Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Wild Snails

The bag of snails, which came in with the mountains of vegetables, was quite quickly put to use… and very swiftly became a tasty part of dinner.

What you need:

50 – 60            snails
2          large tomatoes
2          cloves of crushed garlic
1          cup of olive oil
1          large red onion
1          Red or green pepper

Take the snails and put them into a large bowl. Cover them with cool water and let them rest for about 5 minutes this is to help take off all the hardened flour and dirt that they are inevitably covered with.

In the mean time put a pan on the stove and half fill with water, turn on the heat and bring this to the boil.

Drain the snails and put them into the now boiling water. You need to boil them for about ten minutes. Once the ten minutes is up take them out of the water and drain them in a colander then run cool water over them so that you can handle them.

Take a small sharp knife and scrape off all the dirt and any gunk that is on the shell.

Grate a tomato and an onion and put these to one side, finely chop the pepper and put this with the onion and garlic. Pour the olive oil into the pan and put it onto a medium high heat. Once the oil starts to warm up add the snails to the pan, stir them to cover in olive oil and then add the tomato, onion, garlic and pepper to the mix along with a cup of water. You can add in herbs, salt and pepper if you wish.

Leave the pan on the heat and stir every now and again. The water will boil off leaving the snails in a lovely sauce this will take about 25 – 30 mins.

Take the snails out, place them on a plate and serve.

Zucchini Balls

These are great, simple and easy to make.

You will need:

6          large courgettes or zucchinis
2          Eggs
1          large white onion
2/3       Garlic cloves
1          Cup of breadcrumbs
            A handful of Parsley – roughly chopped
            Pinch of salt
150g    Feta cheese – crumbled
2 tsp    Oregano
1 tsp   Ground black pepper
2 tbs    Plain flour
            Olive oil – enough to fill a frying pan to a depth of 1cm

Using a cheese grater, grate the zucchinis and the onion into a large mixing bowl.

Let this bowl stand for about 10 mins so that all the juice has a chance to settle at the bottom. Poor the juice out and then add the eggs, parsley, flour, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and oregano to the bowl and mix together with your hands. The mix should be firm enough so that when you make a ball it sticks together.

Put a frying pan on a medium/high heat and pour in the oil, let this get nice and hot and then start adding the zucchini balls. It is best to make them as you add them to the oil. The balls should be just smaller than the palm of your hand.

Add the balls to the pan and let them fry for about 4 mins, have a look at the underside which should be a dark golden brown. Once they are at this stage you will need to turn them over.

When both sides are golden brown take them out of the pan and place onto a plate which has some paper towel on it to absorb the excess oil.

Serve warm.    

Monday, 25 June 2012

Cooking in the eye of the storm!

When I started this blog I spoke to several of my Greek friends here and explained what I was trying to achieve … they were all very kind and supported me. I asked them if they would be good enough, at some point, to cook a few Greek dishes for me to photograph and put up on the blog. They all agreed and disappeared off into the sunset. A couple of days later I got a phone call inviting me to one of their houses where they were going to cook a recipe for me … great I thought, thank you and I’ll be there!

So the next day off I went … thinking that there would be just a couple of ladies cooking a recipe, that I would then photograph … oh how wrong I was, the truth is that I should have known better!

I arrived at the house and was greeted by a friend and her cousin, this is great I thought as I sat down to have a chat, the next thing I know the door bell goes and in comes her Mum and Dad, Dad armed with huge bags of vegetables - as if he had gone mad at the market - but It wasn’t the market which he had gone mad at, it was in fact his garden! We are at the time of year where gardens are spewing vegetables out faster than even the most starving of African nations could possibly imagine or hope to keep up with.

With the vegetables now inspected and accepted by his daughter and niece he disappeared off into the house to find the grand children to whom he delivered a rather large bag of sweeties, a few seconds later and accompanied by lots of delighted shrieking he resurfaced for some coffee and settled down on the sofa to watch the new Prime Minister being sworn into government. 

