Happy New Year – Καλή Χρονιά !

Vassilopitta 2014

So, ten days in and it’s  been a busy culinary year already. Of course there was all that cooking and baking over Christmas – I do both the Greek and English traditional sweets – just can’t stop myself! So there were melomakarona, kourabiedes and mince pies – not to mention a new favourite, white chocolate and dried cranberry cookies!

It’s from Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book- love them!
The pièce de resistance of the whole holiday season has to be the Vassilopitta or St Basil’s Cake. Traditionally this is cut on New Year’s Day – but in Greece every company, organisation or society will have an official ‘cake cutting’ event all thorough January. The whole point is to find the coin hidden within the cake – a bit like in a Christmas pudding. However, there is more of a ritual with the Greek version.

The head of the house will mark a cross over the cake and then cut slices for Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the ‘poor’, family and friends. The person whowins the coin should be lucky all year !have an official ‘cake cutting’ event all thorough January. The whole point is to find the coin hidden within the cake – a bit like in a Christmas pudding. However, there is more of a ritual with the Greek version.From the traditional Greek sweets the melomakarona are always the most popular.I love baking them – they have all the elements of Christmas just about anywhere; the mix of spices, delicious sweetness and walnuts. My sneaky, secret ingredient though, is the addition of Chinese five spice powder. I can see Greek cooks shaking their heads  in disbelief but,honestly, it gives a warmth and fragrance which is really special.

There are many and varied recipes for Vassilopitta, some with yeast – producing a ‘brioche’ like cake. Others are on the line of the German ‘bundt’ type cake. I prefer a good sponge-type cake made with butter. The essential element though is the flavour of orange zest and a little juice.

So with all that in mind, I thought we should start the year with some healthy and hearty dishes. The perfect food for a cold, winter’s day is the fabulous lentil soup, ‘fakés’ (φακές). How anything this simple can be so tasty and satisfying is a true wonder of the Mediterranean !

A good soup of brown, green or even the French puy variety – ‘ the caviar of lentils’ – agood amount of tomato purée or juice and some fragrant bay leaves and dried oregano and of course olive oil, work their magic.

Fakés

With fakés you always need a good side dish or two. Traditionally, it’s anchovies or a little grilled kipper (yes kippers!) and olives. This time I tried something new, a little bowl of parsley salad (μαϊντανοσαλάτα) – a cross between a sort of parsley pesto and a dip. along with some griddled long, green peppers, it was a pretty healthy start to the year!

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