Aunt Kathy’s Eggplant Stew

Isn’t it wonderful when you come together with people that you love and create awesome food? My aunt Kathy that lives in New York but is of Greek heritage, is an excellent cook. She is a warm, loving person that’s there to support you always. She is eager to listen and gives constructive advice. She is like a second mother to me and she is one of those people that make this world a better place. Period! And she is a darn good cook! Oh yes, with a grand repertoire.

I was lucky to be able to spend some time with her while in Crete this summer and eat her wonderful dishes. One of them in particular I could never forget, her Eggplant Stew.  It was so delicious and full of summer notes, I harassed her until she agreed to teach me the recipe. I said “Theia (“aunt” in greek), I have to put this on my blog!”

Shortly after, we made the eggplant stew again, along with other delicacies and everybody gathered around the table for a wonderful dinner. Of course when I got home I had to make it for my own family, because we all love eggplant after all. Rob loved it, but also my little boy James turned out to be a big fan. So if you like eggplants like us, please please make this dish and tell me how it went.

Preparing the vegetables

Cut all the veggies in quarters, big chunks. Same with the onions. Then, slice the tomatoes and chop up the herbs – parsley or cilantro, whatever you are using.

 

Quarter the eggplants

Next step you lightly fry everything. I used my cast iron skillet. Not just because I love it, but also it’s easy to use on the stovetop and then just stick it in the oven. If you don’t have one, you can use any other oven safe skillet. Or just fry the veggies regularly and then throw them in a baking dish.

Alright so, take the skillet, and put in enough olive oil to cover the bottom and more. The vegetables will soak up lots of olive oil during frying. Bring it over medium to high heat and start frying the eggplants, zucchinis and peppers together, around 5 mins. When done set them aside in a colander with a plate underneath to collect the oil.

Making the sauce for the stew

In the same skillet, add some more olive oil as needed, saute the onion wedges for 1-2 mins. Thereafter, add the tomato slices and saute for 2 more mins. In goes the tomato puree, give it a stir and let it simmer for 2 mins. If your sauce is too thick, you probably need to add 1/4 cup of water. Simmer the sauce for 5 mins more or less, then add the chopped herbs at the last minute. If it looks watery, don’t worry it will make a nice sauce for your stew!

Putting it all together

Take the skillet off the fire. Remove almost 2/3 of the sauce and put aside. Spread the remainder as to cover the bottom (if you are using a baking dish, spread 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish).

Add all the veggies on top and tuck them in nice and tight. Pour the rest of the sauce on top and sprinkle with some more herbs. Stick your stew in the oven for 35-40 mins at 210 C / 410 F or until it is nicely browned on top. Enjoy!

Aunt Kathy's Eggplant Stew

A hearty dish full of eggplant flavour. The tomato sauce with herbs gives the overall dish an amazing taste. Filling and warming. Perfect for weekday dinner. 

  • 3 whole big eggplants, quartered
  • 4 whole small zucchinis, cut in big chunks
  • 2 whole onions, thick sliced
  • 2 whole peppers, quartered
  • handful of parsley or cilantro, chopped
  • 1 can chopped tomato (around 1 pound or 450 g)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Preparing the veggies

  1. Cut all the veggies in quarters, big chunks. Then, slice the tomatoes and chop up the herbs.

  2. Lightly fry everything for about 5 mins in a cast iron skillet (or regular one will do just fine). Use oil abundantly, the eggplants will soak a lot. Set them aside in a colander with a plate underneath to collect the oil.

Making the sauce for the stew

  1. In the same skillet, add some more olive oil as needed, saute the onion wedges for 1-2 mins. Thereafter, add the tomato slices and saute for 2 more mins. 

  2. Next, add the tomato puree and let it simmer for 2 mins. If your sauce is too thick, add 1/4 cup of water. Simmer the sauce for 5 mins more or less, then add the chopped herbs at the last minute.

  3. Take the skillet off the fire. Remove almost 2/3 of the sauce and put aside. Spread the remainder as to cover the bottom (if you are using a baking dish, spread 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of the baking dish). 

  4. Add all the veggies on top and tuck them in nice and tight. Pour the rest of the sauce on top and sprinkle with some more herbs. Stick your stew in the oven for 35-40 mins at 210 C / 410 F or until it is nicely browned on top. Enjoy!

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Escargot with Rosemary – Cretan Kohli Boubouristi

My ramblings today are all about Escargot aka Snails.

I know, I know.

People don’t like escargot, in fact most people make a face of disgust when I tell them how much I enjoy cooked snails. I love them. I can clear off one whole plate in a matter of a few minutes.

 

Where I grew up in Crete, escargot are a local delicacy and in fact a widely beloved and often cooked dish. You can buy them at any open air food market. And many people – including my parents – pick them wild from the fields.

