Having recently discovered the Culinaria series of books, I’ve started my collection with the volume on Greece and am now completely smitten by everything Greek. So much of it is reminiscent of what we saw in Turkey ( I know! It’s high time I post about that too) that I can’t but feel I have discovered a very special personal connect. Across the canvas that is Greek food, I imagine the Asian influence of Turkey dimming to silently linger in the background as shades of Italy and other Western European cuisines emerge. In it’s use of ingredients, hearty home style cooking I sense the warmth of a culture that is deeply connected to the earth and its elements. Simple cooking with few but incredibly fresh ingredients that create big bold flavours.
Having cooked avidly from the Greek Volume of the Culinaria Series, I am astounded at the brilliance of the cuisine and grateful to have discovered it. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t exposed more to the beautiful, diverse and creative range of dishes that Greece offers. Venture into real Greek cooking and the horizon extends far far beyond the ubiquitous tzaziki, moussakka, baklava and feta. As someone who cannot eat dairy and is always on the lookout for new dishes and flavour, discovering the food of Greece has been an even bigger bonanza. Most dishes have the potential to be made dairy free and each and every dish I have tried has been unique, exciting, simple to put together and absolutely sparkling with flavour. This is a cuisine fairly easy to localise in India and of the humble ingredients, ones that are almost seem like a recurrent theme are lemon, olive oil, eggs, fish and fresh herbs. It’s only fitting then that the first dish I bring to you is one that includes all of these.
I cannot tell you what a revelation this dish was. Anyone who has met me in the last two months has been subjected to me rapturously rave about this dish – atleast once if not more. Wouldn’t you go crazy for a creamy, lemony, velvety sauce that becomes a bed for a soft, moist, delicate yet crisp fried mullet. If you are the sort to balk at the idea of a large quantity of oil, this dish may not be for you. But if you believe that fat carries flavour, you can begin to imagine the potent kick this dish packs. More than anything else, this dish is the sort of indulgence that dairy-free folks (aka me) are so deprived of. It took a little time for me to work out why this sauce was so seductive.
Warm fat, raw eggs and lemon – this was a Greek version of hollandaise (of the Eggs Benedict fame)! And the genius lay not only in the butter replacement but the fact that oil used was enriched with the flavour of the fish that was fried in it.
The herbs, citrus and seasoning add more layers – green, fresh, slightly sweet and sour. Coating your tongue in pleasure. Dairy-free or not, please do give this a shot. I promise you, one bite of this with warm, fresh bread and you will be transported to a landscape of white sandy beaches, warm seas and delicious breeze. Heaven.
- Red mullet - 1 medium sized, enough to serve 2 (I used boi or regular mullet. you could also use pomfret or similar delicate fish flavoured)
- extra virgin olive oil - ½ cup
- egg - 1
- flour to dredge the fish
- wild garlic or spring garlic, finely chopped - 4-5 Tablespoons
- flat leaf parsley, finely chopped - 4-5 Tablespoons
- rosemary - 1 sprig, finely chopped
- lime juice - 1 Tablespoon
- Orange juice - 1Tablespoon
- salt and pepper - to tasts
- Salt fish all over. Then dredge in flour nicely. Season with pepper.
- Fry fish in oil making sure it doesn't burn. Fry till flesh flakey and skin crisp.
- Remove fish. Strain oil and return to hot pan. Do not heat.
- When oil a bit cooler, whisk in the beaten egg.
- Add finely chopped fresh rosemary, finely chopped green garlic, salt and pepper. Stir in lime and orange juices and half a teaspoon of sugar. Leave for a few minutes to thicken a bit. Correct salt- sugar- lime balance.
- Transfer sauce to serving plate, place the fish over the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley.
I used a fish of the mullet family that I found in Versova market (Boi is what the fisherwoman Sarita said it was called)
To approximate the flavour of fresh lemon juice, I used a mix of lime and orange juice that I feel works well. If you are lucky enough to get hold of beautiful plump lemons like those from the mediterranean, please do use those.
The fabulous Culinaria book now has me hooked to the idea of Greek as the next travel destination. Not just for the beautiful beaches, lovely people and the fabulous landscape. But for the myriad folk dances, music, art and architecture. For the soul, warmth, earthiness, spirit of freedom and joy that I feel I have discovered. Meanwhile, before I actually get there, I am going to be travelling there often enough. Through the many many dishes I hope to concoct in my own kitchen here in Mumbai. Hope you’ll travel the distance with me too.