In the mean time Mum, who I later dubbed ‘the hurricane’, had set down her bags and pots of flour and cheese, I didn’t actually have a second to take this in because the next thing I knew the door bell was ringing again - making the sound of a deranged bird which was tired of having its tail pulled every ten seconds.  In walks another friend along with her two children and equally as laden with bags. Here we go I thought.

What happened next took nothing short of an air traffic controller to orchestrate. Not only were there at least nine people in and around the kitchen BUT I was told that we were to make four recipes simultaneously….

If I am entirely honest it took the best part of everything that I had to keep up with the four ladies who, thanks to years of training, had developed the most amazing ability to create food on scales I have not seen for years, I must confess to asking if the rest of Greece would be joining us for our snacks afterwards. 

Greek kitchens suffer from or are ruled by hierarchy, it is a matriarchal society which you must wait years to lead. ‘The hurricane’ - who got her name that night due to the fact that everything she did was done so fast that the 3 second delay on my extended flash seemed like a life time. Consequently I was in a permanent sate of frenzy trying to catch the movement I wanted before the moment was gone! ‘The hurricane’ was in control, it wasn’t her kitchen but that didn’t seem to matter and everyone was happy to accept these rules. She was amazing, never have I seen hands move so fast. Once I had my pictures I had to stand back in awe of the remarkable lady and the speed at which she worked, this was the speed in which she demanded that everyone else work at too!

While ‘the hurricane’ was busy with her side of things the cousin started concocting a separate recipe ‘zuccini balls’ which left me dancing between the two recipes and, if that was not bad enough, no sooner was there space on the work surface the friend started with her creation ‘cheese pies’ and just as I thought we were getting to a level of calm, my host’s husband walked in completely over loaded with bags of tomatoes and fruit – so much so that I genuinely thought the kitchen might implode. From in amongst the fruit he handed his wife a bag of snails from his Mother. His Mother had collected them and fed them flour for ten days so that they were now ready to cook and eat, needless to say the snails were now fair game and my camera was back in over drive!

The evening was great fun and extremely interesting despite the fact that there were so many things going on in a relatively confined space. I was amazed to see that in spite of this, everyone seemed to work their way around one another and not only that but by some sort of a miracle everything was ready at the same time!

To simplify things and so that you are not confused I have decided to break the evening down into separate postings so that you have some kind of a chance of getting it right! With respect to ‘the hurricane’ I shall start with her recipe. 

‘Kartoumeria’ also known as ‘Cheese Rolls’

This recipe with these quantities will make between 60/70 rolls. You should halve or quarter the quantities depending on the number of mouths you are feeding!! The good news is that they freeze extremely well.


2kgs  All purpose flour
1          Wine glass of olive oil
½         A wine glass of raki or vodka
 Pinch of salt
5          Cups of water
1kg      Grated Parmesan
extra olive oil for brushing and for frying.

Firstly, if you are not scaling down the recipe then you’re going to need a very large bowl. Pour the glass of olive oil into the bowl then add the flour, salt and raki, mix these together with your hands and slowly add in the water, you may need slightly more or less water so go slowly!

Once everything has mixed and you have a large mound of dough you’re going to need to start dividing the dough into small balls of dough these should be about the size of a table tennis ball.

Spread out a pile of flour on a table and flatten the balls out so that they are now about 5mm thick and disc shaped.

Now there are two ways of doing the next part. If you have a pasta roller then you should now feed the dough into the machine twice to flatten it out. Run a fair few through at a time. Next, you need to reset the pasta machine so that the rollers are closer together making the dough even thinner … you need to end up with long strips of dough around 1 mm thick.

If you do not have a pasta machine then all this can be achieved with a rolling pin.

Take the strip of dough and lie it out on the table. Paint a strip of olive oil down the center and then lightly spread out some of the cheese. Fold the sides over one another and roll it around itself.

Place the finished rolls on a tray and put a tea towel over the top while you repeat the process. At this point you can freeze the cheese pies, they will keep for about 6 months in the freezer.

Frying – we use olive oil here, just because we have so much of it, but you can use any kind of oil that you like – you need a large frying pan -put about 1.5 cm of oil in the bottom and turn the heat right up. Once the oil is hot but not burning you can start frying, put a few of the cheese rolls into the pan and fry them lightly, after about 1 – 2 mins turn them over and fry the other side. When you take them out they should be golden, put them on a plate which has some kitchen paper on it to absorb the excess oil then sprinkle a little cheese on top of the rolls.

