Με η Χωρις (With or without)

Pelion vol. 2

French people say “Jamais deux sans trois” (Never 2 is without 3) and I have the feeling, indeed a strong feeling, that there will be another comeback, after my second stay in Pelion this summer. The charm of the peninsula bridging the sea and the mountain, the flavours and perfumes full of life and vigour, the warmth of the people bringing a smile on my face are all the reasons to keep this special feeling of returning, vivid and alive. Each comeback turns deeper, and new finer layers reveal gradually to me. And a magical door opens to the unknown. Maybe because I already have that bigger picture after my first 2020 explorations, and now wished to dive deeper, and feel, and cherish the magic of just a few specific experiences. Unfolding them slowly, layer after layer.

My Pelion volume #2 story is again about the essence of flavour, local and seasonal, it’s about the multidimensional sensorial experience one could get from each bite of freshly prepared food. Food from the local land and hands, grown and prepared with care, and rich in taste, aroma and texture. And differently from last year, I will share some recipes as we cooked and experimented a lot at home. When you spend a month in a place it inevitably turns into your home, and it is the most natural thing to prepare your own food and cherish the local generosity. A friend gives you lemons, just picked from the tree, or sweet garden tomatoes and zucchinis, or wild asparagus frozen from the April harvest, or marinated tsitsiravla (the young spring shoots of the Terebinth/ wild pistachio tree), and obviously the temptation to utilize those fresh products is there to stay, and it makes you create simple delicious local food. For those little big celebrations and sharing.

This time I will start our gastronomic walk from the north, from Volos, the capital of Magnesia region (Pelion peninsula is part of it), which delighted me immensely with its renowned traditions and indulging secrets in gastronomy. Once again I’m captivated by the fact that whether you are in a village, or in a bigger town, you discover locally crafted products, often for 3-4 generations, and enjoy some very special and unique treats. We were honoured to have our 3-day flavour tour done by a dear friend, Eleni Psychouli, the TV host of 2 gastronomic shows, who knows a lot about artisanal and traditional food! So, in just 3 days we explored the streets of the city in a very diligent way, regardless of the 35C, which felt like at least 40C, and the sun radiating with utmost generosity during some of our most emblematic walks. When there is a will, there is a way, and certainly our enthusiastic group carried that kind of spirit! I loved that special view to the port, and the sparkling blue of the Pagasetic gulf, the elegant mountain ranges of the mainland fading in the distance, veiled in transparent mist, the full moon, perhaps the largest one for the whole year looking friendly at me, the calm of the waters as opposed to the lively buzz of the city at night. Volos has around 150 thousand inhabitants and is the 6th biggest city in Greece, a white beauty cosily nested between the sea and the neighbouring hills on the east.

Now that I go back in my mind to those days in Volos, I feel like sharing 5 vivid flavour experiences, very special memories, as if kept in a little drawer, which once being opened and reopened comes to vibrant life. All of them are so different, and equal in my love for them!

#1 fine dough specialities at Phylo Phylo (Φυλλο Φύλλο), made by the generous hands of pastry master Vassou. She welcomed us with the widest smile and radiating eyes full of happiness and love for what she is doing in her cute workshop. I tasted Tiganokloura (Τηγανοκλουρα) ~ fried tender dough filled with feta, traditional on the Sporades islands (Skopelos, Skyathos and Alonissos), Spanakopita (Σπανακόπιτα) with wild greens and the finest hand rolled phyllo pastry, and Badzina (Μπατζινα) ~ the Greek “pizza” traditionally baked in Karditsa and Trikala regions in Thessaly, thick around 1 cm,  with some feta, zucchini, peppers from Florina, etc. Those were absolutely amazing and juicy bites, and an insisting invitation to prepare the pizza once at home. All the dough pastries had very fine taste and the extra virgin olive oil along with some butter were distinct with pleasantness. As usual in Greece the good food places use their local vegetable fat, olive oil, to make the taste mind-blowing, and Vassou knows about taste a lot! It’s definitely a stop to make in Volos!

#2 very special lokum (Turkish delight) at Loukoumia O’Pappous (Λουκούμια Ο’Παππους) since 1930, a simple place taking you many years back in time with its ambiance and modest way of serving and packing the delight. They offer a basic recipe along with a walnut one. What makes this lokum absolutely unique is the grape must used as a base for sweetness, making the texture light and tender, and the flavour sensation natural and with some caramelised notes, yet not being overly sweet (a usual situation with lokum). I need to admit that I have never tasted this kind of refined deliciousness in my lokum explorations in Turkey or in Bosna & Herzegovina, or in Bulgaria. It instantly “healed” my throat😊 as per the original name from Arabic “Rahat-ul-hulkum”, meaning to soothe or heal the throat. Such a luscious and velvety discovery, and a must place to visit!

