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

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


supermarket politicians

Tonight I stayed up late to watch a program on TV that I was very much anticipating.  Alpha channel, which is one of the less serious channels, but has recently in the past month or so tried to realign itself as a serious/newsy channel, has in so doing chosen to focus on the more “populist” issues.  At this point, the most populist issue in Greece is probably the high cost of food in the supermarket.  It’s easy to talk about the euro currency, illegal immigration, and unemployment, but what really matters to people is if they can get spaghetti on the table for dinner tonight.  With that in mind, they came up with the idea to ask two average moms to share their experiences at the supermarket: how much they have to spend, what they need to buy to get through the week – and then ask the representatives of four political parties – four candidates for Parliament – to shop for those items with €50.

So we meet Liana, a mom of an 8 year old and an 12 year old, who makes €360 per month as a cleaner; her rent and utilities alone are over €400/month; and Anna Georganta, a mom of three who has been unemployed for some time (and no longer receiving benefits but continuing to search for work) and whose husband is, like mine, an employee of the Greek government; he was making €160 per month for the past six months but recently started making €400 per month.  They don’t have €50/week to spend on food – Anna says she goes to the supermarket once per month and spends about €70 – but they decided to give the politicians a break and give them the €50 that studies say the “average Greek” has to spend on food and household goods for a family of four, per week.  Anna got teary-eyed when she talked about how lucky she felt that her children went to a school that provided snacks to the children, a new and very rare concept in a country where schools don’t serve meals – in Anna’s children’s school, they started serving snacks after they had problems with hungry children passing out in class.

The list was not luxurious.  There were no eggs, meat, or fruit – items well out of reach of the average Greek, if that €50 figure is correct.  It included basics like potatoes, pasta, tomatoes, cucumbers, condensed milk, flour, oil, and soap.   (Why condensed milk?  Apparently they water it way down for their kids.  I didn’t know about this trick.  I don’t drink milk myself or I would try it!)

New Democracy was represented by the weepy Adonis Georgiadis, who mentioned several times that he felt personally ashamed for the state of these moms.  At one point he told Liana that she, and others like her, were today’s heroes.   Her bitter response was “I don’t know if we’re heroes… or if you’ve turned us into this.”  He seemed – was it real? or just an act? – to be deeply affected by the exercise.  He seemed overwhelmed by the supermarket itself, as if shopping while mentally keeping a budget was too much for him.

PASOK was represented by Katerina Batseli, former Minister of Agriculture, a frowning woman who made it clear from the first moment that this would be very easy for her, because she does the shopping for her family and this is all a load of propaganda anyway.  She was the only one who ignored the directions to buy the things on the list, and just bought the stuff that she wanted to buy.  The moms were not impressed – they estimated that her shopping would feed their families for three days, when the assignment was for seven days.  She seemed shocked when the moms said that they needed to be completely vegetarian; she seemed to think that a chicken, at the very least, was necessary.  She came off as having absolutely no clue, and was immensely unlikeable.  She was a very bad choice; even Georgiadis, who is practically a caricature of himself, was much more likeable.

The Ecologist Greens were represented by Ioanna Kontouli, who appears to be the only member of that party who ever appears in public, and who mentioned several times that her own monthly salary is €1300, but that any day that could be reduced to the amount that Anna and Liana live on.  She ended up in tears, group-hugging the moms and promising to exchange phone numbers so that they could set up a currency-free barter system to feed the moms and kids of Greece.  The look on Anna’s face seemed to say “how do I tell her that we don’t have a telephone number to give her?”

The Independent Greeks party were represented by the actor Pavlos Kontogiannidis, the only one who seemed to find humor in the situation of nice people whose children were obviously going hungry.  Anna had mentioned during the intro that she can’t shop with her children, because she doesn’t want them to see all the food they can’t have, and she can’t get them the things they want, like chocolate, because that means she can’t afford pasta, and chocolate won’t keep them full.  So Kontogiannidis bought some chocolate bars for her kids, saying that he would pay for them out of his own pocket.  Anna had the grace not to say anything, but I wanted to reach through the television screen and choke him.

