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Archive for the ‘savory recipes’ Category

This post is dedicated to Teddy, who has my blog bookmarked on his computer and has checked it every week only to see that I have not updated since Easter! Unforgivable. This one is for you Ted!

I am very sorry for my long hiatus but sometimes life gets overwhelming…I forgot how relaxing and enjoyable discussing my culinary adventures is, and so- I’m back!! I hope you enjoy my summer posts…please continue to comment with any thoughts, suggestions, outrage, etc.

I just returned from Serifos Island. It is a special place, and an often neglected area of the Cyclades islands. It is quiet and retains much of its rugged beauty. We spent a lot of time at the beach of course and sitting on our veranda enjoying the view. One visit to a historical monastery ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the trip- out of all of our island trips actually…

Taxiarches Monastery sits at the north end of the island. Built in 1572 and founded as a men’s monastery, it is dedicated to Archangels Michael and Gabriel, the patron saints of Serifos. The outside of the structure is unlike any monastery I have ever visited- the tall walls surrounding indicate how it served well as a fortress. The monastery used to be used as a fortress during pirate raids and Turkish occupation. There are small holes in the thick walls from which the monks could shoot.

The last monk living here greeted me and Niko warmly as we approached the entrance of the church. He offered us sweet caramels and explained the history of the icons we studied.  You could almost sense the painful history inside the dim church. The faded dark Byzantine icons still shone with thin outlines of vivid bright gold. I was not allowed to take pictures here.

This windy whitewashed architecture offered picturesque images from every angle.  One of the many charming sights were the monk’s onions and green beans drying in the sun.

I wondered what and how the monk cooks. But he had other visitors as well and I was embarrassed to ask him these types of questions in such a holy, historically significant place. Now in retrospect, I doubt it would have been inappropriate, but I felt shy at the time!

Drying and dehydrating vegetables helps with waste- if you find yourself with too many tomatoes, green beans or onions, and there is no more room in the freezer and you don’t feel like canning…sun drying is a great solution. In these economic times, nothing should be wasted…and not just when times are hard! It is never right to waste food.  I don’t know where you are, but here in Greece it is Hot as Hades. This is a prime time to test this technique.

Drying green beans is great when you want a crisper, crunchier texture. It is wonderful for Sichuan green bean-shrimp meat stir fries for instance. You can thread a sterilized needle through a row of green beans and hang in the hot sun for a day or two. If you are drying for preservation, make sure to blanch before drying to stop enzyme activity that makes the veggie go brown and taste kinda wierd. (Dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock with ice water to retain their green color).

Sun drying tomatoes is my faaavorite vegetable hobby. It just tasted divine and makes any salad or dip or meat/poultry dish shine.

Unfortunately I do not have a green thumb. I have the opposite of a green thumb- a red thumb….so I pick fresh tomatoes from our local farmers market. They are organic and have excellent flavor, especially now in this climate.

  • Pick firm tomatoes. Not necessarily under-ripe, but certainly not mushy or bruised! The less liquid they have, the faster they will dry.
  • I don’t usually take the skin off, but if you’d like to: blanch (dunk in boiling water for 30 seconds, then shock in ice water). The skin will peel off easily.
  • Cut tomatoes in half or in fourths depending on their size. Remove seeds, the tough stems, and any bruised or soft spots.
  • DRY. There are three methods: a dehydrating machine, an oven, and the sun! Since it is summer, and in honor of the sweet Monk I met last week, today I am discussing the sun method: Place the tomatoes on a cake rack and cover with cheesecloth, or any kind of mesh cloth that will protect the tomatoes from insects and mosquitoes. If you use a regular pan, then you will need to flip the tomatoes over every now and then. (Note- some people leave the tomatoes in the dashboard of their cars during the day, exposed to the most light during the day only- I have never done this but I am sure it works fine).
  • The time it takes depends on so many variables: the size of the tomatoes, the water content, the strength of the sun, etc…You can tell they are done when they are malleable and a little leathery with no water at all. Their color should be a deep red. It has taken me between 13 and 20 hours of sun exposure usually- around two full day times.
  • Of course, you may add salt, basil, or any other spice you like to infuse while they tomatoes are drying…I was thinking of using some exotic spices (maybe Indian) to use in some kind of fusion type recipe…they may accompany a nice yellow-split pea dal puree well…
  • You can store in olive oil and then the oil will be infused with tomato flavor. You can use the oil to flavor dressings, sauces, etc…Try it out and let me know how it works for you!