#3 very special halva (χαλβάς) at Papagiannopoulous (Χαλβάς Βολου Παπαγιαννοπουλος) since 1919, another product bridging our Ottoman culinary heritage on the Balkans. It is curious to note that halva originates in Persia and the 1st mentions go back to the 7th century, yet the 1st records of the earlier Persian recipes date back to the 13th century in the Arabic book Kitab al-Tabikh. In the Ottoman empire halva had also a sesame-based version and has been a very emblematic sweet in all the Balkan countries, nowadays too. The Papagiannopoulous family makes their own tahinis, a base ingredient for the halva, and the final product feels exceptionally fine as a bite. I tasted several varieties ~ with roasted hazelnuts and red currant, with pistachio and mastic from Chios Island, with lots of dark chocolate and almonds. All of them were stunning! And of course, we took some rolls in our bags to continue the delight during our whole stay in Platanias, in South Pelion. 

#4 Cheese pie on the pan by Eleni Psychouli. A breakfast to remember and cherish! And to prepare at home, definitely, many many  times. This simple pie took me back to my childhood, spending time with my grandparents who used to have a wood fire stove. My grandma would make a simple dough with just flour, water and salt, keep it for some time to rest split in small balls, roll it into a thin circle with diameter 40 cm and bake it right on the stove. The flavour gets very distinct and special, of bread, of fire, of a cosy winter home, of love. The phyllo layers get thicker compared to the fine ones used for baklava or banitsa, or burek, and this specific makes it unparallel to anything else too. Therefore, this home-made pie prepared by Eleni for breakfast, especially for us, was so extraordinarily special. A layer of sprinkled with warm water phyllo circle, some largely crumbled feta cheese, some sliced Campari tomatoes, some oregano and black pepper for flavour, and another layer of phyllo on the top to “close” the pie. One also needs to consider a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and some butter, 10 min. on the pan for the 2 sides to get golden and crispy, and lots of focus and skilful movements to turn the pie around promptly, without losing its wholeness and beauty😊Eleni had them all!!! To make our morning with a sea view even more amazing! (recipe follows at the end of the article) 

#5 unavoidable Tsipouro situation at Tsipouradiko To Filaraki (Τσιπουραδικο Το Φιλαρακι), a family-run top ranking tsipouradiko serving daily the freshest food. Well, this is a day to remember and an answer about the title of this second story about Pelion! How not to name it after this authentic, memorable and exciting experience, a ritual on its own, which by the way gives many answers to existential questions about life and its deserved enjoyment ~ slowly, with passion, easy-going, the patented” Greek way. There are perhaps 3 major dimensions, particularly important to note when in a Tsipouradiko  (a traditional place for tsipouro and mezze in Greece). #1 give yourself in, effortlessly, to the “tsipouro situation” (indeed it is a situation, which lasts in average for min. 3-4 hours), flow with it with joy, #2 don’t speak much to the staff/ waiter. They know their job perfectly well! With just a gesture they will understand you, if you decide to go for words though, they are just 2 ~ Με/Χωρις and refer to with or without anis in the drink to be served to you, all the rest follows on its own, #3 keep a sustainable and enjoyable rhythm for 3-4 hours, rushing is not a way to experience fully the Tsipouro situation. Not at all! I find this ritual, part of the local cultural signature, such a rewarding gift for our contemporary humanity, because it is about people’s bonding and time together, about sharing energy, warmth, ideas, thoughts, laughter, jokes, even talking about irrelevant things, in the most connecting and easy-going way. It is about simplicity and the perfection of the little moments that turn giant because of our shared happiness, lasting for hours. Certainly, the quality of the food, the light-spirited mood, the tsipouro itself add a lot of charm to the whole “situation”😊

Spending these 3 hours at Το Φιλαρακι was one of the most memorable experiences for me, being with close to my heart friends, tasting slowly fine mezzes with distinct and diverse flavours, one could savour layer after layer, enjoying the most beautifully arranged little plates with every attention to the smallest detail. For our ladies’ potential we tasted around 20 different dishes, served gradually, with the various rich flavours of the sea and the vegetable garden, perfectly matched with the tsipouro drink (the quantity of the plates is proportional to the size of the tsipouro bottle😉). And what is absolutely curios is that it all starts with the smallest in size fish sardela and depending on the size of the tsipouro bottle(s) the fish could reach 50-60 cm, even more at the final stage of the situation. 

