WanderSups: Taste the Med with MasterChef Hannah
If you fancy being magicked to a Greek island for the evening, this is the culinary spell to cast. . . Hannah Gregory shares her recipe for ‘Greek oil food’, Mediterranean stuffed peppers like yiayia taught her to make
Anybody else dreaming of Greek islands right about now? Greece is one of my favourite places in the world - the food/ the climate/the drama. . . The ancient Greek femme fatales were the first true female icons: FACT.
Many moons ago, after a gruelling summer of putting up tents in fields across a multitude of music festivals, I decided to take all my earnings and book a boujee trip to Greece - I needed a rest, it seemed like the right thing to do. (Side note, it was not the right thing to do. Working your ass off all summer to then blow your earnings for a week of sun is not big or clever. You just have to come home and start all over again. What is also not clever is booking said trip at the end of September when the weather is - I believe the word was - “unpredictable”.)
After a delayed flight and a transfer that I can’t really talk about without getting nauseous (let's just say winding mountain roads plus someone who suffers very badly with travel sickness, plus a driver that refused to pull over), the journey there was arduous.
But we got there, we made it. It was everything I hoped for and everything I couldn’t afford. You know, those places you walk into and instantly think “If I break one thing here we are done for”. Elegant exposed masonry blurring the lines between luxe glamour and natural materials. Strikingly beautiful staff draped in off-white linen that only a very certain type of Mediterranean woman can pull off. Bars lined with the most premium of spirits making me shudder at the thought of my duty free Bacardi nestled in the bottom of my suitcase, ready to be cracked for room drinks because this girl could not afford the mini bar. An infinity pool melting into the sea. Sun loungers that looked more welcoming than my actual bed. I was not in Kansas anymore (Kansas being my one bed dingy Camberwell flat, where I lived above a KFC and wasn’t above begging for leftover chicken at times). After a long day of travel we retired to our room - it was beautiful, but poor old me still feeling somewhat queasy, we decided the best thing to do was have an early night, wake up fresh faced and greet the day.
And greet the day we did, the wet, grey, thundery, cloudy day. Not just one day. DayS plural. Being the eternal optimist and absolute sun worshipper I am, I positioned myself just inside the interior of the hotel (which also happened to be the bar). Sheltered from the lashing rain but close enough to dash out as soon as the weather broke. I had my eye on the prime lounger, I didn’t care that they were sodden. I wore the loosest, most easy-to-remove dress I could find over my bikini. As soon as that ray of sun hit that bed, I was there. I didn’t care if it was for five minutes. I wanted that Vit D.
And there I sat, for days. Rolling my eyes at the other guests playing cards, taking up activities, hibernating in their room - I knew if I persevered, the sun would come. And I would laugh at those that missed out. Like a wildlife photographer waiting for the perfect kill, I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Until finally my partner at the time announced he would leave the hotel and quite possibly me if I did not get up and do something other than stalk the sun that quite clearly wasn’t coming back.
“FINE”. I admitted defeat. Organised fun it was. And so, the next day we were booked on to a traditional Greek cooking lesson. Now don’t get me wrong. I love a cooking lesson. Every time I travel I try to learn as much about the cuisines as I can. I just hadn’t banked on it this trip. I had banked on cocktails all day every day by the pool. Because that’s what overpriced holidays look like, right?
And so, we were welcomed into a wonderful Greek lady’s kitchen. Herbs hanging to dry from hooks in the ceiling, photos of relatives on the fridge, collections of shot glasses (for ouzo) that had clearly been added to over the years, adorning window sills and tops of cupboards. It was wonderful. Before we even spoke or began cooking, one foot in her kitchen and I felt like I absorbed the love and memories that had been forged there.
After some ouzo (of course) and some wine (of course) we began to cook. The usual culprits came out - spanakopita, tzatziki, moussaka - no bad thing, learning these dishes from a real Greek yiayia is something I hold close to my heart to this day. But it was the dish that literally translated as ‘oil food’ that really stole my attention. A simple dish of stuffed peppers, filled with risotto rice, tomato mulch (her word not mine), fresh herbs and lashings of greek olive oil. It is easy to see why Greek women have such amazing skin and glossy hair.
I come back to this dish time and time again: it is perfect for a summer’s evening, simplicity in its best form and perfect for veggies. I’ve changed a couple of things, tarted it up a bit by adding an extra topping of feta, olives and preserved lemons. I think she would approve. Every time I eat this I am instantly transported back to her kitchen garden, where we sat under vines and fig leaves, eating our fruits of a day in the kitchen. And of course, the sun came out.
Greek Oil Food (Stuffed Peppers)
Tipple of choice: Xionmavro - a lovely Greek wine often likened to a Pinot Noir
Spotify Playlist: WanderSups Sups
What you need:
6 red peppers
2 cups of risotto rice
3 large beef tomatoes
Bunch of fresh mint
Small bunch of parsley
2 onions diced
BIG pinch of sea salt
1 tsp sugar
250ml olive oil (it is called oil food)
Handful of kalamata olives pitted
3 preserved lemons
100g feta cheese
How you do it:
Preheat your oven to 180C.
Slice the tops of your peppers, remove and discard the seeds and veins, reserve the pepper lids for later.
De-seed the tomatoes, discard the skins, finely chop the tomato innards till it resembles a tomato mulch.
Finely chop half of the mint and all of the parsley.
In a bowl, mix together the risotto rice, tomato mulch, mint, parsley, diced onions, salt, sugar and black pepper.
Stuff the mix into the peppers and place in an ovenproof casserole pot with a lid. They need to be quite snug so they don’t fall over as they cook. If you have any rice mixture leftover throw this in the pot around the peppers.
Carefully pour the water into the bottom of the pot.
Pour the olive oil over the peppers and all around the pot, do this gently so as not to knock the rice out. You will end up with a lot of oil sitting on the water, this is normal.
Pop the pepper lids back on the peppers so they sit on top of the rice. They do not need to be snug, this just helps the dish to steam.
Pop the lid on the pot and place it in the oven for 90 minutes.
To make the topping, chiffonade the remaining leaves, finely dice the preserved lemons taking care to discard the pips, finely dice the olives. Add to a bowl with a good glug of olive oil and mix gently to combine.
When the cooking time is up remove the peppers from the oven, carefully remove the pepper tops and discard. Serve the peppers with a spoonful of the topping on top and a green salad if liked.
Hannah reached the quarter finals of BBC MasterChef last year. She hosts WanderSups supper clubs serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf. Her ethos is simple - have fun, enjoy it, make it an occasion. To find out more follow @WanderSups or visit wandersups.com
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