After the shopping trip, where they all made it through spending €50 plus or minus €10, they all convened for a typical political discussion panel back at the studio with, surprise, Anna the mom in attendance.

The journalist leading the panel asked the politicians why, when salaries have been reduced sometimes to a quarter or a fifth of what they were before, when we haven’t had an increase in sales tax in the past year, prices on food and household goods – supermarket stuff – have gone up, not down.  Only Ms. Batseli tried to answer – she tried to give an economic explanation, blaming increases in the price of fuel, various taxes, including business and sales tax, and other “factors.”  When she was called out on the issue of cartels, which have a long history of price fixing in Greece, she – as former minister of agriculture and therefore the person in charge of breaking up the cartels – didn’t have anything to say.

While the politicians bickered, Anna the mom came across as the most balanced individual in the room – she was dignified and remarkably articulate, staying on topic while appearing knowledgeable on political and economic issues.  She wasn’t angry, desperate, or even irritated with the politicians – even when talking about the pain involved in paying her income taxes this year.  One almost got the feeling that she was used to listening to a bunch of people arguing with each other – maybe her three children prepared her for the panel.

Ms. Kontouli brought up the idea of barter again on the panel, suggesting that she as an engineer could offer her services in exchange for, say, Anna to clean her house.  Ms. Batseli cut her off to suggest that if that happened, sales tax would have to be extremely high to cover the fact that fewer goods would be taxed, and tax revenue would be extremely low.

Of course, the discussion fell apart into the usual bickering and yelling over each other that characterizes every political panel on Greek television since the beginning of time.  Anna sat quietly on the end and watched, head cocked to the side, while they argued over ideological minutiae, blameshifting, off-topic issues like the rate that Spain was able to borrow money today, and lines like “you dare to point your finger at me?”

Anna, mom of three, had the last word, when asked what she expected for the future:  “I’d like to live like a human being.”

spaghetti con uovo

This is a very quick and frugal recipe that I had never seen before moving to Greece.  The exact recipe here is my invention, but it’s based on an international recipe, that for some reason is not popular in the US, at least not where I’ve lived.  So I thought I’d share it with you.  It fulfills my most important requirements:  cheap, made with ingredients that are easy to get, and reasonably healthy.

I strongly recommend whole wheat spaghettini or spaghetti for this, rather than white pasta.  The whole wheat pasta stands up much better to the egg yolk.

One egg per person.  I usually use small eggs, and those are fine; however we were given some large eggs as a gift so I used those for this recipe.

Boil the spaghetti al dente in lightly salted water.  While the pasta is boiling, spray a nonstick pan with olive oil and, on medium heat, cook the egg.  Season the egg with salt and pepper before the white sets.

To “fry” an egg without oil and without flipping it over, when the white is cooked on the bottom but still raw on top, cover the pan for a minute until the white on top sets also, but the yolk is still runny.

Drain the pasta.  Stir in a tablespoon of garlic olive oil (I make garlic olive oil with hot Thai peppers and a few other whole spices – this works perfectly here) and a tablespoon of shredded hard cheese (parmesan, myzithra, romano, etc.).

Simply place the egg on top of the pasta.  Sprinkle with fresh rosemary if available.

Spaghetti con uovo
serves 2

220g whole wheat spaghettini or spaghetti
2 chicken eggs, any size
2 tbsp garlic olive oil
2 tbsp shredded myzithra or parmesan
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil spray or nonstick spray

1. Boil pasta al dente in salted water. Drain.

2. “Fry” eggs in nonstick pan lightly sprayed with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Toss pasta with olive oil and cheese. Divide into two plates. Top each plate with an egg, and sprinkle with rosemary.

