Saturday, December 1, 2007

Recipe: Potatoes Yiachni in Tomato-Onion Sauce (Πατάτες Γιαχνί)

This morning it was icy cold, and we had a mountain of bottles, paper, and cans to unload at the outdoor recycling center. Before heading outside, I wanted a fortifying lunch. Potatoes cooked in tomato-onion sauce, lightly scented with cinnamon, fit the bill perfectly.

In Greece, vegetables cooked until tender in tomato sauce are called “Yiachni” (pronounced Yahkh-NEE). Most vegetables taste wonderful cooked this way; seasonally fresh beans, zucchini, okra, eggplant, cauliflower, and potatoes are all cooked Yiachni-style.

Vegetables Yiachni are often made during Greek Orthodox fasting periods, when many Orthodox Christians exclude meat (and dairy) from their diets. Since Orthodox fasting days comprise nearly half the year’s calendar, Yiachni appears frequently on dinner tables of the devout. For those who don’t fast, adding small pieces of meat or bones to the tomato sauce enhances Yiachni’s flavor.

Today's version of Yiachni is made with potatoes, a food indigenous to South America. When the Conquistadores first brought potatoes back to Europe in the 16th century, Greece was an Ottoman backwater. According to an oft-told story, perhaps apocryphal, Greeks were not introduced to potatoes until the 19th century.

Yiannis Kapodistrias was the first president of Greece after it gained independence from the Ottoman Turks. The story tells how Kapodistrias brought a shipment of potatoes to Greece as a cheap food source. Greek farmers, a conservative and suspicious lot, showed no interest in planting this strange-looking, untried vegetable.

Kapodistrias responded to the disinterest by steeply raising the price of potatoes and placing them under guard, leading his countrymen to believe potatoes were a precious commodity. Kapodistrias instructed the guards to look the other way if anyone tried to steal the potatoes. Many were stolen and planted, and potatoes soon spread throughout Greece.

However potatoes ended up in Greece, Yiachni is a tasty way to cook them. Be sure to serve Potatoes Yiachni with crusty bread, for soaking up every bit of the delicious sauce.

Potatoes Yiachni In Tomato-Onion Sauce (Πατάτες Γιαχνί)
Serves 4 - 6
If you don’t enjoy spicy food, use the smaller amount of Aleppo or crushed red peppers.

4 cups onions, sliced into 1/4” quarter moons
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 – 2 tsp. Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 – 1 tsp. crushed red peppers
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 ounce can water
4 tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1/2 stick cinnamon
3 bay leaves
2 pounds of red or other waxy potatoes

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to brown around the edges. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for one minute. Stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves into the oil. Stir in the tomatoes, water, oregano, cinnamon, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, peel the potatoes. Small potatoes may be left whole, medium potatoes cut in half, and large potatoes cut into 2-inch chunks. Stir the potatoes into the sauce, along with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 35 - 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked and the sauce thickens. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed.

Serve with olives, crusty bread and, if you are not following a strict fast, slices of
manouri, feta, or ricotta salata cheese.
This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging #111, hosted this week by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.


Kalyn said...

Fun story about how potatoes came to be popular in Greece! This sounds like a delicious sauce, and I love Aleppo pepper so I would have to use the full amount!

Ivy said...

You brought back memories to me because it's just like my mother used to do them for us. I

Laurie Constantino said...

Kalyn, I also love Aleppo pepper and am never without it. For me, definitely the full amount!

Ivy, that is the best complement of all. Thank you!

Peter M said...

Fantastic patates Laurie. You're Greek, no ands ,IFS or Buts!

Andaliman said...

I bet I will love this dish... Looks spicy

Joanne said...

Yum! I love potato dishes but do not get the opportunity to eat them very often. (My husband is diabetic so he has an aversion to them.) Nevertheless, I do, on occasion, add a small potato to some of the Greek 'lathera' dishes I make. I really like the inclusion of cinnamon with this recipe. Sounds delicious.

Anonymous said...

I know I would love this dish, Laurie. I don't even need the cheese or the olives. Just a loaf of crusty bread and a little wine.....

Africantapestry and Myfrenchkitchen said...

We have such wet weather and wind here in France, so we're looking for warm, substantial meals at night. This one looks perfect! The colours are warm and inviting too. And now I realize it is olives(last time I thought it was prunes, but I think I was just having a prune-crush at the time!!) Lovely pic!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Hi Laurie,
I enjoyed reading about the history of potatoes in Greece. And that recipe sounds fabulous with oregano and cinnamon. It must be wonderfully fragrant as well.

Patricia Scarpin said...

What a delicious way of cooking potatoes!

Bellini Valli said...

I love this potato dish and all your stories and history of Greece. These potatoes for me could be a meal on their own with a piece of feta and some olives!

Helene said...

always wondered why the potatoes tastes so good in Greek restaurant. You gave me the clue.

Maninas said...

mmmm lovely and fragrant! love this recipe!

Laurie Constantino said...

Aw shucks Peter! (For everyone else, I am not Greek; my husband is and so is Peter, who is most kind!)

Andaliman, it can be spicy or not spicy, depending on how you like your food. As for me, I'm fond of spicy!

Joanne, there is just enough cinnamon to add the perfect background note without overwhelming the other flavors. I understand about not eating potatoes, but once in awhile they're hard to resist!

Maryann, you definitely have the right idea!

Ronell, a prune-crush is a good thing! I like these dried little olives. This is indeed the perfect dish for windy, wet weather. I'm glad you liked it, thanks!

Susan, it's a fun story isn't it? Hard to know whether it's actually true.

Patricia, they are indeed delicious. Thanks for stopping by!

Valli, they are most definitely a meal on their own. And a filling one, at that!

Helene, Greeks work wonders with potatoes, that's for sure.

Maninas, so glad you like it!

Simona said...

What a feast: I love potatoes and these are so enticing!

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Simona. We had the leftover potatoes for dinner tonight, and they were just as good the second time around.

caroles said...

i live in greece,am canadian, and sorry, but i don't know what Aleppo pepper is!
i love pepper..grind it, get garlic pepper mills, pepper with cilanthro mills.
i made these potatoes tonite, and they are out of this world!
thanks for a great recipe!
carole s.

Laurie Constantino said...

Carole, I'm so glad you liked it! Aleppo pepper is like glyko boukovo (and is what I use instead of glyko boukovo, which isn't available in Alaska) - in other words, red pepper flakes, but they are only mildly hot and have sort of a fruity taste.

Anonymous said...

thanks so much, Laurie!
i'll start looking for it here in Almyros. do you have any recipes for zuccini 'keftedes'?
my crop's coming in, and i want to make pie/quiche/keftes , FROM SCRATCH! here in Greece, i find it frustrating to read recipes with BISQUICK which is not commonly available, and perhaps not the healthiest thing either.
i'll be watching!
thanks again.

Laurie Constantino said...

Carole, it's not yet zucchini season here so I won't be having zucchini keftedes for a few months. But my friend, Maria at recently put up a recipe for zucchini keftedes, also a recipe for wonderful zucchini boureki, so you'll probably want to check out her site.

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