Frugality or folly: Southern European Diet
Do you remember the song ‘Summer time’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess? One of the best known songs and I have heard so many arrangements and performances that I’ve lost count; I suppose it is a bit like rite of passage – all great jazz singers have done it.
Now that I have paraded my limited knowledge of music let me get back to my domain – the written and spoken word. One of the song’s lines goes like this:
“Summer time and the living is easy…”
Now, that is true about most habitable places on our planet, I believe; but it is spectacularly, epically true when it comes to the countries of Southern Europe. Fruit and vegetables are plenty; grapes grow on the streets in smaller towns. I still remember a guest of mine from the US asking me whether the grapes are edible and his face when I told him that all fruit that lines the streets (apples, pears, plums, grape) is edible; and free to anyone who feels thirsty and/or peckish. You need no money (sorry about the grammar) or can live on very little.
So, here we are again; spending a bit of time in our apartment in Sofia while I’ve been finding my way out of the administrative hell I snookered myself into fifteen year ago and enjoying the pleasures of the Southern European diet.
Tim Ferris may be right and we humans may not need so much fruit. But ‘no fruit’ is a ‘no option’ for me; particularly when I visit the market on the pictures every day. Yep, the fruit and vegetables markets in Sofia are very similar to the ones in Paris – you go there, greet the vendors (and they start knowing you by name very soon) and then choose your fruit and vegetables. No one buys in plastic packaging for the whole week; or as the case with the Dutch tomatoes grown for transportation may be, for the whole month.
You touch the tomatoes, smell them and choose them so that they are in peak condition when you eat them (usually within 24-30 hours). You smell the melon, you give the watermelon a little knock and listen to the sound and you discuss and joke.
Our diet has been mainly fruit, vegetables and feta cheese (Bulgaria is rather famous for that though the Greeks used their earlier EU membership to claim it for their own; ours still tastes great). For instance:
- The day before yesterday we had for lunch watermelon and feta cheese;
- Yesterday we had tomato salad and feta cheese;
- And today we had pizza with loads of yogurt drink (well, our son had to have a vote really).
We eat a bit of meat in the evening – we all need protein and eating beans all the time is not my idea of summer fun. Mainly chicken (organic and straight from a farm outside Sofia) but we also had a Middle-Eastern classic: meat balls (or kufte). Yes, Bulgaria and Greece share the Middle-Eastern cuisine which was brought to us by the Ottomans on the swords of conquest. They destroyed most of the Arab and Middle-Eastern culture and science but really liked the food.
How to make Bulgarian/Greek meat balls? These are different from the Northern version and are lighter; you also put in parsley that gives them a taste of summer and sunshine.
- 1 kg of mince (beef or 70% beef/30% pork);
- 2 eggs;
- a handful of soaked stale bread (I use bread crumbs);
- an onion (I chop it so finely in the blender that it is almost liquid)
- seasoning (salt, paper, parsley)
Put this all in a mixing ball and mix it – best use your hand though I really don’t like doing that (please don’t try to interpret this in Freudian terms). At first the mixture look and feels disgusting but then it gradually changes consistency – you will know that it is ready to be shaped in balls.
Shape in small balls and flatten them; put in hot oil and fry (I fry them in sunflower oil; somehow they don’t taste right in olive oil).
This is what you should end up with.
Serve with salad or if you have growing up children with chips/mash.
How about frugality, then?
Well, the fruit and vegetables are in season, they are stocked from local farms (not transported from Chile though today I was tempted by a bottle of Carmenere from Chile) and mostly organic. As to the meat balls, you noticed the bread crumbs in them – my mother always told me that you can’t bind the mince without the bread but I never bought it. I think that putting in bread crumbs is a way to bulk-up the meat and a reverance to frugality; this is why how much bread I put in them depends on how generous I feel.
And yes, this is one of the recipes that is very Jamie Oliver – a pinch of salt, a ‘glug’ of oil (yep you can put a bit in) and fistful of parsley and you have a delicious meal.
Try it! After all it is the weekend and cooking from scratch is not really hard. As to us, we are going back to the market tomorrow and after that off for a walk in the mountains.