Travel to KinoVino Greece with Despina Siahuli

There’s a lot of awareness around the negative effect of social media on our lives, as it allegedly alienates people and makes us all but social. Yet, my personal experience proves completely the opposite. The world of foodies on social media is quite an amazing one and the ‘notorious’ Facebook and Instagram helped me connect with some of the most remarkable people and make new friendships. In fact, the edition of KinoVino Greece would not have been possible were it not for social media.

I have been a fan of Maltby street market and especially its Greek stall. However, I have to admit that I was so focused on the food that I have stupidly missed the loveliest chef behind it – Despina Siahuli. And then, I got a message from her expressing interest in KinoVino and proposing to collaborate on a Greek edition. That got an immediate YES from me.
After a few weeks of exchanging messages and likes on Instagram we finally met up and it immediately felt like I’ve known Despina for ages. We chatted for hours over wine and olives, almost forgetting about KinoVino ‘work’. Planning and prepping for the event was an absolute delight – we were on the same page about everything from general food philosophy to more specific elements of table design and food presentation. I have been conjuring up images of the table setting for weeks before the event; leaning towards a very organic rustic feel, I knew I wanted to use brown paper instead of a table cloth and use bread and herbs as part of the table decor (no baskets, no trays, just bread on the table). So when Despina told me about a traditional Greek way of serving food in parchment paper (no plates!), it was the perfect light bulb moment. I almost squealed with joy when I saw Despina’s menu and the final result was as delicious as I thought it would be. It really is amazing how a chef’s personality is reflected in their food: charming, honest, unpretentious and hearty. For someone who is so good with food, Despina is really modest and that’s what makes her food even more appealing to me. Indeed, self-effacement is a true sign of professionalism.
There were a lot of happy diners around the room (what can be a better sight for a dinner party host?) as well as some requests for recipes. So I have decided to have a little chat with the chef about her food and share a few of her delicious recipes.
Where does your love of food originate from?

My family. Every family get together in Greece is an all day feast. The food preparation is a ritual, a labour of love – mums and grandmas want to please everyone in the family. When I cook for my guest it’s feels like I am cooking for my family.

Why have you decided to become a chef?

Greek food in London is often anglicised. I just wanted to feed people the food that I grew up with, the Greek food that I love to eat.

How would you describe your cooking style?
Honest. My food captures the essence of Greek cooking – freshness, seasonality, simplicity and sharing – without being constrained by national borders.

Why is it important for you to preserve your national cuisine?

It’s my memories, my heritage. It’s the food I grew up with, the food I crave, the food I miss.

Where do you go when you want to treat yourself gastronomically?
My latest favourite is Oklava, Selin Kiazim is a great Chef, I absolutely adore her food. St. John’s it’s my all time classic.

Do you cook at home?
Every day!

What is your favourite thing to cook?

I love cooking brunch, although it’s something that it’s not that popular in Greek cuisine. One of my favourite recipe is eggs kayiana or trapatsada – scrambled eggs, in rich tomato sauce topped with feta. I remember my father making us kayiana – using fresh eggs from our chickens and those beautiful ripe tomatoes that we used to grow in our summer house in Greece.

Where and when can people (who missed out on KinoVino Greece) get to try your food?
I will be running a residency in March and April at Machine No3 a lovely bar in Hackney. You can find more info here.

Do you have any plans of opening your own restaurant?

Time will tell.

Which two recipes would you like to share with us?
Gigantes plaki with spring greens from Epirus, and Soutzoukakia, fragrant meatball from Smyrna.

Gigantes with seasonal greens from Epirus

This recipe comes from Epirus in northern Greece, where they grow plenty of giant butter beans which they cook with tomatoes and wild greens. To make it easy you can use chard, kale or spinach.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients.

500g dried gigantes beans or butter beans, soaked overnight

200g red onion, chopped

3 small garlic cloves, chopped

2 bay leaves fresh or dry

6 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp sweet paprika

150g carrots, peeled and chopped

150g celery, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp sweet red pepper purée or tomato purée

350 gr tin chopped tomatoes

2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

250g chard or kale or spinach, washed and chopped

a big handfuls fresh parsley, chopped

Preparation method.

  1. Drain the beans, cover with fresh water add the bay leaves and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 1½-2 hours until the beans are just tender.
  2. Gently soften the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for 5 minutes. Add the carrots and the celery. When soft, stir in the paprika, pepper or tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, 200 ml water, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Use a hand blender to puree the vegetables
  4. In a large pan add some olive oi and gently soften the chard/ kale/ spinach and take off the heat.
  5. Preheat the oven to 160C/ Gas 3.
  6. When the beans are cooked, drain them and mix with the tomato and chard sauce, adding a further 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half the quantity of the chopped herbs.
  7. Transfer the chard/ kale/ spinach to a casserole pan, add on top the beans and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake for 35–40 minutes until the beans are tender and the sauce thickened and bubbling. Add the rest of the herds and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Soutzoukakia, fragrant meatball from Smyrna

Soutzoukakia was introduced to the Greek cuisine in the beginning of the 20th century and has its origin from the city of Smyrni or modern day Izmir.

Serves 4-6

For the meatballs:

800g minced beef

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 whole fresh eggs

1 tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

50 g olive oil

6 slices of stale bread soaked in red wine and squeezed dry, crust removed

salt and freshly ground pepper

1 bunch of finely chopped parsley

For the tomato sauce:

600 gr tomato passata

1 finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

200 g red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

olive oil

1 tsp sugar

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1 bay leaf

150 g Green olives

 

Preparation method.

  1. In a large bowl bring all the ingredients together and knead very well. Cover the meatballs mixtureand leave it in the refrigerator for at least 30 min.
  2. In the meantime preheat the oven to 180°
  3. To prepare the tomato sauce for the soutzoukakia. In sauce pan add olive oil and fry the onion and add the garlicin low heat, for about 15 minutes until the onions are tender. Add the red wine, tomato passata, tomato paste, sugar, cumin, and the bay leaf. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken.
  4. Bake the meatballs. Drizzle the baking tray with some olive oil and start shaping your meatballs into oblong shape. Bake the meatballs for approximately 35
  5. Once your soutzoukia are baked add them carefully in the tomato sauce and stir gently. Leave to simmer in very low heat for 15 minutes, enabling the meatballs to absorb all the wonderful flavours from the tomato sauce.

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