Tag Archives: heirloom produce

Thessaloniki through eyes and mouth

Food tours are visceral experiences. They start with your eyes and end in your mouth. Historic buildings and museums can’t offer that multi-sensory fusion with such an important facet of culture.

Ladadika market district

Read more in my August 2019 travel column for the Hellenic News of America…

Naturally Thessaloniki is a foodie city

 

trigono at Trigona Elenidi

 

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A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Dionysos Orma Restaurant, Loxandra Restaurant, The View Cafe Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna) and the Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati: four restaurants in the Edessa/Pella Region that serve classic Greek cuisine … or is it just Greek?

Silk Road

The name itself, the Silk Road, conjures romantic images of camel laden caravans, vast desserts and colorful markets where merchants speaking dozens of languages hawked the wealth of the world. That was fairly close to the truth.

“We think of globalization as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet 2,000 years ago too, it was a fact of life…” ― Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Although camels are not commonly used, the business connections made over 2,000 years ago remain. The Silk Road was a commercial system of trade routes from the Orient to the Eastern Mediterranean, not one trek. Dozens of ancillary routes spun off a major artery into the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Europe.

Folklife Museum, Giannitsa shows the Balkan/Near East influences of the Silk Road

 

“Location, location, location…”

Goods from lumber to saffron streamed through Thrace and Macedonia in mutual trade with Asia for both internal consumption and distribution to other markets. The region’s borders were a natural gateway for the Balkans. The Agora (marketplace) of Pella in Central Macedonia built by Alexander the Great (c.300s B.C.E.) was the largest in the ancient world. The port city of Thessaloniki was founded in this era to take advantage of Silk Road trade.

When the Romans built the Via Egnatia  after they expanded their empire (c. 100s B.C.E.) it linked the Adriatic Sea with Thessaloniki and continued to what is today Istanbul. The modern highway (A2) that covers the same route nearly parallels the Roman road. The Silk Road has simply morphed in form.

roast eggplant in olive oil (origin of eggplant is India)

It would be unrealistic to imagine that millenniums old contacts among diverse cultures and geographies could not have major impacts on food. Reality has been that Alexander himself brought Pella Region cherries from Asia. Zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes have nothing to do with the Silk Road but are New World vegetables not available in Europe until the 16th century.

It’s common for the menus to proudly print that all products used in restaurants are sourced local. More than two millenniums later the principal occupations of Central Macedonia are still in agriculture – peaches, cherries, cotton, tobacco, wine, grains and animal products. Four restaurants in less than 36 hours provided more than enough to sample the Silk Road ingredients of Central Macedonian regional cuisine.

Dionysos Orma, Edessa

Dionysos Orma, Edessa, Mr. Tassos Avramidis (photo descriptions from top left)

 

Batzo: sheep or goat milk cheese served with spicy tomato marmalade from central and western Macedonia.

Giant beans slow pan cooked with tomato and herbs. Many variations on this dish throughout the Silk Road world.

Fried Zucchini with tzatziki sauce. The zucchini, like all squash, originates in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called “zucchini” were developed in northern Italy in the second half of the 19th century generations after the introduction of cucurbits from the Americas in the early 16th century.

sun dried grape leaves

Vine leaves over veal with lemon, feta cheese and dill. Sun dried vine leaves have an intense flavor and when hydrated are free of the salty brine of bottled leaves.

 

Tsobleki: In its simplest form, this is a dish of usually red meat in tomato sauce slow cooked in its clay pot, a “tsobleki.”  Dionysos Orma’s is a traditional Edessa recipe using veal and adding potatoes, courgettes, eggplant, red roasted peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce and feta cheese.

Kavourma: a casserole with traditional salami made of beef, ham and pork, potatoes, peppers and herbs served warm. Kavourma has many variations as a fried or sautéed meat dish in Silk Road cuisines.

Pumpkin spoon sweet (in a spiral) stays crunchy because it’s under ripe before cooking.

Kormos: A popular and simple comfort food dessert – layers of biscuits and chocolate garnished with coconut.

