Roasted Vegetables (Briam) with Halloumi
Four years ago I took a cab ride with my driver Christos (a young Greek man who promised me the next time I arrived in Greece his English would be improved, I can't say the same for my Greek) to the port of Lavrio south of Athens. From here I was to catch the ferry to the Island of Kea and the islands capital Ioulis my home for the next 8 days. All had been arranged by Aglaia and Costa my friends at Keartisanal where I was attending a cooking school for the best holiday of my life so far!
During my stay at Keartisanal Aglaia Kremezi taught us many enticing traditional and non-traditional gourmet recipes. Aglaia Kremezi is a noted cookbook author, and with her husband Costas Moraitis treat you to 8 glorious days of history, culture and cuisine at their home on the Cycladic island of Kea. They envelope you in family and local life and serve up dishes with the pure and intense flavours from their gardens. The 5 weeks I spent in Greece changed my life forever in many ways. With the endless azure of the Agean Sea as the backdrop we danced to the strains of bazouka music, sipped on raki and enjoyed good company and good friends.
According to Greek Mythology, the island of Kea's name comes from Keo, the son of Apollo and leader of the Locrians. Based on archaeological findings, the island of Kea (Tzia) has been inhabited since the Post-Neolithic Period and was a great cultural center during the Bronze Age.
Upon my arrival Costa loaded me up with plenty of water and I set off to explore my new home from my guest house The Leipin. I walked the steep incline through the gates of the town of Ioulis where cars are forbidden. As you pass through the main entrance of the village, (“Pylida”) you will find it decorated with works by the artist A. Fasianou, giving you the sense of entering a medieval fortress.
By this time hunger had taken over and I stopped at the first restaurant you see when you come through the gate of the village. The Piatsa is owned by Yannis and Evangelia and serves great lamb in lemon sauce, vleeta, and many oven dishes. It seemed that from the menu Evangelia's specialty is avolgomeno or "lemon sauce" since it showed up frequently. The Piatsa is very small so chances are by the end of the night you will be friends with whoever else happens to be eating there.
For my first dinner on the island I opted for a lighter dinner and a vegetarian dish of Briam. This classic dish is the Greek answer to ratatouille and its ingredients are open to interpretation from kitchen to kitchen as well as by what is available in season. Briam is a popular Greek summertime medley of oven roasted vegetables that can be easily adapted. Layers of vegetables are baked in a savoury tomato sauce and served either as the main meal or as a tasty side dish. In Greece, it’s sometimes eaten topped with a large slice of feta or another alternative is to add the feta while baking. It can be eaten hot or at room temperature. Good wine. Good island atmosphere and great food met me head on my first night on the island.
Kea (Tzia) offers its visitors a wide variety of mouth-watering traditional delicacies that are served at the tavernas and restaurants in the island’s seaside and mountain villages. For seafood lovers, there are mussels and rice, lobster pasta and sea urchin salad. If you prefer meat dishes, I suggest you try “paspalas” (pork with eggs and tomato) and “loza” (salted pork). Some hors d’ oeuvre style dishes are mushroom pie, tomato balls and squash balls. Lastly, do not forget to try the famous locally produced “mavro” wine.
After this respite I followed the cobble-stoned street leading to the Town Hall Square. I wandered around and lost myself in the labyrinth of narrow laneways in the Hora before hitting the hay. Unlike other islands, Kea remains a quaint, very low profile, rugged island, with few tourists, numerous pristine beaches, beautiful blue green waters, ancient cobblestone marked foot-paths, bird-watching nature reserves, few hotels and mostly, privately owned houses. This was only the beginning of my adventures on the island of Kea.
Ioulis has maintained its Cycladic atmosphere. Built in the shape of an amphitheatre, it presents the visitor with an impressive vista of two-storey houses and tiled roofs, steep cobbled alleyways and splendid churches with elaborately carved woodeden icon screens. At the highest pont of the village, on the site of the ancient acropolis, is a quarter known as Kastro wich commands a breathtaking view of the nearby islands off the coast of Attica.
Not far from here is the famous 'Lion of Kea'. The trademark of the town, this colossus stone sculpture, Leondos (Liontas 6th Century BC) is found on the northeastern border. Chiseled into the huge granite, grey hued cliff, it is an awe-inspiring sight, despite the decay caused by the winds. Tradition refers to Kea as being inhabited by nymphs, who would be entertained by scaring the ancient residents, who in turn created the giant stone Leondos to scare away the nymphs.
This dish brings back many wonderful memories of my time on Kea with Aglaia, Costas, Kostis, Marcie, the kids, The Snyders, Thr Moores, Pauline and of course Pope and Melek!!!! Aglaia Kremezi is a Julia Child winning cookbook author and writes for several publications as well. Each morning we gathered as a group to pick fresh herbs, tender grape leaves, lemons, zucchini blossoms and seasonal vegetables from Aglaia's extensive gardens to prepare a sumptuous lunch. In Aglaias style.... what was available in the garden dictated what was on the menu. Some days we would linger over a glass of wine under the arbour and enjoy our efforts; and other days we would venture to a secluded beach where we barbecued freshly caught fish. We hiked many of the ancient trails from one end of the island to the other with a botany lesson thrown in here and there. If you enjoy seafood, immersing yourself in a different culture and instant friendships this is the place for you. During my stay, besides learning many dishes from Aglaia Kremezi we swam, snorkelled on the numerous pristine beaches on the island, visited ancient sites, walked the picturesque Hora cobblestone narrow streets, followed several ancient marked footpaths to remote beaches, or simply had a lazy afternoon on Kastellakia beach and watched the sunset.
Leftover Briam, should there be any, can be turned into breakfast (or lunch or supper) hash. Just chop the vegetables a bit, cook in some water in a skillet. When it is warmed through, crack an egg or two into the bubbling mixture, cover and let fry until desired doneness.
**Roasted Vegetables (Briam) with Halloumi**
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra if required
1 large eggplant, halved lengthways, then thickly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut crosswise into 1⁄4" slices
6 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 medium zucchini,cut crosswise into 1⁄2" pieces
300g tomato passata
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 package halloumi (sliced into 1/4-inch slices)
Preheat the oven to 425F/220C.
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the eggplant in batches, adding more oil if necessary, for 5–7 minutes, until softened and golden. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl.
Add the onion and garlic to the pan, with a little more oil if necessary, and sauté for 5 minutes, until softened. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant. Add the potato, tomatoes, zucchini, passata (tomato sauce) and 177 mL(3/4 cup) water to the bowl. Sprinkle with thyme, oregano, and flat-leaf parsley and season generously with sea salt and ground black pepper. Combine well and transfer to a large ovenproof dish. Drizzle with any remaining oil.
Bake for 30 minutes, then turn down the oven to 400 F/200C. Bake for another 20–30 minutes, or until the top has browned and vegetables are tender. In last 15 minutes of cooking tip with slices of halloumi cheese. Allow to cool slightly before serving or serve at room temperature.
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