Had a chat about some food the other day (what else is new) and I was being asked questions about some Greek foods that I casually replied to. Some people go “gaga” for what Greeks make in the kitchen as if it were some mysterious culinary secret. I still get questions on how to make a Greek salad. Or I get asked, “how do you make those roasted potatoes“? My sister-in-law finds Tyrokafteri a mystery and to this day she cannot make it!
Greek cuisine is based on quality ingredients, taking advantage of what’s in season and therefore the dish shines and the quality ingredients sing. Another aspect of Greek cuisine is that it is going through some change – some good and some bad, some old and some modern, some wholesome and some lazyness. The part of Greek cuisine that I want to share is the food eaten in our (Greeks) homes, the food eaten at tavernas, cafes, estiatoria, the food some of Greece’s contemporary chefs and some of the dishes few know about.
This appetizer/dip comes from my family’s part of Greece, Florina – located about 90 minutes northwest of Thessaloniki in northern Greece. I’ve known of this dip for ages but fell in love with it this past summer as my cousin Lia set a plate of in front of me alongside with some good crusty bread. This dish is called Taltsenes, taken from the local idiom and meaning “stoumbismenes”, a reference to pounding or mashing with a mortar and pestle.
This dip is ideal for this time of year, plenty of ripe, sweet eggplants, Florina peppers (an appellation product of Greece) are in season, ripe tomatoes make it into the mix and pungent, raw garlic and the very best Greek extra-virgin olive oil. This dish is a little Melitzanosalata, it’s a little roasted red pepper dip. It’s best when the eggplants, peppers and tomato are fire roasted on a charcoal or gas grill.
This past summer in Greece I spent several days in my parents’ hometowns and Taltsenes were at the dinner table and even on offer at tavernas! I’m delighted to share this dish and I’m sure you’re gonna love it with some good crusty bread and some Feta cheese on the side.
Taltsenes (Ταλτσένες: Στουμπισμένες πιπεριές με μελιτζάνα)
(makes about 4 meze plates)
4 Tsakonian eggplants (or Japanese) or 2 medium-sized Italian eggplants
2 red shepherd peppers
1 ripe medium tomato
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
coarse sea salt
splash of wine vinegar
3/4 to 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill, poke the eggplant a few times with a fork (prevents the eggplant from bursting) and place them plus the pepper on the grill and char them until the skins of the eggplant are blackened, the pepper’s skins blistered. You may want to wrap the tomato in foil and place on the grill (keep all the juices). Roasting the eggplants, pepper and tomato shouldn’t take more than 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, place the eggplants and tomato on a plate and the red pepper goes in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Allow the vegetables to cool (and the pepper to sweat) for about 15 minutes (ideal if vegetables are still warm).
- In the meantime, press your hand down on the garlic and remove the skins and place in a mortar along with some coarse salt and pound into a mash with the pestle. Now slice your eggplants open (lengthwise) and scoop the flesh out with a spoon and place in the mortar along with a splash of wine vinegar (the vinegar keeps the eggplant from darkening). Lightly blend the garlic and eggplant with the pestle.
- Now peel the skin of the red peppers and remove the stem and seeds (do not rinse with water) and roughly chop and add into the mortar. Peel the skin from the tomato and add into the mortar. Mix with the pestle, blending while keeping some texture in the ingredients.
- While stirring with the pestle, add a slow stream of extra-virgin olive oil according to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, maybe some extra garlic or maybe wine vinegar.
- Serve warm or room temperature with good crusty bread, some Feta cheese and store the rest in a Tupperware for up to a week.
. All rights reserved.