Nutritional Information
per serving (i.e., 1/2 of recipe), assuming large eggs

566 calories
23g fat (4g saturated, 19 unsaturated)
69g carbohydrate
22g protein
12g dietary fiber
216mg cholesterol (72% DV)
156mg sodium (7% DV)
68mg potassium (2% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
calcium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-12

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Creamy lemon pasta
Lentils & rice
Greek lentil soup

wild greens & weeds

S couldn’t believe it when I told him that we don’t eat wild greens all that often in the US.  “But they’re so healthy – and free!”  True, but… well, I don’t know why we don’t.  In Greece, they’re practically a staple in the countryside when they’re in season.  And with the range of edible greens that grows here, there’s always something in season, year round.  You do have to know how to identify them – you can end up with a stomachache or worse if you eat the wrong ones.  So for those who don’t know, or who live in the city, it’s best to start by buying them at the farmers’ market, where they are very inexpensive.

There were a few questions on the poppy leaves that I served with the fish and skordalia, so I thought I would show you what wild greens are in season now and how we prepare them.    Some of these will be very familiar to you, some others might not be.

Right now, the four kinds that are in season here are endives (antidia / αντίδια in Greek), poppy leaves (paparounes / παπαρούνες), sow thistle (zohos / ζοχός), and wild radicchio (radikia / ραδίκια).

Above:  endive.

Above:  poppy leaves.  In traditional Greek folk medicine, these are used as a cough suppressant and a anxiolytic.

Above:  sow thistle.  These were traditionally used as a galactogogue (to encourage milk production in nursing mothers), as a general antidote for poisons, and for liver problems.

Above:  wild radicchio / chicory.  These are traditionally used in spleen, liver, and gall bladder problems, and against diabetes.

All together!

You need quite a lot to get a portion.  For two people, I needed this much:

and that’s only for a side dish!  If someone wanted to eat wild greens as a main course, it would be much more than this.  But they are best as a side dish, due to their slight bitterness – especially if you’ve never had them before.  That’s not to say that I haven’t sometimes made them as a main dish with some crusty bread!

Bring some salted water to a boil.

Plonk them all in together in the water once it’s boiled.  Press them down into the water with a wooden spoon and let them cook for a few minutes.  After a few minutes, turn them so that the ones on top go to the bottom.

When they’re done, remove them with tongs (don’t pour into a colander to strain – you’ll end up with dirt on your food).  If you are concerned about the color, you can put them into cold water to help keep them green; they will brown slightly if you don’t.

The American instinct is to let them cook for 12 seconds and then dunk them in water full of ice cubes.  However, the Greek way is to cook them for quite a while (around ten minutes).  You don’t get all 9,000,000 vitamins but they are a lot easier on the digestive tract.

If you want the rest of the vitamins, you can drink the cooking water after it cools.  It’s supposed to treat all kinds of things.  It’s bitter, like all real medicine.  Strain it through a coffee filter first so you’re not drinking dirt.

Because I like to buy lemons at the height of the lemon season and freeze the juice, I use lemon ice cubes for this.  But you would normally just squeeze some lemon juice over the greens.  I put my lemon ice cubes in first so that the hot greens on top melt them quickly.

The lemon juice helps neutralize the bitterness in the greens.

Drizzle a little olive oil, salt, mix it all up, and serve!

I served them alongside a simple summery pasta with zucchini, purple scallions, tomatoes, parsley, and anthotyro.

You probably don’t really need a recipe, but here you go anyway:

Horta | Boiled wild greens endemic to Greece
serves 2 as a side dish

3 bunches endive
3 bunches wild radicchio
6 bunches poppy leaves
4 bunches sow thistle
(total greens: 1.5 colander full)
1 lemon’s juice
1 tbsp olive oil

1.  Bring salted water to a boil.  Chop off the root ends of the  greens.

2.  Put the greens together in the boiling water.  Press to submerge.  Swirl around every few minutes.  Boil for about 10 minutes.  Lift greens out of water, allowing excess water to drip off, and put in serving dish.  (Pass through cold water to maintain color if desired.)

3.  Salt; drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.

4.  Optional:  strain the cooking water through a coffee filter and drink for additional benefits.

I’m not including nutritional information because I couldn’t find it for all these wild greens.  However, rest assured that they’re basically calorie-free (although olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon), and full of vitamins and other good stuff!