I am not sure why the Monk was drying onions. I have seen my grandmother used dehydrated onions in stews and braises before, but it can’t be better than fresh onion, right? If any of you know why dehydrated onions are good for more than preservation let me know!

***A lot of you have asked for my grandmother’s Karpathian Baklava recipe. I have only made it when I am with her and do not have anything written out, but I can ask her to write everything down for me when I see her in Karpathos in August. I will report back!

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Today is a special day here in Greece. It marks the 1821 uprising against the Ottoman Empire. Every March 25th, when I was a little girl, I dressed up in traditional costumes like the one below and said Greek poems and danced in our Church! But I’m not posting the pictures my parents have of me…no way 🙂

This day we also celebrate the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary-when she was informed by Archangel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear Christ.

This celebratory day falls during Lent, when we are supposed to be fasting from meat, fish, and dairy. Not everybody chooses to fast all of these food items, but for those that do- today is the exception!

The traditional meal is Fried Salt Cod, Skordalia (a very garlicky garlic potato mash- that is an understatement), Boiled Beets with vinegar, Tarama (Carp Roe smooth spread made with bread and lemon juice and oil), and some type of Sautéed Greens.

At the market yesterday, everyone was picking through the huge selection of beets and cod and I was excited usually one of my family members hosts on this day (and it’s always great!), but this year I wanted to try it myself in my own way.

Now I love traditional cooking as a means of connecting with my heritage, family, and the warmth of familiarity and memory. BUT I just love to put my own spin on dishes. And there are some dishes I just don’t like. Here is my own riff on each traditional plate:

* These recipes make 4 servings*

The Cod– I stuck with tradition by buying the heavily salted fresh cod. For two days I kept it in water in the fridge, and changed the water 3 or 4 times a day to release the salt.

I am not deep frying it for caloric reasons- but I will make a batter and fry it lightly in a non-stick pan. It will still get crispy and scrumptious, it just won’t be drowned in oil. For 1 & 1/2 lbs of cod, mix 1 cup of flour,  1/8 tsp baking powder, 1 tsb lemon-pepper seasoning, and 1tsp cayenne

Warm 1 cup of milk and mix in a package of yeast- mix this into the flour mixture- cover and leave it for an hour or so.  (I think the addition of yeast makes the batter extra light and crispy-especially since we won’t be deep frying).

Then dip the cod into this mixture, shake off excess, and fry when oil is hot. Do NOT fidget with the fish. Let it crisp up nicely and then turn over- around 4 minutes per side.

Skordalia- I love garlic, but I really don’t like how garlicky traditional Skordalia is. If you want it with that intensity, just add more garlic cloves than I have in my recipe below:

Boil 1 lb potatoes until tender and save the cooking water. Mash the potatoes or put through a ricer to make super fine.

Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt to make a paste.

Use an electric mixer to mash the potatoes with the garlic, and add 1/4 cup olive oil  1/2 cup thick Greek yogurt, and 2 tbs aged sherry vinegar- then add as much of the potato cooking water to make your desired consistency.

(This recipe was inspired by a skordalia recipe from 7 seas restaurant in Thessaloniki)

Tarama (Roe Spread)- My Aunt Anna makes the best Tarama I have ever had in my life! I asked her for her recipe. Tarama can never be distilled into a concrete recipe though, because it is one of those things you just have to keep tasting and mixing and deciding for yourself. I hope I can get it close to hers!

