Au-revoir Hellas.

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It has been seven months exactly since we moved to Greece. I have never imagined, I would come live here. I did not arrive as a tourist and how they say once they return from their holiday on how they fell in love with the country, instead I have a different vision to how I fell in love with this land. And now the time has come to bid good bye to this wonderful nation, filled with so much history, really nice down-to-earth people, the amazing places, the sea, the sand, the crystal clear beaches and the picturesque landscape.

Little did I know about this country when I first arrived to Athens. Like everyone else. I even forgot to do some of the research before arriving here. I came here early January, right after celebrating our Christmas with family back in Prague. My husband told me the news when we were still busy settling into our new apartment we moved back then in Prague. And how much I would like it here in Greece. At the beginning I wasn’t fully convinced but after living here for seven months. He was right! He was damn right! I did just not like it here but loved it here.

Athens was so incredible, the small alleys, tourists filled Taverna’s, living in the heart of the city was such a plus point for a person from a different country. Athens has got it’s own touch to living in Greece. Tourists often miss seeing Athens but it has got some feel to it. and today writing this post has just made me even more melancholy towards leaving this place. recollecting the events during this seven months only makes my heart heavy.

I still remember telling my partner, how much I wanted to visit Santorini and Mykonos. however, I din’t end up visiting neither of those places. but I did enjoy the best part of the Greece, the Venetian history filled places. Corfu, was breathtaking. at the tip of the north of Greece almost lying on the side of Albania, this place had a authentic Greek feel to it. soon after that visit, we were at Kefalonia and Zante. every place has its own aspect to Greece. Kefalonia was filled with rocky huge mountains and when you reach the tip of the mountain, from the distance you could see the amazing crystal green waters below which will always remain in my memories. I can hardly find words to describe Zante, this was an love at first sight, Island. Over all, Though I did not get to visit where all the tourists usually visit, I saw the real authentic Greece. and now, I am almost in tears, in having to miss this amazing haven.

(Go check out my guest post about the Ionian Islands where I detailed on the Islands I mentioned in the above paragraph in a dear friend’s blog : Oh! Fernweh)

The one thing that will always remind me of Greece is the amazing food. blessed with agriculture, Greece has the freshest produce you could ever get in Europe. Greeks love their food and cannot live without it and so cant I! 🙂 The most missed food would be the famous Pita Gyros. By far, my most Favorited food since I got here. But I cant put away the rest of the food. Greek food is the best food after my very own Indian food. and the fresh fruits and vegetables produce I usually buy every Friday at the farmers market. I am going to surely miss that. My little daughter used to get all thrilled and excited to see the vendors at the market and to say Yasu (Hello), waving her tiny hand. And I have got just one last Friday for the market.

And since the summer began with it’s full heat, our weekends were spent at the sea most of the time. I would never forget the first time my daughter touched the Mediterranean Sea with her tiny feet. I am going to definitely miss the sea, sun and the sand. I was lucky to experience the 3 S’s once again after being in Maldives for 5 years.  I can keep writing a huge described post of how many things I would miss in Greece. but for now, I am just excited for the next week as my Best friend from Prague comes to visit me here in Greece for 5 days before my travel chapter in Greece ends!

This will be the last holiday until Christmas, so I am going to soak up all the Greek sun and enjoy to the maximum before heading back to home, Prague to begin a new chapter of my life!

Kachchi gosht ki Biryani

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Kachchi Gosht ki Biryani

My love for Biryani goes back to a few years ago, before leaving India to work in Maldives. Coming from the Land of Nawabs, Hyderabad, I always had the immense adoration towards it from the time I first tasted it, which I still remember and it had gotten more aged like the wine, when I left India, which only made me crave for it and forced me to learn to master the art of this recipe. I remember eating a lot Biryani as a child, for every occasion be it marriage, Christmas, new year, Easter, birthday, you name it! It is by far considered the food of rich in India. coming from a cultured heritage and a long known tradition of Indian food, the recipe I am going to share with you will surely inspire you to try out your own hand at this delicious recipe. This recipe is lets just say a family traditional recipe passed on to my mother and from her to me but with my own twist added to it. 🙂

Since, I currently live in Greece, i was able to gather all the ingredients that I need for this recipe, without further ado, I pushed myself to prepare this one pot meal. People often say that cooking a recipe with so many spices and flavors is a tedious job, but the recipe I am about to share you would only leave you with a delicious, mouth melting Biryani. but, I would recommend a bit of patience when it comes to certain stages of this recipe such as gathering all ingredients, marination and especially the cook time.