It is best to serve these hot as a snack but you can also have them the next day with a little honey for breakfast.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Charity Photo Shoot for the Street Dogs of Sitia.

Our local dog charity is in a bit of a state, they have been working tirelessly for the last 15 years to make sure that abandoned dogs in Sitia have a place to go where they can get food, water, shelter and if they are sick a place where they can get better.

Over time there have been many active members of the group, however currently there are just five devoted individuals who between them make sure that these dogs are looked after.

This is a huge task and given the extremely limited resources that they have, one which they have risen to with enormous rigour and enthusiasm.

The sad truth is that as times get harder in Greece more and more dogs are being abandoned on the streets. The charity is regularly called to pick up an animal from a bin or a box of day old puppies. Sadly, given the physical climate and limited financial resources available not all of these animals make it.

The upside is that despite the fact that not all of them make it through, some of them do. The charity is desperate to find all these dogs homes. Not all of them are puppies, some are grown dogs, some are special needs cases missing a leg or paw. The thing about all of them is that they have a ton of love to give. The second that you walk up to the make shift area in which they are kept you are greeted with wagging tails and licks and kisses from just about all of them.

Each dog has its own tale to tell.

The charity is in desperate need of all the help that they can get. They need funs because they also need a plot of land where they can keep all these animals, they need kennels so that the dogs can rest out of the intense Greek sun, they need food donations and they need medical supplies, they need vets to come by and check over the animals and they need volunteers who - if nothing else - spend a little bit of time with the dogs and socialize them so that when homes are found the dogs are prepared for life back outside of the protection of the charity in the big bad world.

I was asked by a friend who works with the charity to come up and take pictures of the dogs they have at the moment. It is our hope that the pictures will help publicise the fate of these animals and help secure them a loving home with real people and a bed of their own.

The charity is in the middle of putting together a web site where you will be able to see all these animals, it will tell their stories and offer a place where you will be able to make donations to the charity and a way of finding out about adoption.

At the end of the day all these guys need is a little bit of TLC.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Ancient Olive Tree

Looking at the list of things to do in Crete is quite daunting, once you get over pages and pages of ancient Minoan settlements and the endless array of beaches you are left with things like the cave of Zeus and the Lasithi plateau – a flat plane at an altitude of just under 2000m covered in windmills and used predominantly for agriculture – for this trip we thought it would be nice to visit the oldest olive tree on the island.

The tree is so old that it predates most modern faiths - Christianity and Islam included! Finding the tree proved to be an interesting experience. First we had to find the village of ‘Kavousi’ between Agios Nikolas and Sitia, then we had to try to find the signs for the tree, but of course we didn’t need the signs … we had three back seat drivers and a front seat one too … we were good! Naturally this meant that we ended up in completely the wrong place! However in doing so we rather accidently found quite a stunning view! Eventually after half an hour of driving along just about every lane there was in the surrounding area we by chance came across a sign. Several signs and quite a few potholes later we found the tree.

It was HUGE! I guess if you had been growing for around 3250 years you would also be the size of a house! This particular tree is classified as ‘monumental’ by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities (SEDIK) and is now officially protected. The trunk is so large that it measures 14.2 meters in circumference and has a diameter officially measured 80cm from the ground of 4.9 meters. 

The tree is actually a minor celebrity, it gave a few of its young branches to the 2004 Olympic games, they were used to make a wreath which was presented to the female winner of the marathon.

Standing at the base of the tree I have to admit to being in awe of it, I thought to myself, imagine the stories that this tree could tell if only it knew how. The tree has survived countless battles, invasions, wars and political crises, perhaps there is hope for us all yet! 

The tree is located just above the village of Kavousi on the Agios Nikolas – Sitia road. Signs on the mountain side of the road will point you to the right turning. While you do not need a 4x4 to get to it I would recommend a car which is slightly higher off the ground as the road is neither tar nor concrete and made for some very careful driving.