An Addictive and Unexpected Flavourful Vegetarian Patty: my new flavour favourite
While I wait for my Greek friends, and friends of Greek friends, to send me the recipe for the Cretan Stuffed Zucchini Flowers which I will forever crave, I will share my second favourite taste with you while in Greece earlier this month: Greek Zucchini Croquettes, or Kolokythokeftéthes!
These were on almost every mezze menu throughout Greece. They may be a little different from region to region, but I will never know. Who wants to try a zucchini croquette? I was in search of stuffed zucchini flowers after my first meal in Athens, so a zucchini croquette was completely off of my radar. It wasn’t until our last day in Greece, traveling from Kalamata through Mystra to Sparta that I was introduced to them. So much to do in Sparta, but our day started at the “to be seen to be believed” Kalamata open air market in the morning, continued on to Athens via the winding roads to Mystra and a visit to this “Byzantine Jewel”, then over to Sparta to the Olive Oil Museum, with this stop for lunch. No time for archeological tours here, sadly, but we had educated ourselves quite well, thus far. Time for a little reprieve.
The folks at the museum recommended this restaurant once they heard our plea for “non-tourist” restaurant with “authentic regional Greek food”. We arrived and were convinced at once that this would not be a place one would find tourists. All of the bikes lined up in front sent a little chill down my spine, but I was not daunted.
Around the corner to park, it became clear this was a very charming little find.
Seated by a lovely lady, who appeared shocked to see strangers at the door, wondered how we would communicate, and did not expect a bilingual menu. Yet, there it was! And, when she presented it, she had clearly regained her pose and was able to speak a little English which really surprised us both. I think we were a bit relieved, too?
Interestingly, bread is served everywhere, and then each person at the table is charged for it, whether you eat it, or not. Usually, about 0.40 Euro per person.
The crust on the sour dough loaf was crunchy and so tasty. I wonder what she thought finding the crusts all eaten and the tender soft pillowy centres left in the basket?
Vanja is stressed. That is evident. We were having such a lovely visit. Enjoying the break, the patio, the sense of place this lovely little restaurant offered after our busy set of events throughout the morning and early afternoon, when he had just discovered he had left our passports in the hotel room in Kalamata. He called. They had them. In reality, we were extremely fortunate. They were there, safe. We were here, having a lovely time. We had planned to travel to Athens after lunch and be there by 5pm, or in an hour and a half after lunch. However, we now had to drive back to Kalamata, about the same distance, the opposite direction. But, we did have the time! I am in the process of trying to cheer him up at this point of our meal.
Breathing out the worry, our meal was served. I wanted some mezzes … a variety was always my choice, but this menu only had a variety of hot mezzes, not cold ones, and without clear communication, I just ordered the hot mixed mezze. However, once served, I was surprised and disappointed to see everything was in pastry, or deep fried.
Vanja ordered his usual grilled chop with fries (or potatoes). Here, it is a rather “old” veal, yet apparently, excellent.
The day is very hot. I am craving refreshing tastes… and I start immediately with the infamous zucchini croquette that I had purposefully not ordered throughout our trip. How good could it be?
Immediately, I sat up straight. Yes, it was one of those: “it doesn’t taste how it looks” moments. The croquette offered that very refreshing mouth feel and taste I was craving. But, how was that possible? It was hot and “deep fried”! Yet, there was nothing rich or oily about this bite. It was laden with finely chopped vegetables and offered an appeal similar to a very healthy snack with the headline reading: Flavour! Undeniably unexpected: a punch of power packed goodness greeted my palate. Somewhat similar to the flavour profile of the stuffed Cretan Zucchini Flowers in that dill and mint played a role, yet there was also that citrus note that was not citrus, but held that note. I was in heaven with this little patty.
The other 4 “pies” were also very tasty, light and lovely. Above, a cheese pie.
A vegetable cheese pie was next. Mainly with peppers, a tasty herb combination and not at all rich. I felt “guilt free” eating these “fatty looking” bites.
This one had meat. Not sure what kind. Delicious.
The above and below pie is the same: cheese and peppers with a completely different flavour profile than the other pepper, vegetable and cheese one.
Famous for their feta, there are other cheeses that are revered by the Greeks. Apparently, I tasted each of them one night at a little restaurant, but the gal was too busy to write each one down. I know there is one that is grilled and similar to Halloumi. The above cheese was another kind, not written in the Latin alphabet on the menu: chewy, probably sheep’s milk, buttery and delicious. I was taken aback by the fried cheeses on all mezze menus. I expected to see cheese in its simple form. Clearly, a variety of young cheeses, fried in a variety of ways, is a part of this food culture.
The dessert was a gift. They may charge for the bread, but there is always a gift, and sometimes, two! We were so surprised at this. Often, there would be an appetizer, a dessert, or a drink served to us “a gift to you, from us”. I was so happy about this dessert.