First, I would like to let you know, this recipe is a ‘Kachchi’ meaning its raw and cooked on a layered form allowing it to take time and cook in its own steam known as ‘Dum’. This recipe calls for fresh ‘mutton’ meaning goat meat, marinated in spices overnight to tenderize the meat and cook the meat faster than its required time. I say do not rush, if you rush, you would just mess it up, take it like a therapy. It will only help for a final fascinating result. So, Let’s begin our therapy, but carefully follow every bit of the recipe to produce the best Biryani you ever tasted:

For the Meat:

I used Mutton as this recipe calls for goats meat.

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Butcher’s Fresh Goat Meat

Note: Tsp = Teaspoon Tblsp = Tablespoon

Ingredients:

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Spices for Biryani

Mutton –  1 Kilogram

Salt – 1 Tsp

Coriander powder – 2 Tsps

Roasted Cumin – 1/4 Tsp

Garam Masala – 1/2 Tsp

Red Chilli Powder – 3/4 Tsp

Black Pepper – 1/2 Tsp

Cumin Seeds (Jeera)  – 1/2 Tsp

Cardamom – 4 Pods

Cinnamon Sticks – 1 Inch

Bay Leaves (Bit Crushed) – 2 Leaves

Cloves – 4

Green Chillies (Crushed) – 5

Ginger Garlic Paste – 3 Tblsps (Must)

Lemon Juice – 4 Tblsps

Mint Leaves (Do not Chop) – 5 Leaves (Must)

Coriander Leaves – 8 Leaves

Greek Yoghurt (or) Thick hung curd – 5 Tblsps

Fried Onions – 3 big Onions chopped and fried in oil.

Ghee (or) ground nut Oil – 5 Tblsps

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Incorporation of Spices for Marination

Ensure to wash the meat twice. place it in a clean bowl which preferably has a lid to close, ensure to gather all the ingredients together in order not to miss any. Place all of the above ingredients along with the meat and mix well, preferably with your own sanitized hands.  Add the oil/ Ghee and Mix until it looks like the below mentioned picture, and store it into a refrigerator for a complete marination of up to 8 hours.

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Marinated Meat
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Refrigerate for 8 Hours

For the Rice:

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40% cooked Basmati Rice

Ensure to use quality Basmati Rice for that fall apart grains once cooked. you don’t want to eat a soggy and sticky riced Biryani.

Ingredients:

Rice – 500 grams

Salt – 1 Tblspn

Fresh water to Boil.

Wash the rice thoroughly, I recommend thrice for the removal of extra starch and Soak the rice for approximately 30 minutes so that the rice can cook faster and elongate it’s size while boiling. Bring the rice to boil. remember when placing the rice to cook, that’s when you add the salt. the moment you see the water boil, pull out a spatula, bring out a few grains of rice and break the rice grain into two. if it breaks immediately, it means its cooked 40%. remember the rice has to be cooked only 40% and the rest 60% would be cooked in the skillet with the meat and the rest of the ingredients. Immediately drain the water and set aside the rice.

Assemble / Layering:  

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Layered Biryani ready to be DUM

Ingredients:

Boiled eggs:  3 (Optional) but taste Yum!

Fried Onions : a handful

Mint Leaves – 5 leaves

Saffron infused milk – 3/4 cup

Ghee (or) Groundnut Oil : 4 Tblsps

Must Have:

Heavy based Pot

Aluminum foil for DUM

In the heavy based skillet, add a Tblspn of Ghee and spread the marinated meat evenly without having any space. then, add another 2 Tblspns of Ghee on the top of the spread marination then, layer the rice and spread it evenly once again ensuring that there are no gaps and lumps. Place the 3 boiled eggs on top of the rice. Sprinkle the fried onions, spreading it across, Add the Mint leaves, then, sprinkle the Saffron milk around the prepared dish. Once that’s done, add the last tblspn of Ghee over.

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Saffron Infused Milk
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Pure Greek Saffron
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Heavy based Pot

Now, what i am going to say is very important and this is where the moment of truth appears for the dish, Cover the pot with 2 layers of Aluminum foil and then place the lid on top of the pot and wrap around the lid another layer of aluminum foil to ensure that the steam wouldn’t escape the pot while the dish cooks. this is called the ‘Dum’. Turn the gas on to high, Place the pot on the burner and let the dish cook for over 10 mins on high flame and then reduce it immediately to a low flame and let it cook for about 30 minutes. I used a timer and suggest you do the same. once the dish has cooked passed 40 mintues in total. turn the gas down and remove it off the gas and let it rest on the kitchen counter for 5 minutes before you open the pot.

Once you have opened the pot, take a fork and gently fluff the rice, the aroma that fills the house is so pleasing and trust me you would be so satisfied with the cooking.

