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Eastern delicacies in the heart of Athens
by Helen Varvaritis 26 Jul 2010

THERE are two types of tourists in this world: those who take holidays to visit all the sights and those who are too busy walking into delicatessens and food markets to see any sights. If you belong to the latter type of tourist, then a little trip to Evripidou Street in the centre of Athens is called for. You don’t need a passport, not even an ID card to enter the world of Miran.

The Miran story begins more than 88 years ago in far-off Kayseri (Kesaria) of Cappadocia, Turkey. Miran Kourounlian, the grandfather of the current owner, was a young man learning and practising the art of pastourma and soutzouki making. The events of Asia Minor forced him to flee with his family to Athens, where he established the self-named charcuterie business in 1922.

Pastourma is an air-dried salt-cured beef coated with tsimeni, a spicy paste of garlic and paprika, and found in the cuisines of the countries belonging to the former Ottoman Empire. The name comes from the Turkish word meaning “to press”, referring to the process of pressing the meat before it is hung to dry. 

Miran’s other specialty is the soutzouki, a spicy semi-dried sausage that has also crossed borders into many cuisines. Heavily spiced with cumin and garlic, soutzouki can be used in a myriad of dishes to add a burst of flavour. 

The third generation of Kourounlians have taken over the business, under the direction of first grandson Miran Kourounlian. Having his grandfather’s name and being in charge of the shop that has been in the same location in Athens’ historical centre is a responsibility Kourounlian is happy to shoulder. He says, “This is a family business, and the fact that the third generation is still serving a third and fourth generation of customers is really wonderful for me.”

The recipes and techniques have survived wars, recessions and the changing generations. The legend of pastourma, also known as pastrouma, is today shrouded in mystery, with many people believing that the salt-cured delicacy is actually made from camel meat. Kourounlian shakes his head as he explains yet again: “The camel pastourma is a myth, because there is no camel meat production. Not even in Egypt, where they use camels for transportation. They certainly do not eat camels! And anyway, for pastourma the best meat to use is beef”. 

Kourounlian has taken the traditional elements of the pastourma-making business and developed it into a world-class business. With a high-tech production factory in Rentis, all the necessary certifications for the products and a worldwide distribution network, it is amazing there is time for direct customer service. 

The store has expanded to include exclusive products found only at the source, such as water-buffalo kavourma (confit) from Lake Kerkini and the current “it-cheese” in Greece, arseniko Naxou, which is found on award-winning restaurant menus in Athens. 

Kourounlian has also created unique packaging for his product. Just like sashimi, pastourma must be sliced by an expert to be fully enjoyed; the potential loss of quality through inexperienced handling is high. The Miran zip-lock bags are used to retain the moisture for pre-sliced products. This ensures the quality is maintained not only until you take your goodies home, but also when stored in the refrigerator. 

The packaging is necessary for sending retail orders throughout Greece and Europe. One client even asked for extra packaging, as she was taking her pastourma to friends in Paris who requested the prized beef. 

In an attempt to explain the popularity of his pastourma, Kourounlian says the product “is made traditionally. We haven’t introduced anything new to the old methods. We only use the best portions of beef, and the beef is actually imported from Argentina because the beef here in Greece lacks consistent quality. We make sure that the pastourma you have today is the same as when you had it as a child”.

In a shop teeming with pastourma, soutzouki and all sorts of exquisite savoury treats, anxiety sets in regarding the nutritional elements of the cured meats. An earnest Kourounlian brushes off the angst, stating, “as in everything, we just need a bit of moderation”. A wise philosophy to remember when you find yourself irresistibly drawn to yet another slice of pastourma.

Miran

Charcuterie, 45 Evripidou St, Athens

Phone: 210-3217-187 www.miran.gr 
 
 
Recipes : Spicy delicacies from Asia Minor

Pastourma and soutzouki are anything but mild-flavoured cured meats. They are not available in light or fat-free versions, which make these meats wonderful for adding flavour to omelettes, soups, beans, casseroles, pizzas, pies or wherever bacon can be used. Do be careful not to overpower a dish with the strong flavours, but ensure that the proportions are balanced to accommodate the intensity

Classic thin-crust pizza with soutzouki

Ingredients
Pizza dough:
1 1/4 tsp active dry or fresh yeast
1 tsp honey 1/2 cup warm water 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp olive oil Pizza sauce:
5 tbsp concentrated tomato paste 
1 tsp sugar water to slightly thin
 
Topping:
20 thin slices soutzouki
2 cups mozzarella cheese 
freshly grated parmesan cheese
 
Method

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup of the warm water. 

In a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour and salt. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and the remaining 3/4 cup of water and mix on low speed until the dough comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and clusters around the dough hook, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 or 3 minutes longer. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover it with a clean, damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. (When ready, the dough will stretch when lightly pulled.)

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Work the dough ball by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom of the ball. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. At this point, the dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

To prepare the pizza, dip the ball of dough into flour, shake off the excess flour, place the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, and start to stretch it. Press down on the centre, spreading the dough into an 8-inch circle, with the outer border a little thicker than the inner circle. If you find this difficult to do, use a small rolling pin to roll it out.

Transfer the dough to a pizza pan. Spread the sauce thinly all over and top with the mozzarella cheese and soutzouki.

Bake in oven until the pizza crust is nicely browned, 8-10 minutes. Transfer the pizza to a firm surface and cut into slices with a pizza cutter or very sharp knife. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

 

Pastroumadopita or Pita Kesarias 

Ingredients

6 sheets of filo kroustas (pastry for savoury pies from supermarket or delicatessen)

20 slices of kaseri cheese (can also be grated)

20 slices pastourma, thinly sliced and the tsimeni (spice coating) removed

• fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced

Extra virgin olive oil for basting the filo sheets

Sesame seeds
 
Method 

Baste a baking pan with oil and roll out half of the filo sheets. Do not forget to oil each filo separately. Add half of the cheese slices on top of the last filo sheet. Then add a layer of pastourma slices and tomato slices and then cover them with another layer of the rest of the cheese slices. Roll out the rest of the filo sheets (oiled again) and season the top filo with some sesame seeds. Score the pie into pieces and bake in moderate oven (180°C - 200°C) until the top filo is golden brown.

 
Athens News 26/Jul/2010 page 38-39
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