them to a container that I can use my hand blender in without getting spattered.  I add the garlic, lemon juice and a lot of extra-virgin olive oil and blitz it.  The fava should be soft and full of the flavour of the oil.  Be careful not to add too much lemon juice and then season with a little salt until you’re happy with it.

I like eating fava on its own, but it’s also great served alongside fish and any Greek dishes.  Drizzle more oil onto it just before serving.  Fava refrigerates well and can be brought back to life in the microwave and the addition of (yet more) olive oil.  Serving it warm, rather than hot is the way to go.  So grab a chunk of your favourite bread and dive into my favourite comfort food!

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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.

On the menu this week.

Aside

Making the fritters and meatballs was fun and I hope you enjoy the recipes.  What next?  Well, I think a home-made pizza is on the cards and something a little different too.

Also, I bought some filo pastry the other day and I’m not sure what will come of that.  Any ideas?