You may serve the biryani with soft melt in mouth chunks of meat with either, Baigan ka Bartha ( A dish comprising of Brinjal/ Aubergine), Mirchi ka salan (A dish prepared with chillies) a must have Dahi Raitha (Yoghurt based Chutney) and some fresh cut lemon and circled onions.

Bon Appetit!

Living in Athens – Part 2

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[Baby products in Greece you might as well consider]

This is for the moms out there, if you have babies and you do not cook at home, the supermarkets offer 3 varieties of baby food from the brand Nestlé which is highly expensive and comes at a whopping 2.60-2.80 euros per bottle. So I suggest all those lazy moms out there to start investing time and effort in your precious angel’s food intake by making home cooked meals unless you could afford the prices I just gasped about. There are also nappies that you might consider to look up on. I would say, consider throwing away those ‘Pampers’ and buy the ‘Babylino’. The brand that offers no spill and no hassle, the best diapers in town.  And for the baby range of toiletries there is huge amount of choices you get in the supermarkets. And nothing will disappoint you.

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[left to right: Ermou street,Traditional Greek sandals, Plaka]

The shops in the city have funny timings; they close in the afternoons on some days and open until 9 pm on the others. Shops like hairdressers don’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays and you might have to make appointments following those two days. Not to forget the shopping, Athens is a shopper’s paradise as the sales for some of the branded exclusive collections drop by more than 80% during the month of February every year. So if you want to shop till you drop, don’t forget to book your flights during this period for a promising load of clothes and range of shoes, bags and whatever you crave in fashion. The Ermou street is where all things fashion happens, the busiest street until the end of business hours and even on Sundays when there are no shops opened, is the street you never want to miss the chance to walk once. The street leads you to the squares of Monastiraki and Omonia where all the street shopping happens. And there is a flea market where you can buy awesome junk collections be it art, jewelry and antiques for really good bargains. And there is plaka, the tourists souvenir paradise. You can get all the souvenirs you want to take home. My personal choice ranges from anything to do with authentic Greek like the mastic oils, olive soaps, the greek spices, the Peloponnese wines, clothes, greek shoes with the funny wool like balls for decoration, the fridge magnets, awesome leather items, art pieces and so on. My list can go on and on.

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[Left to right: Traditional Greek tavern, Pita Gyros, Souvlaki, Moussaka, Shrimp Saganaki]

 

Alright, I would like to come back to the food just for you not get confused what to order when you get here. Like I mentioned in the previous post, Greek cuisine is one of the oldest in tradition. It has mostly Mediterranean produce. As a visitor or a person living here you would be tempted to eat (at least) a meal outside once a day. So what you would have to look for are Tavernas if you do not want to end up getting served western food. The Greeks like to eat their meals quite late and they eat huge breakfasts and tiny portions of afternoon meals and then a heavy mid evening meal and a heavy late dinner followed by wine, with lots of music. These dinners usually wind down only in the early morning hours, usually at 4 am. When you get here, do not forget to order Souvlaki which comes in two versions, one where you can have it wrapped with a pita bread and they call it Pita Gyros with everything in it, like a simple salad consisting of tomatoes and onions and then a sauce called Tzatziki which is a yoghurt based sauce with cucumbers and some fresh dill which makes a perfect dipping sauce. The pita can come as gyros which is basically meat off the roasting spit and then there is Souvlaki which is meat on kebab sticks and wrapped in pita and salad or can come with the sticks and served with pita separately. There is Moussaka, the Greek national dish made of layered beef mince and eggplant with tomato sauce, perfect for an afternoon lunch! Do not forget to try the feta salad with some pita bread and house wine. There is also, Saganaki, cooked seafood in tomato sauce and fresh feta. Trust me Greek food can never disappoint anyone. There are a lot of other varieties but I urge you to explore.

For me, the most fascinating time has been the weekends so far, once the summer hits Greece there is so much on the table to do. You can just soak in the sun on the beach, as you all know, the Greek sea is a 1000 shades of blue to the eyes with beautiful sand filled shore perfect for a sunny day. There is so much to do, I tried fishing, getting to hire a boat and go around the coast to see the beautiful landscape Greece has to offer. The roadways leading to the south of the Attica towards a place called Suonio is an amazing ride for bike lovers and equally perfect for a car if you love long drives with picturesque sceneries. Starting from the Athens coastline Glyfada to the Tip of Attica the midway has beautiful beaches to suit your preferences or you could also explore each beach as you go. For me it was a kind of addiction. The coast line was love at first sight for me. The drop down cliffs touching the sea are a beautiful sight for one’s eye. Once again, there is nothing in Greece that will disappoint, as everything is to fall in love with. I hope I was able to keep you my reader entertained, about visiting Athens.

