Tuesday 17 July 2012

Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen

Last night I was working with the kitchen crew at Sustainable Bungay's Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen. This monthly gathering has been running for over a year now and is always fully booked: 50+ people sitting down together at the Community Centre to enjoy a seasonal, local, low carbon (as poss) meal and everything cooked from scratch. You can read a write-up about the meals by one of the regular cooks, Lesley Hartley (right) for our last newsletter here.

Christine Smith, another regular cook and part of the Happy Mondays planning group, loves Greece and this month’s menu was inspired by her visits. She wrote the introduction to the menu (below) and talked between courses about solidarity with Greece in times of austerity, and living close to the land and to the seasons:

Our main dish is Σπανακοτυροπιττα (spanokotiropitta) a spinach and cheese pie popular across Greece where it makes great use of simple, readily available ingredients. We’ll be using feta cheese with local spinach and chard. Our pie will be served with Γιγαντεσ (gigantes), butter beans in a tomato and selino (Greek celery) sauce with oregano and a little cinnamon.

Our 3 side dishes are Μαρουλι σαλατα (marouli salata), a delicious lightly dressed shredded lettuce and spring onion salad; Παντζαρια σαλατα (pantzaria salata), a sliced cooked beetroot salad dressed with oil and wine vinegar and Τζατχικι (tzatziki), a cucumber and yoghurt dip.

Greek desserts are very simple - often meals are finished with apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon, slices of melon or a pastry. Equally common is home made yoghurt served with honey and walnuts. We’ve decided to make Ρυζιγαλο (rizogalo). Less often seen here than Greek pastries or yoghurt it’s a rice pudding served cold with cinnamon and honey, we’ll be making ours with
milk from Bungay.

These dishes, although found in some form all over Greece, are particular specialities from the Mani, the most southerly point of the Greek Mainland. Traditionally a very poor area, the cooking here makes good use of the simplest of ingredients, with many people still making their own cheese from sheep and goats milk and producing a wide variety of vegetables as well as harvesting their own olives for oil, eating and for soap.

This is an area of beautiful coastlines and rugged mountains, with dramatic foothill landscape in between. The few cattle are generally following a transhumance way of life, being taken to high pastures in the summer, and coming back down for the winter. Other crops still produced on a small scale include walnuts, figs, honey, beans for drying. Horta, the wild bitter greens eaten in large quantities by the locals is also collected from unsprayed olive groves. Fish is an important part of the diet, with meat playing a much smaller role for most, the exception being in tourist locations.

The twice-weekly main market in Kalamata is bursting with fresh produce, a riot of colour and tastes, 80% being fruits and vegetables, but with a very good range of very fresh fish, 60 plus varieties are often available at any one time.

You always see people walking away with huge bags packed with kilos of cucumbers, aubergines, peppers, lemons... The bakeries are excellent too, several making on a daily basis sourdough bread which is baked in wood fired ovens. With careful shopping it is possible to eat delicious meals for very little money, because the quality is so high - especially the local olive oil, a rich, peppery and
very green delight!

Enjoy your meal! Christine Smith

Each Tuesday the Low Carbon Cookbook crew selects a different topic from our work-in-progress. Next week: Off-grid pizza worskhop at Tin Village, Sunrise Festival, 2012

Images: Lewis, Lesley and Nick about to serve up at Happy Monday, Bungay Community Centre; shredding lettuce with Chrisitne; local unpasteurised milk from Flixton dairy sheds;cover of Patrick Leigh Fermor's classic travel book of the region ; sitting down to a Happy Monday meal (October).

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