So I hear Greece is a destination we might just have the opportunity to visit when Covid 19 restrictions are lifted this summer, fingers and toes crossed. With the French Rooms restaurant Bushmills still boarded up we are heading off on our ‘Taste bud travels’ and stopping off in Athens. That is as far as we got a few years ago but pledged we needed to return, so we have started planning.
The ancient city of Athens is the capital and a hub for Greek tourism. Our short stay was worth it as we were able to explore some of the key sites in Athens, including their famous Acropolis. This site offers stunning views over the city below, with its rich cultural heritage and modern art scene. We took a walking tour of narrow labyrinthine streets soaking in history and diverse architecture which tells the story of mixed pasts and occupations over the centuries. These influences can be tasted in the food as much as viewed with the architectural diversity. A really great blog worth following is https://eatyourselfgreek.com/ the name says it all, I defy you to read what Eugenie has to say without dashing to fridge to cook up a Greek feast!
Food is key to life in Athens and we enjoyed browsing the markets. The smells and the bustle were extraordinary and our appetites were whetted in time for many a stop off in the lively cafe and taverna scene which exists. We loved the tavernas, so atmospheric and everything on the menu suited our taste. We spent time around Adrianou Street which is very charming area and has a great food offering. Gyros, pitta, salads, souvlaki (skewered meat) lots of feta. One of our favourite lunches , which is very much a feature at The French Rooms, was relaxed grazing platter of hot and cold mezedes (dips, salads, hot and cold meats).
The food of Athens is a regional mix because the city draws its population from all over Greece. This makes it difficult to choose just two recipes to share, but we will stick with simplicity and go with a chicken kebab and baklava. The origins of Baklava are not necessarily Greek , it is Turkish and very much celebrated as part of the Ottoman cuisine but with its rich history and diversity it a popular staple on most menus. It is very easy to make, assuming you embrace the fact that you do not need to put yourself through the pain of rolling our filo pastry!
Greek chicken & salad (makes 2 large ‘kebabs’)
- 3 chicken thighs deboned
- 1 large red/yellow pepper
- 1/2 courgette sliced
- 1/2 red onion
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- broighter gold rosemary & garlic rapeseed oil
- 1/2 lemon
- mint leaves
- 1/4 cucumber
- handful of greek olives
Method. Toss the prepared vegetables and chicken in the Broighter Gold infused oil, pop the ingredients on a skewer, ensuring a mix of meat and vegetables on each skewer. Over a high heat, preheat a skillet, a drop of BG oil and place the skewer onto the skillet/griddle. Turn as it browns and serve when the the chicken and vegetables cook through and have a lovely brown colour. Add the lemon slices and sear. Serve with pitta if you are not living a low carb life! I have presented both dishes on hand painted plates from NKUKU, a supplier we worked with when The French Rooms had a decor shop. These can be purchased online at https://www.nkuku.com/products/iba-ceramic-plate-indigo-ip29
- 100g greek feta cheese
- bowl of lettuce
- 8 cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cucumber diced
- 1/4 red onions thinly slices
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- mint leaves
- 8 Kalamata olives
A simple rustic salad. Make the dressing below by adding all the ingredients and shaking, whisking or stick in a food processor and blend well. Toss all the salad ingredients with the dressing and top the salad with the feta and herbs.
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 4 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup Broighter Gold lemon infused rapeseed oil
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- salt & pepper
A favourite desert, that I first experienced in Portrush, a popular seaside village on the North Coast of Northern Ireland . Many years ago a family run Greek restaurant a few door down from my rather draughty accommodation kindly gave me some part time work to help get me through my first year studies. We were treated very, very well and we never left the building without tasting some amazing food, looking back it was a dream job for a strapped student and excellent training on how to look after a team. We helped make Baklava, from scratch of course and we were always included if there was call for a toast, which required a shot of Ouzo, I recall we celebrated a lot!
For the syrup
Heat oven to 180Cand grease a 21cm x 21cm square cake tin with butter. Put the pistachios into a bowl, stir in the honey and a pinch of salt and set aside.
Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat. Cut the first pack of filo pastry sheets in half (so that they fit the tin). Put one sheet in the tin and brush with the melted butter. Lay another sheet on top and brush with butter again, keep layering like this until the whole pack is used up.
Spread the honey and nut mixture over the pastry and press it down lightly with the back of a spoon. Open the other pack of filo, cut in half and continue the layering and buttering process. When you reach the last sheet pour any remaining butter over the top to finish. Use a sharp knife to cut deep lines into the pastry to create either squares or diamond shapes then bake in the oven for 20 mins.
Reduce the heat to 150C and bake for a further 45 mins. While the baklava cooks put all the syrup ingredients into a saucepan and add 200ml water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved then boil the mixture for 8-10 mins or until it has reduced to the consistency of runny honey.
When the baklava comes out of the oven, pour the warm syrup over the top, allowing it to run into the lines you have cut. Leave it to soak in and serve when it’s completely cold. Add more honey and as an option serve with a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
I’ve taken the easy option with this recipe but I watched this expert in action the other day and found it so charming. Its a must watch.