You need 300 grams (10 ounces) of good quality white roe, 10-12 slices of country bread (without crust) soaked in water, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, and 2/3 cup oil. (I use olive oil but it is lighter with corn oil).

Squeeze as much liquid out of the soaked bread as you can. Blend it with the roe with a blender or electric mixer. Add lemon and olive oil alternately and little by little otherwise the ingredients will not incorporate. Just keep mixing, adding, etc. I think it tastes amazing with a lot of acidity so I add more lemon juice than oil. But this is really up to you.

The Beets I love beets but I just cannot stand them boiled to mush and drowned in vinegar. Until last year I thought I hated beets because this is the only way I had tasted it!

I love beets either raw and juilliened in salads, or roasted. I am experimenting with Niko today because he also claims to hate beets. I am preparing them two different ways for him to see if he might eat them the non-traditional way. So the first way is just by simply cutting the beets in half after cleaning their skins well, and roasting in a 200C/375F degree oven until they are tender but still have some bite. I will sprinkle some olive oil, sea salt and pepper and that is it! Other times I let them cool and top with yogurt and walnuts, or goat cheese or feta cheese, but for today I will keep it simple.

Greens: I enjoy wilted greens but I was in the mood for uncooked greens for a brighter flavor next to these rather heavy dishes. So I made an arugula salad with matchstick slices of pear, fennel, and raw beets with an orange vinaigrette. (I recently read that beets are most healthy and anti-carcinogenic when they are raw! And I thought maybe Niko might like the taste this way as well- so we shall see…)

The orange vinaigrette is just a mix of a few tbs of fresh squeezed orange juice, 1 tbs vinegar, 1 tbs dijon mustard, 1 tbs minced garlic, and then 5 tbs olive oil- blended together very well. This salad really adds a bright and light component to the meal.

For dessert- again, I want something light after all the potato and bread and oil in the side dishes- so I am mixing fresh raspberries with lots of chopped fresh mint leaves and a dash of amaretto- this is an idea I got from my Aunt Ven. The amaretto with strawberries is one of the best fruit salad combinations I have ever tasted!

Niko brought a nice barrel Assyrtiko Santorini wine and I can’t wait to crack it open and enjoy this meal.

These recipes of course can inspire you at any date or any day of the week-doesn’t have to be March 25th.  I hope you enjoy them. Let me know if you do! Xronia Polla!

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I’m sorry. I’ve been traveling and working extra hard and feeling lethargic and…ok just go ahead and call me lazy. 😉

I have a lot to cover- I still owe you my New York restaurant reviews! And I also just returned from another great food city in Greece- Thessaloniki! That is a serious food destination, and I’ll get into all the gluttonous details another day…For now, I want to tell you about my lovely simple plate of peas I made for lunch.

Any change of season rejuvinates my desire to cook. Spring may technically still be a few days away, but as far as I’m concerned- it’s here. The sun is shining, and strawberries are overflowing at the local markets!

No offense to my parents, but the only way I ever ate peas as a child was from a can. I was happy to find fresh and bright green pea pods today. Instead of eating leftovers I made one of my favorite traditional Greek dishes: Stewed Peas with Tomato, Onion and Dill.

When I lived in America, it seemed peas were only used for side-dishes, or additions to salads. But I suggest you try this recipe. Not only is it healthy, but it is so flavorful and a perfect spring dish. If you must take the peas from a can, well, ok…but frozen is better and fresh is even better than that. This is also a great recipe for vegetarians and vegans. I had many vegan friends in San Francisco when I went to school, and my best friend’s fiancee Khalpeah is vegan! Even Gary, the familiar commenter on this blog who shames me every time I let some time go by without posting…:)  So I always try to catalogue these kinds of dishes with them in mind.

Some may find removing the peas from the pods boring, but it is meditative for me. I’ve discussed before how long I sit in front of a computer all day editing, researching, and writing. This tactile process is relaxing and energizing at the same time.

