Greek lentil soup

Lentil soup was one of the first Greek recipes that I learned to make after I met my husband.  After we were first married, we were living in a tiny cottage on a tiny Greek island, on the beach.  I know, right?  But aside from the amazing view and the breeze off the sea and the fact that there were only about six or seven other people living in the entire village, making it kind of ideal for newlyweds, the kitchen was, well, not.

The refrigerator came up to my upper thigh, and had no freezer at all.  On top of the fridge was a glorified toaster oven with two burners on top of it.  Above that was an exhaust fan that, due to the height of the fridge + oven, meant that you couldn’t stir anything while it was on the stove, because there was no space between the top of the pot and the exhaust fan.

There was also no counter space, at all.  There was a sink, but nothing else.  So I would balance my cutting board over the sink for counter space.  And when I wanted to stir a pot, I would take it down, put it in the sink, stir it, and put it back.

It was under these “romantic” conditions that I learned to make Greek lentil soup.  It is the perfect recipe for those looking to be more frugal in the kitchen, since it uses ingredients that are basically the cheapest of the cheap:  dried lentils, onion, carrots, plain tomato sauce.

In our little island cottage, I had one pot, and it was a conventional cooking pot.  You can certainly make lentil soup in a conventional pot, although I now only ever use a pressure cooker and would highly recommend that anyone trying to be frugal or who likes beans, lentils, and peas own a pressure cooker.  They save a great deal of money and an unreal amount of time.

Lentil soup is a great fall and winter soup, when carrots are plentiful and we all need something a little warm and spicy.

Lentils are a handy ingredient:  cheap, easy to store, long shelf-life, don’t need to be soaked before use, good for you.  Combined with something high in vitamin C, lentils have usable iron.  If you don’t like carrots, you could put some orange peel in this soup for vitamin C.

The soup is easy as can be:  saute some onions and garlic in a little olive oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker.  Throw in some carrots, lentils, and tomato sauce.

Add enough water to cover everything, plus another two cups (the more water, the more soup, but you don’t want to fill beyond the half-way point of your pressure cooker).

I call this Greek lentil soup, but the spices I use are a bit more Morrocan.  True Greek lentil soup would leave out all of these spices except the bay leaf.  You can experiment to see what you like.  The authentic Greek version is too bland for my taste.  I use a bay leaf, cumin, Spanish smoked paprika, hot paprika, and cinnamon.  Never put salt in a pressure cooker.

Stir and cover; bring the cooker up to pressure.  A pressure cooker works by increasing the boiling point of water.  In a conventional pot, water boils at 100 C (212 F) at sea level; in a pressure cooker, it boils at 121 C (250 F).  The higher temperature cooks food much faster.

About 15 minutes later…

After opening it up, add the salt, stir, and ladle into soup bowls.

I like to put a little bit of hot garlic olive oil in lentil soup.  I make my own, and I keep it in the fridge, where it partly solidifies – thus its murky appearance.  I do this to reduce the risk of botulism, a small but present risk in any garlic oil.

A tablespoon of olive oil and a few of strained plain Greek yogurt, a bit of bread, and we’re done!

Greek Lentil Soup

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed
6 medium carrots, sliced into rounds
300g lentils, picked over for small stones
250g plain tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin, ground
1.5 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
2 tsp salt
4 tbsp hot garlic olive oil (for serving)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt (for serving)

1. Heat olive oil in the bottom of a stainless steel pressure cooker over medium heat.  Saute onion and garlic for two minutes.  Add carrots, lentils, tomato sauce, and 4 cups water.  Stir; add all spices; stir again.

2.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and reduce heat to low.  Cook 15 minutes.  When pressure is released, open and add salt.  Stir and ladle into bowls.

3.  Drizzle 1 tbsp of garlic olive oil over each portion, and top with 2 tbsp Greek yogurt.

This post is linking up to:

                             homework Photobucket     A Delightsome Life Chic on a Shoestring Decorating The Shabby Nest


more great ideas from the Troika

A look into Greek politics today…

Today I’m quoting parts from another article from this excellent news blog, which posts in Greek. I’m translating excerpts of this article into English here.

It deals with the most recent negotiations between the Greek coalition government and the Troika over the new €130 billion loan, specifically as regards implementing a new tax system.

