Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

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Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

Yamas!

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A premature summer has officially arrived in London, albeit a. badly timed and b. destined to be short lived. By day sun shines brilliantly and in the evenings I open my windows to welcome wafts of jasmine. I can’t complain seeing as its my favorite season, but why couldn’t this have held off until my wedding just weeks away.  This heat is making me lazy and I have so much to do!

With the date fast approaching my sister took us all to Greek restaurant Elysee for an unforgetable hen party, where we smashed plates, threw flowers, drank Ouzo and danced to live music until 4am. It was an absolute fix of the Med right here in Fitzrovia. The next morning (afternoon) as I lay fuzzy headed with bouzoukia still ringing in my ears, my mind wandered back to Crete, a sun-drenched Island I visited with my father last year. I remembered Ergospasio, a taverna we stumbled upon in Elounda, and it’s owner Dimitris who invited us for appetizers and Ouzo, and then became offended when we asked for the bill.

“How dare you try to pay! Just come back some day. You’re always welcome”   Looks like we’d made one more Cretan friend by sharing cheese and olives.  And there was another taverna up in Rogdia, where we ate an amazing Feta Salad and Dakos (rusks topped with tomatoes and cheese) overlooking the entire city of Heraklion. It’s the simple things in life which are the most memorable, be it soaking up the sun, a meal accompanied by live music or, er, cheese!

Well timed then that Yamas! have sent me four lovely samples from their range, helping to appease my taste for the Med. With them I have created three very cheesy, very Greek dishes; Graviera stuffed fennel seed burgers, baked feta with tomatoes and green pepper and courgettes stuffed with smoked feta and bulgur wheat .  Sound complicated? Well, not at all. These dishes are easy.

Yamas! don’t just offer your bog standard feta which seems to be one of only two Greek cheese already widely available.  They aim to make good Greek cheeses more accessible to the UK and beyond, by offering comprehensive, no fuss and fairly priced products. Great website too! Managing director Neil is so passionate about the brand that he constantly travels to Greece and Cyprus ensuring top quality and authentic products.  The range although young, is already widely available, and for Greece’s second favorite cheese Graviera it is the first time it has reached such an audience. The products themselves are of utmost quality: the feta is creamy and not overly aged, the smoked cheese has a subtle smokiness, the Graviera nutty and sweet and halloumi perfect for grilling and not overly salty. All products are good enough for the cheese board yet versatile enough to use in cooking.

Host of My Greek Kitchen, chef Toni Buxton, was also excited by the Yamas! range saying ” It’s wonderful that these cheeses will finally be available in the UK!”

Statistically Greece eats more cheese per person than any other nation! If we take Sophia Loren’s famous saying “All you see I owe to Spaghetti!” and apply in Greek terms, “All you see I owe to cheese”, its no wonder Tonia looks the way she does. I think I’ll be exploring the world of Greek cheeses in more depth.

Now raise your glasses and toast to the summer – Yamas!

Yeliz’ Lentil Kofte

Murat & Yeliz

My future sister-in-law, Yeliz, made lentil kofte the first time I visited her at home. With her sons whizzing around the house excitably, she brought the kofte to the dinning table narrowly avoiding the stray toy cars in her path. What better way to welcome someone not only into your kitchen, but into your life by preparing a hearty meal and sharing knowledge passed down by my future mother-in-law. I took the knowledge away with me and now my own Mum often asks ‘When are we going to eat those lentil patties again?’

This is the type of meal prepared for large families so it’s no wonder then that my future in-laws eat lentil kofte often. They are your typical large, warm Mediterranean family who come together around the table, conversing late into the night and getting drunk on laughter.

Lentil Kofte

Despite being healthy and substantial, these kofte allow a fun, carefree way of eating; forget knives and forks! Lay one in a lettuce leaf, squeeze a few drops of Lemon juice on top, wrap and enjoy. As always, best eaten in good company!

Click here for my recipe.

Una Faccia, Una Razza!

