CULTURE

Success at the dinner table with Maria Harami

It begins with fresh, quality ingredients, followed by a touch of tradition, which is then accompanied by a few drops of fruitful imagination. This is, in a nutshell, what culinary expert, author and journalist Maria Harami offers as her basic recipe for success at the dinner table. «Maria Harami – My Favorite Recipes,» published in Greek by Axon Publications, is the newest arrival in the publishing house’s «Only the Best» series. The third entry in the lifestyle section, following in the footsteps of wine and restaurant guides, it also joins 11 travel guides to mainland Greece and various islands. For Harami, the book is added to a long list of achievements: A reputable maverick of local culinary research and criticism, the author began a food column in Kathimerini back in 1987. Today, she is food editor of To Vima newspaper and enjoys a successful career in publishing. Her first book «The Joys of the Dining Table» (Oi Hares tou Trapeziou), was followed by «Coq au Vin» (Kokoras Krasatos), and a culinary essay titled «De Gustibus.» Favorites By incorporating into her favorites recipes a basketful of ideas based on the traditions of the broader Mediterranean region, the author firmly states that she has not embarked on a search for the mousaka’s family tree; instead, she puts forward the comforting idea that the people of this sun-blessed region share not only their flavors but also their character traits. What she works with, therefore, are the basics in Greek raw materials, such as olive oil, while discarding the use of flour for sauce thickening, for instance, in favor of homemade bouillon cubes. In the book, Harami also offers a guideline for the reader’s appreciation of Greek olive oil in its variety, while she also reiterates a longstanding case for the promotion of sweet, local wine. The author further points out that all the recipes in the book have been tried, executed, tested and ultimately enjoyed by the author and dear friends. Sprinkled with a strong dose of humor, Harami’s recipes come with various twists: traditional courses such as the garlic-based skordalia get a ruby and a pistachio version, a «fake» mageiritsa (traditional tripe soup from the Easter table) comes without tripe but with mushrooms, while trahanas (crushed wheat boiled in milk and then dried) is accompanied by chestnuts. Stuffed peppers get a trahanas filling, popular biftekakia (meatballs) include pistachios. Delicacies such as fish roe rest on potato skins while quail is garnished with deep red cherries. The dessert hour turns into a fine occasion with Harami’s delicate suggestions, which include sugar with rose petals, deep red sorbet with a touch of tsipouro, rose flower frozen ices. But we also get popular and familiar dishes such as semolina-based halvah, diples (fried batter with syrup and nuts) and baked walnut pie. Witty, colorful and easy to execute, Harami’s fresh crop of recipes is set to successfully safeguard traditional values without compromising a modern feel. For a better idea of what Maria Harami’s latest cookbook has to offer, try out this week’s recipe on the family. Peppers stuffed with trachanas Serves four 8 green peppers of the same size 400 gm ripe tomatoes 280 gm chopped onion olive oil 100 gm sweet trachanas 30 gm pine kernels 40 gm finely chopped mint 30 gm dark raisins 30 gm finely chopped parsley paprika and cayenne pepper salt and freshly ground black pepper Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Wash the peppers under running water. Remove and set aside the caps and stems. Discard the seeds and white membrane from inside the peppers. Wash the raisins. Peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Dice the flesh of two tomatoes and keep the juice. Squeeze the remaining tomatoes, putting the juice through a fine strainer and collecting it. Put the chopped onion into a nonstick frying pan, add salt and 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium heat until the water is absorbed. Add 4-5 tablespoons of oil and lower the heat, stir and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the trachanas, stir and cook for another three minutes. Add the pine kernels and mint, stir, and cook for two minutes. Add the raisins, parsley and pepper; stir and cook for another two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and a little juice, stir and bring to the boil. Grease a baking dish with oil. Stuff the aromatic trachanas mixture into the peppers until they are 2/3 full. Moisten each pepper with one-and-a-half tablespoon of tomato juice and replace their caps.Put the peppers on the baking dish and cook for 30-40 minutes or until ready.