Hopefully, some of you are able to enjoy a few days of vacation during this unusual summer of 2020, maybe hanging out on the lake or camping on the river with your family and close friends. When I first moved to the States, these weekends on the lake seemed so different from our typical Greek beach vacations - we were usually in a very remote place, with the closest grocery or convenient store 45 minutes to an hour away! I learned the hard way that you need to think through your meal-planning, stock up on some versatile groceries, and be prepared...but then it's all boat rides, swimming and fun, just like in Greece!
What's your best friend on a vacation like that? A few versatile pieces to wear morning, noon, and night and, to be honest, a few versatile pantry staples that you can use morning, noon and night. We have a lot of those here at Zelos that I wish I'd had back then when I was cooking for a bunch of hungry kids. You can quickly whip up a batch of Agrozimi handmade pearl couscous and you have not only a hot dinner, but also leftovers that are great in your morning yogurt or mixed with veggies for a refreshing cold lunch salad. Of course, any good Greek family will have some olive oil with them...and Tragano Greek Organics does it nicely (their peppers are a versatile pantry staple, too: chop some up for your breakfast omelettes, top your burgers and sandwiches, or roll one up around bbq hot dogs for an extra dose of Vitamin C!).
My favorite vacation pantry staples, though, come from Elli & Manos and Sparoza. You really can use them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, late-night munchies. Sparoza's 15 Greek Herbs and Seeds is a great substitute for hard-to-find fresh basil or dill, sprinkled on to your caprese salad or mixed into your yogurt for a refreshing (and healthy!) dip...and it's a griller's delight. Elli & Manos' tomato-based Greek Flavor Bursts are another versatile favorite and not your typical mass-produced, big-jar sauce. These are slowly simmered without any added water or artificial additives, so they're concentrated and with a bold and truly authentic flavor. I call them "Summer Goodness in a Jar" and love to make baked eggs with them, use them as a a sandwich spread, as a pizza or flatbread base for dinner.
My other vacation home staple, and maybe even my little secret...my crockpot!! Growing up in Greece, we always used pressure cookers, but I do love the all-American crockpot, especially when I can put everything together in the morning and come back to a hot lunch...but not a hot kitchen! Here's one easy recipe that uses both Elli & Manos and Sparoza staples and will give you a tasty, typically Greek summer lunch to come home to after a day in the water.
1 lb ground beef or other meat of your choice (you can also make these without meat, for the vegetarians in your group.
8-10 ripe tomatoes and/or bell peppers (count on at least 2 per person, depending on how big they are)
1 cup white rice (I like to put arborio/risotto rice but you can also use quinoa or even Agrozimi's pearl couscous!)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 jar of your choice of Elli & Manos' tomato-based Greek Flavor Bursts
salt and pepper
Wash and thoroughly clean your veggies. Slice the tops off, about 1/4 inch down and put aside.
With a spoon, scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and peppers and turn them upside down to drain. Keep the tomato flesh because you can also blend it up and add to the crockpot or sauté it with some olive oil, garlic, and more of the Sparoza blend for a delicious pasta sauce.
In a mixing bowl, combine your meat, onion, uncooked rice, seasonings and half of the Elli & Manos jar. Spoon the mixtures into the hollowed-out veggies and top with the sliced caps.
Place in the crockpot (depending on the size of your slow cooker, you may need to layer them). Top everything with the rest of the Elli & Manos jar and 1/2 c. of warm water. You can also add in the blended fresh tomatoes at this stage.
Cook for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low and enjoy!
P.S., You can also make this dish in a dutch oven and slow cook it in the oven...but I never leave the oven on when I'm not home and I hate a hot kitchen in the summer!!
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