A traditional Greek potato stew
Raise your hand if you love pototoes! You there, in the back, holding a fist-full of french fries, we see you! And we love you! And, we too love potatoes. Whether they are roasted in the oven, bathed in all sorts of beautiful Greek flavours, or boiled and mashed and then transformed into the very distinctive Greek garlic spread called skordalia, we adore them. Potatoes are so versatile, so available, so economical, that it’s no wonder that the rustic cuisine of Greece has taken this commonplace vegetable and made it the star of a stew which we know will find a happy place in your hearts and stomachs.
Potatoes yahni is in a class of meals called lathera, typically vegetarian dishes where the ingredients are stewed in olive oil and tomato sauce. These are meals where quality ingredients are key, because there are so few of them, and they are treated so simply. You can easily imagine village women gathering these simple vegetables from their gardens, picking their fresh herbs and then cooking it all slowly over an open fire while a loaf of fresh bread baked in the outdoor wood-burning oven. Our mother remembers her mother doing just that, as potatoes yahni was a regular meal for her when she was young. And no surprise; despite being simple, it is filling and hearty, perfect for feeding a hungry family.
The potatoes are the stars here so you must use the best quality potato you can find. We always prefer the yellow-fleshed potatoes, however if you have another preference, or happen to have a bushel of some other type of potato on hand…go ahead and use that. Your dish will still be delicious.
Although not actually an ingredient for this recipe, another important element is bread. Although you could, you really should not, ever, eat potatoes yahni or any other lathero without a few slices of fresh bread. The sauce which will be left behind in your dish, tomato sauce mingled with olive oil and flavoured with veggies and herbs, is meant to be sopped up with as much bread as you need. Trust us, this is not too be missed.
Our parents always add pitted Kalamata olives to their potatoes yahni although they both admit that growing up, olives were never included in this dish. We think that it’s a wonderful addition however; the brininess of the olives is perfect with the rest of the flavours. Having said that, finding pitted Kalamata olives is not always easy. The good news is that pitting them yourself is. Most olives come with a slit in them. By pressing on your olive with the back of large knife (be careful) you can usually open the slit up just enough to easily pry the pit out. And, if you tear open your olive in the process…it doesn’t matter one bit.
This is a perfectly vegan dish, making it perfect for those following a vegan diet and those who may be fasting during periods of Orthodox lent. Having said that, if you are eating dairy, give potatoes yahni a try with a side of feta (and don’t forget the bread). You may hear angels sing.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 medium sized yellow fleshed potatoes, cubed
- 1 large carrot, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp dry oregano
- 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- In a large pot heat the olive oil and add the onion, garlic, sprigs of fresh rosemary and bay leaves. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the onion is translucent. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot except for the Kalamata olives and oregano. Add enough water to just cover the vegetables.
- Cook over medium heat with the pot covered for approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness by piercing them with a sharp knife. The knife should slide into the potato easily.
- When the potatoes are cooked, add the Kalamata olives to the pot along with the oregano, and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes with the pot uncovered.
- Let cool a bit, off the heath, and serve warm with a loaf of fresh bread, perfect for soaking up the sauce.