Category: Eating


A deeply satisfying soup that is good as a light main dish. The pomegranate lifts and brightens the deep, smoky flavours going into the bowl.

soup

Serves 4
olive oil 3 tbsp
chicken wings 12
smoked garlic 6 cloves
rosemary sprigs 4
bay leaves 3
thyme sprigs 12
water 2 litres
freekeh 100g
small carrots and parsnips 250g
pomegranate 1
chopped parsley a handful

Pour the oil into a deep casserole over a moderate heat and brown the chicken wings on both sides. Peel and crush then flatten the garlic cloves, then add them to the chicken together with the whole rosemary sprigs, bay, thyme and the water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently for an hour.

Rinse the freekeh then tip it into the chicken stock and continue simmering for 20 minutes. Halve the carrots and parsnips and add them to the pan, then leave to cook for 20 minutes till tender. Cut the pomegranate in half and take out the seeds. Remove the sprigs of herbs from the soup, they have done their work. Ladle into bowls, then spoon the chopped parsley and pomegranate seeds on top.

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How to cook the perfect kleftiko

One of the undisputed classics of Greek cuisine, kleftiko is a special-occasion dish which showcases Hellenic cooking at its simple best. It demands no fancy ingredients or tricky techniques, just good raw materials … and a good deal of patience. Said to be named after sheep-rustling bandits known as the klephts, who would cook their ill-gotten gains in underground pits to avoid detection, the success of the dish depends on long, slow roasting until the meat fairly falls off the bone. That’s handy, no doubt, when your knives were all engaged in more nefarious activity.

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Though it’s no doubt at its best at a whitewashed island taverna, it’s also perfect for feeding a crowd when the circus of fire and knives that is our traditional Sunday roast feels like too much effort. Like many of the best summer dishes, kleftiko is happy to do its own thing while you get on with more important stuff – such as sunbathing and drinking ouzo.

The cut of lamb

Most recipes I try call for leg. Rick Stein uses a whole one, while Sebastian’s Taverna in Corfu and Eli K Giannopoulos of the website My Greek Dish plump for pieces. The testing panel, however, is largely with Georgina Hayden, author of Stirring Slowly, who describes kleftiko as her “achilles heel”… but calls for shoulder, as does Tonia Buxton’s recipe.

Though leg looks impressive, and one tester prefers its relative leanness, everyone else feels like it’s a cut better suited to cooking fast and serving pink; the tougher, fattier shoulder, meanwhile, really benefits from slow cooking, becoming wonderfully juicy and rich. It’s also cheaper, which is always a pleasing bonus.

Those short of time might prefer to use Buxton’s leg pieces on the bone, which only need cooking for a couple of hours, though I’m slightly of the opinion that this is a dish that deserves a bit of love, and you’re probably better off making something else.

The cooking

While we’re on the subject of time, Giannopoulos marinates his leg steaks for 24 hours before cooking, which gives them a wonderfully deep flavour. If you don’t have that luxury, however, rest assured that it will still be delicious.

Sebastian’s Taverna is the only recipe to braise the kleftiko on the hob, rather than baking it in the oven. There’s no doubt that this keeps the meat beautifully juicy, but it doesn’t have the same intensity of flavour as the others, especially since the pieces are submerged in water. Adding less liquid, as Stein and Hayden recommend, gently steams the meat, so it’s moist, but still retains its distinctive flavour – rely on its own juices, as Buxton does, and you get a great-tasting kleftiko that’s just a touch dry.

Stein and Giannopoulos both bake their dishes at a high heat: 190C and 180C respectively, but for shoulder, I think Buxton and Hayden’s gentler 160C gives better, more tender results. Equally importantly, make sure it’s in a tightly sealed package, either in a heavy casserole dish, sealed with foil, as Stein recommends, or in a completely closed parcel of greaseproof paper sprinkled with water as in Hayden’s recipe, so no moisture can escape.

Though I suspect this is unorthodox, Giannopoulos’s final blast of heat, with the meat uncovered, does help boost the flavour, just as a melt-in-the-mouth sous-vide steak is made infinitely tastier by a brief dance on a hot grill.

Vegetables

The simplest recipe, from Sebastian’s Taverna, calls for nothing more than onions and garlic, and Hayden, though she uses more spice, sticks with garlic alone. But, as you’ve got the oven on anyway, it makes sense to cook a few vegetables at the same time. Stein, Buxton and Giannopoulos bulk the dish out with potatoes, which are gorgeously rich and soft after a few hours with a joint of lamb (and even better crisped up while the meat is resting as Giannopoulos suggests) – make sure you get the waxy kind, or you’ll be left with mush. Everyone peels them, but I think they’re even more delicious left whole, whatever Greek grannies might think.

Stein and Giannopoulos both also add peppers, and, like Buxton chuck a few tomatoes in there for good measure, which not only look colourful, but, as with anything given such a treatment, taste great too. They’re not absolutely necessary, but they do help make this dish into a one-pot treasure trove.

Garlic, however, is very much necessary – and the sharp flavour of the crushed kind is so different from the mellow sweetness of the roasted variety that I’m going to use it as both seasoning and vegetable. The sugary heat of Giannopoulos’s red onion works similarly brilliantly with the savoury lamb.

Stein adds crumbled feta to his kleftiko, inspired by the one served at a restaurant in Symi, and Giannopoulos goes for kefalotyri, a very versatile hard yellow cheese that, to my surprise, I find in the supermarket, though I’ve never noticed it before. Both have a tendency, however, to dissolve into the vegetables, prompting one tester to discreetly remove several blobs of what she believed to be lamb fat before I set her right. Cheese and lamb are not, to my mind, a marriage made in heaven, but if you fancy adding some, do so right before serving.