Retsina & aged tsipuro

to drink…

A premium Retsina (yes there are premium vintages of this ancient wine!) Resin, especially from Apleppo, has been used since ancient days to seal oxygen out of porous clay amphorae to extend the wine’s life. Wines from Thrace and Macedonia were distributed through the Silk Road,

By the 3rd century, barrel making was common throughout the Roman Empire. The exception was the eastern regions, which became the Byzantine Empire, where resin was used to seal the barrels or directly flavor the white wine. A new generation of Greeks are now discovering a new generation of retsina.

Tsipouro has been the poster child of thriftiness for centuries.  This simple distillation of the must – left overs after grapes have been pressed for wine – has been popular with Greek monks and moonshiners ever since. Now it has entered the premium spirits realm – aged tsipouros are available. The brandy-like aromas vary depending on type of barrel used and previous use of the barrel.   The Katsaros Family tsipouro has been in smoky scotch whisky oak barrels for five years.

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa. Mrs. Soso, owner, sitting in the greenhouse-like dining room.

Moussaka is an eggplant or potato-based dish common throughout the Middle East, the Hellenic world and the Balkans with many regional variations. The Greek version includes layers of meat and eggplant topped with a béchamel sauce – Loxandra’s had a particularly thick, creamy béchamel topping. The eggplant is a child of the Silk Road first cultivated in northern India.

Tzatziki Sauce (basically yogurt, garlic and dill) is embedded in regional Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Fried cheese and raspberry jam. A significant variety of semi hard to hard cheeses throughout the region have been used to prepare this popular meze. Sirene is a regional brine cheese frequently fried.

Salad with pomegranate seeds: The pomegranate originated in Persia and northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region. It’s probably as important in Greek mythology as it is tasty in its many culinary uses.

Eggplant cooked with tomatoes and herb. Of course, the tomato, so commonly used in Greek cuisine, is classic New World and did not enter Greek cooking until the 17th century but that does not stop this from being a beloved preparation.

Zucchini stuffed with meat topped with delicate avaglomono sauce. Variations on this lemon egg sauce have been around forever.

Dolma with rice. Dolma is a family of stuffed dishes (grape leaves or cabbage) common in Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Roast sheep with lettuce. The Silk Road encouraged “head to tail” consumption.

Wine: Lunch was accompanied by a fruity but dry Pella region red by Ligas Winery, similar to a Beaujolais.

 

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri . (central photo: restaurant view of Edessa )

Shopksa salads are common to a southern Balkan/Northern Greek table. The mild sheep milk cheese, most likely grated sirene, was perked up by a napping of balsamic vinegar. Of course, every dish with tomatoes is post 16th century since it is an American fruit.

The local freshwater trout is as Greek as they get. The Edessa/Pella region has an abundant supply of fresh water streams from the surrounding mountains. Simple, with slabs of grilled potatoes.

Delectable dishes of roasted eggplant with olive oil and fried cheese are popular small plates.

Roasted local mushrooms from the Black Forest. Greece’s forests, especially in the north, have 150 edible mushroom varieties.

Aegean Sea fried fresh anchovies. Despite the lush mountains and valleys of Central Macedonia the abundance of the Aegean is never far away. These are like savoring french fries.

Grilled Potatoes. The potato was brought to Europe from South America in the 16th century and has never lost its popularity.

Savory beef in tomato sauce – slow cooking…relaxed dining.

 

Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati, Edessa

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

The Hotel Hagiati in the historic medieval Verosi district has an intimate courtyard cafe open to the public well into the evening.Breakfast, complimentary for guests, is available as well.  Both the interior lobby and the courtyard comprise the cafe.

Besides local breads, jams from local fruits and classic phyllo pies there are regional specialties. The Hagiati’s Trahana Soup is ancient (open link for a recipe) a product of the Silk Road and still common throughout the region.

Agrozimi Traditional Food Products

Kostas Martavaltzis

Centuries after its creation as a convenience food to take on Silk Road caravans and keep at home as a staple, Trahana is still being made. The origins of this sourdough or regular breadcrumb-like food is part of the Silk Road’s history.

Kostas Martavaltzoglou is GM and  3rd generation of family owned Agrozimi, makers of traditional Greek grain products since 1969. Trahana is one of their products.

 

Culinary history is human history and too rich to quibble over  words as “authentic.”   All recipes are regional – even to a village or a family. For Central Macedonia and the Edessa/Pella Region it was all about location on the fabled Silk Road.

