We began our classes at Kea Artisanal for the week by taking a tour of Aglaia and Costas’ expansive gardens that surround their beautiful home and by learning about the abundant plants that live there. I was amazed at the different varieties they have growing and how they really survived “off the land” cooking with whatever vegetables and herbs were being harvested at the time. Maintaining a garden like this is quite a lot of work but Costas is really dedicated to it and he is incredibly knowledgeable about all of the plants they grow. I learned quite a lot and saw plants that I had never seen in person before.
He then showed us how to choose the grape vine leaves we would use to make Yalantzi Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs. We were to pick the tender green ones that were somewhat newer and thinner than the older, heartier ones. It turns out that they actually feel quite different from one another and the color is a bit lighter. We also picked fresh mint, fennel fonds, parsley and Purslane (a new herb for me!)
After the leaves were blanched for a minute, we combined all the ingredients for the filling and learned the technique for rolling them into perfect packages that wouldn’t unwrap while they were cooking.
We also hollowed out an assortment of vegetables that we filled with their sautéed pulps, rice and herbs and then roasted in the oven.
Of course everything had a healthy coating of olive oil. I honestly have never used so much olive oil in my life! Greeks consume more olive oil than any other nation in the world; I have seen numbers ranging from 20 to 40 liters per person annually! Whatever the number is, I am clearly not using enough at home! We were very lucky to use oil that Aglaia and Costas produced last season with their new press, a huge investment for them, but well worth it when the yield was so high in quality. I will have to try and find one of similar caliber in NY, but, buyer beware! Not all oils are created equally. Aglaia has a very good article on her blog about deodorized oils that should be read before you go out and buy olive oil.
While everything we prepared was cooking, Costas readied the kid that would be served at lunch and gathered the white wines we would taste throughout the meal.
We also had an opportunity to taste a black mackerel roe with lemon oil and some marinated octopus, neither of which I enjoyed too much but I am happy that I at least tried them. They are certainly acquired tastes!
When it was time for the meal, we all gathered around the table and enjoyed our long Mediterranean lunch that we helped to create. I think everything tasted ten times better than anything I had ever had before! I could have eaten the dolmas all by myself! Served warm they were phenomenal but a few days later, after they had been chilled and cooled and the flavors had time to develop, they were far superior to any of the canned versions I have had at home. I don’t think I will be able to eat the canned variety any longer!
We tried at least eight to ten different white wines throughout the course of the afternoon. Costas had given us a sheet of notes so that we could remember the ones we tried and hopefully be able to find back home. He explained each wine, their terroirs, their growing regions and of course the grapes themselves. By the end, we were filled to the brim and happy for a light dessert of cherries and mastic flavored ice cream. And then a long afternoon nap!
Our evening was free to explore the island and it’s many tavernas, but we were so full from our feast that just a scenic view and some light mezze filled the spot. I was invited to join my new friends from Maine and we spent the evening chatting, overlooking the port and watching the sun set.