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It’s a saying which shaped the foundations of NazarBlue and a philosophy in which I have always believed; One face, one race.

Wherever I am in the Med I’m overcome with the same emotions: a sense of nostalgia invoked by musical laments, a sense of exhilaration from pulsating cities, and insatiable hunger spurred on by tempting street food. The air is thick and perfumed with pine resin, the crickets rasp in arid shrubbery and socialising is almost always centered around good food and wine. A plate of fried Calamari on the seafront is a must, cats with huge begging eyes lurk under taverna tables and swipe at falling scraps. Siesta time ceases with the whirrs of moped engines. People converse on lantern lit terraces with waving hands and raised voices. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Italy, Greece or Istanbul, the scenes are always the same.

‘One Face, One Race’ is a saying which acknowledges the similarities between Italians and Greeks. In fact, I believe it can be said for any of the Mediterranean’s people who have been both unified and separated by slithers of sea. With the shifting of borders as empires advanced then retreated, cultures intermingled and languages, music and food were shared.

Some may patriotically claim Baklava, Turkish Coffee, and Falafel to be theirs, but in disregarding language barriers we can see a common knowledge and mutual love.                                   Ouzo, Raki, Arak and Sambuca may go by different names but essentially it is a liquor made with anise, consumed in the same way. Shakshuka to the North Africans is as Uova in Purgatorito to the Italians. Meze, Mezzeh, Tapas and Antipasti are a way of life, essientoal to the sociable ways of eating. Pizza as we know it hails from Napoli, yet what influenced this iconic food? Well, how about Greek Pitta bread or Turkish Pide – flat breads with various toppings. Then there is Manoush from the Eastern Med. Could the most famous dish from the chaotic port city have its origins further East?

Even the most frugal of dishes add a sense of pattern to the Med’s colourful mosaic. Farinata di Ceci, wet dough made from seasoned chickpea flour and baked with plenty of olive oil, is particular to Liguria. However Karantita from Algeria and Calentita from Gibraltar are both of uncanny similarity.

It’s rainbow season in London: The blustery winds are relentless and storms seem to roll pass often, appeased once in a while by brilliant bursts of sun. Last Saturday as I took shelter in my flat I sorted through my DVD collection and decided to watch Mediterraneo, a hilarious Italian film about a group of soldiers who are sent to a Greek Island during WWII. They find themselves stranded when after becoming intoxicated with Opium supplied by a Turkish fisherman, they come too, discovering their arms and transport have been stolen. The Italians soon forget their duties and ease into Island life, accidentally missing the fact the war ended some three years before.

‘Una Faccia, Una Pancia!’ one soldier says mocking the hefty appetite that Greeks and Italians share. One face, one belly! It’s not only appearance which unifies the Mediterraneans, it’s their mutual love of food too.

Here’s a more in-depth explanation of Una Faccia, Una Razza, written by my lovely sister.

From the Heart of the Balkans: The Pelagonia Range

Read on…

Perhaps a Bold Statement But… The Best Falafel in Town!

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Admittedly I almost always steered clear of Falafel in restaurants – in my experience falafel meant tasteless, dry mouthfuls which rolled around the palate, resisting with all its might at being swallowed. It wasn’t that I was eating in the wrong places, it was simply that the falafel on offer didn’t fill me with joy. Then one day a colleague of mine, Mohammed, placed a foil package on my desk. On opening this steaming parcel, I discovered a falafel which changed my world. Mohammed’s vibrantly green homemade falafel were juicy and aromatised with garlic and herbs. They weren’t made with ground chick peas either, but a mixture of chick peas and dried fava beans. These falafel told the story of a man who emigrated from Cairo in his twenties. Now pushing 50, Mohammed never abandoned the food his mother taught him how to cook before he left. I guess his falafel were made with love.

Since that moment of falafel revelation most attempts to find such mouth wateringly moist falafel have failed. Until I came across a jewel in the midst of Central London, tucked away in the cobbled courtyard otherwise knows as Goodge Place Market.