According to information, at the negotiations between the Vice President / Minister of Finance Evangelos Venizelos and the leaders of the Troika, he was asked to set in motion immediately procedures to fire 10,000 workers from the wider public sector by the end of this March … from the army, hospitals, public banks, and about 50 quasi-governmental organizations, which must be shut down completely.

It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that most of these organizations – especially hospitals – are already stretched very thin. Reducing their personnel even further won’t save money – it will only make these various organizations run even less efficiently – ultimately costing more money to the Greek taxpayer.

As far as a new taxation system is concerned, the Troika has asked the Finance Ministry to adopt the American tax system. Indicative of the climate in these negotiations is the fact that the Troika rejected out of hand the Finance Ministry’s thought of perhaps reducing VAT (sales tax) by 3-4 percentage points –

This was an idea that had been getting some play in the media over the last few days. In Greece, there are several sales tax rates. The vast majority of goods and services have an additional sales tax of 23% added on top. Grocery items that are not prepared (like dried beans, bottled water, dry pasta, uncooked potatoes) have a 13% sales tax. Hotel stays and medicines have a 6.5% sales tax. (There are a few other things in this reduced category as well, but it’s changed a number of times and I’m not too up on it – I believe that books and newspapers are in here also.)

Up until September 1, 2011, all food – including restaurant and prepared grocery – was taxed at the lower 13% rate. The increase this past September has been widely reported to be responsible for thousands of cafes and restaurants going out of business, and of course all the job loss that goes with that.

Up until January 1, 2011, the sales tax breakdown was 21% for goods, 11% for food, and 5% for medicine. That in turn was an increase from the 2010 and previous rate, of 19% on goods, 9% on food, and I believe 4.5% on medicine (but I’m not sure about that one).

The media has reported regularly that this steady increase in sales tax – which hits the consumer many times over, because it must be paid at all stages of production, packaging, shipping, and selling – is responsible for the flight of a vast sector of consumer spending in Greece over the past two years, and that that is responsible for a massive reduction in total sales tax revenue by the government.

-with the explanation that [by reducing the sales tax by 3-4 percentage points], there will be a drastic reduction in revenue, which could reach 2 to 2.5 billion euros per year. [The Troika] further requested that the low rate of 6.5% be eliminated, as well as all the exceptions that are in place in various locations around the country.

That last part affects where we lived in the past. When we lived on the island, we paid lower sales tax rates. The small islands have extraordinarily high prices, because the shops are very small, there are no chain supermarkets, and they have to import small amounts via ship.

We paid a few percentage points lower than the mainland – not enough to reduce the prices to mainland levels, by any means – but every little bit helps, I suppose. The island rates are in place for all the islands except the very large ones. Certainly on medium islands like Syros and Paros, it’s not really necessary to have lower sales tax. Those islands have large supermarkets and import reasonably large amounts of goods. But on the islands with only one or two mini markets on the whole island, with only a few hundred occupants, it can be very expensive to buy food. We usually paid €1.30 for a liter of milk. At the same time, on the mainland, milk was available for €0.83 per liter – including the higher sales tax. All purpose flour was €1.20 per kilo for the cheapest bulk flour, when on the mainland you could find it for €0.47, including the higher tax.

The new demands include:

-A new system of pension revenue collection and a reduction in pensions aside from the basic pension.

Pensions are already quite low in Greece. With the introduction of a new high property tax, many retired people aren’t able to meet basic obligations, and could find themselves in prison for debt to the public sector, or homeless.

-The opening of all professions

As it is now, many professions in Greece require their practictioners to be specially licensed in those professions in order to practice them. “Opening” these professions removes this barrier. These controls are largely responsible for the face of the Greek economy today: pharmacies are small stand-alone pharmacies of the kind that disappeared from American neighborhoods decades ago; tiny mini-markets called periptera sell cigarettes, newspapers, phone cards, and other convenience-store items. If these items are allowed to be sold in supermarkets, potentially tens of thousands of small and very small businesses will close.

While having these items available at supermarkets would make shopping slightly more convenient, it will also mean waves of strikes – threats to “closed professions” have caused many and massive strikes since 2010.  Having pharmacies closed for weeks causes a lot of problems, but the worst was in the summer of 2010, when the gasoline delivery system went on strike:  truckers who deliver gasoline to gas stations stopped running.  Quickly, police cars had no gas; ambulances had no gas; public buses had no gas, and so on.  This causes a ripple affect in society.  When doctors can’t get to the hospital, teachers can’t get to school, society starts to suffer in many unpredictable ways.

