Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. 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. 

Pita, souvlaki, tzatziki: in other words, a classic Greek yummy!

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.

Tahini, coffee, and pistachios: vegan cake

Mar 25, 2015

In Greece during the Great Lent when dairy products, meat, and eggs are not   consumed (at least for those who still keep these traditions), tahini based recipes enrich their diet with nutritious elements. Tahini, a paste made from ground hulled sesame seeds, is a super food and, added in soups and other vegetable or legume based dishes, it plays a vital role in good nutrition. It contains many vitamins and minerals and is also rich in protein, - 25 percent by weight!  
In this blog you may have noticed that several recipes, sweet or savory have the ending pita in their name. That is because we tend to call pita any batter which is baked in a flat baking pan.  
So today’s special is Tahinópita, a dairy and egg free cake with tahini as a basic ingredient. Although the original recipe calls for cinnamon and cloves, I decided we had enough cinnamon this winter so a small twist in this cake’s makeup was inevitable: coffee and orange zest in this case. They match really well with tahini and its nutty flavor. Even if you are not vegan you won’t feel that its texture lacks the fluffy lightness usually achieved only when eggs are used. 

Sweet raisin buns flavored with cinnamon.

Feb 10, 2015

Raisin buns (σταφιδόψωμα), are for the Greeks what croissants are for the French: a sweet doughy breakfast delicacy. Every morning you can find them on sale inlocal bakeries next to bread rings and cakes.
 Raisins and sultanas are great sources of energy for the human body, exactly what you need with a cup of tea or coffee to start your day. For many centuries the small dark currants and the larger blond sultanas have been an essential part of the agricultural economy of the Peloponnese. At the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, in particular, the English would import raisins in exchange for salted cod from the North Sea. As a result of this exchange,salted cod became, and still is,a special favorite at Peloponnesian tables.
 When baking bread for the family, my grandmother would often save a piece of her sour dough to make a small loaf of raisin bread, or feta bread. The contradiction of the slightly sour taste of the bread with the sweetness of the raisins is something I always recall from her cooking. Although my grandmother didn’t use any flavoring, these buns today are usually flavored with cinnamon and can be made either with whole-wheat flour or a gluten free mix.

Savory cheese flan, with walnuts and pomegranate sauce

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.   

Fresh quince and filo, mini pies

Nov 4, 2014


 Housewives and chefs have a shared sense of economy in their kitchens. From the shopping list to the fridge leftovers, food is used wisely and nothing gets wasted when it can still be used in cooking. 
     At our house, the leftovers from the tomato salad we had for lunch would be the base for the tomato sauce in the dinner stew, and the cooked greens I never loved as a kid would turn into a delicious omelet that I would, unsuspiciously, happily eat. But my favorite edition of this cooking trick occurred when my mother would make cheese pies with filo pastry and she would save a couple of sheets to stuff with the last spoonfuls of any jam that had been forgotten in the fridge. The crispiness of the baked filo and the aroma of the hot jam always created a yummy surprise treat because the filling was always different.
    You can make a light last minute jam with any seasonal fruits available, and then make sweet filo pies. I made a fresh quince jam and the taste was superb, not very sweet and full of quince and vanilla aromas.  

Greek yogurt panna cotta, and baked figs with honey and walnuts

Sep 11, 2014


   My grandfather planted a fig tree in the garden of our cottage that, despite its age, has never stopped producing fruits year after year. Fig trees, like olive trees, live long. They are commonly found in the Greek country side next to old houses or ruins, still in perfect shape and full of fruits every August, as if time for them is an endless youth.
     I’m sure you have had that ‘feeling’ when visiting an older relative’s house after many years, a sense that you remember it being bigger and suddenly you realize that houses usually keep their shape and that it is you who, like Alice in Wonderland, grew larger. I had that sense the other day with the fig tree in our garden. As a child I used to climb on its branches to pick more figs and back then I used to think it was huge.
      Our figs are yellow, the variety used for sun dried figs. Every August my grandmother would lay them on thatch on the terrace under the hot summer sun to dry and after the sunset every evening we would help her to carry them into the house to protect them against humidity. That ritual would be repeated for as many days as needed until the figs would dry out and be ready for storage. My grandmother stored them in cookie boxes layered with laurel leaves as a preserving agent.     
      Figs are usually consumed fresh, but in Greece we make a wonderful emerald sweet preserve in June with unripe figs, and of course as I said before, some varieties can be dried and used all year in other confections.   

Tyropitákia - feta and phyllo, mini cheese pies

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.

Eliópsoma – Kalamáta olives and thyme, bread sticks

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.

