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Archive for the ‘seafood’ Category

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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Varoulko is the first restaurant in Greece years ago to be awarded a Michelin star. The chef Lefteris Lazarou was raised preparing seafood with his father on a galley boat on the port of Piraeus. He has elevated local seafood with Greek ingredients and ingenious creativity. I have seen him in interviews on Greek TV and he also seems incredibly kind.

This restaurant has been highly recommended from my dear friend Maria, and I finally got to try it this summer on my birthday…and then again in September for my mother’s birthday. Yes, it is that good.

The second meal with my mother is the one I discuss below.

Varoulko, during warm or mildly cool months has outdoor seating in a modern setting with a view of the Acropolis lit in a warm golden-orange light. The servers are all warm, accommodating, and enthusiastic about the food.

The picture posted above is, I know, out of focus, but I love it. Maybe it evokes the dazzling, dizzying joy I had with each course. 🙂  This was an amuse-bouche presented in an eggshell: a Tarama (fish-roe) Sabayon. Velvety, smooth, rich, with a subtle salty aftertaste.

Once seated, the manager or head server offers a 4 course tasting meal. However, you can choose to eat a-la-carte. Since I had been there before, I kept two new dishes that sounded great, and replaced the other two with ones I had my first time, that I wanted to have again. They were obliging. I also ordered a glass of Chablis.

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This dish was an incredible first induction to the meal. Lump Crab Salad with carrots, red pepper and thin, sparse strands of seaweed, topped with a Mandarin-Lemon thick foam. It was not as mustard-y looking as it does in this picture. We were instructed by the server to mix the foam thoroughly with the crab before eating.

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I wish I could transport the exclamation of mandarin and lemon aromas that emanated from this dish once mixed. This was an unexpected surprise that called to mind the idea behind this blog: Food Synaesthesia- the overlap of all senses for a transcendent experience. I know this may seem like a lot of hype for a seemingly simple dish, but it really was wonderful. I dreaded the sight of just a few bites left on the plate.

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The dish that followed did not disappoint, but wasn’t awe-inspiring. Thin slices of Red Snapper in a Toast Crust with Eggplant Puree and Raspberry Sauce.

The fish was fresh and the toast crust was satisfyingly buttery and salty. The eggplant puree had a silky smooth texture. It was appropriately mild in flavor as a balance to the salty fish. There wasn’t much raspberry sauce on the plate to see how those flavors would meld. I enjoyed it and it was a good portion.

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The third plate actually managed to out-do the experience of the crab! Langoustine Orzo Risotto. The Langoustine was tender, and the orzo risotto was creamy but firm instead of mushy. Each bite was just a firecracker of flavor. I will try as long as it takes to re-create this recipe at home! I kept asking them exactly what ingredients were in the dish, and they told me (other than the orzo and langoustine) that there was sweet Moschato wine, parmesan, and parsley. However, I’m sure that there was also a very strong langoustine or lobster stock involved as well.

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Though the final dish did not out-do the Langoustine, it was beautiful, inventive, and with great flavor: Braided Fish with Fava Puree and Octopus Sauce. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the fish. Unacceptable, I know, but I can’t remember!

The braiding had a function beyond its beauty; it also created its own nice texture. The fava puree was creamy like silky mashed potatoes, but with the great bean taste. The octopus sauce really didnt taste like octopus, but was a nice almost syrupy tart-sweet flavor.  My mother and I both really enjoyed this dish.

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The desserts were equally impressive as the savory plates. The chocolate souffle with espresso sauce was nice and bitter (the more espresso drizzled, the more bitter it became) and I like my chocolate bitter! But the mint strawberry mille feuille stole the show. The layers were not puff pastry, but rather like a mint caramel crisp. The cream was vanilla infused and the strawberry syrup was definitely made from fresh wild strawberries as promised by the menu! Just excellent. The taste of mint was pronounced and paired with the strawberry wonderfully.

Some chefs like Thomas Keller prefer to offer many dishes that give you just a taste and leave you wanting more. I do enjoy this sometimes, and appreciate the experience. However, I loved that the portions at Varoulko were substantial. Though we had a five course meal, it was satisfying to have more than a few tastes of each dish to really relish in the flavors. And I still was left wanting more.

Here is a recipe from Mr. Lazarou from his book: Varoulko: Colors, Smells and Tastes

SEA URCHIN RISOTTO

Serves 4

(If you cant find enough sea urchin, mix in some regular fish roe)


1 cup diced yellow onion, 1/8” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt
Freshly crushed white peppercorns
1 cup Arborio rice
4 – 5 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 – 3/4 cup fresh sea urchin roe, carefully cleaned of all spines and grit, divided

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly crushed white peppercorns, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the rice to completely coat it with oil and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, and stir until it’s almost absorbed. Add 1/2 cup stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until the stock is almost absorbed. Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stirring while its absorbed, until the risotto is the consistency you desire; it should be moist and creamy, not dry. It takes about 18 – 20 minutes for the rice to cook.

When the rice is just done, stir in 1/4 cup sea urchin roe, and divide the risotto between 4 warmed plates. Make a shallow hollow in the center of each portion, and fill it with the remaining sea urchin roe, evenly divided.

Serve immediately.

It tastes like sea-butter, please don’t be afraid to try sea urchin!

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Tis Pandoras is one of four fish tavernas in Ammodi Bay, Oia (pictured above).

All morning we swam in deep waters. Ammoudi doesn’t have a regular beach with sand.  There are cliffs of rock from which you can either jump into the water, or walk down carefully on steep slippery stepping stones.  The sea here is very cool. The only things in sight are sky, rock, mountains, and the sun. We worked up quite an appetite.

