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'Hottest' Greek foods for the winter

Beat the winter blues with these delicious Greek favourites

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Kleftiko, slow-cooked lamb shank, is the perfect meal for a winter's day.

02 August 2017

A lack of sunshine and cold weather tend to cause our endorphins to drop, making us all feel a little bit depressed. Research has shown that when we are feeling down or isolated we are drawn to what we perceive as comfort food, as a form of lifting our psychology and reconnecting.

Food can have the same mood-altering effect as antidepressants and when the temperature drops, we all crave warm foods. There is, however, a slight danger we will turn towards heavy carbs or less healthy options.

Greek cuisine has us covered though, offering a variety of options that include stews and casseroles and vegetable dishes that will provide enough calories to boost our energy levels, and vitamins and a good range of minerals to keep our winter blues at bay.

KLEFTIKO (Slow-cooked lamb shank)

The goal for this dish is to slow cook the lamb to the point it falls off the bone without having melted. The succulent meat is cooked in the same tray as the fresh vegetables that will offer their aroma and juices, however, they too must retain their texture and original flavour.

Kleftiko gets its name from the bandits and outlaws (kleftes) of the Greek revolution, who hid their meat deep into the ground in order to cover their tracks from the Turks. The day's killing would be covered in leaves and put into the scorching hot ashes of a pit to cook slowly until the next day.

Often the meat would be also packed with fresh vegetables to retain moisture and get more flavour; a simple recipe with genial results. Slow cooking means that the meat you choose needs marbling and must have enough fat to result in a moist and tender meat.

Ingredients:
1 shoulder of lamb
6 garlic cloves cracked open
2 large ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
4 baby potatoes
1 large carrot
1 red capsicum sliced
1 onion sliced
1 lemon (zest and juice)
Extra virgin olive oil at taste
1 tbsp roughly chopped rosemary
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp smoked paprika
Salt and black pepper to taste
Roasting pan (with rack if poss)
a food bag for marinating the meat

Method:
1. Crush the garlic cloves and mix them with the salt and pepper, add the herbs, the lemon zest and some olive oil to create a paste to spread onto the meat. With a knife, cut small holes into the meat and push the paste into the lamb shoulder. Pour the lemon juice into a food bag with the meat and let it marinate in the fridge overnight.
2. The next day, take the meat out of the fridge at least one hour before you start cooking it and season it thoroughly.
3. Turn your oven on to 150°C and prepare the baking pan by laying out a large piece of foil on the bottom and covering it with baking paper. Drizzle with olive oil.
4. Empty the contents of the food bag into the baking pan and throw in the potatoes, carrots, capsicum and bay leaves drizzling with some olive oil again. Sprinkle half the sliced onion, some rosemary and oregano along with the sliced tomato. Add the smoked paprika on top.
5. Bring the corners of the foil together while wrapping the meat with the baking paper, to completely enclose the contents of the pan.
6. If you have a rack, place into the roasting pan and pour some water in the bottom, otherwise just add 1.5 cm of water in the bottom to stop any juices that leak from the package from burning.
7. Place the pan in the oven and allow to roast for four to four-and-a-half hours until very tender (you can check the meat every 30 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid).
8. Remove the pan from the oven, unwrap the parcel and increase the temperature to 220°C. Roast the lamb for another 20 minutes until browned.
9. Remove the lamb from the pan, wrap in foil and rest.
10. Turn the potatoes over and return to the oven for 30 mins, then season with salt.

GIOUVARLAKIA 

Another famous Greek food for the winter is giouvarlakia, a hearty meatball soup with avgolemono, the lemon and egg mixture that gives this dish its distinctive tangy flavour and extra smooth texture.

The giouvarlakia are actually mixed with rice and cooked in a pot, with some of the rice escaping the meatballs and expanding in the soup while it simmers.

Most recipes use beef mince, yet Greeks tend to add pork, veal and sometimes even chicken to the mix for extra flavour, topped with fresh vegetables and herbs. Giouvarlakia is one of the most filling foods, perfect to fight off a cold or make it through these cold winter days.

Ingredients:
750 g of minced beef (or a mix of different meats if you prefer)
1 diced onion
flour for rolling the giouvarlakia
1 bunch chopped parsley
1 tbsp of chopped dill
2 eggs
1/2 cup of long grain rice (rinsed)
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
juice of 1-2 lemons
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Place the meat, onion and herbs in a bowl, add the rice and one egg white with a 1/4 of the lemon juice and season to taste. Knead the mixture until all ingredients are equally distributed.
2. Form the mixture into balls the size of dumplings and roll in a little flour which will allow them to remain firm and not fall apart while cooking.
3. Heat the butter or olive oil into a deep saucepan and add the meatballs quickly turning them and twirling the pot.
4. Once the meatballs thicken a bit and get a light golden colour, pour in enough water to cover them and increase the heat.
5. Once the soup comes to the boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for approximately 45 minutes. Carefully stir and check the meatballs' tenderness.
6. Whisk the two egg yolks and remaining egg white with the rest of the lemon juice.
7. Slowly transfer about two ladles of the soup stock as you continue whisking the avgolemono, to temper it without allowing the eggs to scramble.
8. Pour the lemon-egg sauce ladle by ladle over the meatballs in the pot and allow the stock to thicken.
9. Let it rest and season with parsley and freshly ground pepper.

GREEK FAVA 

Fava for Greeks is not the fava bean aka kouki but a slow-cooked dish of yellow split peas turned into the most delicious purée, served with a generous amount of olive oil.

The topping can vary from fresh red onion, to sun-dried tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, rosemary, capers, or even octopus.
Fava is a traditional winter dish, usually eaten with fresh warm bread or pita, however, it has in recent years become a staple of the Greek tavern and is also served in summer.

The most famous and arguably the best fava comes from Santorini; a reality that stands for the last 3,500 years. The Cycladic island's volcanic soil and dry climate ensures its fava is the smoothest and most flavoursome when boiled.

Ingredients:
500g yellow split peas
3 red onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 litre warm water (3 and 1/3 cups)
juice of 2 lemons & zest
1/3 of a cup olive oil
thyme/rosemary/bay leaves
roasted cherry tomatoes
salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
1. Place the split peas in a bowl, pour the boiling water over and stir with a wooden spoon until the water turns brown.
2. Drain and transfer to a separate bowl. Set aside until needed.
3. In a medium-sized saucepan add two tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar and the bay leaves.
4. Add the split peas, stir and add the stock.
5. Add the rosemary and simmer for 15 minutes until the excess water evaporates, stirring all the time.
6. When ready, remove from heat and discard the rosemary and bay leaves.
7. Transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor.
8. Add the lemon zest, the juice and four tablespoons of olive oil.
9. Beat until the mixture is puréed and smooth.
10. Serve with roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh onions, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with some thyme and freshly ground pepper.

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