The Greeks celebrate the coming of Lent with an assortment of dishes that are fit for fasting. The main exhibit of every Greek housewife’s culinary triumphs of the day calls for a seafood meal of some sort. Near my town, there is a mussel farm and there are kiosks on our beachfront selling mussels, oysters and other types of shellfish all year-round. Just yesterday, one of the national TV channels did the first of many annual reports at our local kiosks, checking on the growing customer demand in view of Monday. They are still sold at 2.50 Euros a kilo by the way and when you pass by the kiosks, it is still fairly quiet but on Lent Monday when Andy and I go to get some, I bet it’ll be 3.50 euros just for the day. That’s the infamous law of supply and demand at its best and it’s no surprise, seeing that on the day there will be people and cars queueing up to buy our local seafood as far as the eye can see!
Anyway, so this TV report reminded me it’s worth sharing my mussel recipe with you. I know I’m definitely having this on Monday! It is a recipe that derives from the ‘tsipouro’ tavernas in Volos and it is one of the most delicious recipes I have ever prepared. It also works like clockwork: Most of the time I don’t need to add any water after the stock is finished and the timeframes are set to perfection if one indeed uses basmati rice and fresh mussels as the recipe says.
I remember cooking this once for Adrian, my brother-in-law from England. He had visited here in May a few years ago and I had made this for his birthday. I’ve never seen anyone eat his food with so much relish – he actually kept moaning with pleasure from the first mouthful until he polished his plate. I hope you will enjoy this meal half as much as he did!
1 Kg of mussels in their shells (washed/scrubbed)
1 shot glass of ouzo
4-5 fresh onions chopped
1 clove of garlic (chopped)
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 cup of Basmati or Thai rice
1 tomato (skinned and chopped)
Fresh dill (chopped)
Fresh spearmint (chopped)
Have hot water in the kettle at the ready (might be needed towards the end of cooking).
Put a cup of hot water and the ouzo in a pan and bring to boil.
Add mussels, a pinch of curry powder and cover.
When it boils, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring gently a couple of times.
Remove from heat. Throw contents onto a sieve but have a bowl underneath to save the liquid! Put the mussels back in the pan and place cover on top to keep warm.
Put the hot liquid carefully through a very fine sieve (with a measuring jug underneath) with some cotton wool in the sieve as to catch the fine grains of sand. What you will then have in the jug is ready-made stock for the risotto (about 2.5 cups).
Heat the olive oil in another pan and when hot, add onions, garlic and ½ teaspoon of curry powder.
Sauté for a few seconds. Add the rice, sauté for a minute, then add some of the stock.
Cover and simmer for 12 minutes.
Check regularly and add stock slowly as needed (not all at once). During this time, have a quick check at the mussels and remove any that haven’t opened.
After the 12 minutes, add the tomato, dill, spearmint, pepper and the mussels.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Check regularly and stir gently from time to time. Add more stock until it’s finished. If more liquid is needed, use hot water from the kettle but very little at a time.
This meal is already salty enough but taste and add a little salt if needed.
Cook until rice is soft. Serve immediately with a green salad – except on Lent Monday, when side dishes like dolmades, butter beans, olives and chalva are obligatory!
“Kali Sarakosti” !!!
- If you cannot get fresh mussels in their shells, you can use frozen mussels without shells. In this case, use about 200 gr for 2 people. Again, you will need to put the liquid through a fine sieve with cotton wool inside as to catch any sand.
- For extra aroma, put a few strands of saffron (or powder) in a shot glass with hot water. After a few minutes, pour it into the risotto anytime during the first 12 minutes of cooking.
- Instead of 4-5 fresh onions, use 1 large onion (chopped).
- Be generous with the dill and the spearmint – you won’t regret it!