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Posts Tagged ‘greek food’

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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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My picture above is the view from one of my favorite summer restaurants in Arkassa village. It really is as serene as it looks.

Now that it’s getting close to summer island vacation time, all I can think about is sitting with a cold glass of wine or ouzo, overlooking the sea, and eating mezedes (Greek version of tapas) with great company.

Long, leisurely lunches usually follow a day of swimming. I take hours and hours to dine and savor each bite. Some of my friends in the States get incredibly annoyed with me every time we’re at a restaurant. I refuse to rush through my meal and get up the minute we’re done eating! I think they’ve learned to like it my way…;)

The seafood is fresh: caught the same day its served. You can smell and taste the sea in the food.

Tavernas bring to mind ‘family time.’ All of us cousins would get seated at the kids end of the table to our delight. Once the Greek salad was placed on the table, we would all reach with our forks at the big block of feta to fight for the biggest piece. I always lost!

The menu list at summer tavernas usually include a lot of seafood: Freshly grilled or fried fish with a lemon-olive oil drizzle, tender octopus, stuffed calamari…

and SHRIMP SAGANAKI (my favorite). It is shrimp simmered in a spiced tomato sauce with melted feta. The shrimp are amazing by themselves, but you can’t eat it without dipping lots of fresh bread into the sauce.

The vegetables add a depth to the sauce, the melted cheese adds richness, and the shrimp simmered in the sauce infuses fresh seafood flavor into all the ingredients.

I like to add extra chili flakes for more of a kick, but not everyone likes it so spicy.

Here is my recipe for SHRIMP SAGANAKI

serves 6 (appetizer serving)

  • 1 1/2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 1/2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 24 medium shrimp, whole and heads on (the heads give a lot of flavor, you dont have to eat them if you dont want to)
  • Sea salt (if you have it) and freshly ground pepper
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed chili flakes or a dash of cayenne
  • a few dashes coriander
  • 1 1/2 ounces ouzo
  • 1/2  cup dry white wine
  • 20-ounces of freshly chopped tomato (use canned if you must)
  • 2/3 cup chopped green pepper
  • 2 tbs chopped olives
  • 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbs. chopped fresh parsley

-Heat olive oil in a large pan or pot over Medium Heat.

-Add garlic and then onion and green pepper until soft, but dont let the onion and garlic burn.

-Add the shrimp with salt, pepper, oregano, and chili pepper or cayenne pepper, and sweet paprika, let them simmer 1-2 minutes

-Remove pan from heat and add ouzo. It may flame, but it will subside. Let simmer for 1 minute.

-Then add the wine and simmer for 30 seconds- remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon on a plate so that the shrimp dont overcook

-Add the crushed tomato and chopped olives and simmer for 2-3 minutes

-Add the shrimp back in the pan, and top with the crumbled feta. Press the feta into the sauce so it melts.

-Right before serving, sprinkle fresh parsley over the shrimp

Its nice to serve in a clay dish, but put in any dish you have and dont forget to absorb all the sauce into fresh bread!

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Here is my beautiful friend Sophia on our dear friend Peggy’s patio! It was a special occasion and we all pitched in to make good food with a pretty decor. Summer dining is lovely.

I love formal dinner parties too, with heavy china and perfectly plated courses, but summer inspires something else: Casual elegance.

This particular night, we made a gourmet buffet style feast, with fresh, seasonal ingredients: figs stuffed with mozarella and wrapped with prosciutto(broiled), leg of lamb in a honey-mint marinade, vegetable charlottes (recipe found in first post below), arugula parmesan salad, lemon risotto inside hollowed out lemon cups, among other things…yes, we ate a lot…:)

There is something naturally festive about passing shared dishes around the table.  One way to combine buffet style dishes with the delicate artistry found in more formal parties is to create individual bites. Each piece can be its own work of art, prepared in advance and served all at once. This way you don’t have to be in the kitchen half the time your guests are over trying to make everything look pretty at each course!

Francois Payard’s amazing book Bite Size further enthused this idea in me. I strongly recommend this book. The pictures alone are enough to excite more creativity in the kitchen.

Here are some simple but great ideas:

One of his ideas which is super simple, is to take cherry tomatoes (and they are in season now!) hollow them out, and stuff with either feta cheese, goat cheese, etc. you can even mix some fresh herbs into the cheese before stuffing. Save the tops of the tomatoes to top off the overflowing cheese. (Don’t make too far in advance, otherwise it could get soggy-1 1/2 hrs before at the most).

Putting anything on a toothpick or skewer is another simple way to create artful small bites:

One of my favorite salads is an Arugula, Prosciutto, small balls of Fresh Mozarella, Sun Dried Tomato, Pine Nut Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette. Instead of serving this in a big bowl (which is still great), make it prettier and arrange one of each ingredient in a decorative fashion on individual short skewers. I might even add fresh basil and drizzle with the vinaigrette. (dont drizzle with the vinaigrette until just before serving). Easy, but special.

