On the footsteps of greek simplicity – Lentil Stew

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I’m on a two-week holiday in Greece at the moment and lots of things are fermenting and ruminating in my mind, narrowing it down to a succinct thread is my usual challenge. Considering we are in the middle of a greek financial crises, no jobs etc, its business as usual here in Mykonos, and I’m guessing on most of the islands for that matter.  I’m not going to talk about the economic climate, nor will I reflect on how this affects the greek but I imagine that this isn’t the first hardship the greek have faced and survived, for this is a fiercely proud and hardy bunch.
 As the burly vegetable vendor reminded me when I asked him for a soft avocado  “people here in Mykonos like their avocados hard not soft, we Greeks are strong, sorry about this madame”  I smiled and got myself a hard avocado, plus a discount which he’s seems to enjoy giving freely.  Burly he may be but with a heart of gold.  In fact on several returns to his stall, I’m now welcome like a long-lost relative and he assures me that all his produce is grown in `Greece.  There is a strength here, a pride and fierce independence.  These qualities are also reflected in the harsh lunar like landscape, where not much seems to grow, yet on a  closer inspection the countryside harbours pockets of the most exquisite herbs, wild greens and olives of course.  There is life here, hidden but strong.

To survive on these isles, people had to live off the land very simply and grow everything themselves. Their diet is based on an abundance of vegetables, pulses, herbs, olive oil, some dairy products (mainly sheep/goats cheese), honey and very little fish and meat. The climate here is temperate and due to the rich soils and long sunshine hours, produce is very flavoursome.  Most restaurants we visit also have their own vegetable garden and the menu shows them prepared in many imaginative ways: courgette patties, grilled vegetables, marinated charcoal aubergines drizzled with local honey, greek salad, okra in tomato sauce, you get the drift.

So when I next visit my now friendly vegetable vendor I dive into some of his beautiful wares and out came this lentil stew.  A simple but nourishing affair, served with some homemade sourdough bread (Yes my starter went on holiday with us too!), drizzled with olive oil and feta, and a view of the deep blue sea. Life really doesn’t get much better than this.

Lentil Stew

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup dried brown/green lentils
  • 1 big onion diced small
  • 1 garlic clove diced small
  • 2 courgettes diced small
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes either fresh or tinned
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh or dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • soak the lentils in plenty of water for 8 hours or overnight, then drain and discard water
  • sauté the onion, garlic and courgette in olive oil, over a low heat in a pot, for about 10 min
  • once the onion is soft and translucent add the herbs and honey, cook for 1 minute stirring
  • add the lentils, tomatoes and water
  • bring to a boil and then continue on a low simmer for 30-60 min until the lentils are soft
  • add the salt and pepper to taste

Garnish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some crumbled feta. If you leave the feta out, this dish is essentially vegan.  You can add all sorts of vegetables, depending on what you have got in your fridge.  As an alternative to courgettes you can use carrots, celery and fennel during the sautéing phase and towards the end of the cooking process you can add some greens like spinach in summer or kale in autumn/winter.

With Love x