Last week, I wrote a little on what I love about Athens. One thing was missing though, and considering this may well be my very favourite thing about Greece, I thought I had better sneak a post in on it today!
Each and every time we ate out in Athens, I was sure to order tzatziki. In a way it’s my dream dish, as it contains 5 of my most favourite ingredients: yoghurt, garlic, cucumber, lemon and mint. It may seem a bit pointless posting a recipe in the middle of winter for something that we usually associate with summer, but bear with me.
Tzatziki is so fantastic because of its versatility. Forget what you think you know about this tasty dip, the truth is that it’s good for so much more than simply dipping carrot sticks and Turkish bread! Tzatziki can add zing and life to so many dishes, including BBQ chicken, lamb and cumin meatballs, hot curries, and good quality sausages. Maybe even some nice white fish? Tzatziki is fantastic all year round, and it’s a great way to get some extra protein and calcium with your dinner, especially if you use it in place of sweet processed sauce.
In my opinion, the secret to a delicious, authentic Greek tzatziki is to strain your yoghurt. If you don’t have time to do this, don’t fret, as you will still get a lovely flavoured dip/sauce. That being said, try strained yoghurt at least once, and I promise that you won’t look back!
Thick & Creamy Greek Tzatziki
Makes approx. 1 cup
1 cup Greek yoghurt (plain & unsweetened. I used this one today)
1/2 Lebanese cucumber, finely diced
1 medium garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 – 1.5 teaspoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh mint (optional, to serve)
1. Strain your yoghurt for at least one hour (I usually leave it for 1.5 hours). To strain, use a muslin cloth, a thin clean tea towel, or a new Chux cloth. Pour yoghurt into the cloth and suspend it above a bowl so that the liquid (whey) drips out. As always, don’t throw out your whey! Freeze or refrigerate it, and use it to make mayonnaise, sauerkraute, or add it to your smoothies for extra protein.
2. Once strained, you will have lovely thick yoghurt. Move this into a medium sized mixing bowl and add cucumber, garlic, dried mint and lemon juice. Mix to combine. You can peel your cucumber if you like, but be sure to keep the skin and use it in a smoothie or soup. Cucumber peel is a great source of Vitamin C, so be sure not to waste it!
3. Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Taste and adjust accordingly (more salt, more lemon etc).
To serve, top tzatziki with a sprig of fresh mint. One or two olives, a sprinkle of dried mint or a drizzle of olive oil will also look lovely. Try it with chicken, lamb and meatballs. It’s a great and healthy substitute for certain tomato and BBQ sauces which are often full of sugar and preservatives.
There is a certain degree of romanticism that accompanies the idea of falling in love with somebody from an exciting, far away land. The mystery, the intrigue, the possibilities. Not to mention the promise of their mum’s traditionally cooked food…
We see it in the movies, and we read about it in books. The girl who visits Rome and falls for an Italian named Michelangelo (To Rome with Love), the American who has a passionate love affair with both Barcelona and a handsome Spanish painter (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and the LA screenwriter who discovers he truly belongs in 1920s Paris, in the arms of Picasso’s French mistress Adriana (Midnight in Paris).
And those are just the Woody Allen films.
The idea of being with a person from a different world, one far removed from your own, can be an intoxicating one. It holds so much potential, so much unknown. Promises of travel, new languages, and adventure. Stepping outside the comforts of your everyday life, to embrace the culture, history and traditions of another.
My story goes a little like this, I suppose, and I’ve since found myself fortunate enough to have spent some (amazing) time in Athens, Corinth and Crete. When Kostas and I met, we were both away from home; he had left Greece at 18 to study in London and was yet to return. I had left Perth a year and a half prior with plans to work, travel Europe, and enjoy the change of pace and scenery.
A lovely, polite customer, I’d take his lunch order most days and over the loud hiss and steam of the coffee machine, we became friends. One day, post the lunch time rush, he invited me out to a local Greek eatery for something he thought I might appreciate: coffee. Possibly not the most enticing offer for somebody who works in a coffee shop, but luckily we were not to have just any old cup. It was Greek coffee we were after, made the thick, rich traditional way.
And so, with a cup of καφέ (strong, black & sweet for me!), the adventure began…
This time last year, I was basking in the glorious Athenian sun, sipping on φραπέ (Greek iced coffee) and strolling the cobblestone streets of Πλάκα, the village-like neighborhood perched in the shadow of the Acropolis. Athens strikes me as a city of contradictions. Stepping off the plane, what may first appear as polluted, stuffy, and over-built, gives way to something very special. Once you allow yourself to fall into the rhythm of the city, you can appreciate it for the spectacular place that it is.
