Weekly markets are honest reflections of seasonality, and in an era when you can find kale year-round or mangos in Berlin, farmers markets around the world are an important reminder of time and place. When I lived in Athens, I loved watching the market change throughout the year, eagerly awaiting the moment when figs or watermelon hit in the summer, or when green herbs dominated the market’s winter color palette.
Athenian weekly markets are known as laiki. They spring up around the city nearly every day of the week, which is a tradition that to some degree dates back to ancient times, when the city’s agora was a central meeting place for trade and commerce. And they have certainly kept this spirit, still working as a space that brings people and food together.
Being based in Los Angeles now, there are marked similarities and differences to the markets in Athens, but there is also one major commonality which is the availability of diverse ingredients that living in a Mediterranean climate comes with. As with all locales of the world, there are those special ‘somethings’ that should be reserved for their place and time, whether it be a particular fruit in LA, the sacred croissant in Paris, or a favorite restaurant in Tokyo.
One such item that is iconic to LA is the sorrel bowl at the popular breakfast restaurant Sqirl. On any average day you’ll find people queuing up here, and whether it’s based on hype, habit, or just seriously good eats, diners from around the world make the pilgrimage to taste this one of a kind grain bowl, with its unique rice and sorrel-pesto base, featuring local toppings and homemade additions.
On a recent visit to Greece, my friend Antonakis, a renowned Greek artist who has a particular affinity for LA, was remarking how he missed this dish, recounting the days when he would visit the city and one of his favorite things to do was to walk to Sqirl and saddle up to this hearty bowl.
As with all things in cooking, with a little ingenuity and skill there is room for adaptation, imitation and reinvention. So we decided to descend on the laiki to reinvent the dish with an Athenian spin. Taking into account the flavors and ingredients that showcase the winter laiki, this fennel grain bowl highlights all that is good in Athenian winter.
Herbs are a dominant part of Greek cooking all year and are a perfect reminder of the bright freshness of Mediterranean winter. Peaking at the market for a limited time, deep red jewels of pomegranate seeds add a touch of sweetness that is complimented by the brininess of the feta. Topped with a soft-boiled egg, oregano, and plenty of Cretan olive oil, this dish transported us completely and yet remains totally bound to its geography.