Hayden’s recipe has a non-traditional twist right at the end – it’s finished with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and mint tossed in a little red vine vinegar, which is a very pretty idea if you decide not to add any extra vegetables, and serve this with salads instead.

Seasonings

Oregano is an absolute must – I find the dried kind stands up better to long cooking than the fresh leaves – and a couple of bay leaves, as used by Buxton and Hayden, don’t go amiss either. A little acidity in the form of lemon juice, rather than Giannopoulos’ white wine, helps to cut through the richness of the meat and potatoes, so you can keep going back for more. Best followed by a glass of raki and a nap in the shade of a gnarly fig tree.
Perfect kleftiko

(serves 6)
1 lamb shoulder, about 2kg
Olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 heads of garlic
2 lemons
1 kg waxy potatoes
1 large red onion
1 red pepper
1 bay leaf
12 cherry tomatoes

Rub the meat with oil. Sprinkle over the cinnamon, oregano and salt, and peel and roughly crush half a head of garlic. Rub all this into the meat with your hands along with the juice of one lemon. Cover and leave for 12 hours.

Heat the oven to 160C. Cut the potatoes into wedges and use them to line the base of a large lidded casserole dish (or use a roasting tin lined with enough parchment paper to fold over the top of the joint on both sides – you’ll probably need two pieces at right angles). Cut the onion into wedges and the pepper into chunky strips, removing the seeds, then add the cherry tomatoes. Place the lamb on top. Cut the remaining garlic and lemon in half laterally, squeeze the lemon briefly over the potatoes, and tuck the shells and the garlic in around the joint along with the bay leaf. Pour 200ml water into the dish. If using a casserole dish, tuck a damp piece of greaseproof on top and cover, if using a roasting dish, sprinkle the overhanging paper with water and fold over and tuck in to form a sealed package. Bake for 4-5 hours until very tender.

Turn the oven up to 220C and roast, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes at this higher temperature, then lift the joint out and set aside. Put the vegetables back in for 15 minutes until starting to brown, then serve with the meat.

Corney & Barrow Côtes du Rhône, France 2011(£9.50, Corney & Barrow) After last week’s bargain festive bottles, I’m setting my sights a little higher, with Christmas dinner wines from around £10 right up to serious splash-out territory. At £10, posh independent merchant Corney & Barrow has a superb own-label red Côtes du Rhône 2011. Made by the Gonnet family of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it’s perfectly pitched between ripe-fruited richness and lively freshness. Just as good with the turkey and trimmings, Tesco Finest Viña del Cura Rioja Gran Reserva 2009 (£10) has a swish of blackberry to go with its classically Rioja oaky mellowness, while Asda has a crisp but mouth-filling white burgundy in the shape of Domaine Marguerite Dupasquier Rully 2013 (£10.50).

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Meyer Pinot Noir, Okanagan, Canada 2014 (£18, Marks & Spencer) Staying with the chardonnays of Burgundy, Oddbins has the very smart, chiselled, creamy-but-racy Domaine Guerrin et Fils Saint-Véran Le Clos Vessats 2014 (£12.50, Oddbins), although fans of the style will be just as impressed by the slightly richer pair from South Africa: Iona Chardonnay 2014 and Paul Clüver Chardonnay 2014 (both £15, from M&S and Morrisons respectively; both seriously good). For reds, I was very taken by M&S’s first foray into Canada with the deliciously pure oaked raspberry of Meyer Pinot Noir, while those who prefer a little more power and density could go for the aromatic D’Arenberg Wild Pixie Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia 2011 (£17, Sainsbury’s).

Bodegas López de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Reserva, Spain 2004 (£21.95, Waitrose) Nudging above £20 we’re into fine wine territory with the silky, savoury Viña Bosconia Reserva from López de Heredia. It’s only in six stores, so you’ll need to get your skates on and order online (waitrosecellar.com), maybe adding a similarly posh white to your order such as the nutty white burgundy Domaine Vincent Prunier Meursault Les Vireuils 2013 (£30.99, Waitrose). Meanwhile, M&S also has a fine festive pair: the magnificently supple, peppered-meaty northern Rhône syrah red of Domaine Coursodon Cuvée Olivaie St-Joseph 2007 (£35) and the soft herbal dry white Italian Pieropan Soave La Rocca 2013 (£27).

Roast poppy seed chicken recipes

The chickpeas, cooked inside the chicken, swell deliciously with the fat and juices from the bird as it roasts. You can expect a 2kg chicken to take a can and a half of chickpeas. The remainder, scattered around the bird, will crisp lightly. Mashed until almost smooth with lemon juice and the roasting juices, you end up with a deeply savoury hummus to eat with the chicken and its crunchy, poppy-seed freckled skin.

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chickpeas 2 x 400g cans
chicken 1 x 2kg free-range
olive oil 2 tbsp
redcurrant jelly 2 heaped tbsp
white vinegar 1 tbsp
poppy seeds 1 tbsp
lemon juice of 1
flat-leaf parsley 6 sprigs
olive oil

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4.

Drain the chickpeas, then season them with salt and a little pepper. Place the chicken in a roasting tin on its end and spoon the chickpeas inside the bird, letting any overspill fall into the tin. Lay the chicken down, trickle the olive oil over, season, then roast for about 55 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven, tip or spoon out all the chickpeas and transfer them to a food processor.

Mix the redcurrant jelly and vinegar in a small pan over a moderate heat, then brush the bird with the mixture, scatter with the poppy seeds and return to the oven for 7-10 minutes.

Pull the leaves from the parsley. Process the chickpeas to a smooth, wet purée with the lemon juice, a few spoons of the pan juices from the chicken and the parsley leaves.

Remove the bird from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes, then carve into thick pieces and serve, together with the chickpea purée and any juices from the roasting tin.