Once I was at a formal function where one of the offerings was: a thick slice of lamb tenderloin on a garlicky crostini, with a generous helping of meyer lemon zest on top. It was am-A-zing. A real explosion of flavors. And simple!!

Something impressive that takes a little more work is to make PARMESAN CUPS and fill with salad or ratatouille, etc. Here’s how:

(you need 1 1/4 cups parmesan makes 20 small cups or 8-10 bigger ones)

1) Preheat the oven to 400F (200c) and line a baking sheet with silpat

2)spread 1 tbs of parmesan in 2-inch rounds on the silpat

3) bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble and turn a light golden brown

4) remove and let cool for one minute- then lift the rounds and place them in the cups of a miniature muffin pan to form a cup shape.

5) let the parmesan cool and harden for 3-4 minutes

I’ll post more advanced techniques another time…

In my next post I’ll share small bites of dessert! (We must never forget dessert). 🙂

Here are some silly pictures of me and sophia cooking and cutting ourselves…oops! hope theres no blood in the strawberry syrup…:)

too much wine while cooking...

too much wine while cooking...

sophia was such a big help!

sophia was such a big help!

again...too much wine...led to a slip of the knife...oops!

again...too much wine...led to a slip of the knife...oops!

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salmon

Trust me, there are days where all I want to do is go to a taverna and eat roasted lamb off the spit, a greek salad, and roasted lemon potatoes.

Other days I’m inspired to play with flavors, fusion, presentation, and ingredients of my home cuisine.

Years ago for a dinner party, I used kataifi (a dried pasta type pastry-the greek version of angel hair pasta)- that is usually used for a *divine* honey soaked dessert- I used it instead to wrap scallops in a light nest before baking. The result was a nice play in texture- the crispy kataifi offset the softly tender scallops, with a nice balsamic reduction.

(I have to admit though that one of my dinner party guests-yes, Jamie, you– did not like the kataifi and peeled it off to eat the scallops by themselves!) But everyone else liked it!

I’ll share a few of my past favorite experiments:

In this recipe I like to combine Greek and French cuisine:

POACHED SALMON IN OUZO-FENNEL SAUCE

I poach the salmon in a great greek white wine that i get from a local dealer that i love-use whichever greek wine you like! And infuse the cream sauce with greek flavors…

It makes 3-4 servings

here’s the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

For salmon

  • 8 (3/4-inch-wide) slices center-cut salmon fillet (1 1/2 to 2 lb total), skinned
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups dry white greek wine of your choice

For sauce

  • 1 1/2 cups more of the Greek white wine
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon fennel
  • 2 teaspoons ouzo
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • a few tbs butter

Begin sauce:
Simmer wine with shallot in a 2-quart heavy saucepan until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Add cream and return to a simmer. Pour through fine sieve into another small heavy saucepan, pressing on and discarding shallot. Simmer sauce until reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes. Stir together fennel and ouzo and whisk into sauce. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes, then stir in salt and pepper.

Poach salmon:
Butter bottom of a deep 12-inch heavy skillet and arrange salmon in it. Add 1 cup wine and enough water to just cover fish, then top with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper, buttered side down. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, then reduce heat and poach at a bare simmer until salmon is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes from time heat is turned on. Transfer with a slotted spatula to plates.

Finish sauce:
While fish is poaching, bring sauce to a simmer over moderate heat. Swirl butter into the mix to thicken. Season sauce with salt and pepper and serve with salmon.

***OR for a healthier sauce-use greek yogurt mixed with lemon zest and chopped dill to top on each cut of salmon. easy and low calorie!

Instead of baklava,

BAKLAVA ICE CREAM

Ingredients:
5 egg yolks

1 pint (500ml) milk

1/2 pint (250ml) double/heavy cream

2-3 tsp cinnamon (depending on how strong you want the cinammon flavor)

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 cup honey

4oz ground toasted walnuts, or pistachios or a mix (i like the mix)-toast the nuts with a mix of some brown sugar and few tbs. of melted butter to make even better!

1 teaspoon vanilla or rose essence

Beat together the egg yolks and honey in mixing bowl.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it reaches boiling point, then simmer. Whilst it’s simmering stir in the egg yolks/honey mixture. Continue to stir until it thickens.

Remove from the heat, strain and leave to cool.

Stir in the cream, the vanilla essence, and cinnamon and then transfer the whole mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

When almost frozen, add the chopped nuts.

When serving, I recommend serving in phyllo cups, adding a caramelized rose petal, cinnamon stick or dash of cinnamon, or you can drizzle a homemade rose flavored caramel sauce. There’s always room for your own innovation and creativity.

I have a reservation at Koukoumavlos in Santorini for my upcoming vacation, where chef Nick Pouliasis is known for his wild combinations of flavors. He pushes Greek cuisine to the limit.  I look forward to being inspired by his food, and of course enjoying it…:)

Greek haute and modern cuisine is becoming more and more popular, here in Greece of course, but also New York and San Francisco.

(Check out this review of gourmet greek restaurants in New York: http://www.kerasma.gr/default.asp?entryID=384&siteid=1&pageid=96&tablepageid=35&langid=2 )

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