cucumber gazpacho

It’s still too hot to cook, so today I made one of my favorite soups:  cold cucumber gazpacho.  It’s very easy, and no heat is involved in the preparation.

Trim and peel the cucumbers.  Slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.  Cut into cubes.

In a food processor, combine the cubed cucumber, the vinegar, garlic olive oil, milk, 3-4 basil leaves, salt, and pepper.  Puree.

Divide into two bowls.

Dice the feta and tomato; slice the basil.  Sprinkle over the soup and add a few pieces of pepper.  Serve with barley rusks or crusty bread.  (Note:  the pine nuts are a good addition, but they are not very frugal so I left them off, and it was delicious without them also.)

Cucumber Gazpacho
serves 2

500-600g cucumbers, trimmed, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp garlic olive oil (or 2 tbsp olive oil + 1 pressed garlic clove)
2 tbsp milk (any fat content)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper, ground
4 basil leaves

For garnish:
1/2 medium tomato or 1 small tomato, diced
6 slices bell pepper, any color
30g feta cheese, diced
2 basil leaves, sliced
Optional:  1 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts

1.  In a food processor, puree together cucumber, vinegar, olive oil, milk, four basil leaves, salt, and pepper.  Divide into bowls.

2.  Top with the tomato, feta, and basil.  If using, sprinkle the pine nuts on top.

3.  Serve cold with barley rusks or crusty bread.

You might also like:
Greek lentil soup
Melitzanosalata
Peas, Greek style

Israeli food is good for heat waves

It’s hot here in Greece.  Yes, I knew it would be hot when I moved here.  But… honestly, it’s hotter than I bargained for.  It’s been so hot that I’ve already been swimming in the sea six times.  (If you know me, you might know that I never swim before the end of July because the water is too cold.)  It took me 13 years before I finally broke down and started wearing shorts here in Greece (Greek women don’t usually wear shorts because “shorts are for 8 year old boys” and since Greek women are my style icons, I stuck to this rule) but this past week, I’ve been wearing shorts every day.  Shorts I stole from my husband, of course.

And I just hate cooking in the heat.  I even hate eating in the heat, and that’s really saying something.  But we invited some friends over for dinner, and that meant that I had to make something for them to eat.  Considering the fact that lately we’ve been eating tomatoes and cucumbers while fanning each other, I knew I had to make some food that wouldn’t heat up the house, or me, or the people eating it.  So I decided on Israeli food.

Israeli food is perfect for Greece because it uses ingredients that are readily available and cheap in Greece – both are eastern Mediterranean countries so they have similar crops – and Israel is hot too.  (None of these dishes are particular to Israel, by the way.  I’m calling them Israeli because I learned them from Israeli people, sites, and books.)

I decided to stick to the big classics for two reasons:  our guests are very new to Israeli food, and we had all the ingredients for all this stuff on hand.  (That’s an extremely important consideration for me at the moment.)  I made a classic tabouleh, which is great because at no point is any part of it cooked, and it’s served cold.  It’s a refreshing and cooling food perfect for heat waves.  I made classic Israeli hummus, which we all love so much – really, is there anyone who doesn’t love homemade hummus?  And of course my pillowy pita bread which was taught to me by an Israeli friend.  And finally a couscous and chickpea salad.  A great thing about couscous is that it also barely needs to be cooked.  I cooked the chickpeas for the hummus and the salad at the same time in the pressure cooker – quick and very little heat in the kitchen.  If you have canned chickpeas, you can avoid cooking altogether – except for the pitas.  There’s no way around that one.  The pitas need to be in the oven.  Sorry.

Our guests loved these dishes, and they’re so simple that you can make this spread on a weeknight – even the pita isn’t that time consuming because, if it’s hot outside, you can put the dough outside to rise and it only takes half the time!

First, soak the chickpeas.  This whole spread is to feed four people, but I made a lot of everything so that we could eat leftovers for a few days.  This will make a lot of food.  I used 500g of chickpeas.  Just put the chickpeas in a bowl with water in the morning before you go to work and when you come home, they’ll be ready.

I used 150g of bulgur wheat.  It’s a lot… trust me.  It might not look like much but once it plumps up, you get a huge bowl of tabouleh.  Cut the tomatoes directly into a large bowl.  This is important:  don’t use a cutting board!  Try to cut them into very small pieces.  It’s not easy because of the bowl but do the best you can.  The reason for this is to keep all the tomato juice in the bowl.  Stir in the bulgur and mix well.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the pita bread dough.  The reason I do it this way is so that the bulgur absorbs all the tomato juice.