It’s a short walk from the swimming cove to the tavernas. The other 3 restaurants offer more standard Greek seafood fare. Sunset Taverna is known for its lobster spaghetti which I will be sure to try in my next visit to Santorini. Tis Pandoras, however, has an overall more inspired menu. I have access to traditional tavernas all year around, and I was curious to try traditional recipes with a twist. Having said that, we ended up trying relatively familiar Greek recipes.

No owner would need to create much atmosphere as the tables are seated right next to the sea. Divine! But you could still notice personal touches in everything- the wild descriptions of food on the menu,  the cooky candle holders on the table, and quirky works of art inside the kitchen.

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We started with one of my favorite appetizers, deep fried miniature shrimp (Garidakia). They were topped with chopped parsley and lemon juice. The shrimp tasted fresh and scrumptious. It was maybe a tad too greasy for my taste, but Niko (my regular dining partner/boyfriend) loved them a little oily. The batter was pretty thick and crunchy, which was a nice balance texture-wise with the shrimp.

To the side, you can see the my bitten bread spread with the smooth salty olive tapenade which was served to us at the beginning of the meal.

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The second meze (appetizer) was my favorite: Octopus in vinegar. After we finished it, we ordered a second. It was incredibly tender, yet not overcooked. This is important! It should be neither tough, nor mush- just like cooked veggies. I asked the chef how he accomplished this perfect balance, and he said that when you stew the octopus in vinegar and water, add an onion to the pot. Once the onion is fork tender, you should remove the octopus. I tried this trick and it worked! He seasoned the octopus with another dash of vinegar (probably red wine although I use Sherry vinegar which is awesome), dried oregano, fresh parsley, and capers. I loved biting into a caper and slice of octopus in one bite. It had a spicy edge to the flavor since capers are so much more pungent in Santorini (for more about Santorini ingredients, see older posts).

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Our last shared plate was this restaurant’s most notable dish (though I still preferred the octopus)- Stuffed Calamari. This was the biggest Calamari I have ever seen! Seriously. This Calamari was on steroids or something. It is stuffed with feta cheese, green pepper, and onions, then drizzled with an oregano seasoned vinaigrette. We both really enjoyed the filling, and there is so much of it that we spread half of it on the rest of our bread. My only criticism is that the cheese overpowers the flavor of the seafood a little too much, and it needed a bit more green pepper in the stuffing.

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As usual, Niko didn’t want dessert, but I always do. Before I ordered, the chef sent out a complimentary orange cake, fresh out of the oven and very warm. This would also be a wonderful winter dessert, but still enjoyable sitting under the sun. Its orange flavor is intensely vibrant, and the shreds of coconut in the batter is scrumptuous. It is drizzled oh-so-lightly with chocolate syrup. I found this a sophisticated move, as most Greek restaurants drench everything in sauces and syrups.

Instead of working off the meal with the 200 steps back up to Oia (hey, we swam all morning, right?) we ordered a cab back up to our hotel. 🙂

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I’m sorry I haven’t updated in so long! I have been traveling within Athens and a few Greek islands.  The next few blogs will celebrate the amazing meals I had along the way.

Let me start with Lambros, where my parents and boyfriend Niko celebrated my birthday a few weeks ago  for a long lunch. Driving down Poseidonos road with the sea to our right, we veered onto the unraveled parking lot and stepped into familiar food ground.

Each summer my family arrived from the States, my godparents would bring us to this seafood restaurant.  The space bears a warm, understated elegance.  Within a wooden structure, the best patio tables are shaded and platformed over the sea with linen tableclothes.

We would order a huge grilled fresh fish drizzled with lado-lemono (lemon olive oil mix). I am a rare specimen here who prefers my fish plain- maybe with a few drops of lemon. I think the olive oil is too overpowering and you can’t taste the sea or freshness anymore of the fish.

At the top is a picture I took of a fillet slice of our fish, which was as usual very fresh and grilled to perfection.

Surprisingly though, the side dishes we ordered seemed to steal the show!

Let me start with the favorite at the table: Sea Urchin Salad (Achinosalata)

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Please do not be put off by the idea of sea urchin. Honestly, it is the foie gras of the sea…The texture is not as slimy as it looks. It is actually more like silk- a melting sensation of salt water and buttery richness. Phenomenal. Here is a perfect example of how a few simple ingredients prepared well can be better than any overworked plate.

When I was younger, my Uncle Mike, cousin Sophia and I used to swim out in the sea with a small knife and eat fresh sea urchin from the rocks. Uncle Mike would slice it in half, and all I remember is a bright red-orange color and a taste of the sea.

I think the salad is not made up of much else! It seems to have a drizzle of oil and dash of lemon, although I am not exactly sure. I plan to find out!

We also had small fried barbounia, (red mullet), and huge grilled shrimp. Here is a picture of my mom instructing me to suck on the shrimp heads. I did, and I appreciated the strong flavor, but I just wanted more sea urchin to be honest…:)

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I prefer the red mullet small like this and incredibly yummy:

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My father was spending half the meal scooping his roquefort dressing over the arugula on his plate. It was nice that they retained the crumbly texture of the cheese. It was also creamy but not dilluted by too much mayo or creme fraiche or sour cream etc.

This was one of my top dining experiences of the summer. I was proud of my parents for sitting and enjoying for over 3 hours! They usually like to get up immediately after the meal, American style!

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In my next blogs I will have recipes available so you can taste some of the flavors I enjoyed so much the past month…

I will also be returning soon with several other Santorini and Athens restaurant reviews, discussion of Karpathian food, and recipes!

And coming up later is a  little Greek-French fusion….

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