I would stop the storytelling here and leave it to you to finish it, once you visit a good tsipouradiko in Greece and sink into this authentic ritual! I fell in love with it and I’m sure you would too, it is unavoidable. Let me mention that I started drinking tsipouro (even my dad who was a fine rakia master could not teach me to drink it for my 49 years on this planet), and answering “yes” to the question of my friend, master baker Yiannis from Lafkos, “Do you drink tsipouro?” was the most genuine response. I accepted a bottle of the drink crafted in Portaria, this precious gift, with a smile and gratitude. I accepted with appreciation a second gift related to the tsipouro situation, a book by Alexandros Psychoulis Τα Τσιπουρα στο Βολο” which takes the reader through this emblematic for Volos tradition, step by step, with the needed attention to every single detail of the ritual . Well, next year we will be able to read it in English, looking forward to it, as Alexandros himself knows a lot about how to bring signature flavour to life, and how to cherish every single bite.

We continue our tour south, stopping by in Argalasti to visit our friends from Patistis organic winery and taste their 2020 creations. I praise the artisan producers, because one could experience different products (new, up-levelled, experimentations, flowing with what Nature has to offer in a particular year and harvest) and always be surprised and captivated by something in the range. This is one of the reasons why wine and extra virgin olive oil have so much in common ~ matching the best use of technology with what Nature has to offer in a year, for crafting the highest quality of product. And every year is different and unique, thus its outcomes are unique. For me personally, this year wine tasting was marked by Assyrtiko grape variety (originating from Santorini Island) and the potential it has, offered in 3 different styles ~ classics barrel fermented, natural (10-month fermentation in clay amphoras), and retsina (adding pine resin from Katigiorgis area at the 10th day of the 40-day overall fermentation in contact with the skins). This was a journey of vivid palette of sensations! I would encourage you when visiting the winery to give more attention to this vertical tasting of local Assyrtiko, which represents the land of the family. To make the experience even more memorable Kostas offered us some artisanal home-made mezzes to taste ~ marinated vine tendrils, wild asparagus and tsitsiravla, as well as dried tomato slices in extra virgin olive oil seasoned with aromatic wild thyme.

Now that I mention tsitsiravla for the 3rd time, it is a wonderful occasion to explore it deeper together. This is my greens discovery ranking #1 for this year in Pelion, unique only for this area in Greece. You already know my love for Kritama (sea fennel), which I met last year for the first time, on the rocks by the sea, and took it back home again this year, hand-picked and home-marinated in jars. With love. Tsitsiravla is the spring shoots of the wild pistachio tree, picked in April and preserved for the months to come. Could be marinated or just blanched and frozen after. I tried it marinated as a mezze, or added to a cheese toast, also as a topping of kritharaki (similar to orzo) pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and dehydrated olive powder. It is fantastic in all its revelations. I couldn’t hide my admiration for the local habits to collect every edible gift of Nature in every season. How could one possibly imagine that picking spring shoots of a tree, or vine tendrils is the most obvious thing to do? 

My final geographical little story is dedicated to Trikeri area, the furthest point on the peninsula from Volos, almost joining the mainland and Evia island, a magical place one returns and returns. The French saying about 2 and 3 is absolutely valid for me, it was such a happy return! This time is about 3 new places ~ Trikeri village up in the mountain, Alogopouros village, a connecting point to the nearby little island by taxi boat (with some tavernas, a little chapel and a monastery among a vast olive grove, just keep in mind that it closes 2-5 p.m.) and a breath-taking view when driving back down to Kottes. 

Kottes is a cute fisherman’s village, perhaps the smallest one I have ever seen, with the most amazing fish taverna to visit for lunch, named Aggelos (Ψαροταβερνα Αγγελος). What makes it unique is that it is practically hidden, and one needs to walk 300-400m from the little port in order to find it. Poor Greek language and wonderful hospitable people make miracles, taking us right to the taverna on a picturesque path along the shore. The terrace of the taverna is literally in the sea, overlooking the magnificent mountain hills. One just exclaims “What else could a man need on Earth?”. All the mezzes and karavides, and the 2 types of white fish we ordered were the freshest and tastiest, coming right from the morning sea and the charcoal fire. A truly special place run by a hospitable family. It is worth it driving all the way from Milina, the views are stunning, the sunset on the way back too! To make the experience complete, we stopped by Agia Kiriaki beach for some bathing and sunset viewing and stayed until 9.30 pm (from Kottes back to Milina, take the road to Agia Kiriaki bringing you in 5 minutes to a little stone beach, before the village).

