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.
If we were to assign a relationship status to each of our parents’ recipes, the one for spanakorizo would definitely read “it’s complicated”. You see, as children, we hated this dish almost as much as we love it now. And we didn’t just, not like it…no. The mention of spanakorizo for supper, or the smell of it cooking for lunch, elicited a physical response which included gagging and waves of nausea. The upside is that our visceral dislike for spanakorizo did support sibling connectedness, as we all worked together to rid ourselves of the vile meal without actually having to consume much of it. Many a times, a diversion was created, just enough of a distraction to allow us to wrap some of the spanakorizo in a paper towel and toss it in the trash. Our poor parents. We don’t think they ever caught on.
Every day is a blessing, but some days have particular significance and meaning. For Greeks, March 25th is one of those special days, as it represents two very important events, one religious and the other, political. The former is the Annunciation of the Theotokos. On this day, we commemorate the message which the Virgin Mary received from the Archangel Gabriel informing her that she was chosen, amongst all women, to be the Mother of Jesus Christ. March 25th therefore holds sacred religious meaning. At the same time, it’s political significance commemorates Greek Independence Day. It is commonly understood that it was on March 25, 1821 that Metropolitan (Bishop) Germanos spearheaded the revolution which would ultimately lead to independence for all Greeks from the Ottoman rule which had oppressed them for nearly 400 years. Both of these events are commemorated with a National holiday in Greece. Such a day of celebration allows for the strict Lent which many follow in these days preceding Easter to be lifted, and eating fish is permitted.
And not just any fish. Traditionally, cod (bakaliaro) is served, along with a side of skordalia; essentially a mashed potato spread with a serious kick of garlic. Both the cod and skordalia are delicious on their own, but combined, they are incredible. The creamy skordalia complements the crispy fried fish perfectly. Think of it as British fish and chips, Greek style.
Because the cod which is used is dried and salted, you need some advance planning. The fish must be soaked for at least 24 hours before it can be prepared, which means if you are reading this post on the day it was posted, and you want to prepare this meal for March 25th…you can! Time to go shopping! You can do it!
This is rapini…or broccoli rabe…or broccoletti…or
about a thousand many other names which would tend to have you believe that this lovely green vegetable comes from the broccoli family. But it doesn’t! In fact, rapini (that’s what we like to call it around here) is in the mustard family and a member of the Brassica rapa species, in the subspecies rapa…the same subspecies where you would find turnip! Bet you didn’t see that coming! In fact, once you taste rapini, it’s relation to turnip is not that surprising; both have a peppery bite and a bitterness that is not at all unpleasant when the vegetable is prepared properly.
Welcome to More Kouppes, and to our first guest (meaning, not our parents’) Greek recipe! When we decided to share favourite meals from families which were not our own, we knew that we would focus on recipes we had either heard people raving about (Oh man, my mom’s spanakopita is like, The Best!), or food that we had been lucky enough to eat, and love. Immediately we knew that this vegan pastichio would top the list. A few times a year, during periods of lent, this dairy, egg and meat-free pastichio unexpectedly appears and replaces the brown bagged lunch of peanut butter or hummus. What a delicious surprise! The sad sandwich gets tossed, and the day is immediately better. The woman behind this delicious, and unexpected real meal, is Κυρία Αργυρώ (Mrs. Argyro), and her lenten pastichio is so, so, SO good!
We think that one of the most comforting phrases anyone can hear is, “Me too!”. With these two, simple words, so much is communicated; they signify a sense of belonging, of kinship, of mutual understanding. You once dreamed of being a prima ballerina, even though you have size ten feet and zero flexibility? Me too! You think you have an amazing singing voice that needs the acoustics of a shower to really shine? Me too! You are convinced that potato chips are a vegetable because, well, potato? Me too!
Since beginning this blog and sharing the idea behind Mia Kouppa with friends, family, co-workers and random strangers (we are very
shameless friendly people), me too‘s have been reverberating in our ears. When we tell people that our parents measure nothing in the kitchen, that their cooking is instinctual and that their “recipes” (note: the term is used very loosely) are littered with instructions that truly make no sense, heads nod, laughter ensues, and “Me too’s!” are chuckled. Folks, we are not alone. It seems that there are cupboards in Greek kitchens everywhere which hold the ubiquitous kouppa. All sorts of kouppes! More kouppes!! And behind every one of these kouppes there is a mother, a father, a grandparent or an uncle, someone, who wields this kouppa like a magic wand, whipping up delicious food that is next to impossible to re-create. What to do? Keep these amazing recipes confined to one kitchen? Silly…of course not!
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.