Looking down on Klisokhóri & the Loggos Valley from the View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna)

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

What to do in the Edessa/Pella Region? At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella 

Where to stay: Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

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The Hellenic News of America
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Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Absorb the architectural soul of Macedonia at the Hotel Hagiati.

Hotel Hagiati, Edessa, Greece
Hotel Hagiati room

Occupying a historic stone merchant’s house a short stroll from Waterfalls Park, the Hotel Hagiati’s interior is a blend of Balkan and Near East textiles and decorations. It’s not an artificial blend. This traditional Macedonian style is due to being at the crossroads of the world.

Cozy rooms feature wood-paneled ceilings and natural stonewalls, plus minibars, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Room service is available and the enclosed garden courtyard of the former stables is a cafe until late in the evening.

Hotel Hagiati lobby

Driving the smooth, flat roads of the Loggos Valley past the ancient cities of Pella and Giannitsa, through lush farmland it was easy to see why this became the heart of an empire. Ahead, visible for miles, was the Rock of Edessa. Looming 1,000 feet above the plains, the current city of Edessa was perched like an eagle’s nest.

The city proper wasn’t always on top of the rock. The top held the acropolis. According to legend a descendent of Hercules, Karanos, founder of the Argead Dynasty, (Alexander the Great’s family) built Edessa as Macedonia’s first capital. Two thousand years later (it’s only “time”) the waterfall was named after him – the tallest in Greece.

The city was at the base on the valley floor close to the agricultural commerce of this affluent region. If a mantra of business has been “location, location, location,” Edessa was blessed. It was a western distribution center for the fabled Silk Route linking Asia and the Mediterranean World since at least the 5th century B.C.E.

looking towards the HOLY METROPOLIS EDESSIS PELLIS AND ALMOPIAS

Both earthquakes and wars during the long history of Edessa meant that few buildings remain intact prior to the 14th century. The Varosi district, where the Hotel Hagiati is located, is the most historic area keeping its character and medieval Macedonian ambiance.

Verosi was created on the site of the city’s ancient citadel after the fall of Edessa to the Ottoman Empire in 1389. This was followed by the catastrophic topography altering 1395 earthquake – it created the waterfalls – which by the mid-19th century had turned the neighborhood into a major water powered industrial center. Significant World War II damage and the demise of the mills led to the Municipality of Edessa in the 1990s to focus on a concerted effort to preserve Verosi.

restoration work in Verosi , Edessa

Meticulous but expensive restoration continues. Restoration must preserve and repair the exterior using identical materials and methods (The Hotel Verosi, the Hagiati’s compatriot around the corner, has a Plexiglas floored lobby covering ancient city walls).

The Hotel Hagiati is a product of this effort, and its location could not be more central to both Waterfalls Park and a historic walk through Verosi.

Virtually next to the Hotel Hagiati is the centerpiece of Edessa, Waterfalls Park and the Open Air Water Museum. Started in the 1940s as the multilevel entrance to the tallest waterfall in Greece, Karonos Falls, the Municipality completed the restoration of surviving mills into museums in early 2000. The museums highlight the industrial and agricultural history of the region as well as the significance of water and the ecosystem.

14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis

In the opposite direction from the Hotel Hagiati a stroll will bring you past the14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis – its historic frescoes are undergoing restoration. The many canals and streams snaking through big old trees set a dreamy scene. Lined with small cafes, the water softens even the modern city.

The world’s oldest convenience food?
Edessa/Pella Region peaches

Breakfast is complimentary at the Hagiati and among a menu of choices are local jams – especially the region’s famous cherry – and their fresh peaches to ancient dishes such as Trahana Soup. In its most basic form Trahana Soup is the traditional farmer’s breakfast porridge. Yet not just in Greece.

Some culinary historians consider trahana to be the world’s oldest convenience food. Trahana is made with semolina, wheat flour, bulgur or cracked wheat. Milk, buttermilk, or yogurt is mixed in to form a thick dough.

Trahana comes in two types: sweet and sour. Sweet is made with whole milk, typically goat’s milk, and sour trahana is made with yogurt or buttermilk.

traditional spinach pie at Hotel Hagiati

Regional variations can have additions such as vegetables, sesame seeds or red peppers. The mix is then broken into chunks, dried, and then broken up again into pea size pieces. It sounds simple but the process if done by hand is lengthy so it was made in large quantities, carried in pouches on caravans and was a staple in households.