One can only eat so much, and I never had room for dessert, yet there were many traditional sweets I wanted to try. Milk Cake was one, and this was another because I kept seeing it in shop windows… and was curious.
Clearly, tourists in a “non-touristy” area, the young man that brought out our bread determined, in broken English, that Vanja was from the former Yugoslavia. Moments later, the chef appeared (above), exuberant, and in fluent English, “Ah, my Balkan friend!” and shakes Vanja’s hand. “Partisan?”
“Yes!” Vanja replied. Well. Chaos ensued. Hugs, laughter, back slaps, lots of fast talk I could not possibly understand. Sharing of photos and videos! A fellow soccer fan, both on the same “side”. Brethren across the sea. Oh my! Apparently, this was huge. I have so much to learn.
As we departed, well fed and befriended, I wrapped the taste memory of this Greek Zucchini Croquette up in a little package and tucked it away in a corner of my mind to be revisited at home. And, thus it is.
Tickled with my results, you will see my croquette is visibly different than that of my Spartan inspiration, but the chef didn’t give me his recipe. He said he would…. but, he didn’t. He shared the ingredients: zucchini, onions, flour, eggs and herbs. No cheese. After reading so many of recipes, and loving feta as I do, I knew I would be adding cheese. However, if I had his recipe, I would not do that. I would work to replicate this experience. Instead, I worked to create one I would equally enjoy that would “hopefully” be reminiscent of this experience. Success! I will be making this recipe many more times as I was able to develop the flavour and texture very close to that in my memory. Combined with the fact that it is nutritious, delicious and economical make this my new favourite thing.
I have a Thermomix. Of course, I will use it. Otherwise, it would be not so easy to make these paddies.
I was careful to chop very quickly once, and then again, to get the texture I was looking for. The machine is so powerful, but I got it!
While the onion and zucchini were draining in the sink, sprinkled with salt, I prepared my herbs.
I love this time of year. Each of the herbs were plucked from my garden!
Above, I added flat leafed parsley, and below, the chives with the eggs.
After the first whirl, I added a lot of freshly ground black pepper. You will see that there are still some chunks of herbs, so more time on Turbo necessary!
Once the zucchini-onion mixture was drained well, I decided to use the tea towel squeeze technique that I use with getting the moisture out of frozen or cooked spinach.
Into the towel it goes, I twist, squeeze, turn, twist, squeeze, turn, and on, until no more liquid comes out.
I added the herb and egg mixture, above.
Then the flour and cheese…
… combined well by hand…
… and formed into patties. I find combining by hand gratifying. I like playing with my food!
I got 25 patties. At this point, they need refrigeration to set. I fried 6 and froze the rest which came out beautifully when fried a week later.
I hadn’t reviewed the photos from the “prototype” yet, but couldn’t have been more pleased, or proud, of my final result. (First time, not firm enough. Second time, not firm enough. Third time: perfection!)
I would hang this on my wall, if someone would paint it for me!
In my mind, it was much closer to the original, than portrayed in reality, via my photos. Clearly, mine has more herbs or “green stuff”.
Maybe he has more eggs and flour? It looks like more onions, but I definitely remember that his patties did not have an onion flavour. It was a clean, simple refreshing flavour with ingredients well married: one note did not stand out above the others.
Greek Zucchini Croquettes: Kolokythokeftéthes
Nutritious, delicious and economical; this traditional Greek mezze packs a powerful flavour punch, is an excellent vegetarian side and is the perfect way to use that late summer zucchini.
- 3 medium to small zucchini or 750g , chunked
- 1 large white onion or 250g , chunked
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 10g
- 3 tablespoons fresh dill , finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of fresh mint , finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons parsley , finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons chives or green onions , finely chopped
- 2 large egg , beaten
- 100 g feta
- ½ cup flour
- freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil (for frying)
Scale zucchini and onion into TM bowl: set time to 5 seconds and speed to 4
Empty minced ingredients into a sieve or colander and sprinkle with salt; set aside for 30 minutes
Scale dill, mint, parsley, chives and egg into TM bowl; turbo 3 times for 2 seconds each, until very fine
Press liquid out of zucchini mixture in sieve, then place in tea towel, and squeeze as much liquid out of the mixture as possible
Place zucchini-onion mixture in bowl; add egg and minced herbs, freshly ground black pepper, flour and feta cheese
Combine well by hand and form into 24 small patties; place on parchment covered cookie sheet
Refrigerate until cold or freeze, then place in freezer bag, labelled and dated until ready to use
Frying the Croquettes:
If frozen, take out of freezer the night before and thaw in the fridge overnight
Place olive oil in frying pan set at medium; fry 6 at a time and each side for 3 minutes before turning
Turn only once; side will be nicely browned and release easily from the pan
Once second side has fried three minutes; drain on paper towel, then garnish with herbs and serve hot with tzatziki sauce
Please try this recipe. You must. And, when you do, let me know what you think! Inquiring minds want to know!
Still curious, in Edmonton, but mighty pleased, as well.