Showing posts with label Tomato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tomato. Show all posts

Zucchini flowers, stuffed with rice, summer veggies, and herbs

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. 

Greek salad with rotini pasta

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. 

One-pot chicken stew with tomato and chylopites pasta.

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. 

Classic Greek Moussakás

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.

Authentic sun dried tomatoes

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. 

Revitháda - slow baked chick peas stew with tomato and oregano

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.

Tomatokeftédes - Tomato fritters with feta and oregano

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. 

Soutzoukàkia - Cumin flavored meatballs in rich tomato sauce

Nov 11, 2012

    In classic Greek cuisine we don't use a great variety of spices, except pepper of course, cinnamon, cloves or allspice in tomato based sauces and, rarely, nutmeg in flour based sauces. 
     Some recipes, though, which have  an eastern origin but which have been completely incorporated in our cuisine contain different spices than we normally use. Soutzoukàkia are meatballs flavored with cumin and cooked in a rich tomato sauce. What makes this dish different is the cumin, an exotic flavored spice used widely in the Middle East, India and Mexico; cumin is also one of the spices used in curry powder. If you eliminate cumin from this recipe you will simply have ordinary meatballs, not a bad thing but we all need something exotic every now and then.
     Soutzoukàkia are usually served with fried potatoes, steamed rice or mashed potatoes. Tzatziki is a matching side dish giving freshness to this meal.
Believe it or not, soutzoukakia taste much better the day after, maybe because the aromas have spread more evenly over time.

Kotopoulo me bámies - chicken stew with okra and tomatoes

Sep 12, 2012


  If we didn't like okra (sometimes called lady fingers or gumbo) for their wonderful taste, we would surely grow them for their big beautiful flowers.
     The okra harvesting period is from July to late September, and since they don't bloom all at the same time, you can enjoy their flowers all summer long.
     In Greek okra are called bámies, and we use them in many summer dishes. They actually compliment both meat and poultry, but also other vegetables in summer stews. In fact, the most common okra dish is a simple stew with tomatoes, cooked the same way we cook green beans.
     Many people don't like okra because they had a bad first experience with their gelatinous sauce, but if you toss them with vinegar and let them stand for an hour in a strainer, you will have a perfect result  no matter how you choose to cook them.
For my taste the ideal combination for okra is chicken, a quite popular dish all over Greece. 

Gemistà - stuffed tomatoes with rice and herbs

Aug 29, 2012

Stuffed tomatoes are called gemistà in Greek.
Red, ripe tomatoes with their natural sweetness can turn this humble dish into a wonderfully flavored summer meal. As a kid I remember we would cook this dish at home, mostly in August, when the tomatoes from our garden were ideally ripe.

Rice and finely grated vegetables together with herbs is the classic stuffing for gemistà. In some parts of Greece, raisins and pine nuts are used to give a festive touch to the dish. 
Another version calls for minced meat in the stuffing, but it’s not nearly as popular. 
Gemistà  can describe not only tomatoes but also other stuffed summer vegetables such as aubergines, green peppers, and zucchinis.

Melitzanes me tomata & feta - baked eggplants with tomato sauce and feta

Aug 19, 2012

     Eggplants and tomato; tomato and feta!  Add some basil or oregano and this chain reaction can give an explosion of taste in your mouth.
     Slices of eggplant covered with tomato sauce, and topped with feta can easily become a filling summer dish, served either as a first or as a main course.
     In Greece we season tomatoes with oregano, but basil is a classic Mediterranean companion for tomato as well;  so  it’s up to you.
Cooking this dish, won't take you more than 20-30 minutes.

Scordomacárona –An easy spaghetti with garlic and tomato paste

Jul 25, 2012

   The first day we would go to our summer house, my mother always had to do a lot of cleaning, so there wasn't much time for cooking - Scordomacárona was the answer!
   This simple pasta made with tomato paste is probably the first dish I ever learned to cook, because it’s easy to prepare and very tasty at the same time. We use tomato paste a lot In Greece and a can of it is always available in every household fridge.
Santorini island makes a very special paste because they use the local heirloom ‘dry’ tomatoes which are grown in the volcanic soil of the island without ever being watered.  The plant absorbs water from the night breeze which brings moisture from the sea. Its taste is unique but the limited production makes it a bit difficult to find.

Mosharaki me lahanika - beef stew with summer vegetables

Jul 11, 2012


   This classic beef stew with tomato sauce is usually served with pasta or fried potatoes. However, in hot weather there are many tasty seasonal vegetables that can take the place of pasta and fried potatoes making a lighter dish with a summer touch.
      The stew can be made with beef or with any other meat or poultry. Zucchinis, eggplants, sweet peppers and potatoes( or carrots) are the most popular summer vegetables chosen for this dish. 
      We usually serve kokkinisto with graviera cheese as a side dish. It is a lightly salted yellow hard cheese with a sweet aftertaste. If you can't find graviera, then gruyere could be a good choice.

Baked giant beans and cabbage salad with mustard-yogurt dressing

Jan 30, 2012

              Beans are widely used in Greek cuisine. Small ones are used for soups and salads but those bigger in size are ideal for cooking in the oven. When I say bigger I really mean “giant beans”!!! Giant beans (also referred to as ''elephants'') are called butter beans in English and are cultivated mostly in northern Greece because they thrive in cooler mountainous regions. 

              They would look funny in a soup but many recipes for baked giant beans have been invented all over the country according to each region’s eating habits. The most common version is to bake the beans in tomato sauce with carrots and celery. This is the version commonly found in houses and taverns; other versions with spinach or sausage are found in northern Greece where the climate calls for spicy food. Giant beans are also a classic meze for ouzo.

               Cabbage with its natural sweetness adds taste to many winter dishes but raw cabbage makes very nice salads too, - with sliced orange, apple, and mayonnaise or with just a nice mustard dressing like the one I present here. In Greece we often eat cabbage-carrot salad with only extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice added. 

Kokkinisto - comfort food in Greek.

Jan 12, 2012

I’m sure there must be typical Sunday family meals all over the world with dishes that in English are called ‘’comfort food’’ because they are family favorites. In Greek we don’t have the term “comfort food” but we call a family’s favorite dishes ‘’Sunday dishes’’ probably because Sunday is the only day families manage to gather and have lunch all together.

 I remember Sunday family meals usually had our favorite food cooked with love by moms or grandmas and served informally in the kitchen or more formally in the dining room. My favorite Sunday dish had always been kokkinisto and, as far as I know, it is many other kids’ favorite too. Kokkinisto means “made red” and it is meat, in our case beef, cooked in tomato sauce. This dish is usually served with fried potatoes, (this must be the reason kids love it) spaghetti, or with other traditional pasta like chylopites (little squares of pasta) and grated mizithra cheese. On the island of Corfu this dish has its own special name, ’’pastitsada’’ and it is served with macaroni.

Ode to tomato – Kayanas

Sep 12, 2011

“The street filled with tomatoes, midday, summer, light is halved like a tomato, its juice runs through the streets. (….)
The tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness.

Pablo Neruda   “Ode to tomato”

Every summer I look forward to harvest the first ripe tomatoes in order to make kayanas with the right taste.
That magnificent combination of tomatoes and eggs is my favorite main course for the hot summer days. It is also nice over toasted bread as an appetizer in a summer lunch, or as a rich sauce for pasta.
Kayanas can be seasoned with oregano, basil, mint or garlic but please only one of them; tomato has to be the King of flavor.
This food reminds me of my childhood, when my mother used to cook it with tomatoes from our garden. I could eat that every day for the whole season!