Kozani holds a cultural feast

Imagine a beautiful square with corners and steps; in each corner there are groups of children playing. In one of the corners they are playing an educational game with water, in another they are making an entire range of microscopic objects with clay, while in the center of the square another group of children and their teacher are acting out the braggart (who walks/and entreats God/for it to rain with rainwater/a steady rain/for our wheat to grow/and our corn). Then, the 50 members of the town’s orchestra arrive, sit in a circle on the chairs in the square and play music from Hartino mou Feggaraki (My Little Paper Moon) to Milo mou Kokkino (My Red Apple), obeying the baton of Mr. Paris. It is hard to know where to start. Should it be with the exhibition of old children’s toys from the Benaki Museum; with the magic show by Spyros Spyrakos and Savina Yiannatou; with Lilliput and fairy tales, sung and danced or with readings? Or with the concert by Domna Samiou, or the captivating conferences with academic themes? What shall I tell you first about the most recent events in Kozani, all to the sound of the brass band! All this and much, much more took place over the four days dedicated to popular culture with the theme Our Place and cooked up by the Municipality of Kozani with the assistance of the anthropologist Nora Skouteri-Didaskalou of the University of Thessaloniki. I will just tell you about the cooking (literally now) which I did with 10 local women, using the town’s Municipal Bar as a base and with the invaluable help of many friends. To the sounds of the band We cooked dishes from Kozani and the wider region, offering them to approximately 2,000 people in the square on Saturday, September 22. The first and foremost of all the foods of Kozani are the yiaprakia, stuffed pickled cabbage leaves. Unfortunately, this wonderful gastronomic produce is not available during this period. The preparations begin on the feast of Saint Philip on November 14 or of Saint Catherine on November 25 in order to be ready by Christmas, as it is inconceivable to have a Kozani home without yiaprakia at Christmas – this would be like the end of the world. When, however, they want to make this special version of stuffed cabbage leaves and they don’t have pickling brine, they cook the fresh cabbage leaves in water with salt and lemon (or vinegar) to make them look like the yellow and spicy pickled cabbages. This is what we did in Kozani and I stuffed 3,064 yiaprakia. We also made a dish which they call trigitiko because they usually make it now, during the harvest season, known as trigos in Greek. Fasolada with… walnuts The fasolada bean dish from Chrysavgi Voio is eaten during strict fasts to which they add crushed walnuts instead of olive oil. This dish has a high gastronomic value if we consider that the pulses of western Macedonia are select and that the walnuts, in addition to their taste, give the dish a strange walnut color. Of course, as well as the pork cooked with both cabbage and leeks, we made bread and pilaf rice with saffron (crocus), which is grown in the valley of Tsarasamba, outside of Kozani. We also cooked meat (two-year-old lamb) in the square and served it hot with pepper, while with the juices we made a vegetable soup with trahana (crushed wheat) and served it late in the evening as a soother for all those the worse for wear from the drink and the dance. The food was served in the square to the accompaniment of the local brass band and dynamic Greek Macedonian dances with the pure Kozani names Lazios and Anaktosia, while the women serving abandoned their ladles every so often and performed a dance or two. Yiaprakia, the traditional dish of Kozani Yiaprakia are the stuffed pickled cabbage leaves of Kozani. Since it is unlikely that you will find them, I have described how to scald the leaves so that they look similar, but it’s not the same thing. The number of stuffed leaves is analogous to how large you want each piece. If you make large ones, the size of small lemons, then estimate around 25-30 pieces. The mince is traditionally pork with a little beef, although I use lamb in place of beef. You can use just pork, as they did in the past. In the past they also used to redden the yiaprakia using sweet red pepper only, whereas now they add a little tomato paste. The aromatic pepper is used as the spice. Ingredients: 1 large cabbage juice of 2 lemons 1 teaspoon vinegar 2 tablespoons salt Filling: 1 kilo mince 1 cup rice 1 red onion (grated) oregano and aromatic pepper 1 level tablespoon sweet red pepper salt and black pepper 5 tablespoons olive oil For the spread: 1 tablespoon sweet red pepper 1 tablespoon aromatic pepper corns 1 glass olive oil 1 tablespoon tomato paste (if desired) Boil some water in a pan in order to scald the cabbage. Add the lemon, vinegar, salt and a cup of lemon juice. Once it starts to boil add the cabbage, having removed the thick stem first. Do not boil for too long, just enough to soften the leaves. Remove it and leave it to cool, then separate the leaves. Line the pan with the thick stems and the leaves unsuitable for wrapping. Mix all the ingredients for the filling and stuff the yiaprakia, placing them in rows in the pan close together. Then add the uncrushed spice, the sweet red pepper, the olive oil and the tomato paste dissolved in water. Place on the hob, seal the yiaprakia with a plate so that they do not open out, add boiling water in order to cover the plate. Once it begins to boil, lower the heat in order for the yiaprakia to steam, for around an hour. Leave the stuffed leaves covered for at least one hour before you serve them. Note: the cabbage must be loose so that the leaves can separate easily. Tight cabbages are suitable only for salads.

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