I moved from Bucharest to Athens when I was 7 years old to attend the American Community School. It was a calculated move on my parents part to give me a better education and so I could finally learn to speak English.It took me a long time to adjust: there was the language problem; the stigma of being both Eastern European and an Arab (children can be as racist as adults); my short unruly hair cut; and my mother’s habit of insisting I wear the same outfit the entire week. Like we all do, I learned to navigate the playground and insisted on a pair of pink high top reeboks which I hoped would elevate my social standing.25 years later, I’ve gotten into the habit of hosting a lunch for my former play mates whenever I visit Athens.
For this lunch I made: mint lemonade*; beetroot salad, recipe follows; asparagus and potato salad (recipe), courgettes stuffed with mint, breadcrumbs & Parmesan (recipe); a dessert of cherries and strawberries in syrup, chocolate brownie, whipped cream and meringues. Growing up/old-er can be such a drag on most days but on days like this, it’s worth the encroaching wrinkles and slowing metabolism. Because as we have all grown up, we have become kinder, less self-conscious and generally more fun to be around.
Beetroot can be hard to find in Berlin. When I do find them, they almost never have their shiny green leaves intact and they tend to taste muddy. In Athens, beetroot is piled high so I couldn’t resist.
Beetroot, orange, walnut and Feta and Anthotyro cheese salad
1 large bunch small beetroot
150g of feta
150g anthotyro or ricotta
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
100g roasted walnuts
1. First wash the beetroot and scrub off any dirt. Cut off the leaves. Toss with sunflower oil and plenty of salt. Place in a roasting pan, cover tightly with tinfoil and roast at 180°C for around 1 hour or until you can pierce the beetroot easily with a skewer. Allow to cool down so you can handle them and peel while still warm so that the skins come off easier.
2. Gently roast the walnuts, rub off any loose skin.
3. Then, using a very sharp knife cut the top and bottom off an orange. Then, slice the skin off, turning as you go. You should be left with a juicy orange minus peel, pith and outside skin. Next, slice out segments of orange as they naturally occur. It can be a bit fiddly and slippery, as an alternative you could just slice out rounds of peeled orange. The idea is to be left with the juicy and soft flesh of the orange instead of the chewy membranes.
4. Cut the beets into wedges. Toss with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Arrange in a bowl. Scatter the orange segments or slices on top. Sprinkle over the walnuts and parsley then the crumbled feta cheese and teaspoon full of anthotyro. Drizzle the lot with fruity olive oil.
*Mint lemonade. Make a simple syrup by bringing to the boil equal quanatities of sugar and water (2 cups of each will make plenty). Allow to cool. In a blender, whizz a large bunch of mint leaves with 2 cups of cooled syrup and the juice of 4 lemons. Taste and more syrup if you want it sweeter, remember, you will dilute it with water and ice so it needs to be sweet! Serve with a straw and plenty of ice, crushed is optimum.