After a winter hiatus since northern European Edinburgh piece, 10 Do's and Don'ts return by traveling south to Athens as in Athens, Greece not Georgia. We owe this guided tour of Athens to Alexandra Stratou.
Alexandra is the author of Cooking with Loula, Greek Recipes from my Family to Yours (Artisan Books/ May 3, 2016). She self-published the original edition of Cooking with Loula, called Cooking to Share after a Kickstarter campaign in 2013).
Do’s and Don’ts Athens By Alexandra Stratou
Take one of the thematic city tours with Big Olive to learn more about Greek art, architecture, literature, history, cuisine and contemporary culture on foot.
Go to the Varvakios market to scope out their fresh fish, meat, and vegetables, and then have lunch at Diporto, one of the most epic restaurants in town. Just look for the unmarked restaurant with two doors and a fixed menu of tomato salad, chickpeas, and fish.
Go to the temple of Poseidon in Sounio around sunset; life will pause for you to marvel in the beauty.
Buy a souvlaki from Kostas, eat a koulouri (round sesame bread with a hole in it) in the street, and order the lamb chops at Elias in Thissio.
Visit the Acropolis Museum and the Cycladic Museum to get your dose of the ultimate ancient Greek cultural achievements. For some early 20th century Greek art, visit the Ghika’s exhibition at Benaki Museum and explore the contemporary art scene at the Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery.
Watch a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus – the seats are decidedly uncomfortable, but how many times in your life will you watch a performance in such an ancient and beautiful place?
Sit at a coffee shop for hours watching passers by. Simply enjoy it.
Say “hi” to Stamatis at Ellinika Kaloudia and take a piece of Greece home with you, in the form of honey, nuts, cheese, wine, or olive oil.
Don’t come to Athens for a day, come for four and really get to know it!
Don’t take a cab from the airport. Go to syntagma with the train or X95 and then take a cab from there to get you where you are going. If you do take a cab make sure the driver turns the meter on and pay exactly what is written on the meter.
Don’t worry, you are not alone: everybody speaks English and is willing to help you.
Don’t feel obliged to buy flowers from gypsies or give money to beggars.
Don’t be deceived by the chaotic façade of Athens, explore the small streets of the city and don’t be afraid to get lost.
Don’t shy away from drinking the local tsipouro you may be offered free before a meal. It is super strong; sip it, don’t down it!
Don’t think that because you are in Athens you are confined to the city. Go on a day trip to Hydra, take a two-hour bus ride to Sounio along the coast, visit a vineyard thirty minutes away (Papagiannakos), climb a mountain.
Don’t be lured into the tourist traps; treat Athens as you would your own city. Don’t take the easy choice in terms of restaurants because you will likely end up eating the worst version of Greek food and that would make me sad.
Don’t venture to the neighbourhood of Monastiraki. Take a long walk around Plaka, instead!
This is only a taste of Athens—there is so much more for you to discover!
Thanks Alexandra for sharing your 10 Do's and Don'ts as Athens celebrates Greek Orthodox Easter...
(* Illustrations, top to bottom, Staicase from Big Olive Walks Facebook page, Kostas Souvlaki from Why Athens, Logo of Benaki Museum from their Facebook page, outdoor movie theater Cine Thissio from their site, Papagiannakos vineyard from their site, Kiki de Grece wine bar from their Facebook page)
Fishing for New Ideas, Pacific Saury with Tomato Sauce Recipe from Donabe, Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking (Ten Speed Press, October 2015)by Kyle Connoughton and Naoko Moore.
Pacific Saury with Tomato Sauce and Oven-Dried and Fresh Tomatoes
Serves 4 as part of a multi-course meal
The tomato sauce is the heart of this dish. It was inspired by work we did at The Fat Duck from a study Fat Duck chef and owner Heston Blumenthal had conducted with Reading University and Umami Information Center. This study compared the levels of glutamates (the proteins responsible for umami taste) in the outer flesh of the tomato against that of the center. It was discovered that the center of a tomato is much higher in these glutamates, and concentrating the tomato centers increases the umami taste even further. So for this recipe I cook the tomato centers down to create umami-rich sauce on a par with that of sauce based on those high-umami Japanese ingredients, miso, dashi, or soy sauce. The body shape and clay of a soup and stew donabe like the Miso-Shiru Nabe are perfect to concentrate these flavors and brown the sugars in the tomato along the edges to develop a deep, rich flavor. With this in mind, try cooking other tomato sauces for pasta dishes such as Bolognese and see the difference a donabe can make! The leftover flesh of the tomato in my recipe is oven-dried as another way to concentrate the glutamates.
