Saturday, June 7, 2014

Friday is for fishy stuff, how about calamari w/rice?

Yesterday was Friday, which is traditionally a day for fish among Greeks. So I walked down to a neighborhood supermarket here in downtown Miami where there is always an unusual array of seafood, including cooked octopus and wild-caught smelts. I even discovered the makings for tarama in the deli box near the yoghurt, a bonus! 

5" squids (calamari) caught my eye, and I immediately thought of calamari w/rice and tomatoes. Spinach or leeks w/rice -- which I enjoyed many times in my 10 years living in Thessaloniki -- are a typical Greek comfort food and fasting dish, especially during Lent. Squid, like octopus and shellfish, qualify for Lenten dishes because they do not have spines or bleed...I had never made the rice w/calamari, so I consulted my current favorite Greek cookbook and veritable fount of information, The Olive and The Caper by Susanna Hoffman.

"Spinach Pilaf" on p. 239 addresses the gamut of rice w/various -- including shrimp, snails or's an easy dish to make: sauté one medium, finely-chopped onion and 1 cup short-grained rice in 3T of olive oil until translucent; stir in 1 cup of tomatoes and their juices; cover and reduce heat to cook for about 12 minutes. 5 minutes before rice is ready, add 1 cup of washed and cut-up squid. When all is cooked, stir in 2T chopped fresh dill, 2T chopped fresh mint, 3T chopped flat-leafed parsley, 1t lemon zest, 3T lemon juice, pinch of ground nutmeg, 1t salt, and 1/2 t ground pepper. Remove from the heat, fluff and serve.

Being on a use-what-you-have-on-hand kick, I used about 1t freshly dried dill (leftover from making tzatziki 2 weeks ago) and 1t dried mint (culled a few weeks ago from a live Mojito Mint plant). No parsley. And no lemon zest, just about 1-2 T. lemon juice. No salt, especially since I used canned tomatoes. It took longer to cook w/the squid, and I added water to extend the process. Next time I will add the squid from the beginning and perhaps cut them into narrower rings. Or I might take a tip from Alice Waters' The Chez Panisse Restaurant Menu Cookbook and sauté the squid for 1-2 minutes before adding it (per  a recipe for "Squid w/Leeks and Red Wine"). 

The real key -- as for many Greek dishes -- is a balance of herbs/spices and lemon juice. So taste and adjust as needed. The dill, mint and lemon are really wonderful with these rice dishes. And the finished product really made my day -- OPA!

NOTE: My vegan friends can add 3 lbs. of washed, torn-into-small-pieces spinach (to a larger pot, it will cook down) OR 2 bunches of leeks (minus stem ends and green parts) when adding the tomatoes -- then cook as proscribed.

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