QUARANTINE DIARIES, COMFORT FOOD & ALL THE SMALL THINGS THAT KEEP US GOING
Things in Greece are much more relaxed, compared to the UK at least. Anastasia & Michalis from Thessaloniki found some time to slow down and below is their own entry to the quarantine diaries. Along with a scrumptious mushroom soup!
Head straight to the recipe.
A few words about you and where did the quarantine find you?
I am Anastasia, I live in Thessaloniki and I am part of Aetheleon herb farm team, together with my partner Michalis and our family.
That Sunday evening when the lockdown was announced in Greece, we decided to spend our last “free” hours strolling by the sea front of Thessaloniki. We knew we were going to miss the open horizon for the coming weeks, so we wanted to spend as much time as we were allowed to, gazing at the sea, towards where Olympus mountain appears sometimes when the air is clear. That evening it wasn’t.
What did it change for you ?
Fortunately we could visit our farm, the restrictions did not apply to farmers within the region. But most days were rainy, so we had to stay at home, trying to take advantage of this unexpected gift of time.
We worked on the translation of our website, planning our next steps, reflecting on our journey so far. And cooking, of course. We don’t often have the time to cook together. Actually we don’t often have the time to cook at all, alone or together. On weekdays we often eat salads or drink big jars of smoothies with greens, dry fruit and nuts. Which is fine by me, but not for Michalis. So, the confinement helped us rediscover that we can cook together, and that there are foods that we both enjoy. Or that we can invent them.
Also, video calls became part of our life, we even celebrated quite a few birthdays this way during the lockdown.
How many loo-rolls can you count in your cupboards?
The usual, in Greece it wasn’t such an issue. But we did buy a few extra to tease some friends in the UK – we swapped bubble wrap with the rolls when packing the parcels we sent them during the quarantine… And we did share a few laughs over video calls when they opened them!
Comfort food: Mushroom soup
We both vote for soup. For its soothing feeling, that almost encourages you to keep on going when things get tough. And trust me, we don’t often agree when it comes to food. Michalis is a meat lover, whereas I opt for plant-based dishes. Michalis prefers the vegetables in whole pieces in a soup, whereas I prefer creamy soups.
This certain soup though is a meeting place for both of us. It is a plant based alternative to mayiritsa, the traditional soup that Greeks eat on Easter evening, after the midnight celebration at church. Normally, mayiritsa is made with what remains from the lamb that will be roasted on a spit on Easter Sunday. We prefer not to go into more details on this part – just have in mind that only the external part of the lamb is roasted. Apart from the meat it traditionally contains, it is full of fresh herbs. Spring onion, dill, parsley, lettuce, combined altogether give a unique texture and aromas that you don’t often find in soups. In some areas of Greece they add rice, in others tomatoes. Some serve it as a fricassee.
Now, if you replace the meat with mushrooms, you get one of the most inviting, hearty soups ever. It’s like all the earthly aromas of the mushrooms meet with the freshness of spring in this dish.
- 1 kg mushrooms mixed portobello, pleurotus and shitake chopped (they are not going to be processed in the blender, so we cut them in big pieces because we like to “feel” them in the soup)
- 1 onion chopped
- 6-7 medium spring onions chopped
- 1 medium lettuce cut in large pieces by hand
- 2 handfuls of fresh dill chopped
- 1 handful of fresh parsley chopped
- ½ cup of rice
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sp of dried porcini powder
- Salt Pepper
- Boiled water
- Optional for finishing:
- Fresh lemon juice
- 1 sp of whole grain tahini
- Heat a large pot over medium heat, add the olive oil, the onions and the mushrooms. We sauté them for 5-6 minutes, until they turn brown.
- Then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the rice and dill, stir with the rest for 1-2 minutes, cover with boiled water and cook for about 30 minutes (medium heat).
- We add the rice and cook for another 15’. A few minutes before putting the soup off the heat, we add the dill, leave the pot with the lid on, turn off the heat and let it “relax”.
- I personally add lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with whole grain tahini, while Michalis adds extra freshly grounded pepper.
How do you cope?
If it wasn’t for the bad circumstance, we would say that it was one of the most fulfilling periods of the last ten years. It turned out that we needed to spend some quality time with each other, and we promised to find more “us time” when all this is over.
We had the time to prepare a proper nursery for our heirloom variety seedlings, and we deeply appreciated our balcony the view from there, and our jasmine that bloomed during the lockdown.
Every evening we walked in the neighbourhood, (after sending the necessary message to inform authorities that we exit the house for physical exercise…) and for the first time we noticed how many citrus trees we have on our street. Smelling amazingly.
Our big” exit” though, was at the organic farmers market (fortunately it was allowed to open). We even bought fresh peas in whole and took the time to de-peel them, happy to discover chamomile hidden in between, as well as tiny snails trying to find their way back to the farm (the perks of organic farming).
Where will you go eat once this madness is over?
Definitely these two places have an equally special place in our heart, and we missed them:
- Mourga, the restaurant of Giannis Loukakis, a talented and inspiring chef who is experimenting with traditional Greek cuisine and recipes from monasteries. You will find lots of top quality vegs, fish and local pasta. All sourced from small producers he discovers all over Greece (no meat here). Whenever we go, it feels like all the passion and imagination of Giannis is present on the table, served in different ways with each dish, inspiring and energizing us.
- To kafeneio tou Mitsou, hidden in a corner in the central market of Thessaloniki. Whenever we visit, we feel part of this big family, sharing laughs, drinks and stories while Mitsos and his team take good care of us with food that warms our heart. It is like a tiny island, with relaxing vibes, right next to the buzzing central market of the city. We sure have missed it a lot. Actually, during the quarantine, Mitsos’s sensitivity found a way to give a different meaning to this place. He asked permission to start cooking for the homeless that were struggling even more during the lockdown. Friends volunteered to help and this place turned into a small workshop of hope.
Share a wish, just so we can finish on a happy note.
Let this crisis turn into an opportunity to get closer to each other, to find meaning in the small purposeful things that our busy lives look down on (cooking included).
from Thessaloniki with love,
PS: You can be part of my quarantine cuisine diaries too. If you want to share your experience on Eat Yourself Greek (EYG), please drop me a line here. Thanks, Eugeniaby