This post is dedicated to Teddy, who has my blog bookmarked on his computer and has checked it every week only to see that I have not updated since Easter! Unforgivable. This one is for you Ted!
I am very sorry for my long hiatus but sometimes life gets overwhelming…I forgot how relaxing and enjoyable discussing my culinary adventures is, and so- I’m back!! I hope you enjoy my summer posts…please continue to comment with any thoughts, suggestions, outrage, etc.
I just returned from Serifos Island. It is a special place, and an often neglected area of the Cyclades islands. It is quiet and retains much of its rugged beauty. We spent a lot of time at the beach of course and sitting on our veranda enjoying the view. One visit to a historical monastery ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip- out of all of our island trips actually…
Taxiarches Monastery sits at the north end of the island. Built in 1572 and founded as a men’s monastery, it is dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the patron saints of Serifos. The outside of the structure is unlike any monastery I have ever visited- the tall walls surrounding indicate how it served well as a fortress. The monastery used to be used as a fortress during pirate raids and Turkish occupation. There are small holes in the thick walls from which the monks could shoot.
The last monk living here greeted me and Niko warmly as we approached the entrance of the church. He offered us sweet caramels and explained the history of the icons we studied. You could almost sense the painful history inside the dim church. The faded dark Byzantine icons still shone with thin outlines of vivid bright gold. I was not allowed to take pictures here.
This windy whitewashed architecture offered picturesque images from every angle. One of the many charming sights were the monk’s onions and green beans drying in the sun.
I wondered what and how the monk cooks. But he had other visitors as well and I was embarrassed to ask him these types of questions in such a holy, historically significant place. Now in retrospect, I doubt it would have been inappropriate, but I felt shy at the time!
Drying and dehydrating vegetables helps with waste- if you find yourself with too many tomatoes, green beans or onions, and there is no more room in the freezer and you don’t feel like canning…sun drying is a great solution. In these economic times, nothing should be wasted…and not just when times are hard! It is never right to waste food. I don’t know where you are, but here in Greece it is Hot as Hades. This is a prime time to test this technique.
Drying green beans is great when you want a crisper, crunchier texture. It is wonderful for Sichuan green bean-shrimp meat stir fries for instance. You can thread a sterilized needle through a row of green beans and hang in the hot sun for a day or two. If you are drying for preservation, make sure to blanch before drying to stop enzyme activity that makes the veggie go brown and taste kinda wierd. (Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock with ice water to retain their green color).
Sun drying tomatoes is my faaavorite vegetable hobby. It just tasted divine and makes any salad or dip or meat/poultry dish shine.
Unfortunately I do not have a green thumb. I have the opposite of a green thumb- a red thumb….so I pick fresh tomatoes from our local farmers market. They are organic and have excellent flavor, especially now in this climate.
- Pick firm tomatoes. Not necessarily under-ripe, but certainly not mushy or bruised! The less liquid they have, the faster they will dry.
- I don’t usually take the skin off, but if you’d like to: blanch (dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in ice water). The skin will peel off easily.
- Cut tomatoes in half or in fourths depending on their size. Remove seeds, the tough stems, and any bruised or soft spots.
- DRY. There are three methods: a dehydrating machine, an oven, and the sun! Since it is summer, and in honor of the sweet Monk I met last week, today I am discussing the sun method: Place the tomatoes on a cake rack and cover with cheesecloth, or any kind of mesh cloth that will protect the tomatoes from insects and mosquitoes. If you use a regular pan, then you will need to flip the tomatoes over every now and then. (Note- some people leave the tomatoes in the dashboard of their cars during the day, exposed to the most light during the day only- I have never done this but I am sure it works fine).
- The time it takes depends on so many variables: the size of the tomatoes, the water content, the strength of the sun, etc…You can tell they are done when they are malleable and a little leathery with no water at all. Their color should be a deep red. It has taken me between 13 and 20 hours of sun exposure usually- around two full day times.
- Of course, you may add salt, basil, or any other spice you like to infuse while they tomatoes are drying…I was thinking of using some exotic spices (maybe Indian) to use in some kind of fusion type recipe…they may accompany a nice yellow-split pea dal puree well…
- You can store in olive oil and then the oil will be infused with tomato flavor. You can use the oil to flavor dressings, sauces, etc…Try it out and let me know how it works for you!
I am not sure why the Monk was drying onions. I have seen my grandmother used dehydrated onions in stews and braises before, but it can’t be better than fresh onion, right? If any of you know why dehydrated onions are good for more than preservation let me know!
***A lot of you have asked for my grandmother’s Karpathian Baklava recipe. I have only made it when I am with her and do not have anything written out, but I can ask her to write everything down for me when I see her in Karpathos in August. I will report back!