Thursday, 27 April 2017

On the road to Santorini - part 2

Wild caper bush

Wine making in Santorini dates back to ancient times. The volcanic explosion in around 1600BC covered the island with lava and ash creating a unique terroir for grape growing. The producers don’t use any irrigation. The grape vines are kept low to the soil so that at night they feed of the humidity in the air that is more present at ground level. Santorini is mostly known for producing dry white wines PDO (Protective Designated Origin), made from its most noble grape called Assyrtiko.

I learnt this all from a lovely Greek lady, Maria, who produces her own homemade white wine and Vinsanto, at her family's small cellar, from the grapes they cultivate on their land around her shop. The shop, Faros Market, is located on the main road, past Akrotiri, on the way to the lighthouse - south of the island.

There, at the shop, she makes her own jams, sundried tomatoes, preserves and honey with almonds (a traditional wedding gift) - all grown close by. She also sells local produce such as honey, feta cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes and a delicious local specialty, caper leaves. They are hand picked from the caper shrubs which grow in the wild areas of the island. They are preserved in jars with water, salt and vinegar. It tastes just like capers and adds a delicious tangy, slightly spicy and sharp taste in salads and fish recipes. 

Faros Market - Maria's shop






Traditional homemade organic products
From top left, clockwise: feta cheese, olives, olive oil, sundried cherry tomatoes and caper leaves

From top left, clockwise: watermelon, courgette, grape, cucumber, tomato and cactus jams
From left: honey with almond, saffron syrup and honey thyme
Maria's family wine cellar
The land where they cultivate the grapes
Santorini homemade wines

Due to the restricted Easyjet weight allowance (grrrrr), I couldn’t bring much stuff back. But, I managed to squeeze in some yummy things from Maria’s shop and a half of the local wine that was given to us by our great hotel host (by the way, anyone looking for a very nice accommodation in Santorini, this is the place to stay).

In London you can purchase caper leaves and other delicious Greek produce at the Greek Larder, in King's Cross, or online at Isle of Olive

Back in my kitchen, in London, I made our regular “go to” dish that we enjoyed almost everyday during our stay in the island, with the twist of caper leaves. The Santorini Greek salad recipe is ideal as a starter, light lunch or side dish. It tastes great with sourdough bread to soak up the juices. This meal  couldn’t be more Mediterranean, more balanced and easy to make.

Simple...
...ingredients
My take on the Greek salad,
with caper leaves as the star

Greek Salad with caper leaves
Serves 2

For the vinaigrette

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of a small half lemon 
1 sprig of fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced 
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for the salad

1  medium sized red onion, cut in thin slices 
2 small to medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, sliced
15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
12 pitted kalamata olives
1 heaped tablespoon capers 
10 capers leaves (optional)
1 slab of organic Feta Cheese, or one from a good provenance
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzle

Method

On a medium size bowl, whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients well. Add onion and cucumber, toss and let them marinating for about 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, olives,  capers and caper leaves, toss carefully.

Transfer salad to a wide, shallow serving bowl and place the feta slab over it. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle dried oregano. Serve immediately with a piece of toasted sourdough bread. Enjoy!

P.S: If you want to make this recipe as authentic as the Santorinian, you can add sliced green or yellow peppers. My husband prefers it without them.

A healthy note: Capers and caper leaves are high in iron and sodium (those on a low sodium diet should avoid the regular consumption of capers). A small amount of capers will go a long way. It has an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect. Contains a bioflavonoid called rutin which is considered to be anti rheumatic and a great treatment for arthritis and gout. It’s diuretic and protects the liver and kidneys. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

On the road to Santorini - part 1



Hello everyone, it’s been, let’s say, a long sabbatical. I am back with new ideas to share with you. During this time away from the blog, I did a lot of travelling, cooking and researching. I have evolved on my approach to food and nutrition and I would like the blog to reflect that. That’s why you will be seeing a change here. (If you haven’t been to this page before, please check out my profile to see what Margot’s Kitchen is about). My kitchen still is my starting point but I will also be taking you on my explorations of good food in London and on my travels.

I just came back from Santorini. It is a magical place and it should definitely be considered one of the wonders of the world.  I first visited the island in 1998 and since then many things changed, especially the prohibitive prices.

Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with the restaurants, some were recommended by locals and they were overrated and extremely expensive for the quality of food they were serving. Others were clearly a tourist trap with amazing surroundings and views. April is low season in Santorini and sadly I missed one of the highly recommended places which opens at the end of April. It’s an old tavern, Penelope’s, by the church of Pyrgos, a quaint village, about 10 minutes by car from Fira (the town centre of the island). So on my search for good food, my family and I found a little gem called to psaraki , a restaurant by the old fish port of Vlychada with a gorgeous view of the Aegean sea and the fishing harbour. It was by far the best food we had. The chef’s philosophy is to create simple and unpretentious Greek food with seasonality and sustainability in mind. My kind of place.

to psaraki taverna
Attention to crunchiest filo cheese rolls with honey sauce in the centre
clockwise, from top: delicious vine leaves, Tzatziki and 
homemade cod roe tarama spread which was fresh, lemony,
tangy and salty. Yumami (couldn't resist ;-))
One of the best falafels I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten many 
 falafels in my life). Worth going back for everyday
Seafood orzo risotto - with 
juicy crabmeat, prawns, mussels and cockles.To die for
The freshest of sardines stuffed with onions and fresh herbs







Pan grilled bonito in spices and seasonal vegetables


Baklava of the Greek gods. Crispy, crunchy, balanced sweet and nutty.


Best of the rest

On the list of honest and OK food, I would like to mention:
Avocado, a contemporary touch on the old Greek classics. Leonidas the lovely owner is a kind host, his willingness to indulge us makes his restaurant a really pleasant place to go. Very friendly and welcoming waiters.


Moussaka: traditional Greek dish, it didn’t wow us but it ticked the box

Anogi, a small traditional Greek tavern

Feta cheese Saganaki - in crispy pastry leaf with  honey and sesame seed.

Pork shank: A meaty dish which could have easily 
been shared by two.
I love my travels and the food indulgence that comes with it. But I am also all for gut health and the Santorinians have an authentic, hearty and nutritious recipe which will make our microbiota happy for it (see a healthy note at the bottom of the page).
   
The Greeks call it Fava, yellow split peas, puree. It’s basically something between a hummus and a yellow dahl - with a small twist. In the traditional Greek recipe the split peas are cooked with onion salt and pepper and served with olive oil. There are many variations in which garlic, oregano and bay leaf are added to the mixture and after pureed (or left chunky). It is served with capers, raw onions, kalamata olives, olive oil and or paprika. 


Some beans growing on a volcanic land

Dried fava (yellow split peas)

It is usually served at room temperature as a meze, it is delicious served with warm pitta bread. It is also served as an appetizer before a fish dish.

My take on Santorini Fava



Recipe and Method

Rinse 1 cup of split peas in cold water. Place them in a saucepan with 4 cups of water,1 medium size red onion (peeled and sliced), 2 cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil, remove foam with a slotted spoon and let it simmer for 35-45 minutes over low heat until the split peas become mushy. 

Take the pan off the heat and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and pour in a juice of 1 lemon. 

Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. You can leave it a bit chunky if you prefer.

Mix, until the peas become smooth and creamy.

Serve it with spring onions, capers and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. 

Kalí óreksi! 

Till next week!

A healthy note: Yellow split peas contains starch that is resistant to digestion. It passes into the large intestine where great part of it is used as a food source by the good bacteria living in our colon - the microbiome. I have already posted the benefits of broad beans here which have a very similar nutritional value to yellow split peas. I have also posted an article on health gut featuring onions here. If you would like to understand more about gut health you can follow @theguthealthdoctor on instagram or Dr Megan Rossi on Facebook.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Every breath you take…


Again, I have been away for a while and I won’t make any excuses... But I would like to say, my lovely followers, that I will be less regular here, as a new business I am putting together is taking more and more of the time I would like to dedicate to my blog. However, I will keep posting delicious and nutritious recipes here whenever I can. Keep checking it out, please!

As for this week, aubergines are at the top of my list of most delicious vegetables. I could eat a meal made with aubergines every day. My favourite way of cooking them is grilling or roasting. Here is my twist on Nigel Slater’s grilled aubergine with a garlic cream.

Roasted garlic cloves wrapped in foil
Garlicky cream
Once the aubergines are cool enough to handle
peel away the skin
Brush the aubergines with some more coconut oil, season 
and return to the grill
Serve them with a dollop of the garlicky cream and some of
the whole roasted garlic

Grilled aubergine and garlicky cream
Serves 2

An extremely tasty, balanced and healthy dish. Garlic and aubergine are one of the best marriages. 

