What dish comes to mind when you think of a sun-drenched Greek island? Greek salad probably, that bright, sparkling combination of tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, olives, feta cheese and a sprinkling of dried oregano. Certainly no holiday basking in the Greek sun would be complete without a bowl of salata at every meal, but it certainly is not the one and only gastronomic contender, and my memories tend to revolve more around simple but incredibly tasty cooked vegetable dishes, as in "à la Grecque" or in the Greek style.
The description À la Grecque normally refers to vegetables simmered in olive oil and lemon juice, so my potato recipe below does not strictly fit the name. However, the ingredients and flavourings are very Greek: feta-style cheese, olives and their oil, dried oregano, lemons, red onions, oodles of garlic, and on this occasion some grassy green chillies.... It is a gutsy combination and not for delicate palates let alone garlic phobics, but if you like food with plenty of punch, get into the kitchen and try them!
They are lovely on their own as a lunch dish with nothing more than a salad to accompany them, or they are a perfect side dish. I have used the plant-based Violife "Greek White Block" cheese for this recipe which is a good feta substitute for anybody who prefers not to eat dairy products.
Crushing the potatoes enables them to absorb all the flavours so much better, and the edges go wonderfully crusty and crunchy.
CRUSHED NEW POTATOES À LA GRECQUE RECIPE
Serves 2 for lunch with a salad or 4 as a side dish
750 g/ oz new potatoes
4 tbsp olive oil
2 bushy sprigs fresh rosemary
250 g/8 oz red onions, peeled and sliced
Whole unpeeled garlic cloves, at least 15
1 small ripe lemon, cut into eight wedges
20 g green chillies, deseeded and sliced into strips about 2 mm wide
About 20 stoned black olives, halved
80 g Feta-style cheese
1 tsp dried oregano or Herbes de Provence
15 g/ oz fresh mint, leaves, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6/fan oven 180oC.
Steam the potatoes until they are just tender, about 15 minutes depending on the size. Transfer them to a baking tray lined with baking parchment and crush them lightly with the back of a large fork or a potato masher. Drizzle with olive oil, and season well. Nestle the rosemary down into them. Roast for 30 minutes.
Stir well, add the onion, garlic and lemon wedges, and return to the oven for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Sprinkle the chilli strips on top and cook for a further 15 minutes. By now the potatoes should be golden and crusty, the garlic and lemon wedges soft, and the onions caramelising along the edges. If this is not the case, return the tin to the oven for a further 10 or 15 minutes.
Stir in the olives, oregano and mint and crumble the cheese over everything.
Does this dish have as many nutritional talents as it does gastronomic ones? Definitely! Potatoes, despite their somewhat iffy reputation, do contain a number of nutrients such as iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, all good for lowering blood pressure; Vitamins C and B6 as well as folate; choline which helps with muscle movement, mood, learning, and memory as well as maintaining the structure of cellular membranes, transmitting nerve impulses, aiding the absorption of fat and supporting early brain development. Rosemary: packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, improves digestion, enhances memory and concentration, protects against macular degeneration and brain ageing. Oregano: anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial, helps to regulate blood sugar so improves insulin resistance, Onions: a natural antibiotic, packed with polyphenols, flavonoids and sulphur compounds which aid detoxification and blood sugar balancing. Garlic: powerfully antibacterial, protective of cardiovascular health and high blood pressure as well as the common cold, provides cancer support, regulates blood sugar levels, and its antioxidant properties may help combat dementia. Olives and olive oil: impressively anti-inflammatory, Vitamins A and K, lowers blood pressure, enhances blood vessel health. What a nutrient profile!