I first tasted Greek food in a restaurant in Brussels, near to my home. I loved the vegetables, the dips and my first Greek dish was moussaka, which I still enjoy a lot. There were even more traditional Greek restaurants near to the Gare du Midi where one entered the kitchen and chose the dishes that were available. I almost always chose moussaka.
After I left Brussels and eventually arrived in London, I was introduced to Greek-Cypriot food and the meze, a way of eating which immediately became my favourite way of eating and laid the grounds for our family Pick ‘n’ Mix meals. I am naturally very greedy and the idea of being able to taste so many different dishes delighted and still delights me. Each time we go to a Greek-Cypriot restaurant, I decide that I’m not going to have a meze, that it’s too much food, and that I’m going to order sensibly. Each time I order a meze.
Imagine my delight when I met and fell in love with a half-Greek-Cypriot! I always enjoyed going to Bapu and Stede’s house for barbecues, although the quantity of food was daunting. There was the constant conundrum – should you starve beforehand, or eat and expand your stomach? Neither approach worked. Bapu would cook the largest ribs ever seen (aka dinosaur bones), sausages, pork chops, lamb chops and I remember that on one occasion I was just beginning to think that a ‘wafer thin mint’ would cause me to explode, when he asked me how I liked my steak cooked….. Remember that all this was provided after taramasalata, tzatziki, hummus, halloumi, prawns, olives and Bapu’s mushrooms. It was then followed by at least four desserts which Stede had made.
I started cooking Greek-Cypriot food at home when we lived in Hong Kong because there was no permanent Greek restaurant there. I was thrilled to find halloumi on sale in Oliver’s, and I lovingly made dips, tzakistes (green olives with coriander seeds), and of course moussaka. When we moved back to London, and settled in the house, I planted a vine in the back garden which thrived and I harvested my own leaves for the dolmades. Most of our family barbecues have included Greek-Cypriot starters and I still enjoy preparing, and eating, them.
So today’s recipe? Well, I spoke to Nico yesterday to wish him all the best for his trip to Thessaloniki and his studies there. Rather diffidently (given Tom’s answers) I asked if there were any recipes he would really like me to share? He was much better than Tom and so today’s recipes are Keftedakia (meatballs) and Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves often called Koupepia In Cyprus). Καλό ταξίδι to you, my darling! Have a wonderful time and learn lots!
Keftedakia – Ingredients
- 450 g / 1 lb minced lamb
- 1 slice white bread
- 2 tbsp ouzo
- 1 onion, very finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)
- Olive oil
- Lemon to serve
Put the slice of bread in a bowl and pour the ouzo on top. Leave for about hour, then squeeze the bread hard and mix with the minced lamb. Add all the other ingredients, except the lemon, and mix well with your hands.
It is easier to make the meatballs if the mixture is cool, so put into the fridge for an hour or so. Wet your hands and shape into balls – mine are usually golf ball sized.
Fry the meatballs in olive oil until browned all over and cooked through. Serve warm with fresh lemon juice squeezed over.
Dolmades – Ingredients
- 70 vine leaves – the recipe makes 50 and you’ll need extra for lining the pan. If you use fresh leaves from the garden, try and pick them young. Remove the stalks and wash well. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and boil the leaves for a couple of mins. Put the leaves into very cold water. If you use packet or bottled leaves, follow any instructions for removing the salt.
- Olive oil
- 1 lb / 450 g minced lamb
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 small onion, very finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
- 6 tbsp tomato paste
- 8 oz / 200 g long grain rice
- Salt and pepper
- Lemon juice
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and gently cook the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent and soft. Add the lamb and cook until it is browned and there are no lumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the rice and cook until it is transparent. Add four tbsp water and the tomato paste. Simmer for five mins. Put to one side and allow to cool.
Take a vine leaf and lay it shiny side down, with the broad side nearest to you. Put a teaspoon of the meat and rice about half an inch from the bottom – this should be cigar-shaped and about 1.5 inches long. Roll and cover the mixture. Fold the edges, so that they are square, and continue rolling. Do this until all the meat mixture has been used up.
Take a heavy-based pan and cover the base with about 10 vine leaves. Place the rolled dolmades on top of these leaves, seam side down and not too tightly because they will expand. Sprinkle 4 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp lemon juice over the dolmades. Place a small plate or saucer on top. Put on the pan lid. Turn on the heat – this should be the lowest possible – and cook for about 30 mins.
Serve with lemon wedges.