It may be a necessary transition to go from a protectivist local economy to an open economy run by large multinational corporations, which is what Germany and France would prefer us to have, but it will be very painful both for the owners and employees of medium, small, and very small businesses, and for everyone living inside Greece.

-Stricter controls on the public sector hiring policy of “1 hire for every 5 fired/retired” and a program of personnel reduction, to achieve the goal of 150,000 fewer workers by 2015.

Luckily for us, S has already been hired, so doesn’t come under the “1 hire for every 5 fires” rule. However, we certainly don’t want him to be one of the 150,000 public sector workers forced out in the next three years.

In the school where S works, which has 400 students, there are supposed to be two school secretaries.  However, school secretaries are no longer considered necessary, so S, as the newest teacher in the school, got stuck with most of the secretarial duties that used to be spread between two full-time trained secretaries.  On top of teaching every last one of the 400 students in the school, and the extracurricular activities, and all the regular extra duties that all the teachers have, he also has hours and hours of bureaucratic and secretarial labor for which he receives no extra money, and in fact his salary has been reduced by 56% in only five months.

give me a sign

I have always loved signs here in Greece.  Maybe it goes back to when I was first learning Greek, and I loved that signs were short and sweet and to the point.  Even if I had only managed to read a few words, I had read something complete and absorbed whatever information it had to give me.  We’re surrounded by signs in our daily lives, but how many of them do we really notice and appreciate?  Here are a few photos I’ve taken over the years of signs here in Greece.

This sign is on a back road not far from where we live now.  It says “Medieval Bridge,” and the little yellow sign on top says “Hunting Forbidden.”

A classic Greek street sign.   There are thousands of signs just like this, all over the country.  This one is from the most charming and beautiful old neighborhood of Athens, called Anafiotika.

This is a cafe sign; the cafe is called “Anemelo,” which means Carefree.  The line on the bottom reads “Cafe – Bar – Patisserie.”

This a street sign, believe it or not.  It’s in the countryside near the town of Megalopolis in the Peloponnese, a region in southern Greece.

This charming sign is near the village of Langadia in the region of Arcadia.  It reads, “Dear passersby, trash in the bin.”

This sign is on the door of a 17th century church on the island of Milos.  It’s written in an archaic form of Greek called “puristic” Greek, which is very similar to ancient Greek.  It reads “cast your obol.”  An obol, in ancient Athens, was something like a quarter or a 50-cent piece.  There are no obols anymore, but it means any coin, by analogy.

This sign is built into the wall of a monastery on the island of Sifnos.   It reads “Here lived and wrote the poet Aristomenes Provelengios.”

Don’t you wish your town had darling street signs like this?

Why replace an old sign, when it starts to age?  This is so much more charming anyway.

The sign for a snack bar called the “New Loggia.”

I love all these signs – hand-painted, hand-carved, or standard government-issue, they all add to the unique atmosphere in Greece.

This post is linking up with:


frugal tips for crisis thrivers – part 3

Food Storage in Critical Greece

In my last frugal tips post, I gave you some standard, non-Greece-specific tips. But we are living in a special place at a special time, and that calls for some special tips!

I keep a price notebook (I’ll be sure to write a post about that soon!), so I know that the price of practically every product we buy has gone up at least once, and in some cases six times in the past six months.

I call that the increase in the price of food.  I can hear you thinking, “that’s dumb.  Just call it ‘inflation.'”  I thought of that… but “inflation” is a term that the government uses to mean the increase in the price of everything except the things you actually buy, like food and gasoline.

So, the increase in the price of food:  it’s a problem.  Because the price of food is always going up, buying more food now, even if it’s not on sale, will nearly always save you money over buying the exact same food later.

Who would have thought that the price of salt would go up by over 50% last year?  Salt.  The stuff that has been sitting in the salt mine or the sea for a few bazillion years.  It is neither getting harder to find nor more desirable.  There was no sales tax increase during that time, and the price of gas actually went down.  There is no rhyme or reason to price increases.

Unless “all prices will go up, all the time” is rhyme and reason enough for you.

Buy more now because it’s cheaper than buying it later.  That’s a tip you can take to the bank, unless the bank collapses.

