Symbols of Greek hospitality, spoon sweets were created to preserve fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers, in excess. The practice of preserving fruits goes all the way to Ancient Greece. Their name comes from the habit to serving them on a small plate, in the quantity of a teaspoon along with a glass of fresh water. The raw material preserves its original shape, colour, flavours, aroma as well as its nutritional properties. This happens by using few simple ingredients: fruits or vegetables (most commonly), sugar, herbs and a touch of lemon. Try them on your toast, porridge, yoghurt, ice cream or with your afternoon coffee. They are perfect pair to cheese; teaspoon desserts can also be the secret ingredient to your baking and a brilliant way to add flavour to your cocktails.
Butternut squash teaspoon dessert with cinnamon and walnuts (1)
This is an easy introduction to teaspoon desserts through a vegetable not that commonly preserved in Greece. This recipe is inspired by the special cuisine of the vibrant community of the Greeks who have origins from (or still live) in Istanbul.
Preparation: 30’ Waiting time: a night Cooking: an hour
Ingredients (for about a kilo of finished product):
1 kilo (net weight) butternut squash cut in cubes (about 4cm each)
2 small cinnamon sticks (you can also add ground nutmeg, if desired)
About 50 g walnuts or almonds, roughly chopped for serving (2)
Cinnamon powder for serving
Place the butternut squash cubes in a large pot, from the night before. Sprinkle the sugar, close the lid and let it sit throughout the night so it can release its juices. The next day, turn on the heat and cook it over low heat; add the cinnamon sticks and cook for approximately an hour until all juices are absorbed and the butternut squash is soft and tender (3).
Check the mix frequently and add more liquid only if there is none left. It is not advised to stir the pot with a utensil as the pieces of squash may be destroyed. If needed, shake the whole pot carefully.
Remove from the heat and let cool down. Serve with walnuts and cinnamon or pour into sterile jars. Store in the refrigerator and use within one year. Enjoy this sunshine!
(1) Inspired by “Eleni Fili Nioti, The lady of Istanbul”, Gastronomos , December, 2014: p.100. (2) For more flavour, lightly toast the walnuts/ almonds for a few minutes in a small frying pan until fragrant. (3) In Greek we would probably describe this mellowed state of the squash as “honeyed”, a term widely used in Greek cooking.