The end result is that the bulgur is perfectly softened and there is no extra water.  (Many tabouleh recipes say to cook the bulgur or to soak it in hot water – this is not necessary if you do it this way.)

After about an hour, add the mint, lemon juice, onion, and parsley to a large bowl.  Stir in the tomato and bulgur mixture.  Add some salt and the olive oil.  Stir well and cover.  I don’t refrigerate it because I don’t like the taste of refrigerated tomatoes.  It’s cooling enough without being refrigerated.

To make the hummus, drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas.  Cook them in the pressure cooker covered by about an inch of water for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Reserve about a cup of the cooking water.  Drain and rinse. It’s not necessary to remove their skins.

In a food processor, combine 3/4 of the chickpeas (the other 1/4 will be used in the couscous salad) with the lemon juice, garlic, tahini, salt, and cumin.  Process until smooth.  Add a bit of the cooking water if it’s too thick.

(To reduce the calories drastically, you can omit the oil altogether and use PB2 peanut butter powder instead of the tahini.  You will probably need considerably more of the cooking water to reach the right consistency.  If you make it this way, it won’t be authentic and it’s not as good as the real thing (I’m just being honest!), but you can eat the hummus completely guilt free in pretty massive quantities.  I’ve been making low calorie hummus that way for years and years.)

Stir a few tablespoons of the remaining cooked chickpeas into the hummus and put on a plate.  Sprinkle fresh parsley over the top.

To make the couscous salad:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, quickly saute the onions, garlic, and curry until golden.  Add in the chickpeas and stir well.

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Stir in the couscous, rehydrated raisins (to rehydrate raisins, soak them in very hot water for about 10 minutes, then drain), and sundried tomatoes.  Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, and stir in the contents of the frying pan, along with the lemon zest and mint.    Season with salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon juice.  This can be served cold or warm.

I love this couscous.  It was handmade by the 87 year old woman who lives in the house next-door to where S grew up.  Although no longer neighbors, he still drives out to see her at every possible opportunity.  She offered to teach my mother-in-law and me how to make it this summer.  I’m very excited about this!  It doesn’t sound easy.

And that’s your Israeli feast!  We enjoyed it quite a lot … for several days!

Classic Tabouleh

150g bulgur wheat
2 medium tomatoes
1 small onion (or 1 green onion, including green part), chopped
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, rinsed, chopped – or 2 tsp dried mint
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
pinch cinnamon
salt

1.  Working in a large bowl, cut the tomatoes into very small pieces.  Stir the bulgur into the tomato and its juice.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour.

2.  Stir in the onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, and salt.  Cover again and set aside until ready to serve (at least half an hour).

Classic Israeli Hummus

300g dried chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup garlic olive oil (or 1/4 cup olive oil + 4 garlic cloves, pressed)
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
several sprigs of parsley, chopped

1.  Soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours in water.  Drain and rinse.  Place in a pressure cooker and cover with 1″/2cm water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Reserve the cooking water.  Rinse chickpeas with cool water.

2.  In a food processor, combine almost all the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic olive oil, cumin, and salt.  Process, adding cooking water in small amounts as needed, to reach a smooth consistency.

3.  Stir in the reserved whole chickpeas.  Arrange on a serving plate.  Sprinkle the parsley over the top.  (Optional:  drizzle additional olive oil over the hummus.)  Serve warm or cool.

Pillowy Pita Bread
click for recipe

Couscous & Chickpea Salad

170g couscous
200g dried chickpeas
1 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, pressed
24g raisins (or currants)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dried mint or 1 tbsp fresh mint
2 slices sundried tomato, chopped
1 medium  onion, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice

1.   Soak chickpeas for about 8 hours in water.  Drain, rinse, and place in pressure cooker.  Cover by 1″/2cm with water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, boil the chicken stock.  Stir in the couscous, raisins, sundried tomato, and mint.  Cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

3.  While the couscous is resting:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, saute onion, garlic, curry powder, and turmeric briefly with the chickpeas.

4.  When the 5 minutes have passed, fluff the couscous with a fork and add it to the frying pan.  Stir well and move to a serving plate.  Drizzle on the lemon juice, toss, and serve.  Can be served warm or cool.