In my next post I would talk about the places you must visit as a visitor in Greece and what you would find fascinating there. So, hold on to your horses and stay put for my yet another interesting and fun filled adventure in another part of this fascinating Historical Greece. Stay Tuned.

Living in Athens – Part 1

If you’re considering living in Athens, you might find this post interesting and helpful. I will share my experiences and my personal thoughts to make your stay worthwhile even if you’re just visiting, planning to work here, or living here as a stay at home mom like me. Athens, is the 5th most populous city in the EU zone, with two UNESCO world heritage sites; one being the mighty Acropolis and the other the Daphni Monastery. It is one of the biggest economic centers in the southeastern European continent with tremendous historical importance.

I moved to Athens with my family which includes my husband, my 18 month old daughter and my chocolate-brown Labrador in the beginning of this year. I knew very little about the place I would be calling my home for the next few years. My husband was offered a job here despite the financial crisis the city has been facing the past few years. But politics aside, let me talk about how wonderful and overwhelming this wide spread city is. So make yourself comfortable, get yourself a coffee and join me in my Greek Athens experience. And mind you, this is going to be one interesting (but slightly long) post. Grabbed that coffee yet?

The day I arrived, my husband took me to a restaurant whose name I could hardly pronounce until a few subsequent visits later. Now I have learnt that restaurants are called Local Greek Tavernas. If you go to any of these, you will never leave disappointed with the food that they serve. I’m sure many of you reading this already know how delicious Greek food is; mouthwatering and just yum! Our first week in Athens was spent exploring the neighborhood. I got lucky when I got here, I immediately made friends with a Greek woman who lives one floor below our apartment. When I say I got lucky, I mean it; it’s never a bad idea to make friends with people you are going to live with and see every day.

Our apartment is situated downtown of the city, 5 minutes from the heart of the city by car and 15 minutes by Metro. The Greek apartments stunned me, they are fabulous inside and out. The kitchen and the bathroom came decorated with colorful tiles and each room came ventilated with large double doors, with clear see through glass and a door with shade so you do not have to invest in curtains. And each room had its own balcony with large canopies to provide shade as the Greek sun can get tremendously hot during the summer. Overall, the apartments come spacious and the rents are pretty affordable due to the crisis they have currently. Once, we got settled in and made the house more of a home, it was time to explore where everything was and what to buy. We had to shop a bit at IKEA as newcomers we were aware of the ‘better safe than sorry’ saying. We also had some existing furniture in the house that we arranged to our will. And now, as in most of the European countries having their own language, Greece has Greek – and everything – whatever it may be, is written in Greek. But the other side to the drawback is that most Greeks speak English which makes it easier for you to find what you need.

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             [typical Greek farmer market called as Laiki]

Like I already mentioned, the Greek love their food, and I found out during my first week of stay that a few streets across where I live, there is a Farmers’ Market which takes place every Friday and another one every Tuesday a few blocks further. So the Farmers’ Market is called a Laiki (pronounced Lai-aa-kee). You get the freshest produce, everything from fresh vegetables, greens, fresh eggs in various sizes, and sometimes if you get lucky, you could get fresh fish and fresh seafood. The laiki happens in one long street with stalls on both the sides with vendors selling all the stuff you might want to enhance your cooking skills. Not to forget, the vendors sell some amazing local wine for 1 Euro (!) or sometimes 2. So, this Laiki is area specific; you might want to check with your neighbourhood friends on which days these markets take place. But don’t be disappointed if you cannot find one as there is an all week Farmers market which happens every day except Sunday at the Monastiraki – Omonia Streets in the Center, where there is a huge farmers market and super huge fresh seafood market with meat market. A small tip, you might want to think of waking up early to hit these markets as it can get utterly crowded after 11am. Here you can find the spices, the famous Greek Kalamata olives, fresh Greek Feta and the Greek yogurt, Greek olive oil, the Greek Mastic spirits and wines – some really robust colorful things. I would say you would never be tired of shopping here.

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[supermarkets of Greece – left to right: Sklavenitis, Carrefour, AB City]

For the supermarket purchases, a Greek local suggested I shop only at a supermarket called Sklavenitis, Greek owned with a wide range of items available for affordable prices compared to the other markets I did research on. Trust me when I say this as I learnt from my mother in law to start saving on household purchases so I do all my research perfectly. But that’s another story, and then, apart from the supermarket I mentioned there is AB city, again Greek owned, which I would pick after Sklavenitis. Also, there is the French owned supermarket Carrefour, highly expensive and not at all recommended as for weekend shopping I would spend 50 euros at the Sklavenitis and 40% more at Carrefour, thus not my personal favorite.