Fresh vegetables usually hold centre stage in the Greek kitchen, often harvested in the home vegetable patch and then transformed by olive oil and herbs to make wonderfully tasty dishes.
Because of my upbringing in England I was familiar with certain vegetables, but certain others were unknown to me, until I read Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean cook books, and then then later married a Greek and found myself with a Mediterranean garden.
European vegetables I knew well
Beans, Carrot, Celery, Lettuce, Onion, Silver Beet
Mediterranean vegetables I came to know
Egg Plant,Garlic, Globe Artichoke, Olive, Tomato, ZucchiniI
Vegetable Garden BedsI created four vegetable beds, and ideally one should be left fallow each hear, and the planting plan circulating from one bed to another each year. However, this often does not happen. Right now I can see that our four beds are becoming depleated and last year, before we left Anestis did some deep digging in two and I addeds lots of manure.
In this garden Anestis does some early planting, putting in vegetable seedlings before we arrived in May. So we have onions, garlic, cucumbers and zucchini in June. And not long after tomatoes, and peppers, enough to make our very useful tomato sauces.
We do add compost from our heaps each year, and often sea weed and this has certainly helped to inprove the soil, but I’m thinking of following the advice of an old gardener, Ester Deans, who started a movement to build gardens that involve no digging (though hay is hard to get hold of on the island). Gardening into her ninties Ester also insisted that dowsing helped her in the garden.
Ester Deans Recipe for a no-dig garden
Make a rectangular frame, line the botton with a thick layer of new papers, then add a layer of lucern hay, sprinkle over some fertilizer, and eight inches of straw topped by another sprinkle of fertilizer, then four inches of compost.
Into the Kitchen
Children and VegetablesI once scattered a packet of heritage carrot seed in the garden early in the year and they came up all kinds of colours and shapes, and very strongly flavoured. These were hardy enough to last until the grandchildren arrived in July. My four year-old granddaughter would not eat anything that sounds, looks or tastes like a vegetable. Though, having been told that carrots help you see in the dark, she made an exception for raw carrots. Carrots will last throughout the summer but they also needed to be watered every other day to get them through.
When whese mixed orange and cream coloured carrots, growing in clay soil, were pulled up there were some rather weird and sexy carrot shapes.
BeansLong green beans are another early vegetable. One year we arrived early enough for me to grow some climbers from seed. I set up some tall bamboo frames for them but usually Anestis plants a low growing variety.
When they are ready I pick and blanch bowls full, freezing them in empty ice-cream containers for later.
One recipe I like to make with means is a slow cooked dish with roughly chopped means cooked with with tomatoes and a lot of garlic and I mean a lot of garlic! After an hour of cooking the beans will still hold their shape and the garlic and tomatoes have mellowed into a thick sauce.
Melitzanas, so Greek!
When I’m in Greece I tend to use the Greek names for vegetables, and then take a while to recalibrate my thinking when I return to Australia. Here egg plants are not French aubergines but melitzanas, and zucchini are not the French courgettes but kolokithia.
Melitzanas need less water than some plants but still need to be topped up in the hot weather to give a good crop. In hot years I’ve noticed the fruit can almost be cooked on the plants.
My son was here for a holiday one year and took a liking to Mousakka and wanted the recipe and so I emailed it to him. You will notice my recipes are not very exact. This is because I think that you have to prepare a dish for yourself, and for your own palate.
Mousakka is basically layers of a tomato/meat mince, vegetables (melitzanas, potatoes and kolokithia), and topped by a béchamel sauce and baked in the overn.
Another melitzana recipe is the very rich dip called Imam baldi. This dip involves long slow cooking with garlic, onions, tomatoes.
Little shoes are small melitzanas sliced in half and topped with the mince sauce then baked.
In the case of each recipe the melitzanas taste better if the are first sliced and salted, and then washed and toasted until brown. Or they can be turned over a flame to blacken the skin, which is then removed to leave a smoky flavoured flesh.
Onions, garlic and the Evil Eye
We often use garlic in our cooking, though it is a flavor more often associated with Turkish dishes. A plait of garlic is supposed to be a good deterrent, to keep the evil eye or other malevolent forces wandering around the garden at bay. I'm not sure I believe this but I always have patch of garlic, and it is dug up in June and plaited and hung in the shed.
Anestis always also has a large patch of onions. He has often left them in the ground, then I go and dig and use as I need them. This year howver I suggested he dig them up and leave them to dry in the garden shed. After a week I plaited them in bunches and hung them up like the garlic.
Tomatoes coming out of our ears!
Anestis buys and plants tomato seedlings in early June, and after a few weeks, when they are about three feet tall, he ties them onto bamboos stakes he has cut down for that purpose down.
As mentioned in the last blog, to cope with Lemian summer heat and lack of rain, we make a channel to water each row, flooding it about every three days, plus I'll cover the roots with straw. We usually have a good crop, and begin picking the in early July, with enough for salads and sauces for the next three months.
I’ve already mentioned my tomoato sauces which are better than Paul Newman’s; made with a bucket of tomatoes, peppers, egg plants, onions and garlic from the garden, plus sage, thyme and basil from the herb beds. This is cooked, strained and bottled and good with spaghetti or with any number of dishes requiring a tomato sauce.
And nothing in Australia tastes as good as a salad of our fresh sliced Greek tomatos. One particular hot day I mixed cold watermelon with the tomato slices and flavoured the salad with mint.
There can be problems growing tomatoes though some years. When it is very hot and the plants dry out too much the fruit developed black bases, plus there have been years when temperatures soar and the fruit almost cook on the vines.
We often get seedlings coming up in the beds from the compost dug into the beds. These are usually smaller and tougher tomatoes that do not need as much water, and we find we are still picking them into September. These may have come from a packet of heritage seeds I brought from Australia. They rate as one of my best vegetable toughies!
Note. Tomatoes belong to the same family as potatoes, egg plant, capsicum and hot peppers, and are even related to tobacco, nightshade and petunias.