Among other things, I have recently moved out of the metropolitan area of Athens to the hills overlooking Marathon, some 40 kilometers away from the center of Athens. The arson fire that devastated the area in 2009 has left its marks on the landscape, a stark reminder that the worst enemy of Greece are the Greeks themselves!
After settling in, I invited the “closed” circle to come over and have lunch “al fresco”, in the open fresh air.
As the weather is still good, with temperatures reaching 21 degrees Centigrade, the cooking was done outside as well. Charcoals provided the much needed fire.
I start with the aubergines, or eggplants, which I can eat all the time, every time. I got them from a farmer who is down the road from where I am. I cut them in thick slices and put them in salted watr for one hour. The slices must be thick because they will be grilled and we do not want them to be burned and dried, but soft and juicy, albeit with a carbonated crust.
The pork chops came from the shoulder of the animal, in order to have the necessary marbling. I always prepare the meat by placing it in a mild solution of sea salt and herbs. After two hours the meat is juicier, its color lighter, and it tastes a lot better! If you have not done it before, try it now. With pork! It also works wonders with chicken.
Finally, the “Gardoumbes”, lamb’s intestines and sweetbreads on a stick, I got from a local butcher who promised me that they were fresh and local. He even showed me a bag with some intestines that he was taking home after work.
(Χορδήν έτρωγαν οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες, χορδούνιν οι Βυζαντινοί, γαρδούμπα οι Νεοέλληνες)
We now get to the very serious business of the grill. The aubergines need just a coat of olive oil in order not to stick to the grill base. Frequent turns ensure that the surface will be only marginally “burned”. There is a very sensitive balance between the brown and the black of the surface, so be careful!
The pork chops also require a coating of olive oil in order for them not to stick on the mesh. The surface must be golden brown and the inside juicy and tender.
I serve the chops on a bed of finely chopped garlic. The combination of the charcoal flavour with the garlic is simply unbeatable. I do the same with the eggplants, adding a bit of vinegar or lemon.
Finally, the “gardoumbes” take a lot of time to cook, and the fire must be relatively mild, otherwise the outside will be dry and the inside uncooked.
All in all, a lunch that honoured the Greek pastoral tradition with pork and lamb, the two animals that have supported the inhabitants of the south Balkan area for centuries.