Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stewed Vegetables...Really?

Really! This is the stuff of my childhood. I tell people that I grew up Vegeterian (with the exception of a weekend chicken or pork dinner) and never knew it. Dinner on most nights was a stewed vegetable accompanied by Feta cheese, bread and Kalamata olives.The juice in the bottom of the pan was how we got our vitamins, and dunking bread into that juice was a very tasty way to get nutrients into our growing bodies.This is authentic Greek home cooking shared with you by an authentic Greek home cooking-grown person, and this is how it goes:
Stewed Green Beans

Gather up some good produce. Sometimes you use frozen. It's okay. The food police does not know where you live. Takes these, for example

  • Fresh vegetables (green beans, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, artichokes, lima beans, peas)
  • Tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • Tomato Paste 
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Parsley (flat leaf for more flavour)
  • Fresh Oregano
  • Olive oil
Size up the quantity of the vegetables and decide on a pot to cook them in. Make sure it has a lid and make sure that you have a little bit of time to work or play near this pot while it's stewing away. You'll have to stir and taste and season along the way, so plan accordingly.

Wash and prep your veggies, Chop up a big onion. This adds flavour and sweetness, so don't be stingy. Peel and chop a clove or two of garlic. Do this ahead of when you'll need it to release the medicinal properties, which need time to awaken and stand at attention. Go Google it--I'm not lying.

Heat the pot. Pour in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil and the chopped onions. Add salt, stir and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic and veggie(s). A little more salt, a bit of pepper and the herb(s).

Stir, bring to a boil and lower the heat to reduce cooking to a simmer. Cover with lid.

Now you do something else--laundry, pay bills, watch television, return phone calls, read a book. Do anything, as long as you do it close to the pot. No napping, no gardening and no running to the grocery store. You'll need to stir occasionally, you'll want to add a bit more water once or twice throughout the cooking process, you'll have to taste and adjust the seasoning...nothing too difficult. You can do this!

To serve: If you want to serve this up as an authentic Greek dinner, you'll want plenty of Feta cheese and bread on the table.

Bread & Cheese Etiquette
Feta: Don't crumble it up and top your plate with it. That is NOT Greek. The idea of having Feta at the Greek table is to eat it the way we eat pickles in the West. Take a big piece of Feta from the serving dish, place it on your plate and pick it up with your fingers. Take a little bite with each forkful of stewed food (or cut off a piece with your fork) and enjoy it all in your mouth. You do this any other way and you're identified as an outsider immediately!
Bread: It can be French, Italian, Greek--whatever--as long as it's crispy on the outside. Cut it into large slices or pull it apart, but DO use it to dunk into the soupy sauce. This is a vehicle for carrying that goodness to your mouth. Yes, by all means, dunk! It's the right thing to do. It would be a shame to waste stewed veggie juicy-ness by leaving it on your plate. You know what to do. Do it!

Cooking this way is dangerous. I repeat, d.a.n.g.e.r.o.u.s. Yes! No cups or teaspoons or tablespoons in the ingredients list. You just use what you've got. No exact time for this to be ready. You pay attention--listen to the pot, use your nose. Yes, the nose knows--stews smell differently when they're starting out, when they're almost done and when they're about to become one with the bottom of the cooking pot, a.k.a. burn. If you mess it up, you'll adjust and improve next time. You use what appears to be an excessive amount of oil, and this makes you doubt yourself, but have faith. Persevere. Have a glass of wine and go with the Greek vibe. Opa! Live dangerously! This is the safest risk you'll ever take.

Okay! I get it. A little guidance for your first venture? Here you go. This one is so easy, I even taught my youngest granddaughter (at age 8) how to prepare Greek Green Beans last summer.

Greek Green Beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium or large sweet onion (like Vidalia)
3 lbs green beans (any variety) washed and prepped
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes with juice (use more if you like)
1 bunch of Italian parsley (also called flat leaf)
1/4 t. each of salt and pepper (taste halfway through and add more if you like)

You should have everything ready--all chopping and measuring. Heat the pan, add oil, stir in onion and cook until it's softened. Stir in beans with the salt, pepper, parsley and tomatoes. Add enough water to cover the vegetables...plus 1-2 cups more. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and go do something else, but...that's right--stay close and keep an eye on things for about 1 hour.

Here's another list of ingredients. Follow the same directions as for the beans.
Collards stewed Greek-style.

Greek Stewed Collards
My husband's children still ask for this dish as adults. When they were much younger, they didn't eat many vegetables, but they always enjoyed a bowl full of these stewed greens, so I never worried about nutrition. This is a powerhouse of flavor and nutrients.

2 (14.5 oz) cans stewed tomatoes (with juice)
20 cups of cut and washed collards (be sure to press down collards when  measuring)*
1 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about two cups)
5 large cloves of garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
*Pull or cut leaves away from the stalks. Toss the stalks in your compost bin.