While happily wandering along one of Areopolis’s stone walkways in Mani, I caught a whiff of something delicious. This happens often in Greece, to my sheer delight, and always has the effect of stopping me dead in my tracks and capturing all my attention. (There is also drool involved at times, but let’s not talk about that.) In particular, I will always associate the smell of grilled meat with Greece, because it’s ubiquitous–whether you are passing a taverna at dinnertime or a country house on a Sunday afternoon, that smoky smell is always wafting through the streets of Greek cities, towns and villages.
When this particular smell reached my nose on that hot day in Mani, my feet were already following along by the time I had registered that something smelled good. It guided me down toward a small church, and I found a little taverna tucked into the wall along the way. With lovely, shaded tables in an outdoor garden, I had lucked out big time!
After I sat down, the owners came by and motioned that I should follow them. I did as I was told, and was led back into the kitchens. They lifted the lids of the various pots, pans and baking dishes and explained what glorious concoctions were stewing, bubbling, frying or baking away in them. I then got to choose my lunch from the look and smell of each dish available.
This is quite common in Greece. At traditional tavernas, most people prefer to have a look in the kitchens to pick out their meal, especially if they are going to be dining on fish. Honestly, I think it’s fabulous. Forget the menu–I wish we did the same thing in America!
And, as luck would have it, it was in this taverna that I finally found artichokes and rice.
My parents have a fabulous old Greek cookbook called Greek Cooking for the Gods, by Eva Zane. They have the 1970 version, and it gave us one recipe in particular which has become a family favorite over the years. It’s called simply “Artichokes and Rice,” and is just that–rice and artichokes, slow-cooked together with mainly olive oil, onions, lemon, and dill.
So, when the taverna owner lifted the lid and told me what was inside, I excitedly asked for a large portion and a little bit of potatoes on the side. I was so happy to have finally found this dish! It turns out it’s a specialty from Mani, which is why I hadn’t found it anywhere else (that and the artichoke’s growing season, that is).
This version did not disappoint. Theirs had a much darker, more tomato-y broth than the one that we make, but it was just as satisfying, earthy and flavorful as I had remembered.
After I had finished eating, I went inside to pay and said, “My father makes this dish at home in America! We have a Greek cookbook, and the recipe is from there–we love it! I have been living in Greece since September, and hadn’t found it anywhere else yet. Thank you!!”
(But, I was Greek-ing it, so what I actually said was closer to, “My father is making… this… at home in America! We have a book with… kitchen from Greece, and the book has… this. I like this a lot! I live in Greece from September, and this is the first… this I eat in Greece. Thank you!!” Like always, my Greek elicited a few giggles but got the point across. I’m getting there!)
Now that artichoke season is finally upon us (hallelujah!), it’s the perfect time to go Greek and try making artichokes & rice on your own! Below is the recipe from Eva Zane’s Greek Cooking for the Gods, in the 1970 edition.
6 small artichokes
1 onion, minced
6 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chicken stock concentrate, or 2 bouillon cubes
1 cup raw rice
salt and pepper
Wash artichokes, remove three or four layers of leaves, and then slice one inch off of the tips. Cut in quarters and remove the thistles with a spoon. Place artichokes in a bowl, cover with cold water, and add the juice of one lemon. In a pot or casserole, saute the onions, parsley and dill in 1/2 cup olive oil. Rinse and drain the artichokes and saute them in onion mixture for another five minutes. Add 2 cups water and simmer covered for 20 minutes, until the artichokes are tender but not completely cooked. Add rice and chicken stock concentrate, stir gently, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. When the rice is cooked, sprinkle the juice of one lemon over the mixture. In a separate pan, bring three tablespoons of olive oil to a boil and pour over the rice mixture. Cover for five minutes and serve.
In my experience, this recipe is pretty foolproof: the only difficulty I’ve ever had was with altitude changes when cooking this dish in college, being that I am from the mountains of Montana but went to Linfield College near sea level in Oregon. At times, you have to play with the amount of liquid and the cooking time to ensure that the rice is fully cooked. That said, it’s pretty easy to tell if the rice is fully cooked or not, and you can add liquid accordingly.
And with that, καλή όρεξη, παιδιά! (Kali oreksi, paidia! or “Bon appetit, my children!” Paidia is a term often used in Greece, whether one is addressing actual children or one’s friends, family or other acquaintances. Even vendors on the street will use this word when addressing the crowd!)
Στην υγειά σας,