Last year in Greece I had the pleasure of visiting the city of Kavala, just 90 minutes east of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. It is also the principal seaport of eastern Macedonia and it’s situated near the beautiful island of Thassos. The Apostle Paul landed here on his first trip to Europe and the fortress located on the acropolis of the city is called Christoupolis (also the olden name of Kavala).
Venetians and the Ottomans also occupied Kavala through the ages and the aqueduct built by Suleman I runs through the city and is often used as a city symbol to this day. On the day I visited Kavala, I had scheduled a tour of the Biblia Hora winery and then an early evening dinner in the old ‘limani’ (port) area of Kavala. The wine tour was set up by my friend Stella Spanou.
Stella is an extraordinary cook who grew-up in Thessaloniki, spent summers in Halkidiki and currently lives with her family in Xanthi, just east of Kavala. When I met Stella, she was also very busy putting the finishing touches on her cookbook, “Kavala’s Flavours”...a cookbook featuring dishes and products from Kavala and its surrounding towns and villages.
The recipes are a combination of traditional recipes and some of Stella’s personal creations using ingredients that are produced in the region of Kavala. The book is currently only available in Greek but the recipes triple-tested, delicious and all the photos were taken by Stella herself! I was curious to try one of the first recipes to appear in the book…asparagus fritters.
Wild asparagus has grown in Greece for a Millenia but the green and white varieties that you and I see in the markets have been cultivated in Greece since the 60’s. Asparagus requires patience as it takes 3 threes for the first crop to appear and much of the nutrients in the soil are absorbed by the asparagus while growing. Asparagus farming depletes the soil rapidly and therefore the soil must lie fallow for years before cultivation may resume. Asparagus is in Greece is therefore is not cheap because of this and the price is squeezed upwards due to the fact that about 70% of the asparagus crop is exported.
Three varieties of asparagus are produced in Greece: green, white and the green spears with a purple tinge. In Stella’s recipe, the white asparagus are used. The green in asparagus (and other green vegetables) comes from chlorophyl and the white variety of asparagus are grown in the dark, starved of light/no ability for chlorophyl to be produced and leaving the asparagus white.
The most common asparagus here in Canada are the green variety and that’s what I used here in Stella’s recipe. I’ve taken a few liberties with the recipe like adding some scallions in the mix and dredging the patties in a flour and cornmeal combo. These asparagus fritters are crisp on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. The golden outside and green colour from the asparagus make these appetizers easy on the eyes, the herbs brighten the flavour and the crumbled Feta offering just enough tartness and seasoning.
Asparagus Fritters (Σπαραγγοκεφτεδες της Στέλλα’ς)
1 bunch of fresh asparagus (about 1 kg.)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup of bread crumbs
1 cup of crumbled feta cheese
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour + 1/2 cup cornmeal for dredging
vegetable for frying
- Place a skillet on your stove-top and add a turn of olive oil over medium heat. Add your sliced scallions and cook until softened and translucent (in about 5 minutes). Take off the heat and allow to cool.
- In the meantime, rinse your asparagus and cut-off or snap-off the woody ends and discard. Grate your asparagus with a box-grater or simply place in your food processor and pulse until the asparagus have the consistency of thin shavings. Squeeze any moisture left in the asparagus with your hands and place in a bowl along with the cooled cooked scallions, herbs, eggs and stir with a spatula. Add the breadcrumbs in increments until the mixture binds well. Now add the crumbled Feta and fresh ground pepper and gently mix in.
- Form your fritters by rolling into palm-sized balls then flatten and form them into patties. Mix your flour and cornmeal with a fork and lightly dredge your patties in them.
- Pour enough vegetable oil into a skillet to come-up 1cm and heat to 350F. Gently place your patties into the hot oil and fry for 2-3 minutes a side or until just golden. Reserve on paper-lined plate and then serve warm as an appetizer with a Biblia Hora Lefkos, an Assyrtiko-Sauvignon Blanc blend.
* Stella was recently in Paris to receive an award for her book – she won in Best World Cookbook in the category of photography.
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