Friday, February 3, 2012

Simple Pleasures

Now I’m a Coffee lover. Unashamed and unrepentant. A strong Greek coffee with breakfast, an Espresso or a Filter Coffee later in the morning, maybe an Iced Coffee in warmer weather.

Several years ago we start to get flavoured coffees in Europe. Courtesy of Starbucks? Maybe at the particular time, but the idea is by no means original. Serving coffee flavoured with a spice such as Cardamom has long been popular in the Middle East. Not something I want everyday, but a pleasant change to make and drink on occasion.

And you don’t need to buy those jars of flavoured syrup to do it. Flavoured coffee is so easy to make. Just simply add a teaspoon of whatever spice takes your fancy to your coffee maker.

My beat up old Espresso maker has seen many years of service and makes a wonderful coffee. But it adds a whole new dimension if I add teaspoon of …. 

Take your pick: Cinnamon or Ground Ginger work really well. Experiment a bit to get the level right. Or grind the seeds of two or three Cardamom pods and add those to the coffee.

The same trick works just as well if you add you choice of spice to your cafetiere or the filter of your drip coffee maker.

By process of elimination, I keep coming back to Cinnamon, Ginger or Cardamom, but there are whole load of potential variations and flavours I haven't yet tried. Must try adding Chilli sometime… haven’t dared take that step yet.

Be bold! Experiment!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chick Peas to you

Chickpeas (or Garbanzo Beans…. Or in Greece, Ρεβίθια (that’s Revithia), are a winter favourite here in Greece. Cooked with onions, lemon and Olive Oil they make a good warming and nutritious dish.

This is my slightly un-(Greek) orthodox twist on Chickpea Soup.

Chickpeas. I use a coffee mug full of dried chickpeas to make two main course servings. This would easily serve 4 as an appetiser course
A handful of dried Mushrooms.
1 medium size Onion
1 clove of Garlic
1 teaspoon of fresh ground Coriander seeds
Half a cup of chopped Mint
Half a teaspoon of hot Paprika (just enough to give the soup a warming ‘bite’)
Salt to taste
Juice of half a Lemon
Olive oil
Handful of fresh Dill
Fresh ground black Pepper

First up, soak your Chickpeas if using them from dried. Cover in fresh water and leave to stand overnight (at least 12 hours)

Soak the Mushrooms. Break or chop them into small pieces and soak in 500ml of boiling water. Allow to stand for about 15 minutes before using.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a large saucepan, rough chop and fry the Onion and add a roughly chopped clove of Garlic after 2 or 3 minutes. Fry for five minutes or so.

Drain the Chickpeas (if using dried ones) and add them to the pan. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes, stirring them into the onion and oil mixture. Then add the Mushrooms with the water they have been soaking in.

As the mix heats up add the Coriander, Paprika, Salt, Lemon Juice and Mint. I often use dried mint, crumbling a large pinch of dried leaves into the pan.

Stir everything together making sure the chickpeas are fully covered by the water adding a little more if necessary. Check the taste, adding salt as needed.

Cover and allow to come to the boil. Then turn the heat down and leave to simmer… for a long time. The cooking time depends on how al dente you like your chickpeas. A minimum of 1 hour, although for this soup I normally let them cook around 90 minutes.  I was served a more traditional version of this dish once where the lady doing the cooking had literally cooked the chickpeas to pulp; I shudder to think how many hours that took.

One the chickpeas are cooked…..
Use a potato masher to coarsely mash them in the pan. Don’t go crazy with this and if half the chickpeas escape the process then that’s fine. I think this soup works best when there is plenty of texture left.
Then ladle about half of the mixture, liquid, chickpeas, bits of mushroom and so on into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour this ‘smoothied’ part of the mix back into the pan and stir everything together to make the final soup.

Serve in soup bowls with a little virgin Olive Oil drizzled over the surface, a grind of fresh Black Pepper and finish off with a garnish of fresh chopped Dill.

Add a glass or two of retsina and some fresh crusty bread and you won’t want to go anywhere for the rest of the day.