As if Greek food alone weren’t enough of a reason to visit Greece, 2013 is the Year of Gastronomy on the island of Santorini, where the Selene Restaurant offers cooking classes to ravenous travelers. With the recent economic and political turmoil driving down prices and keeping less-adventurous travelers away, this is the perfect year to visit Greece: the country is as safe as can be; you won’t be crowded; and numerous food-related parties are scheduled throughout the year on Santorini.
We’re all familiar with Greek food—its olive oil, fresh seafood, spanakopita, honey-drizzled pastries, and fire-roasted meats—but what makes Greek food truly Greek is the way that local chefs use the local produce. In Greece, fruits and vegetables are grown in volcanic soils at the edge of the Aegean Sea, which imbues them with flavors that cannot be duplicated. This is the essence of Greek food—this combination of fresh ingredients and the talented chefs who have grown up using it.
Santorini, in particular, offers a growing environment with very little water, which forces the local crops to struggle so much to survive that they bear exceptionally flavorful produce. Tomatoes (Santorini’s own cherry tomato, Tomataki Santorinis, in particular), fava beans, white eggplant, capers, and fresh thyme are staples; and the island’s most famous dish is easily domatokeftedes, or tomato fritters.
Many of Greece’s best cooking tricks have never left the country (a fact painfully re-instilled every time that I see a “Greek” salad that involves lettuce), and the Selene Restaurant shares many of these tricks during its cooking classes. Having offered culinary courses for over 10 years, Selene provides a local experience focused on history, culture, wine, and food. A folklore museum is located next door to the restaurant, and the evening, one-day, and three-day cooking classes come with a tour of the museum.
To fully open your senses to the flavors of Santorini, Selen Restaurant has shared a recipe for Roasted Lamb with Eggplant Puree. This simple dish is all about high quality ingredients, and you won’t have to spend much time preparing it. Since everyone loves being outside when in Santorini, most of the cooking is done over open fire; if you feel like firing up the grill, it gives the eggplant a nice charred flavor. And, make sure to pair this dish with a fine Greek wine, such as Santorini’s famous white, assyrtiko.
ROASTED LAMB WITH EGGPLANT PUREE
Recipe, courtesy of Selene Restaurant (Ravenous Traveler tested and approved)
Ingredients (for lamb):
- One 4lb leg of lamb with bone in
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup chopped fennel
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- Handful of fresh thyme or oregano
- 2 turns of the pan olive oil
- ½ glass of white wine
- Preheat oven to 250 F.
- Sauté the lamb over medium-high heat with the olive oil in a flat pan until all sides are browned. You can do this on the stove or on the grill; the latter adds a nice smoky flavor.
- Place lamb in a covered baking dish, and add wine, vegetables, spices, and the fresh herbs. Cover the lamb with tinfoil, put the cover on the baking dish, and bake for approximately 3-3 ½ hours. Test whether lamb is done, using a baking thermometer (thermometer should read between 145-170 F [depending on your preference] when placed in the center of the lamb).
- Remove from oven and increase the oven temperature to 450 F. Uncover the lamb and return to the oven until the sauce reduces to a glaze-like texture. If necessary, you can pour the sauce into a pot and reduce it on the stovetop while the lamb rests.
Ingredients (for eggplant puree):
- 3-4 eggplants
- Salt and olive oil to taste
- 2-3 tsp vinegar
- juice from 2 lemons
- 1 head garlic
- Roast garlic in the oven or toaster oven by slicing off the top of the garlic head, drizzling with a little olive oil, and wrapping it in tinfoil. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 350 F.
- Place the whole eggplants directly on the grill or cast iron pan on the stovetop at medium-high heat. Fill a large bowl with water (You’ll place the eggplants in the water after cooking. This enhances the charred flavor).
- Roast until charred on all sides and then place eggplants in water.
- When cool, cut eggplants in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl for blending. Discard peels. Add lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, and salt.
- Remove garlic from its white papery skin and add to the eggplant. Blend all until a puree.
To serve, pour or spoon puree in the center of the plate. Place 2-3 slices of lamb on top, and pour the wine! Yiamas (cheers)!
Written by Mattie Bamman ( the Ravenous Traveler) for EuropeUpClose.com