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.)




Mar 17, 2014

One-pot chicken stew with tomato and chylopites pasta.





  Every summer housewives all over Greece make homemade fresh pasta. The hot weather helps it to dry naturally and it can then be used all year long for traditional cooking. 

The most common type of homemade dry pasta is chylopites, so called because the final product is cut into many tiny flat squares. (The literal meaning is flat pies-layers of dough)

 Nowadays dry chylopites can be found in every food store all over Greece so everyone can enjoy them, although it has to be said that homemade ones  always taste much better.

Chylopites are used in soups or in savory pie fillings in order to absorb juices, but the most popular dish is chicken stew with tomato and chylopites cooked in the sauce. Traditionally a rooster is the preferred bird, but chicken is fine too. 







Mar 1, 2014

Amygdalotá - almond meal, gluten free cookies

   


  Almond based confections or amygdalotá (αμυγδαλωτά) as we call them are found all over Greece in endless versions. They can be shaped like pears, balls, or little logs and are usually flavored with scented flower blossom water,  a liquor or, less often, with vanilla.  They are often sold filled with jam or chocolate ganache  and resemble French macaroons.
Amygdalotá in many Aegean islands are a special little treat symbolizing happiness and prosperity  and offered to guests  at weddings and Christenings,. 
The version of amygdalotá I made today is found in pastry shops all over the country. They are plainer than the filled versions and made with a higher ratio of almond meal.





Feb 13, 2014

Feta and sundried tomato balls in oregano and chili flavored olive oil

     


What might characterize our family meals in Greece is the variety of dishes served. Housewives rarely cook only one dish for the family and, even when they do, three or more side dishes are usually served as well. We love little bites of this and that, what we call mezedes; they are most often cheese, olives, pickles, all sorts of savory spreads,and flaky pies with fillings that vary according to the season of the year. Preparing them at home demands some effort but they cost less and offer flavorful snacksevery day.
 Meze bites are also served when you want to have a snack with your wine, beer or ouzo but not eat an actual meal. In Greece there are restaurants that serve only meze dishes from an endless list; these places are called ‘’mezedopolia’’ (μεζεδοπωλεία).
 Feta balls are a wonderful meze to prepare ahead and can be served straight from the jar to the table or spread on slices of bread. Toasting the bread with feta under the grill for a few minutes provides a filling and impressive warm meze.