The appetizers -or “mezedes” as they are called here- are a characteristic and basic element of the Greek table. I can’t imagine of a Greek person who would say “no” to a meal with friends, composed of many -hot or cold- small appetizers accompanied with ouzo or raki, instead of a main course.
However, eating a variety of appetizers as a meal, apart from being a Greek custom, is more or less a common way of spending time with friends as well as eating out, in other Mediterranean countries too. For example the Spanish “tapas” are correspondingly small appetizers and in Spain people often order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. I guess there must be a reason for that. Maybe it’s that the appetizers we share with our fellow diners may bring us a little closer: firstly we learn how to share our food, we approach each other to take a few bites from each saucer, we experience the same tastes and we eat, drink, talk and relax together with our friends or our family.
One of the most famous delicacies of northern Greece is tyrokafteri (spicy and creamy white cheese spread). As my partner is a huge fan of anything “cheesy”, we often make the raw vegan version of the original recipe. The basic ingredients that we use are various soaked raw nuts blended with olive oil, salt and fresh spicy and sweet peppers for a delicious raw vegan snack.
- 1 ½ cups raw mixed nuts, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained (I usually use: ½ cup cashew nuts, ½ cup blanched almonds and ½ cup Brazil nuts)
- 1 fresh red hot chilli pepper
- 1 red sweet pepper
- 1 garlic clove (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 tbsp water (only if necessary for blending)
- Wash the chilli and the sweet pepper and half them lengthways. Remove the seeds and the stalks and discard them. Chop them coarsely.
- In a blender put all the ingredients and blend at medium speed for several minutes until a relatively smooth and creamy mixture is formed.
- Keep in a glass container in the refrigerator for several days.
Note: This vegan spicy cheese dip can be also made with soaked blanched almonds only, in case no other nuts are available.
If your skin is sensitive you’d better prepare the chilli wearing rubber gloves, as chillies contain a substance that burns sensitive skin. Of course, never rub your eyes or lips after handling chillies and wash the knife, board and your hands with hot soapy water.
One of the biggest challenges that one has to deal with during the transition to veganism is cheese. Even though I had never been much of a “cheese” person, I was surprised to find out that cheese is a basic ingredient in so many dishes I used to like and one of the most common things I used to eat -usually with some bread and vegetables- for breakfast or lunch.
Luckily, being vegan doesn’ t mean that one has to be deprived of cheese, since a lot of vegan genius chefs work intensively into creating vegan-cheese recipes. So I was happily surprised to find out a fantastic vegan cheese book, the “Artisan Vegan Cheese” (Miyoko Schinner, 2012) which gave me many “uncheese” recipe ideas and helped me develop my own recipes by using my imagination and some basic techniques found in it.
The following recipe, is a completely raw and vegan nut-cheese recipe, in which I combine three different kind of nuts, in order to achieve better texture and increase it’ s nutritional benefits, since every nut comprises different nutritional elements. In order to keep the recipe low-fat I don’t use any coconut oil, but I dry the cheese a little bit, following a traditional method of cheese making. This process allows its natural fermentation which is the key to the cheesy taste and texture I want. All these may seem complex but actually they aren’t! This recipe is so simple that everyone can make it, provided that we have a good blender and of course patience.
Personally I love this recipe, since the taste is fantastic and somehow it resembles that of a traditional Cretan, mostly homemade, goat cheese my grandma used to make.
- 1 cup raw cashews soaked for 6-8 hours
- 1 cup raw almonds (blanched if available) soaked for 6-8 hours
- ½ cup brazil nuts soaked for 6-8 hours
- 1 cup filtered water
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
- 1 ½ tsp. salt (it may seem too much but it acts as a conservative that protects our cheese from spoiling)
Topping: You can use one or more of the following ingredients:
- finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- finely chopped dried herbs or spices (such as pepper, chives, thyme, rosemary, oregano etc)
- ground dried red chillies
- pesto sauce
- nuts or seeds
- Drain the nuts and skin the almonds if they are not blanched. An easy way to skin almonds is to soak them for 2 minutes in hot water after the 6-hour soaking. The skins get softer and thus it’s much easier to remove them.
- Combine all the liquid ingredients in a jar.
- Add in your blender half of the nuts with half of the liquid ingredients and blend until a smooth, creamy paste has been formed. Stop blending every few seconds and clean the walls with your spatula until all the solid parts are blended. Empty the nut paste in a bowl and repeat the process with the rest of the nuts.
- Add the salt in the bowl and mix well.
- Place a strainer over a bowl and line it with cheesecloth. Sprinkle some salt and 1-2 tbsp of the dried herbs or spices of your choice (e.g. cracked peppercorns) over the cheesecloth.
- Spoon nut mixture into the center of cheesecloth and sprinkle some salt and 1-2 tbsp herbs or spices of your choice over the cheese.
- Fold the sides of the cloth over the cheese and form into a spherical loaf. Twist the ends of the cloth and secure with rubber bands or a strip of cloth or a thread. Set in the strainer over a bowl and let it stand in a warm place for 12 hours (e.g. in a dehydrator or your oven at 50oC or even a sunny, airy room or balcony in a hot, summer day).
- Put uncovered in the fridge for at least 48 hours so that the drying process continues.
- Now it will be easy to unwrap the cheese. Serve it over crackers, bread or with a salad. You can keep it in the fridge for over 2 weeks.
Note: If you want your cheese with a shape, put over a flat strainer a metal ring (use one or two from your small springform pans) and line it with the cheesecloth. The rest of the procedure is the same. Just make sure that your mini cheeses “breath” also from the bottom side.
Several years ago, I used to feel a huge dislike for the autumn. Maybe I had the sense that it only meant the end of the summer, of the vacations and of our freedom and I was just looking forward to the next summer. Fortunately the enlightenment that comes to us with time and with the experiences that we have, can change our point of view if we remain open. So, a few years now, I’ve made reconciliation with a season that seemed to me infinitely ugly. How many beautiful things happen during autumn! The new beginnings, the lovely cool of the evening, all the friends that return from their summer vacation and all the stories we tell to each other, the long midday walks under the sun just to mention some.
Along with autumn almonds, peanuts and all kind of nuts, legumes, and many other freshly picked goods come and they are waiting to play a leading role in a recipe or in a picture.
Today I bought fresh almonds that I found in one of the many nut and herbs stores in the center of Athens and I decided to make some almond milk. The recipe is classic and simple.
- 1cup peeled almonds
- 5-6 Brazil nuts (optional)
- 4 cups filtered or bottled water
- Pinch of salt
- 3-4 tbsp agave nectar (optional)
- Soak almonds and Brazil nut 4-6 hours, placing them in a bowl with water.
- Drain and remove their outer skin. To make things easier, immerse for 1 minute in boiling water .
- Put the nuts in the blender along with the water and salt and blend for 3-4 minutes.
- Line a colander with a damp cheesecloth and strain the milk. Squeeze the cheesecloth to get as much almond milk as possible.
- Add sweetener such as agave nectar according to your taste.
- Keep in a sterilized glass bottle in the refrigerator. Because it has not been pasteurized, it cannot be preserved more than 3 days.
Note: Often I add together with the almonds, 5-6 Brazilian nuts which I also soak. They give milk a creamier, rich texture, while they enrich it with trace elements such as selenium and zinc.
The remaining almond pulp can be used to make an almond cheese or vegan mizithra that tastes and looks like the traditional Cretan cheese. Moreover we can add almond pulp into crackers, pastries and cakes.