The most difficult answer you can give to the tricky question: ‘So…what do you do?’…is to say… ‘I am in the food business.’
Then, the reply you’ll most often hear is: ‘Me, too!’…and it makes sense : everybody’s cooking something these days, we have to eat every day, don’t we? So we prepare a little something ranging from a simple sandwich to a celery root soup with avgolemono (lemon-egg sauce) … and everything else in-between!
However, the innocent and impulsive answer: ‘Me, too!’, also hides many dangers…especially when that reply is accompanied by a very wide smile and…loads of enthusiasm!
– You say: ‘I cook’, and the other person turns out to be THE super devoted chef in his kitchen.
– You say: ‘I write a…food/cooking blog’, and the other person’s blog (because, it goes without saying, he, too, is also a food blogger) proves to be far more serious, successful and his blog … a commercially success.
– You say: ‘How wonderful! We should cook together some time…’, and realise along the way that, perhaps, you should be doing his shopping for him, straightening his chef’s hat and wiping the sweat off his brow instead – because he is a true professional!
– So, you say: ‘So, what do you mean when you say you’re involved with food and cooking?’, and the other person tells you he’s just successfully shut down a tavern in Istanbul and is already planning his next culinary step, stressing how he’s enjoying this relaxing break between jobs. That’s how cool he is!
(Of course, you know you’re doomed to fail from the minute you reply: ‘I work with food’ to the question, ‘So…what do you do?’ But I don’t much care about that since it’s something which actually gives me great joy, as I love surprises!)
So, my Turkish friend falls under all of these categories (minus the food blog which, I believe, is in the cards, anyway…) and often visits Athens. He warns me well in advance he’ll be visiting, I presume, only to let me start panicking and wonder how I’ll prove myself his equal as an ahci, which means ‘cook’. (In Turkish, there’s no differentiation between masculine and feminine, which, of course, seems odd to me and starts us off on a three-hour discussion about the evolution of the Turkish language and what came before its modern day version, as we’re strolling through the main food market in the centre of Athens, the Varvakios Agora, on our way to the spice market on Evripidou Street).
Just so you know, last time my Turkish friend was here, he cooked lamb with sweet potatoes from…Cyprus (and it goes without saying that our conversations always veer around the numerous historical misunderstandings and misinterpretations between our two countries, whilst all the delicacies we savour accompany and connect our gastronomic similarities).
The last time he visited, I grew bold and suggested we lend each other a helping culinary hand and enjoy a splendid collaboration, whilst keeping in the spirit of being good political neighbours, with our mediator being some delicious and original calamari from Mytilene – and not stuffed cabbage leaves with calamari as I’d originally thought – that have drawn my attention for some time now.
So, we decided to cook together trying to reproduce, both from memory and imagination, a reaaally old dish my friend had tried years ago in Mytilene, created by the cook of a very noble and rich lady of the island!
The result? A scrumptious dish and, incidentally, an admission since we’re ceaselessly talking about the relationship between our two countries: that at some point, we must flick through both Turkish and Greek history books, as amateurs (even though my friend is a…political history fiend, but that’s another story…), and compare simple notes on all the historical events that both our nations consider of utmost importance.
TWO MINUTES AΪΚ & ANGIE STUFFED CALAMARI
WITH CABBAGE AND MIXED RICE*
• 3-4 spring onions, finely chopped, including the green parts
• 4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
• 6 Tablespoons mixed rice
• 1 large carrot, grated
• 3 Tablespoons pine nuts
• 1/5 of a large cabbage, very finely sliced, as you would do for a salad
• a handful of dill and parsley
• 2 cm/0.78 inches from the stalks of one bunch of dill and one bunch of parsley
• 2 Tablespoons spearmint, finely chopped
• the zest of half a lemon
• 3 medium-sized calamari, cleaned (cut the tentacles into small pieces)
• ½ dry onion, finely chopped
• salt, pepper
• 4-5 Tablespoons olive oil, extra
• 1 small shot of white wine
Place the oil in a frying pan over a low heat and sauté the onion and spring onions for 5 minutes.
Add the cabbage, carrot and pine nuts and stir for another 5 minutes.
Add the rice and calamari tentacles and stir for 5 more minutes.
Add the dill, parsley, spearmint and lemon zest, and remove from the heat.
Wash the calamari well, both inside and out, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Using a teaspoon, fill each calamari with the stuffing and seal together using a toothpick, as if you’re ‘sewing’ the top opening shut, so the filling won’t escape.
In a deep casserole, heat the extra olive oil over a low heat, and sauté the dill and parsley stems.
Gently place the calamari in the pan, making sure they’re touching each other without large gaps between them or the side of the dish, and lay a plate on top.
Pour in a tiny amount of water and the shot of white wine.
Simmer over a low heat for about an hour, making sure to keep checking that the water doesn’t dry out – if necessary, add a tiny amount of hot water.
Serve this delicious dish hot. Its aromas are divine! Cut into wide slices and serve with a little of its sauce.
* We would like to take this opportunity to warmly thank Effie Goutou, who collaborated with us on this recipe by helping us with whatever she could remember of the cooking of this dish, the copyrights of which belong to a cook from Mytilene, who is now no longer in service, well in her 80s and we know nothing more about her. Aϊk tasted this dish yeeeaaaarrrs ago in Mytilene, had an ‘epiphany’ and was left speechless with the incredible taste, and all we did was to simply try to reproduce it using memory and imagination alone. Recipes such as this should not be lost but should be recorded for posterity – and I think, in this, we’ve succeeded! So, here’s to you, Aϊk my friend, and to your invigorating enthusiasm