For a closure I couldn’t resist mentioning our little group’s motto for this summer stay in Pelion “During this vacation we are open to try new things” (the kids with us, 6 & 9 y.o. adored and followed our little rule tasting Kritama and Glistrida, Lemon sauce pasta and Badzina, and much more, a rare achievement to make the nowadays kids enjoy greens and product diversity every day😊).

As always I was fully on board with our motto and grateful to have the chance to meet inspiring people who know how to treasure life and its offerings. This is how I discovered and explored many new learnings and flavours, and all the cocktail of emotions around them. There is no such feeling as tasting fresh fouskes or sea urchins just taken out from the sea, or a slowly cooked fresh octopus with some tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, oregano and lots of olive oil, to dip generously your fresh bread in, and sink into happiness. And feel as if kissed by the sea. Yes, life is simple and about little big joys together.

 

~ Loved recipes from Pelion ~ 

Cheese pie on the pan by Eleni Psychouli (for 2-3 serves) 

You need: a pan with d=25-30cm, 2 circle phyllo layers ~ usually sold with d=30-40 cm (sprinkled with some warm water and split in 3-4 pieces), 200 g Feta cheese (diced 1.5×1.5cm), 10 campari tomatoes (sliced), pinch of oregano & black pepper, 2 t.s. simple EVOO, 1 t.s. butter

Steps: Heat the pan with EVOO & butter, arrange the 1st phyllo layer, sprinkle the ingredients, cover with the 2nd phyllo layer & press it tightly with the hands; Cook at medium heat for 4-5 min. until golden; Cover with a large plate & turn around briskly, cook for another 3-4 min. until ready.

Enjoy it still warm and ultra delicious!

 

Okra on the pan (for 4 serves)

You need: a deeper pan (ideally with d=25-30 cm), 600-700g fresh okra (cleaned & cut in 2-3), 2 t.s. maize flour (chickpea one works perfect too), 1 large egg, handful of parsley (finely chopped), pinch of salt & freshly ground black pepper; 1 finger of simple EVOO in the pan

For the yogurt dip: 300g full fat yogurt, 1 teaspoon sumac, some finely chopped parsley, pinch of salt to taste

Steps: Mix the cut okra with all the ingredients until getting a thick mixture; Heat the EVOO and add the okra mix (depending on the size of the pan you may split the quantity); Fry at medium heat until golden.

Serve with the dip and enjoy!

 

Summer beans stew with tomatoes (4 serves)

You need: a large cooking pot with a lid, 1 kg of summer beans (discard the bean pods), 2 large tomatoes (skins discarded, diced 1×1 cm), ½ teaspoon oregano, pinch of salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste, 3-4 garlic cloves, 4 t.s. simple EVOO

Steps: Place the beans with EVOO & garlic cloves in the pot, cover them with cold water and bring it to boiling, leave them to cook at low heat under lid for 30 min. (check the readiness of the beans); Add the salt, black pepper and tomatoes, and cook for another 10-15 min. until the beans are soft. Leave the stew to get cool and all the flavours to calm and bond in harmony.

Serve with a tablespoon of more distinctive EVOO per portion (Coratina from Puglia, or Picual from Andalusia, or Moraiolo from Umbria, or Casaliva from Garda lake, or Trilye from Ayvalik, or Koroneiki/ Amfissis/ Makri/ Chondrolea/ Patrini from Greece are all an excellent choice to pair the beans with! One of the creamiest and most refreshing summer treats!

Καλη ορεξη!(Bon appetit!)

 

Other places to visit in Volos center

ΑΡΚΕΥΘΟΣ – ARKEFTHOS, spices, herbs & more bio products (sundried tomatoes, black garlic, herbal teas, etc.), 28 Oktovriou str. 84A , 382 21 Volos

ΔΙΑ ΤΥΡΟΣ – DIA TYROS, local cheese specialities, el. Venizelou 12, 38221 Volos

ΜΥΛΩΝΑΣ – MYLONAS, meat delicacies & the famous artisanal sausages, K. Kartali str. 225-224, 38221 Volos

JOY all day coffee bar, the smoothest cappuccino fredo & more, in the sea park & sea promenade

Itariyo Art, fashion & craft clothes inspired by Africa & its vibrant colours, D. Georgiadou 138A, Volos

Friday moving farmers market, fresh local & seasonal produce from the nearby villages ~ ask for the location