I made this recipe in Iga in the kitchen of the Nagatani family using sanma (Pacific saury), but it will also work well with sardines or fresh mackerel. – Kyle
Equipment: 1 large (1.6-quart/1.6 L) soup and stew donabe
5 pounds (2.25 kg) ripe, red heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 to 8 ounces (180 to 240 g) komatsuna (mustard spinach), mustard greens, spinach, or mizuna leaves, separated
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) grapeseed or canola oil
16 to 18 ounces (450 to 500 g) Pacific saury, mackerel, or sardine fillets
4 to 6 ounces (120 to 180 g) small cherry and/or teardrop tomatoes (preferably a mix of colors)
Freshly grated yuzu zest, for garnish
Chrysanthemum petals or flowers from spicy greens, for garnish
To prepare the sauce: Core the tomatoes and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a large ice bath with more ice than water. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 5 seconds and transfer to the ice bath to stop cooking. Once they have cooled, peel the skins from the tomatoes and discard. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the centers into the donabe. Divide the tomato halves into 2 pieces each and cut away the interior of the tomato from the outer flesh using a paring knife. Place the interior of the tomato in the donabe. Reserve the exterior of the tomatoes, that will now resemble petals. Place the donabe over medium heat and bring the tomato centers to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring regularly and scraping down the sides.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and lay the tomato petals, insides up, in a single layer on the sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt and lay one slice of garlic on each petal. Drizzle with the olive oil and place in the oven. Turn the tray every 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are dry but still jammy (tomatoes should bake for a total of about 45 minutes). Set aside to cool.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the greens briefly until just tender, 5 to 10 seconds. Drain in a colander and allow to cool at room temperature. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt.
Once the tomato sauce has cooked down to a sauce consistency and is beginning to concentrate, prepare the fish. In a sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Place the fish skin-side down in the pan and sprinkle with salt. Cook on the skin side only until crisped and just cooked through, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Taste the sauce and season with salt if needed; gently fold in the cherry tomatoes, dried tomatoes, and greens (reserving some of each to place on top). Cut the fish into strips about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long. Combine with the sauce and garnish the top with greens, dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, yuzu zest, and chrysanthemum petals.
Fishing for ideas with Tokyo Thursdays # 309, first of 2016
(*Reprinted with permission from Donabe, by Kyle Connoughton and Naoko Moore, copyright 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography copyright 2015 by Eric Wolfinger)
This chocolate pie with an ultra-thin crust is a French specialty that first became popular during the 1980s. The crust is a classic pâte brisée, and the thinner it is the better. The recipe calls for removing the lightly cooked crust from the pan before filling, but this is a very delicate operation and the pie will be just as delicious served from the pan.
For 6 servings
For the pâte brisée:
1 cup (200g) all purpose-flour
½ cup (100g) sweet butter, softened
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons cold water
For the chocolate filling:
9 oz. (250g) bittersweet chocolate
⅔ cup (150g) light cream
½ vanilla bean
2 egg yolks
2 ½ tablespoons (30g) sweet butter, softened
To make the pâte brisée:
Sift the flour and the salt into a mixing bowl, making a well in the center. Place the cold water, the egg yolks, and the butter in small pieces, into the well and knead gently until the dough becomes workable. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, using the palm of the hand, push the dough away from you to blend the ingredients thoroughly. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in a damp cloth or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Heat the oven to 390⁰F (200⁰C).
Unwrap the chilled dough and roll it out to a thickness of ⅛ inch (3mm) on a floured work surface. Place the dough into a buttered pie or tart pan and pat it well into place. Prick the bottom with a fork. Line the pan with foil or wax paper, fill with dry beans to weight it down, and bake until the crust starts to color, about 10 minutes. Remove the lining and the beans and bake for about 5 minutes more, or until the crust turns a light golden brown; the crust should be lightly cooked. Remove from the oven and let cool. Carefully remove the crust, which will be very fragile, from the pan and place it on a rack.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a large, heat-resistant mixing bowl.
Heat the cream with the vanilla bean, to split lengthwise. When the cream begins to boil, remove the vanilla bean and pour the cream over the chocolate. Stir well, until the chocolate melts and the mixture is well blended and smooth. Add the egg yolks and the softened butter and mix well.
Pour the still-warm filling into the lightly cooked pie crust and cool completely before serving.
More than a cookbook, 'The Book of Chocolate' covers everything from Cacao Plantations to History of Chocolate and Great Names of Chocolate and concludes with The Taste of Chocolate chapter where this recipe can be found.
Any chocolate lover will want The Book of Chocolate on their coffee table...and it retails around $18...
(* Reproduced with permission from The Book of Chocolate' Flammarion, 2004...Revised and updated edition - October 2015...Originally published in France as 'Le Livre du Chocolat' in 1995)