Oct 17, 2015
I can’t recall any summer of my life that we didn’t make dry pasta at home for the winter. What has changed through the years is my role in this family tradition. When I was little and we spent the whole summer at our cottage, my mother, together with the other housewives in our neighborhood, would organize a ‘’hilopites week’’. During this week they would gather at a different house each day and help each other with the hard work of making enough of this pasta for the rest of the year. More hands can make the process easier, faster and actually fun, with lots of laughter, cakes, coffee breaks and gossip. I and the other kids were given a piece of dough to use as a ‘’play dough’’ so as not bother the mums who were working with their rolling pins and knives.
Nowadays we make even more pasta for the tavern, and not just in summer but during winter as well. Rolling pins have been replaced with pasta machines and my adult role calls for fast hands on the bench.
Summer’s hot weather is. of course, ideal to dry the pasta in only two days, but you can make pasta indoors all year long as long as your house is not humid and there is proper heating and fresh air. It just takes a few more days for the pasta to dry indoors.
Hilopites are the most common type of traditional pasta in Greece. Though the shape can vary a little from short ‘’linguine’’ to small squares, there is no right or wrong. Here in Peloponnese we make the small squares, shapes that can be easily used in soups, stews and savory pies. The type of flour used is ‘’bread wheat flour’’ but it can be substituted with all purpose flour and, if you like, some fine semolina too can be added to the mix. The other three ingredients are eggs, pasteurized milk, and a little salt for taste and the preservation of the dry pasta.
Of course you can use this recipe to make fresh pasta too. The nice thing with homemade pasta is that after only three minutes of cooking and some grated cheese added, you have a lovely meal.
Aug 31, 2015
Searching the Internet for some info on edible flowers, I saw some beautiful pictures of cakes and other fancy desserts decorated with, among other exotica, small blue and yellow pansies and chrysanthemum flowers. Did we always eat pansies on our cakes and in colorful salads or is it one more innovation from Noma (with its inventive kitchen) that has been immediately adopted by all of us?
Well, in fact, dried flowers have been used for thousands of years as spices in cooking or in herbal teas for medicinal purposes. Their use in modern cooking today as decorative edible ingredients is really a rebirth of this very old tradition. Roses and zucchini- squash flowers have never stopped being used in cooking.
In Greece we make rose petal jam and we use zucchini flowers in different savory recipes. When I was a child, whenever my mother made stuffed tomatoes, there would always be some space left in the baking pan for some zucchini flowers to be stuffed especially for me. Stuffing them with rice and summer veggies is still the most popular recipe.
Today we make entire pans full of stuffed zucchini flowers for the restaurant; it is our most popular summer dish. In order to have as many flowers as possible available every day, we have planted zucchini plants of a climbing variety which can be counted on to produce the greatest number of flowers all across our garden fence.
They have to be picked early in the morning when they bloom, almost magically, for only a few hours. If you don’t have a vegetable garden of your own, you can look for them at your local farmer’s market.
Jun 8, 2015
Imagine this. You are in Greece; it’s Saturday night and some buddies are gathered in the living room to watch the football game. There is tension in the air, but they love what they watch. In front of them on a coffee table are cold beers and pizza - just delivered!
But… if you see only pizza, then what you imagine is not taking place in Greece!
On a Greek coffee table there would be souvlakia (plural of souvlaki) and pites (plural of pita) and, of course, beers; beers are always there. We do love pizza, but we love souvlaki more.
During these years of crisis, souvlaki places have opened one after the other. People who are thinking to start a food business, more often than not think about a ‘’souvlatzídiko’’ (souvlaki place). With just 2-2.5 euros you can buy a pita stuffed with souvlaki, tomato wedges, onion, fried potatoes and tzatziki, a tasty full meal that is cheap and a real life saver especially for people who like their veggies served with meat. . Not every business succeeds but the logic is sound. We Greeks love souvlatzidika. As a kid I would prefer souvlakia over legumes any day.
The truth is that almost no one makes the pita bread at home, preferring to buy a store bought frozen pack. I believe that happens because they just haven’t experienced the taste of fresh, soft, homemade pita bread. You can make them at home and freeze them for several months. Try them, I swear they are great.
