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.
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 17, 2014
Have you ever wondered what ancient Greek cooking would taste like? If ancient Greeks could have known that people in the future would be interested in their cuisine, they would most certainly have written down everything about their art of cooking.
During what we now call the ‘classical period’ ancient Greek civilization reached its peak. Tragic plays and Aristophanes’ comedies describe daily life including scenes around a table. Deipnosophists (from deipnon- dinner and sofos- wise) writing about the philosophic discussions taking place in rich people’s houses during gastronomic feasts described the menus in great detail. These sources inform us that Athenians had three daily meals out of which ‘’deipnon’’, late in the evening, was the last and most rich meal of the day. Dinner in modern Greece is still called ‘’deipno’’.
Their diet consisted of a great variety of fish, meat from both game and stock farming, grains such as barley and wheat and, of course vegetables, legumes and wild greens. Olive oil played the most important role in every aspect of their daily life, religious, pharmaceutical, cultural, or alimentary. Wine, a genuine Greek product, was consumed daily. Honey, initially collected from tree cavities before beekeeping methods were developed, was their sweetener. Ancient Greeks preferred a rather sweet cuisine similar to Chinese and Far East cooking today.
Of course many of the ingredients mentioned above were seasonal and accessed according to the economic and social status of citizens. I have read a few books about the ancient Greek diet and I thought that this Christmas, my inspiration should come from the flavors of our ancient cuisine.
This savory cheese flan would be an ideal first course for the Christmas season, combining flavors and textures with festive symbolism. It has a mousse-like texture that nicely compliments the crunchiness of the walnuts and the sweet and sour taste of the pomegranate sauce. Pomegranates symbolize fertility and prosperity and have always been connected with New Year’s festivities in Greece. At the moment the New Year arrives, we break open a pomegranate onto the door step for good luck throughout the year.
I wish a Merry Christmas to all of you.
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 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.
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.
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 12, 2014
Greece is not famous for street food but in cities around the country you will always come across someone either standing by a little glass kiosk or carrying a huge tray selling just one thing: deliciously crunchy and chewy freshly baked bread rings. Kouloúria are the classic breakfast or mid morning snack for almost every busy office worker or visitor to the center.
These bread rings are called ‘kouloúria Thessalonikis’ The word kouloúri means something coiled or circular and it is such a perfect description that the ancient Greeks used the same word, kolyria, to describe their bread treats. Around the eastern Mediterranean such bread rings are also known as known as simit or simiti.
In the old days paper thin pieces of yellow hard cheese were sold with the bread rings for those who wanted a more filling snack.
Kouloúria have never stopped being popular and, generation after generation, people who appreciate their nutritional value have continued to buy them from street vendors or bakeries. The sesame seeds which cover the surface of every koulouria are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are rich in protein (25 percent by weight). And better yet, one delicious bread ring has no more than 100 calories.
Dec 5, 2013
Tsatziki may be an all time classic for Greeks but, when we had guests at home, my mother always thought it was too garlicky for everyone’s taste. Of course you can use less garlic but then it wouldn’t be a tsatziki!
Beetroot salad (patzarosaláta, παντζάροσαλάτα) is a wonderful alternative side dish. With just an idea of garlic and an impressive light purple color when mixed, it is ideal for any occasion. It compliments both vegetable and meat stews, as well as barbecued and oven baked dishes.
Greek yogurt with its thick consistency holds the ingredients in the salad together, giving a silky texture to the final dish. You can use low fat yogurt but since this dish is very healthy and balanced, why not use full fat yogurt to contribute to a rich taste? Walnuts match really well with the other ingredients and provide a light nutty flavor.
Oct 16, 2013
The French term fricassee refers to meat cooked by a method somewhere between a sauté and a stew and served with a white sauce. It is a mystery how this term came to define a totally different thing in Greek cuisine. We Greeks call fricassee (φρικασέ) any meat or even fish, that is cooked with greens and thickened with avgolémono (egg and lemon) sauce. The most popular Greek fricassee calls for lamb with wild greens and herbs. In Greece we love wild greens which are collected in the country side, from September to May, and most often cooked in plenty of water and served as a salad seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice. Of course all kinds of greens such as kale, chicory or even lettuce can be used in a fricassee.
Sep 20, 2013
Moussaka (moussakás in Greek) comes from the Arabic word musaqa‘h which, oddly enough, means something chilled. The Greek version, however, comes hot out of the oven and is probably the most famous Greek dish of all. Several variations and cooking methods are found in many Mediterranean cuisines. Most versions are based on sautéed eggplant and tomato, usually with minced meat. The Greek version includes layers of meat and eggplant topped with a Béchamel ("white") sauce. Béchamel was another import - introduced in the late 1920’s to Greek cuisine by the famous Greek chef Nicholas Tselementes, a great admirer of French cuisine. He brought many more innovations to Greek cuisine and his influence is still felt. In the old days, before béchamel, moussaka was topped with a cream made with yogurt, eggs and a little flour.
Other variations include adding more sautéed vegetable slices. Zucchini and potatoes are popular additions.