Another big issue in Greece is the currency problem.  We use Euros right now to buy products, but we hear a lot of confused messages through the media about the future. Will Greece leave the Eurozone? No one seems to know – least of all those of us living here, trying to make things work on the ground – but no matter what we believe or to whom we listen, it would be foolish to pretend that there is not at least some level of doubt at this point as far as Greece’s future in the Eurozone.

If Greece ultimately chooses or is forced to leave the Eurozone, what would that mean?

Likely, it would mean hundreds of different things, some bad, some good, some completely unpredictable. But this post is dealing with food storage, so I want to address what affect Greece leaving the Eurozone would likely have on food storage strategies.

Right now, there is a good mix of products in the supermarkets: many are Greek, many are imported. The farmers’ market in our city has practically all Greek food items, and many imported non-food items. Some discount supermarkets, like Lidl, stock mostly imported items (but also some Greek items).

Greek supermarkets, both locally owned like Masoutis and AB, and those that belong to huge multinational corporations like Carrefour, all import products by sending Euros to their suppliers.  If they start sending drachmas, most likely European products will go up in price, potentially very high.  Right now, French meat is cheaper in Greece than Greek meat is.  But if the French are demanding €6 / kg, and the Greek supermarkets have to pay that in drachmas, they’ll have to charge a lot more drachmas to cover it.  Greek meat producers will be selling their meat in drachmas, meaning Greek meat will be much cheaper than French meat.  Greek consumers will choose Greek meat, and French meat will disappear from supermarket shelves.

That doesn’t matter to us, of course.  Meat is meat.  But if there are products that we buy that are imported, we may have to pay a great deal more in drachmas, relative to our income, than we pay now in Euros; or we may not even be able to find those products at all.  So nonperishable imported goods make great storage/stockpile items.

There’s another advantage to stocking up on imported goods.  We buy them because we like them and use them, but there will be others who won’t buy them for storage.  Those people may be willing to exchange other things for our stored imported goods.  Barter has already begun in several parts of Greece, and in some areas has always existed.  Having something other people want means you have “currency.”  The value of the product depends not on what you paid, but on how much the other person wants it.  So if it’s not available anywhere in the country, some people might want it badly.  

We don’t use a great deal of imported goods, but we use some.  Canned pineapple, canned and jarred jalapeno peppers, cranberry sauce, tampons, cheddar cheese.

Then there are all the products that say “Made in Greece” on them, but aren’t really.  Chocolate doesn’t grow in Greece; neither does coffee, but both claim to be made in Greece.  Both chocolate and coffee are likely to become more expensive if Greece leaves the Euro, and both make great trade items.

Another issue (that gives me goosebumps to think about) is the possible withdrawal of multinational corporations from the Greek food marketplace.  Carrefour and Lidl are the two multinational corporations in our city that I use.  It’s not unlikely that, in the event of a default and currency change, these companies could choose to leave Greece.  Lidl’s main competitor in many countries, the hard discounter Aldi, had a bunch of stores in Greece until only about a year ago.  Aldi chose to depart Greece, leaving Lidl without a serious competitor.  Several local companies have gone belly-up as well.

If Lidl and Carrefour decide that drachmas aren’t worth their time, the prices at Greek-based supermarkets, which of course are much smaller, could go up significantly without that competitive pressure.  So not only would we lose access to products that only those companies sell, but we may find ourselves paying more for everything at the stores that do remain.

That’s a reason to stock up on pretty much everything that won’t go bad.

Even if all the stores stay open, and all the various products, domestic and imported, stay on the shelves, a return to the drachma means that at least for a while, there will be a period of uncertainty, when the value of the currency will be changing and prices will be fluctuating.  During that time, having a sizeable stockpile of food at home that can keep our family going for a few months to a year will give us food security and allow us to hold on to whatever money, in whatever form, we can get.

While it’s easy to put out of our minds and say “nothing like that has happened so far, so it probably won’t happen,” preparing a stockpile doesn’t have any downsides.  We’re talking about food that doesn’t go bad, that’s stored properly according to what you use and like, that can potentially fill in for shortages, be used for trading / barter, and can allow us to go periods of time without spending money on food.  Since we’re buying this food when it goes on sale, we’re also saving money over buying it when we realize we need it.  And we’re buying it before the unavoidable increases in the price of food.  So we’re doing a good thing here, folks.

To sum up:  if the price of food is going up constantly, stay out in front of it as much as you can.   If it looks like your country might leave a strong currency for a low-worth currency, get in imported food, tradeable food, and … edible food.  It will be one fewer thing on your mind.