May 16, 2015
In Greek mythology, Cynara was a beautiful nymph who, having declined to live on Olympus with Zeus, was thrown to earth by the angry god and transformed into the tasty artichoke plant that we all love. His loss!
The Peloponnese and Crete are the main regions where artichokes are commercially cultivated because they hate frost and need a mild climate in order to survive. In our garden we grow some wild thorny artichoke plants with a superb taste, but the common varieties found in most markets are bigger, lack thorns, and have a milder flavor that is still very tasty. In our area, fresh artichokes are served raw with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil as a meze for ouzo or wine.
Really fresh artichokes, have a crunchy, slightly nutty flavor that resembles the taste of raw chestnuts. I wanted to try them as a salad main course, so I used spring herbs for extra flavor, bulgur wheat to give bulk, and feta for some more protein and taste. The result was an aromatic flavorful dish which can be served either as a side salad or alone.
Apr 23, 2015
I often wonder what could be characterized as a typical Greek flavor in pastry; and I usually come to the conclusion that yogurt and honey make a pair that many could consider as a classically Greek. So if I make a panna cotta with Greek yogurt and honey, would people think that this Italian dessert has a Greek twist? I can’t judge but it definitely tasted good. Since I have started this ‘alchemy’ of turning famous desserts into Greek with the addition of yogurt and honey, I have discovered that French macarons lend themselves to the treatment!
The first time I ever saw macaron was five or six years ago when I started reading food blogs and came across the blog Tartelette. I remember how beautiful they looked in the pictures. Then I tried them in a pastry shop in Athens and was sure I should try making them myself. My research on the internet showed that macarons are more or less the ‘’Holy Grail’’ of every avid food blogger and I decided I needed one more cooking book, this time one specializing on the macaron. Pierre Herme’s ''Macarons'' proved the ideal master class on macarons since he is world famous for all those incredible and unique flavors. Pierre Herme uses the Italian meringue method which has proven to be almost foolproof in my case.
Now I had to create a Greek yogurt ganache since I couldn’t find any reference on the internet and it turned out that it was a very good idea. The sweetness of the white chocolate is balanced by the mild sour taste of yogurt, creating a very interesting ganache but, this time, with a Greek character.
Jan 7, 2015
This post was especially written for Pretty Greek Villas, a site owned by my friends Marie- Louise and Ben. If you are thinking Greece this summer, take a look,for some of the most beautiful villas in the country.
Peloponnesian cuisine is influenced by its sea-girt mountainous topography. Olive oil, wine, grains, pulses, herbs, wild greens, fish, goat and sheep meat, cheese and honey have been staples in local pantries for millenia. Though olive trees do not flourish at its highest altitudes, still one third of the country’s entire production comes from here because of the quality of the soil and the mild climate. In fact, Peloponnesian cuisine could be described as an olive oil cuisine since generous amounts of olive oil (often added towards the end of cooking) are poured over greens, beans, and all sorts of stews.
The Northern Peloponnese cuisine has also been influenced by migrations over its long history and so it comprises elements of both the mainland and the islands,. Most of the dishes fall into the category of one-pot meals in which ingredients are matched wisely to give nutritious and filling dishes, - all based on seasonal production. A characteristic autumn dish in our area is made with beans from the valley of ancient Feneos and greens found in every garden. It is a humble but flavorful dish, elegant in its simplicity.
Dec 1, 2014
An urge to search for traditional recipes with apples resulted because of a walk we took last week near our cottage. We came across a familiar old apple tree still standing next to the ruins of a house. It has never stopped producing apples yearly for more than six decades now as my mother remembers, with no gardener’s care - just running water from a spring on the property. We hadn’t explored this corner of the village for a couple of years and we were pleased to find that the tree was still productive and that there were still some apples left for us by the birds who had already taken their share. I love that sense of déjà vu under a tree like this, imagining the repeated ritual of harvesting its fruits.
Though apples have been cultivated in Greece for many centuries yet, as far as I know, there are no recipes in Greek traditional cuisine like pies and cakes, which call for apples. They have always been the most popular year round fruit in every house pantry, but have been appreciated uncooked as a tasty fruit and a healthy snack.
