A few weeks back I made Hosafi, a dish from the Pontian Greeks and I alluded that I would share with you in due course and the time has come. This past summer in Greece, I spent a weekend visiting the diverse, delicious and distant city of Xanthi…a Greek city closer to the Turkish border than Athens! Xanthi is in Thrace and the population is a mix of Greeks along with a Muslim minority – coexisting peacefully.
Many Greeks and Turks had to return to their home countries and Xanthi (along with much of northern Greece took in many Greeks of Asia Minor and the Pontian Greeks who lived along the Black Sea. Xanthi was one of the exceptions where some Muslims did not have to return to Turkey and they have been living alongside Greeks peacefully.
When in Xanthi, I was priveleged to have my friend Chef Stella Spanou to show me around town and one of the stops were at her friend’s rural guesthouse just outside Xanthi. I arrived at Kokkymelon on the day that this family-run operation were harvesting and stomping on their grapes…yes stomping. Not with any machinery but their feet. Boots were worn of course. I’ve gone to many wineries but this was the first time I had ever witnessed a wine harvest by way of stomping on the grapes.
To those that haven’t made wine before, here is what I witnessed: the grapes were harvested then dumped into a machine that removed the stems from the grapes. The grapes dropped into a large round container, made of stone and mortar that resembled a well. There was a spout at the bottom and then boots were slipped on and the stomping of the grapes occurred. The grape juice (also known as must) began pouring out of the spout and buckets were transferred to the large vat where fermentation would take place.
The real flavour in wine come from the skins and then next step was to extract every last ounce of juice and flavour from the skins then they are simply dumped back in the vineyards as compost. Fermentation begins almost immediately from the sugars in the must and the magic of wine making began.
It’s hard work and I now have an even greater respect for those that make wine. Don’t water down that wine with club soda, Sprite or ginger ale…taste the wine for what it is and remember that alot of work went into making that wine you’re drinking. Chef Stella and Eleni (Kokkymelon owner) were in charge of cooking for us all and one of the dishes that appeared at the table looked like a bean salad. Looked I said. After sitting down I got down to sampling all the dishes and I finally got around to tasting the bean salad and I was floored by how delicious it was. I asked for the recipe but Eleni nor Stella had it – it was made by the grandfather of the family.
This family were Pontian Greeks and the beans were actually pickled beans…a toursi (in Greek) and known as “stipa” in Pontic dialect. The grandfather described rubbing coarse sea salt into the vegetables and allowing them to stew for a few days before being jarred and pickled. I’ve taken some of my own family’s method of pickling vegetables and after waiting 20 days to finally taste these – I can say that I’ve achieved almost the same bright flavours as those pickled beans on that warm, lazy Saturday in Xanthi.
Like with any pickling, sterilize your jars, keep everything clean and you’re halfway there. I must also underline that you should remove the green stem/root from your cloves of garlic. They can turn the clove of garlic green and although it’s not dangerous it’s just not visually appealing. The Hosafi was one way of preserving Summer’s goodness and pickling vegetables like this Fassolakia (Beans) Toursi is another wonderful method of food preservation – still carried out by Pontian Greeks. This is traditionally opened up and served as part of a meze offering – wonderful with Ouzo or Tsipouro with anise.
Pickled Green Beans – Φασολακια Τουρσι (Στίπα)
(makes 3 medium jars)
approx. 2 lbs. of runner beans, strings removed
1 bunch of baby carrots, trimmed and well-scrubbed (cut in half if too long for jar)
14-15 stalks of Selino (European celery) (look for Chinese celery at Asian markets), halved then roughly chopped
9-10 small whole chillis
10-12 cloves of garlic, green sprouts removed
3 medium-sized mason jars
1 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
1/4 cup pickling salt (or coarse sea salt)
4 cups water
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- Sterilize your mason jars. Click here for an easy to understand run-down.
- Remove the strings from your beans, wash/scrub your carrots and trim the end where the greens were, wash your “selino”, chillis and peel and remove the sprouts from the center of the garlic.
- In a large pot, add your water, salt, vinegar, oil and bring to a boil. Now add the veggies and as soon as the water returns to a boil, count and boil for 4 minutes. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl and toss until well-mixed.
- Place a jar sideways on your work surface and fill it up with as much vegetables as you can, leaving an inch free in the jar. Use a ladle to fill the jar with the hot pickling liquid and repeat with the other jars. After 5 minutes check to see if more liquid has to be added into any of the jars.
- Using paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar of any excess liquid. Place seals on all the jars and tighten the metal screw bands. Within a 1/2 hour, press your finger on each lid to see if a seal has bee made. If a seal has not been created, read this and review your process and try again with a new seal on the jar.
If you’re thinking of visiting Xanthi, I encourage to spend an evening or two at the guesthouse where I spent this Saturday at – Kokkymelon. It’s family-run, traditional, quiet, fresh air with the back drop of green plains and mountains. The River Nestos is nearby as well as the sea and the city of Xanthi is about 20 minutes away by car.
Enjoy the slideshow below from my day at the guesthouse “Kokkymelon”.
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