Cookbook review: Octopus from Vefa's Kitchen

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I really like Greek food. Actually, food from that region, be it Greek, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian all generally interests me. Near Queen's Park where I live in London, there are some great Middle Eastern supermarkets stocking just about everything I need locally. If I can't find it here, I can usually get it from the Edgware Road not too far away. London's cool like that.

It's been a while since we cooked Greek food at home though. We've got a few cook books with a Greek slant that we turn to when the urge strikes. The ever-reliable Tessa Kiros has a dedicated Greek book as well as recipes in several of her other books. Jill Dupleix, a wonderful Australian food writer and fantastic cook, has a few Greek recipes scattered throughout her numerous books too. But for this recipe, we turn to the Bible that is Vefa's Kitchen. this
We bought Vefa's Kitchen a little while back. It's another Phaidon production, like the Paella book I reviewed. We've cooked a few things from it but mainly lamb dishes or those based around aubergines, which are two of my favourite things. We cooked a delicious stuffed shoulder of veal too.

Last weekend we decided to try something different from the book, and feeling adventurous, we settled on octopus. Octopus is something I like to eat but not something I've ever cooked. Actually, it is still something I've never cooked as Mr B did most of the work for this one. I just bought the big sucker and help fry up the aubergines. Oh and I cooked the lemony potatoes too. They were pretty good, but not too taxing from a culinary point of view.

The method for the octopus is pretty straightforward, but a bit time consuming making it a dish for a leisurely afternoon of cooking. I rather like that though. Have your fishmonger clean the octopus and then poach the thing, whole, for about 45 minutes in an aromatic bath of bay, peppercorns and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar. While the octopus is simmering away, fry up 2kg of aubergines which have been cut into bite sized pieces. They should be nicely browned. Near the end of the octopus poaching time, start to fry a grated onion and a garlic clove in your favourite casserole. We used our 12 year old blue Le Creuset which has travelled the world with us and still looks new. Well, newish.

Once the octopus is poached, drain it and cut it into sections, say about three suckers long, which is about an inch in technical terms. To the onion and garlic, add three large tomatoes which have been seeded, skinned and chopped. Throw in a teaspoon of sugar and two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to this sauce too.  Now it's time to add the chopped octopus to the sauce and gently simmer with the pan covered. This should ensure the octopus is nice and tender.  After 35 minutes of simmering, add the aubergines and continue to simmer for 10 minutes and then your octopus is done. It can be served hot from the pot or left to cool to room temperature. We ate it hot. While it may seem like a bit of work, it's not difficult and the end result is quite special.

Vefa's Kitchen is a massive and comprehensive book of home-style Greek cooking. I'll never cook everything out of it but it's a great reference book, or one to just flick through for inspiration. After the success of the octopus, I'm looking forward to trying some more dishes that are out for the ordinary for me.

Oh, all this Greek food reminds me. I have to tell you about the time on the island of Paros that we got wired on Greek coffees. The come down was not pretty.


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