We don’t know about you, but we’re supposed to be having spring like weather here in Canada. It seems that someone didn’t get the message. In the span of a few hours this afternoon we experienced a tiny bit of sun, snow, hail and rain. What ever happened to April showers bringing May flowers? Hail is not showers!
Since we can’t control the weather (we have tried, promise!), we can at least control how we live with it. Our winter coats are still accessible, as are our boots and hats. We’ve kept the salt out for de-icing the driveway and our beds are still incredible cozy with our woollen blankets and duvets. And in the kitchen, we’ve been leaning towards winter weather food, comforting for body and soul…like this deliciously soothing yiouverlakia soup flavoured with avgolemono and tomato. Bring it on April…we can take you! Actually, we’re just kidding…we can hardly take this anymore! We are dreaming of spring, and salads!
A few months ago, while we were scrolling through Pinterest, we came across recipes for porcupine meatballs. Intrigued, and slightly horrified, we investigated and were pleased to discover that these are not made of porcupine meat. In fact, porcupine meatballs are just regular meatballs with rice added to the mix; because the rice kind of pokes out of the cooked meatballs, they appear prickly, like porcupines. Cute. We grew up with something kind of similar, although the Greek version doesn’t have such a silly name; in Greek households they are called yiouvarlakia.
Some days we wish we could serve our families cold cereal for supper…maybe with a banana and spoonfuls of peanut butter on the side, to have the whole thing feel more balanced. Ugh…who are we kidding! Frankly, some days, this is exactly what we do, and we refuse to be ashamed! We will not deny it! Unless our mother calls, in which case we will tell her that we are having roasted chicken and potatoes, or makaronia with kima .
December is so busy! The kids are gearing up for mid-year exams, and the Christmas holidays are certainly keeping us on our no-time-for-a-pedicure toes. Between work parties, Christmas decorating, holiday shopping, and of course, baking melomakarona, kourabiethes and koulourakia, there is hardly enough time in the day. Regular life does not end; work, school, feeding our families don’t take a break for Christmas. It may sound as though we are complaining…but we’re really not. We are simply realists, and we accept that sometimes, something’s gotta give. That’s when super simple recipes, like this hilopites soup, come in to save the day!
Most of the recipes we have shared thus far come from our childhood, but our parents’ cooking has evolved. As years rolled by they would introduce new meals into their repertoire and onto our family table. This chickpea soup for example, despite being a staple in many Greek homes, was not something that we had as little children. In fact, we think we were both teenagers when our parents first served us a bowlful of this delicious meal. This led to a pretty significant “Huh?!” moment.
Some months ago, we posted a fasolatha recipe and some people questioned, “Where’s the tomato?”. At the time, we explained that there are in fact, two broad categories of this traditional Greek bean soup; the one we originally posted, which has no tomato and has a light broth (λευκή), and this version, with a rich tomato base. Both are delicious, nutritious and incredibly easy to put together.
So here’s a recipe you will either love, or hate; we don’t think there is any in-between (although we suppose you can also love to hate it). Trahana is an ancient food, whose origins are somewhat disputed; some argue that it originated in Greece, while others claim that Turkey or Persia introduced trahana to the world. Regardless of who ate it first, today trahana is eaten in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries. In fact, many consider trahana to be the traditional soup of Cyprus. Versions of this meal are also very popular in Crete (where it is called xinohondros). Our parents are neither Cypriot nor Cretan, and still we were subjected to served this soup often growing up.
Imagine a rustic home in a remote, mountainous village in Greece, far removed from the perils of modern life. The goats wander free in the fields and the sky is so close that the tops of the olive trees seem to kiss it. Days are spent cultivating the land, conversing with the few neighbours you have, and tending to the animals. The air is fresh and the ground fertile; both untainted by social progress. After a long day of physical, yet satisfying and productive work, you come home to a steaming bowl of fasolatha, which has been cooking in a cast iron pot in the hearth of your fireplace. If you are particularly lucky, you get to enjoy it with some freshly baked bread and a glass of homemade wine. Life, you surmise, is perfect.
Now, we realize that if you are reading this post you are doing so on-line, in front of an electronic device, and are probably not in a remote, mountainous horio (that’s Greek, for village). Neither are we, but for some reason this recipe makes us think that we should be. Maybe it’s because this simple soup asks that you throw everything into a pot and let it cook slowly for about an hour, giving you enough time to, we don’t know, till the soil? Maybe it’s the fact that there is nothing fancy here; no special, expensive ingredients and no complicated culinary terms. It is humble, the way we imagine village life to be. Simple, honest, and so, so good for you.
Manestra is a simple Greek soup recipe made with small noodles or orzo in a tomato broth
Sometimes in life, you have to take risks. Think outside the box. Blaze a new path. It can be scary and uncomfortable, but the rewards are usually worth it. That’s what we have done here. Manestra, a simple, tomato-based pasta soup, is usually made with orzo, but we decided to use pasta shaped as little stars (cue gasps). We were brave. We were ground breakers. We were unintimidated. We were out of orzo.
No matter what small shaped pasta you use, the end result is sure to be delicious. Manestra’s subtle flavour makes it a favourite amongst picky eaters, and when it is served plain (that is, not topped with grated mizithra) it is a perfect vegan and lenten option – particularly when you are all beaned out.
We love this soup. We love making it today, and we love reminiscing about how much fun it was to help our parents make it when we were young. It’s true that it is relatively simple and in terms of active cooking time, this soup doesn’t require much; there is a lot of waiting around. Waiting for the chicken to boil and for the stock to be made. Waiting then for the rice to cook. One of the key steps however is preparing the egg and lemon mixture, the avgolemono. This is what transforms a plain rice soup into a Greek classic.