When the sun goes down, Athens comes to life. The temperature doesn’t drop, and you can feel the heat pumping through your veins as you navigate the winding laneways in search of a cold drink, something to take the edge off this overwhelming city. Seemingly out of nowhere, crowds of young people spill out of small hidden bars and into the streets, cocktails in hand. Fast, heated conversations of politics, the economy and the state of Europe can be heard, over the roar of motorcycles that whizz by carrying beautiful women, their arms wrapped around the waist of their dark haired drivers.
The gritty grey streets are lit up by unexpected pops of colour. Bitter-orange trees with beautiful golden fruit and dark green leaves provide a hit of nature. You catch a whiff of slow roasted lamb from local tavernas, contrasting with the sweet smell of Jasmine flowers. The sound of traditional Greek music one moment; the pumping of contemporary pop music the next. The tic tac of old men playing τάβλι in the street.
What sometimes feels suffocating during the daylight, can feel like freedom when the night falls. The power of the city, the enormity of the fact that you are standing in the birthplace of Western civilisation; democracy; the arts. Athens is full of contradictions, but there is a sincerity about the place. The passion of its people, the traditions that have evolved, but never ceased. The sounds, the smells, the emotion. Αθήνα is a complicated city. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from her.
I can hardly believe that August is upon us already! Just where does 2014 think it’s going?! Not that I’m complaining, as there is plenty to look forward to in the coming months. The promise of spring (how I long for the familiar scent of jasmine!), a very special birthday for somebody very dear to me, and an up-and-coming trip to Melbourne and Sydney. Now, I assure you that I am not just going for the food (…or the coffee). I’ll also be visiting some of my most lovely friends who have left our serene west coast shores for something a little more happening, fast paced, and exciting over east.
On top of this, the uni holidays just flew by and it’s back to studying for me. Over the next 15 weeks my mornings will consist of serious car park hunting, 8am lectures, and two hour chemistry labs. That being said, I’m excited for my units this semester – loads of great nutrition and food science learning to be done.
Photo by Death to the Stock Photo
Today I’ve decided to share with you a few things that made me smile over the past month. Starting with these newly-created wholemeal honey and banana pancakes. See what you think of these, as they are not fluffy and light (which is my typical preference). I chose to make them with 100% wholemeal spelt and no baking powder, hence their density and richness. I quite like the result though, and they are sure to fill you up.
It’s generally recommended that when using spelt, you use at least 1/2 of another flour as well. I haven’t done that here, but you can certainly make that change if you fancy. Want to know a bit more about spelt in general? Check out this informative page.
Otherwise, this recipe is a super simple one. Don’t forget to forego store bought buttermilk and make your own instead! It will only take a few minutes, tops.
Apart from pancakes, here are some of my other favourite bits and pieces (some edible, some not so much) from July. Here’s hoping you had a great month too!
* This video has had 3 million views. I’m pretty sure only half of those were mine…
* Majorly hanging out to get my paws (claws?) into one of these creations!
* Jamie is just the best. Check out his less waste + more taste paella recipe. Savvy.
* The secrets to perfect boiled eggs. (I’ll share my poached eggs tips soon!)
* Why do Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes? Find out the (great) reason here
* I’m 3 years late, but I’m OBSESSED with Scandinavian drama. Download this and this (now!)
* Ever find yourself in need of beautiful, high quality, free photos? Go check out these guys
Wholemeal Honey & Banana Pancakes
Makes approx. 12 pancakes
1.5 cups wholemeal spelt flour, sifted
1 small banana (approx 90gm) mashed
3 tablespoons dried coconut (optional)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk (make your own in a flash! Recipe here)
1 free-range egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of runny honey (gently heat your honey if it is too solid)
1 additional banana, thinly sliced
Ingredients to Serve
Maple syrup (or another natural sweetener)
Cacao nibs (optional)
1. In a large bowl, sift flour and add mashed banana, coconut and cinnamon. Mix to combine.
2. In a separate bowl (I use a 500mL measuring jug), measure out buttermilk and whisk in egg, honey and vanilla. (If you are making your own buttermilk, let it rest for 10 minutes before adding additonal ingredients).
3. Create a well in the centre of your dry ingredients, and pour in the buttermilk mixture, whisking to combine with the flour mixture.
4. Let mixture rest for 10 minutes (optional).
5. Heat a large frying pan over medium/high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of butter. I always add extra butter to the pan for the first batch of pancakes, to avoid them sticking.
6. Once butter has melted, spoon in approx 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake into the pan, and top each pancake with 2-3 thin slices of banana.
7. Pancakes are ready to flip when the edges start to darken. Keep a close eye on them, this should only take a couple of minutes.
8. Once flipped, reduce heat to low/medium. Pancakes will be ready once the bananas turn a golden colour, and are lovely and caramelised.
9. For your next batch of pancakes, you won’t need as much butter in the pan, probably only 1 teaspoon each time. Return the pan to medium/high, add the butter, and repeat steps 6-8.
Drizzle with (real) maple syrup, and possibly a scattering of cacao nibs if you have some lying around. Ah, July. You’ve treated me well…