"Kyria Pelagia will bring water, some coffee, and some mezedakia to eat. You will find that we do not lack hospitality. It is our tradition, Captain, to be hospitable even to those who do not merit it. It is a question of honour, a motive which you may find somewhat foreign and unfamiliar. Your sizeable friend is welcome to join us."Carlo and the captain uneasily partook of the tiny spinach pies, the fried baby squid and the dolmades stuffed with rice.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres, Chapter 25
The first thing to make clear about this post is that vine leaves are impossible to find in the greater Cirencester area. Shop owners speak wistfully of the times they 'used to have some in stock', but it appears that those times are no longer. I visited delicatessens, supermarkets and even a fishmonger, all to no avail. All of this is a very long way of telling you that I didn't make the dolmades pictured above. They're from Waitrose. Emptied straight out of a box bought from the refrigerated deli section - not even from the slightly posher deli counter. I had planned to make all three meze from the passage above but was foiled, in the end, by the Cotswolds.
The dolmades were to be a recreation of the ones I learnt to make in Istanbul a year ago. Our hungry class of twelve made close to a hundred thumb-sized dolmades, packed tightly into a pan and left to simmer away on the hob. They're delicious - served hot, with some of the tomato-y juices they've been bubbling away in. I've got plans to make them again.
No matter. The meal was still a hit. The three dishes above sat alongside a couple of salads, some grilled halloumi, a tahini and lemon-rich hummus and some baba ghanoush. Oh, and the lamb meatballs above - we needed to do something with the mince I'd bought for the dolmades.
I wish I could tell you that we ate outside in the sun. But come on. This is England, not Greece. We retreated inside just after the shots above were taken - escaping the sudden rain for the comfort of the kitchen table.
Salt and Pepper Squid
Serves 2 as a starter, or more if part of a meze
6 small squid (use your judgement here - depending on how big your squid are, you could use anything between 2 and 8)
1 tsp black peppercorns
2tsp coarse sea salt
1tsp dried chilli flakes
1 litre vegetable oil
Knife and chopping board
Mortar and pestle
Large, deep-sided saucepan
1. First, prepare your squid. Depending on how you've purchased it, you may need to go through a couple of steps to get it ready for frying. If you're anxious about preparing squid, you can just buy cleaned squid tubes, but I actually really enjoy the whole process - removing the entrails and quill, peeling the membrane then removing the head and beak. The image below is the squid prepared, ready to be sliced up. One day, I might make a video of myself preparing them to this point but, in the meantime, the Guardian have one here.
2. Once you have your squid tubes and tentacles, they're ready to be sliced up. Cut straight through the tubes, parallel to opening at the base of the tube, to create 1cm wide rings. Slice the tentacles in half through the top ring; they will then remain together as a cluster of tentacles, and will be a more manageable size to eat.
3. Pound the peppercorns and dried chilli together in the mortar and pestle until the pepper is in small pieces, but not reduced to a dust. Add this, and the salt, to the cornflour, and mix with your hand.
4. Heat the oil to 180C over a medium heat. If you don't have a thermometer, you can test the heat by dropping a small cube of bread in - it should bubble and fizz, and turn a golden brown within a minute. Once the oil is hot, you're ready to cook.
5. Firstly, ensure that the squid tubes are still damp - if they have dried out, wet your hand and squidge them around a bit. Drop 6-8 pieces of squid into the flour, and toss to coat them. Drop the squid into the oil, and push it around with the slotted spoon if it clumps together. Cook until lightly golden (no more than two minutes) and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towel to drain. Continue with the remaining squid.
Serve immediately with chilli sauce or mayonnaise, or a generous squeeze of lemon.