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Baked spanakoryzo
Greek okra

potato & herb bake

When the Potato Movement spread to our town, I was thrilled to pick up 10 kgs (22 lbs) of small potatoes for €3.00.  (I love small potatoes – and they are cheaper than regular potatoes in Greece, probably because they are less popular.  The most common way to prepare potatoes in Greece is to peel them and then fry them, which is hard to do with small or new potatoes.  I never peel or fry them, so they are perfect for me!)  As it turns out, 10 kilos is a lot of kilos.  I came up with this recipe in an attempt to get rid of some of the potatoes, and we loved it.  And it’s as simple as can be.

I used a combination of dried and fresh herbs.  It’s still early in the season and the herbs on my balcony are pretty small, and I didn’t want to over-pick them.  You can use all dried, all fresh, or a combination like I did.  The fresh herbs I used are rosemary, oregano, thyme, and lemon thyme.

The dried herbs are oregano, rosemary, and thyme; there’s also flake salt.

Wash the potatoes.  Use a combination of white potatoes and orange sweetpotatoes.  I used one medium sweetpotato with a kilo of white potatoes, and that worked just fine; do try to include at least one sweetpotato.  It adds sweetness, and of course color and vitamins.

Put them in a pressure cooker and cover just barely with water.  Cook under pressure.  As soon as the pot reaches pressure, turn off the heat and let the pressure reduce naturally.  When the pot allows you to open it, drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water.  Slice them into rounds (because I used new potatoes, I sliced them on the long side; if you use regular potatoes, you can just slice them into regular rounds).

While the potatoes are cooking, slice the onions sideways.

Add two tablespoons of the garlic olive oil to the potatoes, and mix with a wooden spoon.  Add in all the dried herbs and salt, and half the fresh herbs.  If you are using all dried herbs, use all of them.  If you’re using all fresh herbs, add in about 3/4 of them.  Add in about half of the sliced onions as well.  Mix everything well and put into an ovensafe dish.

Sprinkle the remaining onions over the top, and drizzle another two tablespoons of garlic olive oil over the dish.  Bake and…

When the onions on top have started to blacken a bit, stir everything up and top with the crumbled cheese.  Bake again and…

Serve with another tablespoon of olive oil per plate.

Potato & herb bake
makes 4 servings (8 if a side dish)

1,000g mix of white potatoes and sweetpotatoes
150g onions, sliced sideways
1/2 cup garlic olive oil, divided
2 tsp dried oregano + 1 tsp fresh oregano or 3 tsp dried oregano or 3 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp dried thyme + 2 tsp fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme or 4 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary + 2 tsp fresh or 2 tsp dried rosemary or 1 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 tsp fresh lemon thyme
1 tsp flake salt
200g anthotyro or other white Greek cheese (like feta or manouri), or dry ricotta

1.  Parboil potatoes and sweetpotatoes, barely covered in water, in a pressure cooker:  allow to come to pressure, then shut off heat and allow to release pressure naturally.  Drain and slice into rounds.

2.  Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F.  In a large bowl, combine sliced potatoes with 2 tbsp oil, all dried herbs, and half fresh herbs (3/4 fresh herbs if using all fresh herbs), salt, and half the onions.  Stir together.  Place in an ovensafe dish.

3.  Sprinkle the remaining onions on top.  Drizzle 2 tbsp oil over the dish.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

4.  Stir everything together.  Top with the cheese, crumbled.  Bake, uncovered, another 10 minutes.

5.  Serve; top with another 1 tbsp oil per plate if desired.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/4 of total recipe

534 calories
33g fat (7g saturated, 26g unsaturated)
51g carbohydrate
10g protein
8g dietary fiber
21mg cholesterol (7% DV)
364mg sodium (15% DV)
1,036mg potassium (30% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV)  of the following:
vitamin A (258%), calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, food folate, manganese, and copper.

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Smashed Horseradish Potatoes with Caramelized Onions
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