You might also like:
Afghani orange pilaf
Fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita
Pork gyros with everything

the TV told me to be happy that we have a government again

I admit it. I’ve been hiding under a Cyclopean rock.  I started this blog because I wanted it to be a positive, upbeat place, and positive and upbeat are not great words to describe me these past few weeks.

Greece has a government now. A government almost identical to the government it has had for the past several years decades. Is there a reason why things should have changed? Is there a logical, common sense reason why voters might have chosen a different party to form a government – a party that has not been the direct and foremost cause of the domestic factors leading to the crisis? Apparently the answer to these questions is “no, we’re happy with those parties. They represent us well. We trust them. Their leaders are honest, ethical, above corruption, and clearly work for the best interests of the Greek people.”

I don’t have the right to vote in Greece, so at least I am spared the additional frustration that voters for other parties feel, of having cast their vote into the black hole of New Pasocracy.

As a permanent resident, tax-payer, and lover of Greece, however, I share in the same frustrations that most people, everywhere on the political spectrum, feel: the quaintness of voting in a political realm when decisions are being made, just up above, in the banking realm.

And so Greece has sworn in a prime minister who has pledged to continue to do everything exactly as before, when everything before failed comically. It’s been reported that his top pick for the all-important Minister of Finance is the president of Greece’s largest private bank. The government was formed by a coalition with (whom else?) PASOK, and with the small Democratic Left party, a party that serves very little purpose except to absorb the anger that voters felt against the government and then collaborating with the government, essentially nullifying the “protest vote” that they campaigned for. What does a coalition with PASOK and Democratic Left mean? That some members of PASOK and Democratic Left will be in cabinet positions… just not any of the members that anyone actually voted for; the members will be unelected party members. Even the ND cabinet members will be – it has been reported – so called “technocrats,” a Greek word that means “rule by experts” (i.e., unelected bankers and the like).

ND and PASOK campaigned, and came to power, on the platform of “renegotiating the agreement with the Troika.” While the campaign was going on, European political leaders and the German press sent constant inappropriate messages toward Greek voters, telling them that they must vote for these parties. (Inappropriate because voting in a national election is a domestic matter.) But as soon as the government was formed, the message changed dramatically: “no renegotiation is possible. You can ask all you want, but the answer is ‘no’.”

The nice thing about the campaign season, despite the annoying ads, is that people say nice things. Candidates make promises that people want to hear. Bad stuff is put on hold. But now the elections are over and, for the first time in two months, they’ve started again with the constant news reports on the new austerity measures starting in July. S is expecting another pay cut. We’ve lost our prescription drug coverage, but the number removed from the paycheck for health insurance hasn’t gone down at all. We just found out how much we owe (yes, owe – for the first time in our entire lives, we owe) for income tax – and it’s a four digit number.  A kind of large four digit number.  Every last one of those four digits is more than we can afford. But we have to pay it, because if we don’t, we get fined even more. And eventually thrown in jail.  [We owe even though we made much less than the year before.  It’s because the standard deduction was reduced to much less than half of what it was before, and pretty much all tax write-offs and credits were eliminated; there are also several new taxes that were added.  Everyone in Greece is dealing with this same thing right now.]

I have nothing but disgust and distrust for the new government. Their campaign tactics repulsed me. The demography of their voters (retirees for the most part) doesn’t impress me. They are proven failures, every one of them. There is no hope for Greece with this government. False hope would have been better than no hope.

It might seem hard to believe that in Greece in 2012, people would actually vote for “politics as usual,” but it isn’t. There are two explanations: 1) the Greek public was the victim of a campaign of terror launched by the old political parties, the European political and banking community, and the mass media (although only the media were really honest about doing it); and 2) old people tend to be conservative. Greece has a lot of old people.

I did, however, see one small glimmer of hope. I have a friend in Thessaloniki who voted (like everyone in my generation) for Syriza. So did his two brothers. His parents – retired now, one from coal mining and one from working in a factory, who went to Germany to find work after the war when Greece was destroyed but Germany was booming, and who have remained illiterate throughout their lives – have voted for ND in every election since ND was formed, for reasons that they themselves cannot articulate. This year, for the first time ever, they didn’t. They couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a different party, but they decided to stay home. “This is your future… you have to decide,” my friend’s father told him. Despite this gesture, Thessaloniki – due to a last-minute terror campaign by a local ND politician – experienced a massive increase in elderly voting, and was the only major city in Greece that voted for ND – even after voting for Syriza in May.