Life Cycle of Snails

 

 

 

In Crete, the rainy season starts around September/October. This is when the kohli wake up from summer estivation. They crawl all over the fields eating grass and leaves and they reproduce. This pretty much continues for 5-6 months which lasts all through the winter season. During this period they cannot be eaten, as they are too thin and have a bitter taste.

 

Later on around March the picking season starts. Snails dwell in fields up in the hills or in vineyards.  They are usually found under the stone or soil, or close to the vine trunks. Once picked, they are stored in crates and fed mostly flour and uncooked pasta. This feeding and tending period lasts about one month. It’s enough time for the kohli to fatten up and clean up.

At the end of this time they are ready for consumption and their taste is earthy and juicy, not bitter at all. As Snails don’t do well in heat, they stay dormant in their shell during the hot months. Starting in May, they seal their shell with a dry layer of mucus.  Source: Wikipedia.

Making the escargot

First, put the snails in a bowl full of water and let them sit for 4-5 mins to soak.

Soaking the snails

With a preferably toothy knife, remove the layer over the shell opening. Scrub the shell all around to clean it thoroughly. One by one.

 

 

Thereafter, sprinkle some salt straight on the bottom of a wide frying pan.

Put it over medium-high heat. Place the snails on the bottom face down. In Cretan dialect, boubouristi means with the face down. Hence kohli boubouristi, which basically means snails (cooked) face down. There. Moving along swiftly.

Tuck them in the pan nice and tight so they all fit and cook them for 3 mins.

Add a cup of water and cook them for 15-20 mins. You’ll see a greenish-yellow foam forming on the top

Remove the foam with a spoon as much as you can. After about 15-20 mins add the olive oil and sprigs of rosemary.

Taste the food and add some more salt if needed.

At this point, you probably want to add some extra water to make them extra juicy, about 1/3 cup.

Cook for 5-6 more mins. Towards the end, you add in the vinegar. Then cook them for 2 mins more and they are done. The snails are done when they are chewy and juicy (but not too chewy).

 

Don’t overcook them, because it will be harder to take them out of the shell. You can check their doneness by taking a fork with long tines and first tap them at the back of the shell and break it just a bit. Then turn the shell around looking at its opening. Pierce the fleshy part straight through and down a little. And then pull the flesh out towards you, turning your hand clockwise. Good luck!

Serve them in a plate with their juices.

 

Escargot with Rosemary

Escargot cooked with rosemary are a local delicacy in Crete. Consumed since antiquity on the island, they are a staple summer dish. Nevertheless, extremely rewarding for the wild ones that like to try new things.

  • 1.5 pounds (700 g) edible land snails or escargot
  • salt
  • 1 + 1/3 cup water
  • 1.5 cup olive oil
  • 6-7 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 100 ml (7 tbsps) red wine vinegar
  1. Soak the snails for 4-5 mins. With a toothy knife, remove the layer over the shell opening and scrub the dirt off the shell all around.

  2. Thereafter, sprinkle some salt straight on the bottom of a wide frying pan. The fire should be medium-high.  Tuck the snails all in tightly and face down. Cook them for 3 mins. 

  3. Add a cup of water and cook them for 15-20 mins. You’ll see a greenish-yellow foam forming on the top. Remove as much as you can with spoon. 

  4. Add the olive oil. Taste the salt and adjust.

  5. At this point, you probably want to add some extra water to make them extra juicy, about 1/3 cup.

  6. Cook for 5-6 more mins. Towards the end, add in the vinegar. Cook them for 2 mins. The snails are done when they are chewy and juicy (but not too chewy).

Don’t overcook them, because it will be harder to take them out of the shell. You can check their doneness by taking a fork with long tines and first tap them at the back of the shell and break it just a bit. Then turn the shell around looking at its opening. Pierce the fleshy part straight through and down a little. And then pull the flesh out towards you, turning your hand clockwise. 

Summery Watermelon Salad with Feta

Watermelon, tomatoes and feta cheese go together really well. Yes, they actually do! It makes a beautiful combination and is perfect for a light meal. It’s fresh, earthy and acidic at the same time. It’s a salad, but it’s got fruit in it. And that gives it a more refreshing tone. Oh and the barley rusk bites are such an earthy surprise, that remind your palate that “Yes, hold on, this is definitely lunch!”

 

Such a simple salad, but full of contradictions that will surprise your taste buds. Did I mention that it takes like uhmmm… less than 10 mins to make? Yeah, sooo quick. Just thinking of the sweet watermelon hitting that acidic and milky feta cheese makes my mouth water! I love cheese with fruits, like for example melon with parmesan or some kind of spicy gruyere cheese. I just can’t help myself! I can talk for ages about cheese and fruit, so let’s just stick to the watermelon salad for now. 🙂

Watermelon Salad with feta

Making the salad

It really is so easy to put together this little masterpiece…

Get your hands on a really sweet and red watermelon. Cut up a few slices. Resist the urge to shove the delicious fruit straight in your mouth and carry on with cutting it up into medium sized bites.