INGREDIENTS

1 whole bulb of garlic
Olive oil
2 sprigs of thyme
6 tablespoon of sheep’s yoghurt
A juice of 1 lime
1 tsp capers
A handful of basil
2 large aubergines
1 Tbsp coconut oil or olive oil

METHOD

Set the oven at 200C. Pour a bit of olive oil over the garlic bulb, sprinkle it with the thyme sprigs and wrap the bulb in foil. Roast for about 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven, unwrap and set aside.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves until they come out of their skin. Stir into the yoghurt and bring into a paste. Squeeze the lime juice into a bowl and mix well. Add the basil leaves and capers.

Melt the coconut oil. Score the skin of aubergines, cutting from the stalk to the base. Lightly oil the aubergines and grill, turning constantly until the flesh is soft and the skin is almost burnt.

Once they are cool enough to handle, peel away the skin and split the aubergine in two halves. Brush with some more coconut oil, season and return to the grill.

Serve with a dollop of the garlicky cream and some of the whole roasted garlic. Yum!

Some of the ingredients and their healthy benefits

Aubergine or Eggplant (Solanum melongena): It is a great source of bioflavonoids. It has antioxidant properties due to a compound (nasunin), that can prevent the formation of free radicals and protect against cell damage. Aubergine eliminates excess iron in the blood. It contains a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins, copper (for protection of the cardiovascular, skeletal, and nervous systems), magnesium (nature’s natural relaxant), manganese (very beneficial for a good digestion), phosphorus (important for proper kidney function and needed for healthy bones, teeth, muscles and nerves); and potassium (for proper nerve and muscle functions). Aubergine plays an important role in lowering blood cholesterol.

CautionAubergine contains a naturally-occurring substance found in plants called oxalates. Oxalates can become too concentrated in body fluids and crystallize, causing some health problems. People with kidney and gallbladder conditions should avoid eating this vegetable.

Garlic (Allium sativum): is one of nature’s first known medicines. It helps to prevent the common cold due to its antiviral properties. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and detoxifies the body from heavy metals. It is packed with antioxidants and contains antibacterial properties.

Sheep’s yoghurt: For some people, sheep yoghurt is easier to digest than yoghurt made from cow’s milk. It boosts immunity and is very helpful in cases of stomach ulcers. It is high in protein, natural fats, calcium, magnesium and zinc. It is a natural source of probiotic activity (live friendly bacteria) that enriches the intestinal flora, maintaining a good digestive system. It also contains three times more whey protein than yoghurt made from cow’s milk.

Till soon!


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Pulses for the heart

Following the theme on Indian food, I decided to make a soup which is not only comforting and packed with protein but so quick to make that you’ll have the time to potter around the house. You can almost use your cupboard essentials. There you go: easy, quick and nutritious.

The ingredients
plus the coconut oil
Fry the spices
Add the chickpeas and red lentils
Add the stock, bring to boil and let simmer
Add the spinach
My chickpea soup! It's good for your heart!

Chickpea, red lentil and spinach soup
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp organic coconut oil
¼ tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
1 small onion, diced
A thumb size ginger (or less if you prefer), diced
1 garlic clove, chopped
100g red lentils
250g cooked chickpeas (or 400g organic tinned)
800ml vegetable or chicken stock
60g spinach leaves
Sea-salt and black pepper for seasoning

METHOD

Heat the coconut oil and fry the spices for about 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until the onion softens.
Add the red lentils and chickpeas, and then the stock. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes or until the lentils are cooked.
Add the spinach and stir. Season and serve.

Some of the ingredients and their health benefits

Chickpeas or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum): it is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. Contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes.

Red lentils (Lens culinaris): contains protein, Iron, magnesium, folate, fiber and anti-oxidants. It contains very important nutrients for the heart health - it protects against heart disease by lowering high levels of homocysteine in the blood.

Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) is rich in iron, has abundant vitamin A and calcium. It helps cleanse the blood of toxins, facilitates bowel movements helping in the treatment of constipation. It contains sulphur which is beneficial for relieving herpes irritations. Caution: People who suffer from kidney stones should eat spinach in moderation due to an organic compound called oxalic acid, which if eaten in excess can inhibit calcium metabolism. Also avoid it if you have loose stools or urinary incontinence.

Till next week!