Whatever its origins, trahana in various forms is still found, commercially produced, almost everywhere from the Balkans to the Middle East. (In the Edessa/Pella Region it is made and distributed by Agrozimi, makers of Greek traditional products since 1969). It’s a nearly instant thickening agent ­– like Ramen noodles – added to soups, stews or as a food topping. Another proof that Eastern Mediterranean/Mid Eastern cuisine knows no boundaries.

Hotel Hagiati’s breakfast Trahana Soup was chicken based with cubes of feta cheese. In “The Joyful Cook’s Guide to Heavenly Greek Cuisine,” Greek-American cookbook author Georget Photos has an upscale recipe.

Spicy Chicken Trahana Soup

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 fresh chicken, quartered
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup spicy trahana (not spicy can be substituted)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup red (or white) wine
  • water
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Melt the butter in a deep skillet.
  2. Saute bay leaf, pepper, parsley, cinnamon stick, onion and tomatoes for 1 minute
  3. Add the trahana and continue to saute 1 to 2 minutes more.
  4. Arrange the chicken quarters on top of the sauteed mixture.
  5. Add the wine and ½ cup water.
  6. Cover and simmer on med low heat for 1 hour. Check halfway and add more water if necessary.

After a hearty breakfast, it is an easy stroll to take in the city and use as a base to explore the legendary history of the Edessa/Pella Region. The Hotel Hagiati offers the ambiance to experience Edessa’s present within its past.

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

More to do in the Edessa/Pella Region: At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella  

Where to eat: A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

late 19th century water mill at Waterfalls Park, Edessa

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Being a foodie on Naxos Island, Greece

Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a large aquifer under the island in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zeus at 1,004 meters (3,294 feet) tends to trap the clouds increasing rainfall. Agriculture is an important economic sector making Naxos the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades.

Naxos Sweet Home candy

This abundance is obvious in Naxos restaurants, artisan food shops and food markets. Besides produce Naxos is famous throughout Greece for its cheese, meats, fish and seafood. Simply walking along the wide, beautiful, long, crescent, pedestrian friendly waterfront of Chora (Naxos Town) is a gastronomic delight. Some of the best cafes and tavernas in Naxos are sandwiched between shops offering Naxos crafts and food products – it’s the center of nighttime social life in town.

Chora waterfront, Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

Read more on the Hellenic News of America …

The harvest of Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

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Lipsi Island: tranquility in the Dodecanese

From artisan cheeses and wood oven baked breads, handmade ecclesiastical beeswax candles, weaving on a century old loom, bathing at another secluded beach to leisurely sipping tsipouro while enjoying meze on the waterfront, Lispi is for seekers of tradition and tranquility.

Kairis Traditional Wood Oven Bakery

Lipsi is an island lover’s dream and a journey back to tradition.

please read my July article for the Hellenic News of America

Defining tradition on Lipsi Island, Greece   

 

Vendita cheese

 

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Where Greek Gods vacationed

Delos was firmly established as a spiritual center by at least 2,000 BC.  Apollo was born on Delos, but the island did not need Apollo’s stardom even in antiquity. At its zenith in the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Delos was the wealthiest city in the Hellenic world.

Apollo
Portara, main entrance to Sanctuary of Delian Apollo, c 500s BC, Naxos Town

Known for its agricultural abundance, Dionysus, god of wine, theater and love, is the protector of Naxos Island and the Small Cyclades. The island provides much to make the god’s stay comfortable.

Chora
approaching Little Venice c.13th century, Chora, Mykonos

It was on Mykonos that the young Zeus defeated the Titans, emerging as King of the gods…than the Golden Butler arrived…

read more in the Hellenic News of America

Naxos, Mykonos, Delos: divine vacations in the Cyclades

 

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French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

A few miles outside Carcassonne a convivial international group of culinary enthusiasts introduced themselves over coffee and pastries. Sitting in the poolside garden of Domaine St. Raymond they could already feel both the relaxation and excitement, which is the hallmark of French House Party residential workshops. Of course a shockingly blue sky and the yellow sunflower fields of the Languedoc provide a perfect foil for creativity.

French countryside in the Languedoc
Carcassonne

Domaine St. Raymond sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. A 14th century church, within view in the village of Pexiora, overlooks this agrarian scene. The nearby medieval UNESCO World Heritage city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc.