Sep 9, 2013
Everyone loves the wonderful taste of sun dried tomatoes. When you pick a small jar of them in the super market it is hard to imagine just how many ripe tomatoes needed to dry out, in order to fill this small jar. Tomatoes are more than 90% water by weight. The prospect of reducing them is one of the reasons why some people seem to find store bought ones easier to use although the truth is that homemade sun dried tomatoes are tastier by far.
At the end of August till late September we usually harvest many ripe tomatoes. They are at the peak of their season and although we use them in salads and give them away to friends, they are always too many to consume while perfect and ripe. This year we made ketchup, sauce for pasta and, of course, our favorite meze: sun dried tomatoes. The weather was hot (33 C) with low moisture so it only took 2 days for the tomato fillets to dry out. We only had the classic round tomatoes to work with so we cut four fillets from each tomato (you need skin-on slices). If you are not lucky enough to grow your own tomatoes, you can find wonderful tomatoes at the farmers’ markets at this time of the year at very reasonable prices. Even if the weather is not that hot in your country you can always make your own ‘’sun dried’’ style tomatoes in the oven. You can even choose how dry you prefer your tomatoes, but keep in mind that the less you dry them the faster you should consume them.
Aug 27, 2013
In Aegean islands like Sifnos and Kalimnos chick pea stews are a favorite dish all year long. Housewives there place their chick peas (revithia in Greek) in clay cooking pots specially made from local ceramists and bring them to the village bakery shop late in the afternoon where the stews are slow cooked overnight in the oven that is still hot from baking bread.
Slow baking is what makes chick peas really tender, so tasty, and easy to digest. I remember a friend who visited the island of Milos telling me of the cooking method a tavern there was using for their chick peas. Milos is a volcanic island and there are hot springs as well as areas where the ground itself is still very hot. There, by the beach, a local tavern owner had dig a deep hole in the hot volcanic soil and in it had placed a few clay pots with his chick pea specialty and left them to cook naturally for several hours. Amazing!
You don’t need a special clay pot or even a volcano to make delicious chick peas at home, - just a heat proof casserole dish, an oven, and a little patience. It is simple and worth trying.
Jul 10, 2013
Most of the dishes in agricultural regions were created with a simple rule: use what you have, but not all of your ingredients in one recipe. Cooking tasty dishes with simple ingredients is creative and challenging; creative because there are endless variations and techniques, proving that cooking is an art form and challenging because you might have to feed a crowd of hard to please...children.
Let’s take an example, Greek salad. On hot summer days a tomato salad with onion, feta, oregano and olive oil can be an ideal lunch, but if you had some tomato fritters too, wouldn't that be more filling? Just finely chop, part of your Greek salad, mix it with some self rising flour and egg and you have ready to fry tomatokeftédes, as simple as it sounds!
Tomato fritters were invented in Santorini. The volcanic soil and the dry climate of the island combine to create some excellent quality products like their local tomatoes. Since we are not lucky to live in Santorini and taste these wonderful tomatoes, we can add some tomato paste to the fritters batter to have a more intense flavor.
Jun 15, 2013
Vines are probably the only plants in Greece where every part of the plant except the roots are used in cooking. In May fresh stems are pickled and used in salads or served as a meze and the vine leaves themselves are stuffed with rice (dolmádes), meat or fish. Juice from unripe grapes is used in mountainous regions as a seasoning early in summer when lemons are not available and, of course wine, is a classic ingredient in cooking everywhere. In February and March, the season of pruning, some of the dry vine branches are collected and are used all year long in a special cooking technique: the dry vine branches are arranged in a layer at the bottom of a baking pan, and the lamb meat is set on them, so that during cooking the juices don't come in contact with the meat. This way the meat browns all over.
Here I present the recipe for classic dolmádes (ντολμάδες), stuffed vine leaves with rice and herbs, a dish cooked in spring with fresh vine leaves or all year long with preserved ones which can be found in any store selling Mediterranean food products. Dolmádes can be served as a first or a main course or a as a meze.
May 27, 2013
For thousands of years, people used wild yeast cultures as starters to leaven their dough and bake their daily bread. These cultures are a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria such as lactobacilli- so named because they produce lactic acid which contributes to the sour flavor.
In the early 20th century, researchers selected and isolated single strains of yeasts that could leaven bread dough very quickly and this innovation made bread a suitable product for mass production. As if that wasn't enough, the baking industry has developed chemicals that can change the bread’s physical characteristics, characteristics such as texture, taste and appearance. Probably all that remains of the bread of yesteryear after all these refinements is just the name: bread.
I come from an agricultural community where we have always baked bread in traditional hand built clay ovens, like the one we have now for the restaurant.
If you would like to experience how a real natural bread tastes like and you are a bit patient, follow the steps described here, and a week from now you'll have your own sourdough loaf.
September 14th is the orthodox Holy Cross day, at which time during the service, branches of basil are given to everyone as a blessing. On that day my grandmother used to make a new sourdough (προζύμι) culture by mixing water and flour and placing the fresh basil branch on top of it. This little extra bit of holy chemistry always worked for her. I love the way tradition wraps simple things with a magical coat.
You can capture your own culture by simply exposing a mixture of flour and water to the air; the rest will be done by the wild yeast bacteria that live in the same environment we do.