Remember the challenges for the food blog awards? We were set a couple of tasks to work on, themes to draw inspiration from, that will roll out from now until the 14th of December, the closure of the competition. For my category, Best Greek Cooking in English, we will be tackling austerity: can you be frugal and eat well? It could not be more apt a subject, especially for Greece where belt-tightening has become second nature. I will be working with humble ingredients to create nutritious dishes, rich in flavour. My mind is running from the cocina povera concept to austerity living and 100% traditional Greek recipes. Thus, my first one is a super traditional, two ingredients soup: chickpeas & onion – revithosoupa. Austerity and wholesomeness served on a plate.
Austerity and Greece go hand in hand for a good five years now and the data are staggering. According to the national statistics agency, Greeks living below the poverty line in 2013 reached 34.6%, that’s around three and a half million people. Two years on, it is very hard to accurately depict the situation but living here for the past year is a bit of an eye-opener. There are soup kitchens and many groups privately organising support for the needy. There are also the individuals, that I cannot help but mention. Teachers that spot their students needs and organise support on their own initiative. (we don’t have school kitchens). People often label neat little parcels as clean food, leaving it close to waste collection for the homeless if they cannot give it in person. Neighbours that are more than willing to share a plate of food and people exchanging services and goods to keep things running in lack of liquidity.
On the plus side, there is a bit more green on the narrow Athenians balconies, people start growing their own veg and herbs, allotment style. A few more embraced public transport and even share a lift to work – if you know an Athenian you probably know they are mad about their cars – we drive to get two blocks around the corner. Even though the Greek blogosphere has not quite embraced austerity blogging as much as abroad, there are a lot more DIY sites and make it yourself recipes for scrumptious jams or actually growing your own food. I guess we are a little too proud to accept that many amongst us live below poverty line – on scarcity of resources – we prefer resourceful.
We also have rich heritage on it. Greece has always been an agricultural economy. There is an amazing initiative of people re-learning their agricultural heritage. Quite a few took up farming again, leaving the capital for smaller cities. My heroes!
Greece, though, is not estranged to scarcity of resources. A country blessed with temperate climate but also rocky slopes – agriculture and farming has been a prime drive even on islands, where things are slightly wind swept. We have Santorini with its tiny no water tomatoes and juicy cappers. Fragrant oregano and silvery olive trees throughout the country. Think of the famous feta from Kefalonia, Naxos’ graviera and Mykonos spicy, kopanisti. Succulent peaches, juicy oranges and crunchy grapes, sweet courgettes and meaty aubergines. It doesn’t sound like much, but being frugal and eating well has actually been imprinted in Greek cuisine. Fresh, seasonal produce was always a given in Greek cooking. Most of the core traditional recipes do not ask for more than a handful of ingredients that you already have in the pantry. We also appreciate pulses quite a bit, be it beans, lentils or chickpeas, conjuring one of the healthiest diets across the Med: fresh fruit and veg, pulses and little meat.
So here we are, with the humble chickpea. You cannot get more traditional than this and it is a great winter warmer. A light broth filled with earthy goodness. Here is what you will need:
- 500 gr dried chickpeas
- 1 large onion
- 150 ml olive oil
- 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
What to do:
- Soak the chickpeas overnight and rinse
- Sauté the onions with a tablespoon of olive oil, add the chickpeas in your pot and cover with warm water.
- Bring to the boil for the first 10 minutes and then simmer for approx. 45 minutes. If you have a pressure cooker, cooking time reduces in half.
- Make a little sauce with the lemon, remaining olive oil and salt and pour over before serving.
The chickpeas have fervent supporters and also fervent haters. I have nursed many a cold with it and it has sustained me on cold and wet winter days. I cannot help but have a soft spot for it. In case you are one of the fervent haters, wait until the next post, we are going to reinvent chickpeas! And if you cannot wait – check out this spicy chickpea bake.
with love from Athens
PS: Voting is still on, why don’t you go check the candidates and vote?by