This recipe is super simple: After I rinse 1 & 1/2 cup peas in a colander, I cut up 1 large onion and 2 scallions, 2 big, ripe tomatoes, and chop a cup of dill- yes a cup! Loosely packed. Adding a few cut up potatoes and/or carrots is optional. You can also add some fresh parsley if you like. I usually add some at the end right before eating. (This is for 1-2 servings- multiply the ingredients depending on the size of your dinner table).

You saute the onions and tomato in olive oil. The onions do not need to be browned, just a little translucent. Then add the dill and the peas (and potatos or carrots if using). Stir. Pour in 1/2 cup water. Cover the pot and let it all simmer until the peas are cooked to your taste and all the flavors meld- around 25 minutes. I personally like a little bite, but others prefer them more mushy. Check it every now and then to see if it needs more water. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Totally simple, and very tasty. Add some crusty fresh baked bread to dip into the juices. Mmmmm.

Tomorrow I am making a traditional Greek Salt Cod meal that is eaten every 25th of March. I’ll include my recipes and discuss what this day means for us religiously and culturally. It’s a national holiday, so no computers for me! Niko and I are going to cook this meal together and hopefully sit on the balcony while eating if the weather stays this beautiful…Wow I better clean the deck chairs, they are looking dusty…or maybe well just pull out some chairs from inside…(I’m making my Mom proud, I’m sure…)

See you tomorrow!

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I’ve been extra busy lately. I’m basically in Subtitles Hell– every 5 seconds of the 90 minute film needs a new set of subtitles. Ugh.

When I know I’ll be stuck at my computer all week, I like to make a big pot of something one day to eat from for at least 3 more days. Does that sound boring? If it’s something I’m really in the mood for, I like it this way.. And I switch things up at dinner.

I’m back on the health kick, and making an effort to eat more vegetable and non-meat main dishes. Those who know me are laughing right now, because I am a true carnivore. In all of it’s bloody, artery clogging glory! But as much as I love me a steak, it really does feel good to eat veggies.

I thought a lentil was a grain, but it’s actually a “pulse”- a bean from the legume family of plants. There is a huge variety of them in many different colors. Lentils are a great source of protein and good carbs. They also carry iron,  fiber, Vitamin B1 and minerals.

In French, Meditteranean and American restaurants, I often see lentils in a salad, or as a side to salmon. In India, the Middle East, and South American countries lentils are often combined with rice in a stew, as they have a similar cooking time. A very common dish in Greek households is a lentil soup/stew. Every month or so, I get really in the mood for it and find it very comforting. So here is a comfort food that isn’t 90% fat. 🙂 Can it be?

Here is my grandmother’s Lentil Soup Recipe:

1 lb lentils

3 quarts water

1 -2 diced carrots

1- 2 diced celery stalks

1-2 diced onions

(the reason I write 1-2 for the veggies is because some like veggies in a higher ratio to lentils than others, your choice. I personally up the veggies a lot).

2 minced cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

1 cup diced tomato with juices (can be from can if necessary)

vegetable broth/cube

S&P

1 can V8 juice-optional

dash vinegar-optional

  • Rinse Lentils in a colander to clean
  • Put lentils in a big pot with the 3 quarts water and let boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, reduce heat- skim any foam that appears at the top
  • Sautee veggies and garlic with bay leaves in a pan with a few drops of olive oil
  • Add veggies and diced tomato to the lentils, along with one veggie cube.
  • Let boil for 35-45 minutes. Add S&P to taste.
  • You can add V8 juice at the end for some extra oomph! Some add a dash of vinegar as well, although I do not like this.

Enjoy! Mine is boiling now. It’ll give me the healthy carbs, proteins, and nutrients I need for excersizing later! Jillian Michaels is gonna kick my butt with her DVDs…damn her and her squats.

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I’ve made many Iranian friends in my life. They have welcomed me into their home and dinner table countless times. I cannot tell you how touched I have been by their hospitality and graciousness. Pomegranates are highlighted consistently in their dishes, and so I did not want to end a discussion of pomegranates without including this cuisine.

