Ancient Greek Snacksby Sybaris | 07.01.18
Close your eyes and imagine Ancient Greece. What do you see? People in white robes with olive branch garlands, discussing philosophy, eating figs and drinking wine? One thing we know for certain about ancient times which still exists in many towns and cities across the world today is The Agora. The Agora was the central meeting place in Ancient Greece, now known as the piazza, the plateia, the town square, the plaza, the civic center; the Agora was and remains ground zero for meeting and exchange, including the sale of food. According to studies, the diet of the average Ancient Greek consisted largely of bread, watered down wine, olives and olive oil, figs, legumes, perhaps cheeses, fruit and vegetable varieties as they could grow, and sparse meat. In modern Greece, while much has changed from the days of wine and bread, many of the same ingredients that were used in Ancient Greece are still used in modern cooking.
Below are two recipes, one savory and one sweet, inspired by this preserved ancient space that is surrounded by modernity. Two recipes that take a bit from the old and a bit from the new, to put life into perspective and remind us that life in Ancient Greece maybe isn’t as far away as we might think.
Ancient Greek Salad
Paximadi is the generic word for the hard bread rusks that are used in many varieties and meals throughout Greek cooking. These rusks can be stored for quite some time and bring any salad, most famously dakos, to another level. Here, we use carob paximadi in a salad filled with ancient delights, many of which we still enjoy today.
1 large tomato, roughly chopped
1 small/medium tomato
1 medium cucumber, roughly sliced
4 dried figs, sliced
1 tbsp capers
45g (1/4 c) olives, recommend kalamata or a dark, salty dried black olive variety
75g (1/2 c) dark grapes, halved
Generous handful of paximadi
1 garlic clove, grated or crushed
30 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil, more to taste
10 ml (2 tsp) raki*
15 ml (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle dried oregano, optional
*Raki refers to Greek/Cretan ‘grappa’ or tsikoudia. This is similar to grappa, it is NOT ouzo or anise flavoured. If you can’t find raki, you can skip this.
In a large bowl, add the olive oil, garlic, raki, vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper, whisk to combine. Take the smaller tomato and cut it in half. Using a grater, grate the flesh of the tomato against the grater into the bowl so the juices from the tomato are added to the rest of the oil-vinegar dressing ingredients, and combine.
Add the rest of the salad ingredients into the bowl with the dressing, combine and serve. If serving later, add the paximadi upon serving so they don’t get soggy.
Pastelli Panna Cotta with Fig Honey Jam
Did you know that Pasteli is actually documented in some iteration from ancient times? We certainly didn’t, until recently. We love this candy because it’s so simple but yet, can come in many variations from many regions, and is one of the most perfect sweets. This recipe is inspired not only by Pasteli but also the fig, one of the most ancient fruits that I always greet with joy from the knowledge that a good fig signifies that summer is in full swing.
Serves 2-4 (depending on size of ramekins).
For the panna cotta:
200g plain Greek-style yogurt
200ml heavy cream
2 sheets gelatin (or equivalent in powder or agar-agar), dissolved in approximately 45-60ml (3-4 tbsp) water according to gelatin instructions
5g (1 tsp) tahini
15ml (1 tbsp) honey
9g (1 tbsp) sesame seeds, toasted
15g (1 tbsp) almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Approximately 15ml (1 tbsp) olive oil
For the fig topping:
4 – 6 ripe figs, quartered
15ml (1 tbsp) honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
In a pan on medium heat, lightly toast the sesame seeds and almonds. Once cooled, roughly chop the almonds. Set aside.
If you want to invert the pannacotta after it sets, prepare 2-4 small ramekins for setting by brushing a layer of olive oil inside each ramekin. Otherwise, you can enjoy the panna cotta from the ramekin with a spoon. Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the yogurt, cream, tahini and honey. Then add the cooled sesame seeds and almonds, and combine. Then add the gelatin/water mixture (be sure it is cool or at room temperature), and the lemon juice, and combine.
Divide the mixture among the ramekins and place in the refrigerator to set for at least 2 hours. If setting for more than a few hours, cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
Prepare the fig jam topping: In a small pot, combine the quartered figs (with or without skin, your preference), honey, and approximately 160ml water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer over medium heat and add the lemon juice. Cook until you have a thick, jam-like consistency, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
When your panna cotta has set, if you want to invert it on to a plate, bring some water to a simmer in a saucepan and place the ramekin in the pan for 5-8 seconds to gently warm the ramekin. Invert into a plate. Top with honey-fig jam and enjoy!
Photography: Ran Golani
Text and Recipes by Sharon Brenner