Chop up the tomatoes. Again friendly reminder, get really good quality tomatoes. With such humble and few ingredients, there is nowhere to hide. You need quality ingredients.  Then put tomatoes and watermelon together in a bowl.

Crumble the feta cheese on top. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice and rosewater and drizzle onto your salad. Scatter a few barley rusk bites on top and that’s it!

I get my rusks from a Greek deli. If you can’t find mini bites, you can use one big rusk broken in pieces. Alternatively, you can use barley bread. Slice it up, bake in the oven until dry and break it up in pieces.

Summery watermelon salad with feta

Summery watermelon salad with feta. It’s fresh, earthy and acidic at the same time. A mouthful of tasty explosion that will refresh your senses!

  • 5 red tomatoes, medium sized, sliced
  • 450 g (1 lb) watermelon flesh, chopped in big bites (cleaned watermelon)
  • handful barley rusk bites
  • 100 g (3.5 oz) feta cheese, crumbled

For the vinaigrette

  • 45 ml (3 tbsps) olive oil
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
  • 30 ml (2 tbsps) orange juice, freshly squeezed
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) rosewater
  1. Get some really sweet and red watermelon. Cut it up into medium sized bites.

  2. Chop up the tomatoes and then put tomatoes and watermelon together in a bowl.

  3. Crumble the feta cheese on top.

  4. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange juice and rosewater and drizzle onto your salad. Scatter a few barley rusk bites on top and that’s it!

Tomato fritters – Ntomatokeftedes

It can’t be a summer without sweet, fleshy, delicious tomatoes. And in this dish, they are the centerpiece. Because tomatoes are so crucial, please please use extra good quality ones. My grandmother typically made this ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Big and red and irregularly shaped, they should be soft to the touch, but extremely beafy inside. So much so that when you grab one in your hand and poke it with your thumb, you feel the flesh merely squeezing in and only underneath your thumb, the rest of the tomato is intact.

In my father’s vegetable garden in Greece, when I want to make a salad I just cut the tomatoes straight from the plant. Then slice them up on a plate with olive oil, feta cheese and oregano and I have the perfect lunch. Right there on the patio, next to the mesmerizing vegetable plants. It doesn’t get much fresher and simpler than that! I think it’s that simplicity that actually allows you to connect and savor the food all the more.

How to make the mixture

If you love tomatoes as much as I do, you will love ntomatokeftedes. Basically they are tomato fritters. That’s it, simple. So you take your tomatoes and chop up half of them. The other half you grate by hand. I find that this half/half way of prep makes the fritters juicier.

So put the tomatoes in a bowl. Throw in your beaten egg, grated onion, strong oregano and dried thyme. Now chop up your mint and add it together with the crumbled feta. Put in salt and pepper. Next, you add the flour tbsp by tbsp mixing lightly each time. The consistency should be just thick enough to be spooned out and into the frying pan. The batter should stick together, but not too thick.  If it is too thick, the taste will be “floury”.

To fry the ntomatokeftedes

Heat up some olive oil over medium low fire. Use a tablespoon to spoon the mixture into the frying pan. Fry each side for 2-3 mins. I repeat medium to low fire here because it’s important to not overcook them. They should be golden brown and crispy outside but slightly raw inside.

 

When my palate fills up with those semi raw tomatoes, I can feel that beachy, summery carefreeness. I am almost on that beach getting my feet wet! After all, isn’t that what makes food magic? It’s ability to bestow an experience upon us that can transport us from one feeling to the other. I think that’s pretty amazing!

Bon appetit!

Ntomatokeftedes – Tomato fritters

Ntomatokeftedes – Tomato fritters, is a quite popular dish in Greece. Hearty and juicy and full of summer and beaches and carefreeness.

  • 500 g good quality tomatoes (half chopped / half grated) (( abt 17.5 oz))
  • 12 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp strong oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 7 tbsp fresh mint, chppped
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 130 g feta, crumbled (4.5 oz)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Chop up half of your tomatoes and grate the other half. Put them in a bowl.

  2. Throw in your beaten egg, the grated onion, the oregano, the dried thyme, the mint and basil. Add in the feta cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Next, you add the flour tbsp by tbsp mixing lightly each time. The consistency should be just thick enough to be spooned out and into the frying pan. The batter should stick together but not too thick.

  4. Heat up some olive oil over medium low fire. Use a tablespoon to spoon out the mixture into the frying pan. Fry each side 2-3 mins or until golden brown. Don’t overfry them, you want them slightly raw on the inside.