Yet the creative process is nebulous. It has always been a balance of inspiration and technical skill. For discovering this balance British born Moira, Ph.D., author, and devotee of French cuisine, created the French House Party at her villa, Domaine St. Raymond.

Domaine St. Raymond

The early 19th century stone farmhouse ­­– restored into a spacious villa with eight individually decorated en-suite bedrooms – becomes a salon for like minded guests who delve into residential workshops focused on creative writing, songwriting with Dean Friedman, the arts and gastronomy with acclaimed French chefs. The French House Party workshops are serious endeavors but without pressure to perform. Although the pool is inviting, it’s that lack of pressure that energizes participation.

Chef Robert Abraham

The ambitious  Gourmet Explorer cookery courses brought together Michelin star French chefs Robert Abraham and Jean-Marc Boyer. From making foam from rocket to preparing young pigeon, the group was immersed in hands-on learning of both classic French and cutting edge culinary techniques. Dishes prepared during the culinary workshops become lunch and dinner.

Successive articles will illustrate some of the imaginative recipes these two chefs taught the group. On this first evening Moira and Chef Robert Abraham created a true dinner party by having prepared most of the dishes in advance. The group had an enjoyable experience making some canapés before sitting down to a superb French meal with wines from Domaine Le Fort.

fava beans & cheese puffs

Canapés

  • Parmesan marshmallows
  • Cookies with black olives and shrimp
  • Cheese straws
  • Tartar of smoked salmon and avocado
  • Large raw fava beans shelled, cut in half and sprinkled with sea salt
Mussel Curry Soup

Dinner:

  • Mussel curry soup
  • Sea Bass with mango
  • Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
  • Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
  • Assorted cheeses

The cookies with black olives and shrimp were particularly interesting given both the flavor of the main ingredients in the texture of a cookie.

Cookies with black olives and shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 ounces cooked, chopped shrimp
  • 3 Tablespoons grated gruyere
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 6 chopped black olives
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 ounces butter, cut in small pieces
  • 1/3rd teaspoon yeast
  • pinch of chili powder

Preparation:

  1. Mix the flour, gruyere and yeast in a bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
  3. Drop by heaping teasoon size cookies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Rest for 15 minutes.
  4. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15 minutes.
Dinner (clockwise) Sea Bass with mango
Lamb with lamb reduction sauce and potatoes au gratin
Brioche French toast with stewed cherries
Assorted cheeses

Dean Friedman’s four-day summer singer/songwriter workshop at the French House Party provides a stimulating opportunity to discover, or rediscover, internal creative skills. Like all good teachers, Dean wants to draw out these skills from each participant. “I don’t profess to be able to write other people’s songs,” he states simply. Individuality is important.

Creative writing workshops are conducted by British author and “writers’ writer” Sarah Hymas. Poet, performer and coach, Sarah leads workshops for both beginners and writers already working on a project. For many of the creative courses available at the French House Party, groups can arrange workshops outside of the published schedule. Domaine St. Raymond is also a favored destination for international business retreats.

Class begins…

The French House Party’s all-inclusive tariff allows guests to focus energy on creativity. Multicourse lunches and dinners with wine follow a poolside French buffet breakfast of pastries, cheeses, fruits, granola, yogurts and charcuterie.

Workshop time is interspersed with excursions to such local attractions as exploring Carcassonne, the market in Revel, which has operated every Saturday since the 13th century, wine tastings and dining at area Michelin Star restaurants.

Even with the physically more challenging cooking courses held in the spacious, modern, professional kitchen, free-time activities revolve around a swim in the pool, tennis, billiards, table tennis, a book or CD from the library, biking in the French countryside or simply napping. After all, this is a French House Party.

after dinner coffee at Domaine St. Raymond

When you go:

The French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, is less than 50 miles (77 km) southeast from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and the rail station Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. The Gare de Carcassonne is 16 miles (27 km) west. Transportation is provided for guests arriving by air or train from either Toulouse or Carcassonne to Domaine St. Raymond.

Please click the link for the 2018 schedule of the French House Party

Disclaimer: the author has been the guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman, Gourmet Explorer and Gourmet Explorer Advanced.

Pyrenees Mountains from the French House Party

 

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