So let me get this straight: I am not Greek (as my photo attests) nor have I ever been to Greece. However, I have a deep affinity for Greek food, its tangy olives, sharp feta cheese, aromatic fresh Thyme and sour preserved lemons. I adore their love of sweet, sweet confectionaries and how they fold gossamer fine Filo pastry into intricate shapes, seemingly effortlessly.
I suppose because I hate the cold weather, the persistent rain and the needlessly expensive drab food, Greece seems to be everything Britain isn’t: warm and sunny with simple spicy food that is cheap but always flavourful. In particular, the Meze are alluring, the concept of eating small platefuls of different foods appealing to my greedy nature.
In the past I have recreated Moussaka, both vegetarian (loaded with garlic and layered with shiny purple aubergine) and with minced beef (lamb still strictly off the menu when I’m cooking for other than Paul and myself). I have also prepared my own version of Pastitsio (pasta with meat, topped with a white sauce) and stuffed vine leaves.
What I enjoy about Greek food, apart from its distinctive bold flavours, is the ability to replicate those dishes you had on holiday (or in a local Greek Taverna) with great success. Because Greek food is so popular, most ingredients (like Vine leaves or Feta Cheese or Filo Pastry) are commonplace in the supermarket nowadays. With time and patience you could even make your own Baklava and Spanakopita.
Whilst the days are still windy and rainy and I get splashed by thoughtless drivers as I scuttle to and from my car each day, I like to cook robust meals that stick to my ribs and make me feel bolstered from the world. To me, Soutsoukakia is the Greek version of what is arguably the ultimate cosy food, Spaghetti and Meatballs. However, I may cause controversy by stating that Soutsoukakia is a superior dish, if only because the spaghetti is removed and replaced with Bulghur Wheat instead and the tomato sauce in the Greek version is robust and full bodied.
Soutsoukakia is Minced Beef Rissoles, seasoned with fresh Parsley and Cumin, cooked in a rich, slow cooked tomato sauce, and served over Bulghur Wheat that is in turn cooked in its own oniony/tomato sauce. Easy enough to prepare if a little fiddly but well worth it and - according to Paul - the flavour improves of the rissoles as they cool.
SOUTSOUKAKIA serves 4-6 depending on hunger/greed
500g Ground Beef (you could use a combination of beef/pork)
1 Large Garlic Clove, minutely chopped
Small Handful of Chopped Parsley
1 Medium Egg
1 Teaspoon Cumin
1 Teaspoon Salt and good grind of Pepper
Vegetable Oil for frying
Some Flour for dusting
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Can Chopped Tomatoes
75ml Red Wine (whatever dregs you have left is fine)
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin
Pinch Dried Thyme
Salt, Pepper and pinch of Sugar to taste
Bulghur Wheat Pilaf
6 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion Finely Chopped
1 Large Choppped Tomato
4 Chopped Peppers preserved in Olive Oil (or chargrill your own)
1 Tin Chick Peas
225g Bulghur Wheat
1 Teaspoon Tomato Puree
Salt and Pepper to taste
550ml Stock or water
To make the Rissoles, place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well with your hands.
Put some flour on a large plate.
Form the minced beef mixture into sausage shapes, around 3" long, 1/2" wide. Coat with flour, dusting off excess.
Heat 3-4 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil in a shallow frying pan.
Fry the lightly floured Rissoles, 4 or 5 at a time, until golden brown on each side. They do not need to be cooked through at this stage.
Remove to a plate with some kitchen paper and leave to drain.
Making the Sauce:
Using the same pan that you fried the Rissoles in (but discard any fouled oil), heat the olive oil gently in a saucepan and saute the onion and garlic until softened.
Add all the other ingredients and turn up the heat to a brisk simmer. You want to reduce the sauce so it becomes thick and unctuous. It should be ready after about half an hour.
Add the Rissoles to the sauce, turn down the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for another half an hour.
Meanwhile, make the Bulghur Wheat Pilaf.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan then gently saute the onion with the Chick Peas. Once the onion has softened, add the chopped tomato, peppers and tomato puree. Cook for another minute, then stir in the Bulghur Wheat, making sure it is well coated in the tomato/onion/chick pea mixture.
Season well and pour over the stock or water. Turn down to a very gently simmer and cover. Leave for 15 minutes after which time the liquid should be absorbed. Remove pan from the heat and leave for 5 minutes to allow the Wheat to fluff up.
Serve the Rissoles and Sauce over the Bulghur Wheat.