Salt preserved sardines and anchovies prepared for meze
We are grateful to our parents for so many things. They supported us, financially, emotionally and nutritionally, throughout all of our schooling. They showered us with love, attention and encouragement every day, and they balanced their praise with enough well-deserved disapproval to keep us humble and in check. This of course does not mean that we are perfect, but as parents, they kind of are.
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An important value that our parents instilled in us was the idea that we must always do well for others. Whether it was giving up our seat on the bus, or making sure that we shared our lunch with a schoolmate who may have forgotten their’s, or saying thank you to friend’s parents for having us in their home, kindness, respect and compassion were expected. And they certainly modeled what they preached, with the most vivid and frequent examples of this being when our parents invited people into our home.
Greeks have a word for the type of caring which extends friendship and hospitality to others, even strangers. They refer to philoxenia, which is so much more than merely being hospitable. It is a word which embodies the idea that there should be a genuine and profound extension of all that one can offer towards another. Philoxenia knows no bounds, and is enacted freely, and with reverence. It is partially why Greeks are known to be generous, compassionate and wonderful hosts.
As children, we didn’t analyse our parents’ way of welcoming visitors; this was just the way things were. No matter the circumstance, whether a planned dinner party or a spontaneous pop-in, our parents met our guests smiling, honored for the company, and prepared. Always prepared! Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, our visitors would be seated at the kitchen table, the ouzo or coffee would be flowing as freely as the conversation, and within a very short while the table was set with an array of mezes. A regular feature was an oval shaped glass bowl filled with sardeles, salted sardines and often anchovies, marinating in olive oil. As kids, most of us turned our noses at this particular offering, but the adults adored them. They would each have a few, usually with a piece of bread to help soak up the flavoured oil, and be very, very happy.
These days our parents rarely have sardeles in their home. Attention to their blood pressure means that heavily salted foods are a rare luxury. What a treat it was to watch them enjoy the sardeles on the day that we surprised them with a batch, asking that they show us how they used to prepare them.
We purchased the salt preserved sardines and anchovies from our local Greek market’s deli counter. We imagine that they are pretty readily available in other ethnic stores as well (we hope). For this meze you really do need the salted fish; canned or tinned sardines really won’t be the same.
The fish are eaten entirely, bones and all. The bones are soft, a good source of calcium, but should still be eaten with caution. Chew well and don’t serve to small children (they likely won’t want these anyways). If you prefer to pull out some of the bones you can of course do that as well.
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Salted sardines and anchovies (Σαρδέλες)