Jun 26, 2014

Visináda - Sour cherries refreshing beverage

    


 Visináda (βυσσινάδα) is one of the favorite beverages in Greece. It is made with the juice of sour cherries and sugar, cooked until it’s concentrated into a thick, deep purple syrup. Though sour cherries are not usually eaten raw, they taste just wonderful when cooked with sugar. 

In my little village we have only wild sour cherry trees; I never found out who first cultivated them here but they must have loved this place. And even if you plant only one tree, in a few years you end up with a small wild sour cherry forest because they tend to expand like crazy. Though you need to pit twice the amount of the wild fruit for a recipe compared to cultivated sour cherries, the wild variety has a superb taste. Sour cherries can be found in farmer’s markets at the end of June and early July in Greece; in July and even August in more northern countries.

To enjoy visináda, pour in a glass, one part of syrup and four parts of ice cold water or club soda and fill with ice. Sour cherry syrup can also be used over ice cream and desserts or in cocktails for color and taste.







Jun 7, 2014

Tyropitákia - feta and phyllo, mini cheese pies

  



 When I was in college cooking was not my forte so, to save me from eating junk food, my mother would load my freezer with dozens of small homemade cheese pies (tyropitákia) for my meals. I would fry them for a few minutes straight from the freezer and immediately had a delicious, crunchy and flavorful snack, - a snack that I have not stopped loving ever since. 
They are great with a glass of beer as a meze, or with some salad for a filling and fast meal, or as a handy snack at work or school. We serve them at the restaurant as a first course or for meze dishes.



May 19, 2014

Eliópsoma – Kalamáta olives and thyme, bread sticks





Lying at the head of the Messenian Gulf in southern Greece, Kalamáta is the second most populous city of the Peloponnese. This city is famous all over the planet for wonderful ‘’Kalamáta olives’’ which originated here and have been cultivated in the area for many centuries.  They are now protected under the European ‘’Protected Geographical Status’’ scheme.
In Greece Kalamáta olives are mostly eaten as a snack, at branch or lunch, or as a mezedes for drinks, but they are also used in cooking some regional stews and, of course, in olive breads. From time to time my mother would make sourdough olive bread for the family and she would also make some olive bread sticks for me; I have always loved their crust! 
Since not everyone is familiar with sourdough, I will give you the yeast version which is, in my opinion, just as good.




Apr 15, 2014

Koulourákia - Easter cookies

     


Whereas Christmas is celebrated in Greece in much the same way as it is globally (Christmas trees,presents, blinking lights, stuffed turkey), Easter is, for us, a unique feast  of special foods, traditions ,and most of all, huge, noisy, and long anticipated family gatherings. 
Sweet breads flavored with mastic (tsourekia) and Easter cookies, (koulourákia) are the most popular treats every housewife makes annually for the family and to give away to friends. Of course everyone has this or her own recipe for those special treats. Well, almost everyone did, because in my home town we all shared the same ‘’secret” recipe. It was very common in small towns during the 80’s and 90’s, before the big super markets arrived, to buy all food supplies from the local grocer. So, during  the week leading up to Easter, we would simply ask for the ingredients needed to make 3-4 kilos of Easter cookies.
 Home produced eggs and milk were used if available but the exact quantity of the other ingredients for the recipe like fresh butter, sugar, vanilla and special cookies flour were known  by the grocer and handed out according to the kilos required in each case. 
We became so attached to that recipe which was followed during all of  my childhood years, that before the store owner retired, we made sure to get that foolproof recipe written down and have used it ever since.






Apr 1, 2014

Baklava with walnuts, almonds and olive oil




Baklava has a Middle Eastern origin but it has been incorporated into Greek cuisine to such a degree that many people nowadays believe it’s actually a Greek dessert. That’s fair enough because in Greece we love every dessert made with phyllo pastry and syrup no matter what the filling might be. These desserts are categorized as ‘’siropiastá’’ (σιροπιαστά) which means ‘’syrup soaked’’ desserts. 
Of course, every home cook has his or her own version of baklava: with walnuts and almonds or pistachios, with or without spices, and finally with either butter or olive oil. I have to admit that butter gives a wonderful taste to baklava but my grandmother disagreed. She preferred making her baklava with olive oil during the Lenten season before Easter. She believed it was the tastiest vegan dessert and, in any case, she wanted to use up the remaining walnuts from the previous year’s crop before hot weather would turn them tangy.
 Olive oil doesn’t affect baklava’s taste because the flavor of spices overpowers the olive oil; the added plus is that olive oil makes the phyllo sheets nice and crispy.
If you want to make the butter version, just use the same amount of butter, instead of olive oil. (For a really buttery flavor, drizzle the baklava with another 100gr of melted butter just before baking.)