Gardening is a joy, and it really is a blessing to be able to walk into your backyard and pick supper. Sometimes however, everything seems to ripen at once, and you find yourself with a surplus of vegetables. This is never really a problem, as the non-gardeners in our lives very appreciatively relieve us of our excess. But we have learned that some veggies are less popular than others; eggplant seems to be one of those vegetables. No one has ever turned their nose at a bag of vine-ripened garden tomatoes. Cucumbers are welcomed with a smile, and zucchini are greeted with glee…but eggplant? Eggplant often gets a “it’s not you, it’s me” reaction.
Our gardens grow an abundance of zucchini. This is not necessarily the result of amazing gardening skills (although our parents can grow pretty much anything that can be planted), but is simply a testament to the un-finickiness of zucchini plants. And so, around this time of year, zucchini takes over our fridges and counters. Thankfully, we have many delicious ways of using them up, like making zucchini chips, or cooking them on the grill.
Like many Greeks, we are a gardening family. In our experience, it is rare to find a Greek who has access to even a little bit of land, who doesn’t then use it to plant some sort of vegetable or herb. Even when all that is available is a balcony, eggplants and tomatoes find themselves growing in pots, next to the basil. Gardening is a lovely heritage, and although our parents are the master green thumbs, we do pretty well ourselves; we had wonderful mentors after all.
Some meal preparations lend themselves to teamwork. Our mother would make this simple, wholesome and economical dish of green beans and potatoes about once every couple of weeks, and each time she would invite us to join her, as she prepared the beans for cooking. We would sit with her at the kitchen table (which was, of course, covered in plastic) faced with a bowl full of green beans. One by one, we would take the beans, and carefully snip off each end. The trimmed ends would collect in a pile on the table, and the beans would be placed in a colander, to later be washed.
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.
There are certain foods which bring us back to our childhoods instantaneously, and rizogalo (rice pudding) is one of them. Coming home from school we were often greeted with a still slightly warm, soup bowl full of the stuff, sprinkled generously with cinnamon. We would sit in front of the television, with our mother by our side, watching a bit of after-school specials before starting our homework or going out to play with our neighbourhood friends. Now that we are older, and have made this for our own families, we can appreciate that our mother likely benefited from the almost meditative act of making rizogalo, enjoying the last bit of quiet before everyone returned home, and before she went off to work in the evening. Making rizogalo is not complicated, but it does ask that you stand by the stove, stirring quite constantly. Not too much thinking required, just a steady, rhythmic, and repetitive circular movement. A perfect opportunity to free your mind and focus, zen-like, on being in the moment. An also perfect opportunity to, for example, tell your husband to find his own socks, since you can’t possibly leave the stove.
Poor peas. We don’t think there has ever been a more maligned vegetable. Word on the street is that toddlers hate them, teenagers refuse them and grown men weep when they are added to an otherwise perfect dinner of meat and potatoes. As far as we know, peas are the only vegetable that kids would rather shove up their noses instead of into their mouths. And it doesn’t end there. If you want to insult someone’s intelligence, call them a pea-brain. Facebook has a page devoted to hating peas, creatively called, “I hate PEAS!!!”. (Incidentally, this page has more followers than our Mia Kouppa Facebook page. Friends, can we please fix that?) Then there was that time when the New York Times published a recipe suggesting that peas be added to guacamole. Hysteria ensued. Peagate was such a big deal that even President Obama weighed in…against the pea! We don’t get it. Perfectly round, vibrantly green, and subtly sweet, we think peas are fantastic. Doubt us? Keep reading.
Get ready folks. Here’s a novel idea. We present to you a cauliflower recipe in which you end up with…wait for it…cauliflower. Oh, you know what we’re talking about. The internet has been inundated lately with recipes that transform cauliflower into things it was never meant to be. You can find recipes for cauliflower rice, cauliflower hummus, cauliflower pizza crust, and something which is affectionately referred to as cauliflower steak. Seriously people, cauliflower can never be steak. Just stop it.
Fakes (pronounced F*@% – yes…seriously) is the Greek term for lentil soup. It is a meal which is filling, nutritious and very easy to prepare. It is perhaps also a welcome change from the more complicated and time consuming moussaka and yemista recipes we’ve recently impressed you with posted. We totally understand that sometimes you just need a quick, simple, go-to recipe in order to get the kids off to hockey, the laundry off of the floor, or make a dent in the television show you’ve been planning on binge watching.
It also great to have in your apron pocket a few recipes which can easily and inexpensively feed a crowd. Fakes is certainly one of those recipes. We love to entertain, often and lots of people, but that does not mean that we are always in the mood to set up elaborate affairs. Often times we just want to hang out with our family and friends, offer them some good food so that no one gets grumpy, without spending a fortune. Add a good quality rustic bread, an assortment of olives, some feta cheese, a nice bottle of wine and you are good to go.
The English translation of yemista is stuffed, and that is exactly what this recipe asks you to do. This meal involves stuffing vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants with rice-based deliciousness, baking them for hours, and then feasting until you too, are stuffed.
There is more than one way to stuff a vegetable and many variations of yemista include minced meats or cheese and different kinds of grains. Our parents typically choose to prepare a rice and vegetable based filling, making their yemista an incredibly satisfying, vegan meal.