OH, how I wish I had a larger stomach, without having to sacrifice fitting into my favourite jeans.
My problem is, I love cooking. It’s not just a love for food, but cooking. I would be happy to spend each morning at the markets, before wandering home, a fresh baked goodie in one hand and shopping in the other, to calmly and leisurely chop, dice, stir and smell. To play. The kitchen is my playground, my therapy, my blank canvas. It’s the way I like to show my love, as there’s nothing more satisfying than bringing a group of good friends around a table with a bottle of wine. The clanking of empty plates, the rings of wine on the tablecloth, a scattering of crumbs all mean love and family and happiness have just been here.
But unfortunately, you can’t cook for a crowd everyday (at least, at this point of my life, it’s me + 1 most evenings), and so all the cooking and eating has to go somewhere, and it’s usually to just us two. I have a deep fear that my poor boyfriend is going to wake up one day and find that my cooking addiction has lead to a heavy reliance on stretchy pants and a membership to Jenny Craig. And that’s just for him!
So, this has lead to a resolution that I will try to cook things that are happy to spend some time in the freezer, and also, I will share my cooking with others. When I have an urge to bake, two little people don’t need all those cupcakes! So it’s off to work they’ll go, which should help a few mid morning cravings, and hopefully bump me up in the print queue once in a while.
What do I cook? I like to think I would give anything a go. The more I attempt, the more I find that fresh, everyday meals shouldn’t be that daunting. I’m very lucky to live and love someone who feels the same way, and laughs in the face of homemade dumplings, tortillas and pasta.
I must admit my repertoire does tend to the more Mediterranean end of the spectrum; you can blame my Greek background for that. I’ve found that now I’ve left home, I appreciate the cooking of old more and more, and there’s an urge to get all those recipes under my belt. I find it comforting, and I’m lucky that it’s happy, wholesome, food with fresh flavours. So please excuse if there’s a few recipes that pop up that you’re not sure at first glance what they are – trust me though, they’re delicious!
This week is what we call “Megali Evdomada” which means, “Big Week”. It’s the week before Easter, which for the Greek Orthodox is this coming Sunday, May 5th. Tradition is deeply entrenched into each of the major holidays, and those smaller, lesser-known ones throughout the year. I love Easter. For me, it’s my favourite – I have great memories growing up of dyeing red eggs, plaiting brioche-style festive bread and butter cookies, of candles and big family feasts. It’s a wonderful and magical time of year.
A big part that I’ve participated in since I was a kid was the fasting, which in Orthodox tradition means you forgo all animal products (eggs, dairy, meat, chocolate), alcohol, and later in the week, oil. Technically it’s a 40 day fast, that increases in strictness as you get closer to Easter, but for my family, it was always a one week thing (I feel that level of sacrifice is enough for me!). These days, regardless of religion, what stays with me is the feeling at the end of the week, when you attend midnight mass before heading home as a family to enjoy a beautiful meal of egg-lemon chicken soup, Easter bread and cookies to break the fast. You genuinely appreciate the meal, and throughout the week and that fast, you are connected to your food and are forced to consider where it comes from. It’s a greater awareness that I feel is lacking from our everyday lives.
This week will focus then on ‘nistisimo’ or fasting foods, which are also conveniently vegan.
We start off with this beautiful green bean stew, a traditional and rustic dish that I have only really began to appreciate with age.
Fasolia (Green Bean Stew)
Two onions, chopped
Two garlic cloves, chopped finely
Three carrots, chopped
Five small potatoes, or three large ones, chopped
Three cups green beans, top-and-tailed (buy 6 cups whole beans)
One can of diced tomatoes
One tablespoon of tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Prep your ingredients – onions, carrots and potato should all be chopped into similar sized chunks – about the size of half a grape. Finely chop your garlic. Heat a good splosh of olive oil, enough to cover the base of a heavy based saucepan, over a medium heat and warm, until a piece of onion sizzles when thrown in. Add your onion and garlic and stir to coat in the oil. Saute five minutes or so, or until the onion softens.
Add the potato and carrot and stir to mix through with the onion, garlic and oil. Leave that to cook for a few minutes to give them a chance to soften.
Meanwhile, top and tail your green beans – to do this, hold one side between your fingers. Push the middle of the bean up with the thumb of your other hand while your fingers pull down the opposite edge. The bean will snap naturally. Rotate the bean and do the same to the other size. You will be left with the tender centre of the bean – discard the ends (preferably, into some compost!). Make sure you purchase twice as many beans as you’ll need, as you’ll only end up with half by the time you top and tail them all. By the time you have top-and-tailed them all, add them to your pot of vegies, which should have started to soften by now.
Stir to mix, then add the can of diced tomatoes. Fill the empty can 3/4 with water, swirl to get some of that remaining tomato juice, and add to the pot along with the tomato paste.
Mix and add pepper to taste, but do not add salt til the end. Salt hardens beans while cooking (including legumes, such as lentils and white beans), so whenever cooking these, add salt right at the end once the heat has turned off.
Pop the lid on and cook for roughly twenty minutes, til the vegies are sitting in a lusciously tomato sauce and the beans are cooked through.
Add salt to taste, and serve with a big chunk of crusty bread to mop up and a crumbling feta over the top (when not fasting of course).