C-O-P-C-M … Copka-mmm? Carrots, olives, potatoes, capers, what was the m? Mustard?
Little cousin and I were trying to make a mnemonic to recall the shopping list we were too lazy to write down. The greengrocer had everything, capers, olives, even the mustard. We almost forgot the bulgur wheat though, since we missed the second B in B-B-O-W-T – blueberries, bulgur, oats, walnuts, tomatoes – an essential ingredient in the grape leaf parcels the dinner was themed around.
The Grape Leaves Club was celebrating more than a year of cooking evenings (ravioli, sashimi, paupiettes de poulet….) with a summer fiesta, vaguely Mediterranean themed. A bit of Spanish-French-Italo-American-Greek (SFIAG?): ajo blanco, white almond soup and soubressade spicy sausage from Marie; oeufs mimosa, devilled eggs with homemade mayonnaise from Jen, with her own foccacia; and grape leaves with lemon and mint, of course. Peeling carrots as the other two rolled up the leaves, talking and then not talking, listening to my little cousin hanging bunting in the other room in fits of laughter, I realised once again that the party preparation is my favourite moment. Inviting people over was a necessary (pleasant) function of liking to cook together, producing too much to eat on our own, as a three.
I was inspired by the ‘Mostly Vegetarian Greek Feast’ eaten at the Oxford Symposium* the other week: long tables lined with tarama, pita, black-eyed bean salad with tomatoes and crispy crumbs. My favourite dishes were a kind of caper spread, with the soft fluffy texture of mashed potatoes; and a carrot and olive salad, the carrot discs just cooked, crunchy, lemony, with pops of salt from the olives. The architect of the feast, Aglaia Kremezi, explained how important the right spices are for (mostly) vegetarian food. And as simple as the main ingredients were, it was the best meal of the weekend, because everything was so well-seasoned, spiced, balanced.
I haven’t bought the book (yet) but really wanted to try the caper-potato combination at home. Even though I don’t normally like capers, something about the squeaky texture. But blended with parsley and swirled into potatoes with olive oil, the sum was so much more than the (four!) parts. Tangy, salty, fresh. It is thicker than a dip, more like mashed potatoes, and could be served as a side dish, a snack, a spread. If everything else on our table hadn’t been so delectable, I would’ve just eaten it by the spoonful. Because she is a genius, Marie suggested piling it into crisp brick pastry with an egg, and frying the parcel until golden and the egg yolk is still runny.
Seriously, try it. This will be your easiest and best summer dish to take to picnics, or to eat absentmindedly from the fridge late at night, when the city finally cools down.
*The Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking left me with pages of notes I haven’t yet written up: on the Gourmet in popular Japanese manga, on tattoos in the kitchen, on banquet scenes in medieval paintings. I will, soon. I loved pretending to be a student in lectures again, this time surrounded by people as obsessively keen as I am about food. And quite a few recipe ideas, including Greek spoon-sweets: preserved orange rind in syrup, offered to us by a pair of artists that collected the fruit from trees in different neighbourhoods of Athens.
Greek potato-caper spread
inspired by Aglaia Kremezi’s Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts – obviously you can be creative, add garlic, lemon, other herbs as well, but it is pretty amazing with just these four ingredients.
makes a generous bowlful but still not enough!
generous handful of fresh parsley
a couple of glugs olive oil
Peel, boil and mash the potatoes. Drain the capers (reserve the brine) and blend with parsley and olive oil to make a rough paste. Mash the caper mix into the potatoes by hand: do not put potatoes in the blender or they will turn gluey. Add more olive oil and some of the brine to achieve required consistency – like loose mashed potatoes. Serve with more olive oil and chopped parsley on top.