Firikia (φιρίκια) a local variety of small, oval shaped apples with an intoxicating, sweet aroma and wonderful taste are the only exception to this rule. Firikia are peeled, halved and seeded, and then slow cooked in vanilla syrup with blanched almonds. This way their taste and aromas get richer and more intense. I love them as a quick dessert, paired with yogurt which balances their sweetness.
Nov 4, 2014
Housewives and chefs have a shared sense of economy in their kitchens. From the shopping list to the fridge leftovers, food is used wisely and nothing gets wasted when it can still be used in cooking.
At our house, the leftovers from the tomato salad we had for lunch would be the base for the tomato sauce in the dinner stew, and the cooked greens I never loved as a kid would turn into a delicious omelet that I would, unsuspiciously, happily eat. But my favorite edition of this cooking trick occurred when my mother would make cheese pies with filo pastry and she would save a couple of sheets to stuff with the last spoonfuls of any jam that had been forgotten in the fridge. The crispiness of the baked filo and the aroma of the hot jam always created a yummy surprise treat because the filling was always different.
You can make a light last minute jam with any seasonal fruits available, and then make sweet filo pies. I made a fresh quince jam and the taste was superb, not very sweet and full of quince and vanilla aromas.
Sep 11, 2014
My grandfather planted a fig tree in the garden of our cottage that, despite its age, has never stopped producing fruits year after year. Fig trees, like olive trees, live long. They are commonly found in the Greek country side next to old houses or ruins, still in perfect shape and full of fruits every August, as if time for them is an endless youth.
I’m sure you have had that ‘feeling’ when visiting an older relative’s house after many years, a sense that you remember it being bigger and suddenly you realize that houses usually keep their shape and that it is you who, like Alice in Wonderland, grew larger. I had that sense the other day with the fig tree in our garden. As a child I used to climb on its branches to pick more figs and back then I used to think it was huge.
Our figs are yellow, the variety used for sun dried figs. Every August my grandmother would lay them on thatch on the terrace under the hot summer sun to dry and after the sunset every evening we would help her to carry them into the house to protect them against humidity. That ritual would be repeated for as many days as needed until the figs would dry out and be ready for storage. My grandmother stored them in cookie boxes layered with laurel leaves as a preserving agent.
Figs are usually consumed fresh, but in Greece we make a wonderful emerald sweet preserve in June with unripe figs, and of course as I said before, some varieties can be dried and used all year in other confections.
Aug 14, 2014
Hot summer weather provides us with the tastiest fruits and vegetables for the flavorful dishes that make cooks so happy. And when I say dishes I don’t necessarily mean complicated techniques and time consuming recipes. Who wants to spend time in a hot kitchen in the middle of August?
All you need is a good variety of seasonal veggies and a little imagination to prepare a nutritious and filling salad. If you also add pasta you can turn any salad into a full, impressive, and no fuss meal. A classic Greek salad, for example, paired with rotini pasta makes a wonderful summer dish that everyone loves. It is easy to make and can be served chilled or at room temperature, making it ideal for a picnic.
Jul 30, 2014
Lemon flavored casserole stews, or lemonáta (λεμονάτα) as we call them in Greek, are very popular because of the refreshing and slightly sour taste that the lemon juice and peel give to these dishes. Although lemon flavored dishes are cooked all year long, summer is the most popular season for lemonáta. Hot weather calls for light flavors! Poultry and beef are the most popular meat choices for this dish.
Lemonáto can be served with pasta, rice or most preferably with homemade fried potatoes.
Jun 26, 2014
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
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
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
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 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
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
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 macarons.
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
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.
Jan 27, 2014
Baking slices of bread twice has always been a popular method to expand the life of fresh bread. Nomads, fishermen, - anyone away from home with no means to get fresh bread, could use the dry, twice-baked slices of bread by rehydrating it (often with wine in Greece) and in this way have a filling meal or snack.
In Greece we still use a lot of twice-baked slices of bread which we call paximádia (παξιμάδια). These are mostly made with wheat flour, corn polenta, or even barley. In Crete they are called dácos (ντάκος). Mostly served as an appetizer, paximádia are often topped with finely chopped tomato and feta, or crushed in salads for taste and texture.
Sweet paximadia, made from lightly sweetened dough, with olive oil and citrus zest, is a vegan version similar to the Italian biscotti. It is a healthy cookie for morning coffee, and an always available homemade treat for guests.