To claim to have found the BEST falafel in a city so richly diverse is a bold statement but one I feel I can confidently make. Hoxton Beach has reaffirmed my love of falafel with its freshly fried offerings. Every mouthful of the wrap delights with crispy yet moist falafel, tahina sauce and homemade pickles. It is now 11:14 am and as I write this article I am salivating in anticipation of the wrap I will eat for my lunch today.

Goodge Street is heaving with eateries which supply the hungry office workers of Fitzrovia – yet why pay for an over priced burrito or faddy salad when there is nutty deliciousness on offer.  Hoxton Beach’s wraps are not pre made and heated in microwaves like a certain trendy Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The men who work at Hoxton Beach are the real deal, themselves Middle Eastern and perhaps have the best understanding of how falafel wraps are meant to be. They churn out freshly fried balls of deliciousness and dress them just how we want them to be. No tahina? No problem. Extra pickles? Sure! There is always a polite good morning / good-bye / thank you and smile too. They are welcoming and hospitable even for the few moments it takes to prepare your wrap. Patrick Matthews, founder of the Hoxton Beach company, fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine after studying Arabic in Damascus. (I on the other hand fell in love with Damascus after eating at Abu Zaad!) With a particular love of falafel, Patrick wanted to popularise them upon his return to Blighty. Good job Patrick and thank you Hassan, (the company chef) for your tasty recipe which has reignited my love affair with humble falafel.

Falafel is one of those foods to which many people lay their claim. From Israel, to Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, falafel crosses cultures and perhaps unites people beyond borders. ‘It’s only Falafel, there’s no need to be so dramatic!‘ I hear you say. Well, I’m putting so much importance on this street food because food is life, food is what we cherish when there is nothing else. Its something we all have in common despite our differences so when one dish stretches itself over a large geographical area notorious for upheaval why not celebrate something which unites the area rather than divides?

Check out Hoxton Beach stalls in Goodge Place Market, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market or click here for stockists and try to recreate your own wraps.

Village Style Sesame Bread from the Heart

From the heart of the humble home comes the Staff of Life.

Here is my recipe for basic sesame bread. I have divided the dough into rolls, but keep it as one and stretch out for a village style loaf, perfect for tearing and sharing.

 

 

An Italian Christmas – Sweet and Savoury

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The festive period has always been a very Italian affair in my household… Sure we have Turkey, Stuffing and sprouts.. But we also have Nonna’s Peperonata, Southern Italian Almond Sweets and Struffoli too!

Check out these recipes 🙂 and have a GREAT NEW YEAR!

Puglian Lamb and Potato Bake

Italian Lamb and Potato Bake

Winter is closing in fast, for me this is the time I seek comfort food. This dish is a real winter warmer and really easy to make because it is prepared like a lasagna by layering ingredients then simply baking until top is cripsy and golden.

Recipe here..

Istanbul – City of Dreams

 

I had always wanted to visit Istanbul. I imagined it would be similar to Napoli, an ancient chaotic city of contrasts on the Mediterranean sea with the added allure of straddling two continents. Arriving at Sabiha Gökçen airport on a humid Autumn day I joke to Murat, my partner, about not having the right visa to get into Turkey. At Passport control a young man checks every page of my passport and asks

“Didn’t you get a visa?”

“Visa?”

“Queue over there.” I look back to where he is pointing and see hoards of confused tourists waiting to part with 10 British Pounds.

Finally, I cross Turkey’s threshold and we greet two of Murat’s smiling friends. I try to take in my surroundings while whizzing towards the Bosphorus Bridge.The traffic is chaotic, but then I expected that. Sezen Aksu plays on the stereo, her sultry voice echoing the tired building facades surrounding us.

I’m leaning forward in my seat with my nose pressed against the window like a child without realising. Gokhan smiles in the rearview mirror. We can’t communicate in spoken word yet, only in signs and gestures.

Read on…