There are many similarities between Greek and Persian cooking. We regularly use many of the same staple ingredients, such as lamb, walnuts, almonds, parsley, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

Pomegranate is probably native to Iran, actually, and only later cultivated in Mediterranean regions. There are many varieties of pomegranates in Iran that range greatly in color and also sweetness.  There is even a black pomegranate which is much more rare and expensive…I would love to hold and taste one someday!

Iranian cuisine is known for its pomegranate soup, and pomegranate chicken dishes.

I remembered having a braised lamb dish with pomegranate years ago. The dish is called Lamb Fesenjan. Though I do not have their recipe, from memory I re-created the dish, added some whims of my own, and it is part of my regular repertoire:

BRAISED LAMB WITH POMEGRANATES

serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 chopped shallots
  • 1.5 lbs lamb-any kind of stew cut-shoulder, leg, etc.
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2- 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
  1. In a medium-large pot, saute shallots in olive oil.
  2. Once the shallots start caramelizing, add lamb cubes.
  3. Simmer for 20 minutes
  4. In another smaller pot, simmer pomegranate juice until it is reduced by 1/2 or more- it should become slightly syrupy
  5. Then add this reduction in another pot with chicken and beef broth, nuts, all the spices, and S&P- let simmer for 15 minutes
  6. Drain the beef and add to the broth-pomegranate-spice mixture.
  7. Let it simmer until the lamb feels tender
  8. Sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds and chopped parsley.

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I was so excited when I saw fresh pumpkin at the grocery store! I’ve been craving this sweet vegetable and waiting for it to come into its season. Lugging this huge heavy mass up the stairs to my apartment was worth it.

The name Pumpkin originated from the Greek word “large melon” which is “Pepon.” (Insert My Big Fat Greek Wedding joke here) 🙂

Native Americans used to use “isqoutm squash” (pumpkins) to make mats out of them by drying flattened strips. They also used the pumpkin for medicinal purposes.

In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies instead of the filling.

Had enough of fun facts?  Time for recipes.

I almost cut my hand off trying to break into the thing, so be careful. Once the top is off, its relatively easy to cut into thick slices. Scooping out the fleshy seeds is fun (well I think it’s fun), and then I dump into a foiled baking pan with some oil, salt and pepper.

I roasted for 35-40 minutes on 375F (180C)

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See that nice bruised golden color? That’s what you want. I put some of this aside as a very simple side dish for the week. Roast it with whatever spices you like: Garam Marsala OR you can make it a sweet roasted dish with brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, etc. Sea salt, pepper, and cumin work fine too.

I scooped out the rest to collect 6 cups of the pumpkin flesh for a comforting soup. I love sweet pumpkin soup, with lots of brown sugar and apples…but since I am trying to keep the calories low, I thought I’d make a more savory soup which is still incredibly flavorful. Pumpkin is so thick and creamy on its own, that heavy cream is so unnecessary. Even if I wasn’t dieting I’d say this, I promise! I use thick Greek yogurt instead.

Indian spices bring out the pumpkin flavor in a great way, so here is my version of Indian Spiced Pumpkin Soup:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 3 small onions, diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 tbs garam marsala
  • a few dashes of cinnamon and clove
  • I add many pinches of cayenne, but you add however much you like
  • 6 cups of roasted pumpkin flesh (please don’t use canned- it takes only 30 minutes to roast fresh pumpkin and tastes so much better)
  • 5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups of  2% milk
  • 1/4-1/2 cup 2%  greek yogurt (however much you like)

1 Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.

2 Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth; blend well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3 Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan.

4 With the soup on low heat, add brown sugar and mix. Slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Add cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. If a little too spicy, add more cream to cool it down. You might want to add a teaspoon of salt.

