At the grocery store last week I found jade-green fresh garlic in the vegetable display. I had seen fresh garlic before in magazines and food blogs but never in an actual grocery store. I was surprised at how pliable the bulbs seemed without a papery skin. They looked like vegetables you could roast and eat whole, like a leek. It was early morning so there were few other shoppers in the store. Still, my heart quickened at the thought of someone else snapping up all the fresh garlic bulbs before me. I clutched a brown paper bag and filled it thinking, am I the only one seeing these?
I later learned fresh garlic was in season in Greece so perhaps it’s no coincidence that Skordalia, a Greek garlic paste, is traditionally served on the March 25 holiday—a day celebrating Greece’s independence from Turkey. Skordalia is an unctuous condiment made by mashing garlic with nuts, olive oil, and stale bread. It’s a rustic Greek pesto that pairs well with fish which is convenient since, on March 25, Greeks are allowed to break the Lenten fast with fried salt-cod.
On March 25 this year, Spyros and I made our own Independence Day feast with baked salt cod, roasted beets and, of course, homemade Skordalia. We made it by smashing the fresh garlic in our mortar and pestle. By hand, we whisked chopped walnuts, moistened bread, and spoons of oil into the pulverized garlic—which gave our arms quite a workout.
Here is a photo our dinner that day. Please excuse the poor quality…it was dark and we were hungry.
I love the typical March 25 foods, but the Skordalia really stood out. I followed Paula Wolfert’s Skordalia recipe from her Mediterranean Cooking almost exactly except I replaced her blanched almonds with toasted walnuts. In the book, Wolfert prefaces her Skordalia recipe with a Greek saying, “A young bride should be able to make a Skordalia sauce you can smell a kilometer away.” Since fresh garlic is less pungent than dried, my recipe was not quite as potent, but very tasty.
We spread the Skordalia on bits of baked cod and smeared it over the roasted beets. I ate, thinking of Greece’s history leading up to this holiday. I felt thankful for this land that gave Spyros and I such a tasty, fresh meal and beautiful home. Thinking of Greece’s current troubles, I sighed and smoothed another spoon of Skordalia on the beets. With each mouthful, I tasted strength.
Note: Skordalia is strong stuff, even if you make it with fresh garlic. For this reason, I recommend serving it the Greek way, next to a cooked protein like roast chicken and baked fish. It’s also is great over roasted veggies like beets, broccoli, and carrots. I believe it would also be a nice topping for a grain bowl of brown rice and beets. Let me know how you try it 🙂
*adapted from Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Cooking
Skordalia, Garlic-Walnut paste
Makes 1 cup, serves 4
4 small garlic cloves, peeled
4 thick slices stale white bread, crust removed
½ cup walnut pieces, toasted
5 teaspoons white vinegar
½ cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons hot water, optional
1. In a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic cloves with a big pinch of salt until a rough paste forms.
2. In a small bowl, moisten the bread with about ¼ cup water for a few minutes. Squeeze the water from the bread and reserve 2/3 cup of moistened bread mixture.
3. Finely grind the toasted walnuts in a food processor.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic and walnuts. Gradually add the bread, switching to a wooden spoon if the mixture becomes too thick. Add the vinegar alternately with the olive oil—using the whisk again, if possible—until the sauce is thick and well mixed. Add a little hot water for a thinner consistency, if desired.