As far as the culinary world goes, in London, you can almost visit any country without leaving the city. Last Saturday I went to Greece in the heart of Borough Market. I was invited by the people behind Oliveology to attend a workshop run by the Greek chef Despina Siahuli. Oliveology started trading in a small stall in Borough Market, in 2010. Nowadays, they have their own shop, which is located at the Three Crown Square section of the market.
They were the first to bring organic, unpasteurised Kalamata olives to the UK. Some of these have a unique flavour. This is due to the fact that the olives don’t go through a mechanical and chemical method. They are cured with fresh water and left to naturally ferment. It is a very slow process and undeniably labour intensive. It takes about 6-9 months to reach the end of the process. When ready, they are preserved in organic extra-virgin olive oil, organic vinegar and mixed wild herbs. I had never tried some of them before and it was a revelation.
At the workshop, I learnt how to use some of the traditional ingredients, supplied by independent artisan farmers from different parts of Greece.
Despina showed us how to use bulgur wheat as a filling for aubergine, onions and peppers. The mixture was cooked in tomato sauce, with loads of fresh herbs, smoked paprika and dried oregano. Once the bulgur was cooked, we filled the vegetables with it, and oven roasted it for…
The second dish we prepared was a dip made from slow cooked white beans, with garlic and potato. We blended them all together, adding some fresh herbs. It was served with the delicious wild capers and Kalamata olives from the shop.
The salad was one of the star dishes. It was made with incredible barley rusks called Dakos, plus unpasteurised feta cheese and hazelnuts. To finish, a drizzle of a flavoursome dressing made from grape molasses.
To accompany the meal, I had – what else? – some Greek wine: the 2016 Markou Vineyard Schinopeuko Retsina. It was a good surprise to me because the first time I drank retsina wine I really disliked it. Marianna Kolokotroni, the shop owner, explained that some lower quality retsina have a bad reputation - not only for their taste but also because they can give you an unpleasant headache. The wine we had at Oliveology was of another level. The Markou had the flavours of pine resin that developed into a mixture of refreshing citrus and herbal aftertaste.
For a nice, sweet finish, Despina melted some dark chocolate which we used to coat some almonds and hazelnuts. There were also prunes soaked in Mastika drink, stuffed with nuts and covered in chocolate.
|Sourdough toast with soft Greek goat's cheese and wild thyme honey.|
|Bulgur wheat being cooked with loads of fresh herbs...|
|...to be used as a filling in some vegetables.|
|Refreshing Mastika drink.|
|Nuts and prunes covered with dark chocolate and sprinkled with bee pollen.|
I was really impressed with the quality of Oliveology’s ingredients and the passion of everyone involved in the business. I came home inspired to explore other flavours from Greece. I will now be visiting the shop more often. The extra virging olive oil selection is now a must. But, first, I’ll share with you one of the healthy and mouth-watering recipes I learned in the Greek corner of Borough Market.
|Some of the fabulous ingredients I brought home.|
|Blend all the ingredients together.|
|My Greek white bean dip!|
White beans dip with fresh herbs and wild capers (by Despina Siahuli’s)
200g dried white beans (i.e. cannellini)
1 bay leaf
2 medium garlic cloves
100g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (optional)
1 Tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 Tablespoon flat parsley, chopped
3 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Wild capers and olives for garnish
Soak the beans overnight in cold water. In the morning, drain the beans, place them in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to the boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse.
Place the beans back in the pot, cover them with fresh water (make sure that there is plenty of water covering the beans). Bring them to a gentle boil, add the bay leaf, the garlic cloves and the potatoes, if you are using them.
Cook the beans until tender – it will take 1-2 hours, depending on the beans. Once they are cooked, drain and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaf. Leave the beans to cool.
Put the beans and the garlic (and the potatoes) with 20ml of the cooking liquid into a blender, or food processor. Add the fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Add more liquid if needed.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Garnish with EVOO, fresh chopped herbs, capers and olives.
A healthy note: Cannellini beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) are one of the best sources of fibre. Research has shown that the high content of fibre can help lower cholesterol and prevent the quick rise of blood sugar levels after a meal. It makes them especially good for people diagnosed with diabetes, hypoglycaemia or who are insulin resistant. Cannellini beans are rich in Leucine, an aminoacid that is beneficial in exercise recovery.
Till next week!