Pumpkin is jam-packed with Beta Carotenoids, Fiber, Potassium and Zinc. It is a powerful antioxidant, lowers risks of hypertension, boosts the immune system, and improves bone density. Knowing this helps to not feel guilty when you want a third serving of soup. : )

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Ambrosia and Nectar was the first restaurant we visited in Santorini, and it was a satisfying initiation into the local food.

Above is a picture of Vinsanto wine served to us at the end of the meal. (Vinsanto is a locally made sweet liquor wine, with grapes sun dried and aged for 3-5 years). Actually only I ordered it because my dining partner doesn’t drink wine, but they seemed to take pity on him and brought him a glass as well! It was my first taste of Vinsanto on the trip. Each sip brought another layer of deep flavor-almost dark flavors of chocolate, honey and butter…

The atmosphere of the restaurant is cozy with eclectic pieces of photography and paintings embellishing the walls. Greenery and flowers are planted randomly around the seating area, lending to its casual yet endearing character.

For appetizers we ordered fava and a santorini salad.

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The fava was garnished with pita bread, caramelized onions, and balsamic syrup. It was incredible! Fava is usually served with raw onion, but I prefer it with the sweet onion. The sweet-tart balsamic reduction adds another bright layer of flavor to the fava. The punchy bitter bite of the capers balanced out the sweetness. I could have continued eating this for my main dish as well and been very pleased! (You can find a recipe for my version of this dish below).

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The Santorini Salad was fine. It was a treat to taste the local cholro goat cheese, which is much milder, creamier, and less salty than the sharper goat cheese I’m used to in the island of Karpathos. The cucumbers and cherry tomatoes were refreshing and perfectly seasoned. The dressing was a simple light vinaigrette.

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Niko had the steak fillet (pictured above) and was disappointed. The meat was not very tender and not exceptionally flavorful. The potato puree though was very tasty- dense, but not too rich, with herby undertones. The roasted veggies were simply grilled with olive oil and very flavorful.

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I chose pumpkin ravioli for my main, with a light scallion cream sauce. I made sure to ask for it with very little sauce, since Greeks usually drench everything. I hate that! I was very pleased with this dish. The ravioli had just the right firmness and the scallion flavor was a delightful match to the sweet pumpkin filling. The chef also doesn’t over-do it with the heavy cream. The seasonings for the pumpkin filling (cinnamon and nutmeg) were pleasantly subtle.

Niko and I shared a dessert of thin chocolate circles layered with white chocolate mousse and strawberries. Even though it was heavy with cream and chocolates, it tasted light and airy. The strawberries were ripely red and sweet. (I didn’t add my picture because its incredibly out of focus! Niko wouldnt stop digging his fork into it long enough for me to take a still photo!)

Here is a fava recipe I made based on the one I tasted at Ambrosia & Nectar:

FAVA WITH CARAMALIZED ONIONS, BALSAMIC SYRUP, and PITA

serves 2

Ingredients:

FAVA: rinse 1 lb. of fava beans in a strainer with cool water to clean. Pour them into a saucepan with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Strain out the froth that floats to the top. Reduce to a simmer on low-medium heat. Sprinkle sea or regular salt. Continue to stir occasionally so the fava doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cook until it absorbs the water and becomes creamy. This may take up to 45 minutes.

ONIONS: sautee onions in a few tbs. hot oil or butter and keep stirring on medium low heat for about 25 minutes or until they are caramalized and taste sweet.

BALSAMIC SYRUP: in a medium saucepan boil 1/2 balsamic vinegar until it is thick and sweet- just keep tasting until its to desired thickness and sweetness-then take off heat. the smell and smoke will be really strong at first, but dont be put off, it will pass.

PITA: toast a round pita and cut into fours.

ASSEMBLY:

-pour the mound of fava puree in a circle on a big round plate.

-place the pita slices standing up symmetrically on the fava

-add small mounds of caramalized onions on the outside of the fava decoratively

-drizzle everything with balsamic syrup

-top with a few caper leaves or capers

(if im not describing this clearly, see picture above!)

Enjoy!

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