The real Greek: Conjuring up a Mediterranean summer

It's been a dismal summer at home. So remind yourself of Mediterranean summer nights with a culinary trip to Greece, says Mark Hix
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

At this time of year, inspiration in the kitchen can come from all sources, such as a recent holiday or a fondly remembered trip to the sun. I find that outdoors, summer entertaining often lends itself to simple Greek-style recipes. This theme also works well with the fresh ingredients that are around in August: ripe tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes – all of which make a great meal in themselves or are a perfect match for grilled meat and fish.

I was recently given a little package of semi-dried fish roe, called avgotaraho, by Virginia Damtsa from Riflemaker Gallery in Soho. Her mother's company, Trikalinos, produces a delicious grey mullet bottarga, which is similar to Italian bortago. This Greek version, however, is softer, comes in a wax coating and can be sliced on to toast or served in a salad as a starter. I first tried this at the Real Greek when Theodore Kyriacou opened in London's Hoxton Square. Due to grey mullet roe's ability to keep for a long time, it was a staple of the ancient Greeks. Virginia suggested adding it in to a salad of watermelon or pomegranate, which sounded pretty refreshing.



Watermelon salad with grey mullet bottarga

Serves 4

Watermelon doesn't seem like an obvious choice to accompany cured mullet roes, but the Greeks often serve salty preserved ingredients, such as feta, with fruits such as watermelon. The peppery flavour of the rocket actually brings the sweet and very savoury flavours of the roe together perfectly.



A piece of watermelon (preferably seedless) weighing about 500g, skin removed

A couple of handfuls of rocket (about 60-70g)

A piece of Greek grey mullet bottarga weighing about 100-120g or more if you wish

2-3tbsp olive oil

The juice of half a lemon

Cut the melon into chunks and arrange on plates with the rocket, mix the olive oil and lemon juice, and drizzle over the salad then slice the bottarga thinly on top.



Grilled aubergine, lamb and mint salad

Serves 4

It's such a shame that we never seem to use the aubergine to its full potential. Its lovely, purple curves get lost when it is chopped up and thrown into ratatouille.

This dish can be easily cooked on the barbecue. I've used lambs' hearts here, which are delicious just briefly cooked and sliced.

1 aubergine, trimmed, halved lengthways and cut into 1cm-thick slices

1 lamb's heart, halved and trimmed of any fat and sinew

150-200g lamb under-fillets, or loin fillet

3-4tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Grated zest of half a lemon

1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed

A few sprigs of oregano, roughly chopped

1 small, crisp cos lettuce, trimmed and washed, large leaves torn in half

A handful of mint leaves, washed

A handful of black olives

For the dressing

1tbsp white wine vinegar

4-5tbsp olive oil

Juice of half a lemon



Pre-heat a barbecue or ribbed griddle pan. Season the aubergines and lightly brush with olive oil. Grill for about 3-4 minutes on each side until tender, then lay them on a plate. Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan with the lemon zest, garlic and oregano, and leave to infuse on a very low heat for a minute. Spoon the olive oil mixture over the aubergines and leave for 30 minutes or so.

Cut the lamb's heart vertically into thin escalopes. Season the fillets and hearts and lightly brush with oil. Grill for a couple of minutes on each side then leave to rest for a couple of minutes on a plate.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together.

Arrange the cos leaves and mint on plates with the aubergine slices, scatter over the olives, then slice the lamb fillets and hearts into strips or larger slices and arrange on and among the salad. Spoon over the dressing and serve immediately.

Deep-fried squid and courgettes

Serves 4

It seems that when you're on holiday, you can't avoid calamari. Lots of cheapo places buy it in ready-battered and frozen: it just gets plunged into dirty oil that's usually not hot enough, and you end up with an oily, rubbery mess.

Making them to a much higher standard at home isn't too hard, and there are several ways to do it. You can coat them in breadcrumbs, or make a light batter with self-raising flour and beer or water, or you can use a coating of milk and flour to give a really light batter effect, which is what I have done here.

Children like it cut into rings as it reminds them of the holidays, but I quite like to cut the tubes into random, roughly cut squares.



500g medium-sized squid, cleaned

2 courgettes

100g self-raising flour

250-300ml milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying

2 halved lemons for serving



For the garlic mayonnaise

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

1tbsp olive oil

4tbsp good quality mayonnaise



Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep fat fryer. Using a mandolin with a shredding attachment, or a sharp knife, cut the courgettes into 4-5cm lengths then shred into slightly-thicker-than-matchstick-sized shreds. Cut the squid into rough 2-3cm squares and dry on some kitchen paper.

To make the garlic mayonnaise, gently heat the garlic in the olive oil for a minute then leave to cool; then mix in with the mayo.

Have 2 bowls ready, one with the seasoned flour and the other with milk. Pass the courgettes first through the flour, shaking off any excess, then through the milk, again shaking off any excess, finally through the flour again. Fry in the hot fat, a couple of handfuls at a time for a few minutes, until golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper. Repeat with the squid and fry until golden.

Mix the squid and courgettes and serve with the halved lemons and the garlic mayonnaise.



Sardines stuffed with olives and lemon

Serves 4

If you have a friendly fishmonger, or you're handy with a filleting knife, then boning sardines can make the eating experience a little more pleasant. You can more or less push the bones out with your fingers. Make sure you keep the fillets attached to each other by the backbone so they look like mini kippers.



12 sardines, heads removed and butterflied

4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

4tbsp olive oil

12 black olives, stoned and roughly chopped

Grated rind of 1 lemon (keep the juice for serving)

60g fresh white breadcrumbs

4tbsp chopped parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



Gently cook the shallots and garlic in half the olive oil for a couple of minutes until soft. Mix with the olives, lemon rind, breadcrumbs and parsley and season to taste. Divide the stuffing between the sardines, lay it down the centre of the flesh side, then fold the fillets over. Lay them in a lightly oiled tray, brush with oil, season and bake in the oven at 220C/gas mark 7 for about 10-15 minutes.

Comments