Koulourákia - Easter cookies

Apr 15, 2014


Whereas Christmas is celebrated in Greece in much the same way as it is globally (Christmas trees,presents, blinking lights, stuffed turkey), Easter is, for us, a unique feast  of special foods, traditions ,and most of all, huge, noisy, and long anticipated family gatherings. 
Sweet breads flavored with mastic (tsourekia) and Easter cookies, (koulourákia) are the most popular treats every housewife makes annually for the family and to give away to friends. Of course everyone has this or her own recipe for those special treats. Well, almost everyone did, because in my home town we all shared the same ‘’secret” recipe. It was very common in small towns during the 80’s and 90’s, before the big super markets arrived, to buy all food supplies from the local grocer. So, during  the week leading up to Easter, we would simply ask for the ingredients needed to make 3-4 kilos of Easter cookies.
 Home produced eggs and milk were used if available but the exact quantity of the other ingredients for the recipe like fresh butter, sugar, vanilla and special cookies flour were known  by the grocer and handed out according to the kilos required in each case. 
We became so attached to that recipe which was followed during all of  my childhood years, that before the store owner retired, we made sure to get that foolproof recipe written down and have used it ever since.

Baklava with walnuts, almonds and olive oil

Apr 1, 2014

Baklava has a Middle Eastern origin but it has been incorporated into Greek cuisine to such a degree that many people nowadays believe it’s actually a Greek dessert. That’s fair enough because in Greece we love every dessert made with phyllo pastry and syrup no matter what the filling might be. These desserts are categorized as ‘’siropiastá’’ (σιροπιαστά) which means ‘’syrup soaked’’ desserts. 
Of course, every home cook has his or her own version of baklava: with walnuts and almonds or pistachios, with or without spices, and finally with either butter or olive oil. I have to admit that butter gives a wonderful taste to baklava but my grandmother disagreed. She preferred making her baklava with olive oil during the Lenten season before Easter. She believed it was the tastiest vegan dessert and, in any case, she wanted to use up the remaining walnuts from the previous year’s crop before hot weather would turn them tangy.
 Olive oil doesn’t affect baklava’s taste because the flavor of spices overpowers the olive oil; the added plus is that olive oil makes the phyllo sheets nice and crispy.
If you want to make the butter version, just use the same amount of butter, instead of olive oil. (For a really buttery flavor, drizzle the baklava with another 100gr of melted butter just before baking.)

Amygdalotá - almond meal, gluten free cookies

Mar 1, 2014


  Almond based confections or amygdalotá (αμυγδαλωτά) as we call them are found all over Greece in endless versions. They can be shaped like pears, balls, or little logs and are usually flavored with scented flower blossom water,  a liquor or, less often, with vanilla.  They are often sold filled with jam or chocolate ganache  and resemble French macarons.
Amygdalotá in many Aegean islands are a special little treat symbolizing happiness and prosperity  and offered to guests  at weddings and Christenings,. 
The version of amygdalotá I made today is found in pastry shops all over the country. They are plainer than the filled versions and made with a higher ratio of almond meal.

Paximádia portokaliou - orange and olive oil vegan biscotti

Jan 27, 2014


   Baking slices of bread twice has always been a popular method to expand the life of fresh bread. Nomads, fishermen, -  anyone away from home with no means to get fresh bread, could use  the dry, twice-baked  slices of bread by rehydrating  it (often with wine in Greece) and in this way have a filling meal or snack.
 In Greece we still use a lot of twice-baked slices of bread which we call paximádia (παξιμάδια). These are mostly made with wheat flour, corn polenta, or even barley. In Crete they are called cos (ντάκος). Mostly served as an appetizer, paximádia are often topped with finely chopped tomato and feta, or crushed in salads for taste and texture. 
Sweet paximadia, made from lightly sweetened dough, with olive oil and citrus zest, is a vegan version similar to the Italian biscotti. It is a healthy cookie for morning coffee, and an always available homemade treat for guests.

Kouloúria Thessalonikis - crunchy and chewy, breakfast bread rings

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.

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.

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.

Psomi - Sourdough bread project, from A to Z

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.

                                                  Huge loaves in the traditional clay oven

Yaourtíni - Greek yogurt moist cake, flavored with lemon

Apr 28, 2013

Yaourtíni was a very popular cake during the 80's. I remember my mother used to make it
for family gatherings or at Easter. Its very fresh flavor coming from both the yogurt and
lemon zest  was something that everyone liked in a dessert especially after a heavy meal. 
All that before chocolate became the Queen of desserts and other modern desserts replaced many of the well known traditional ones.
Yaourtini is a cake we still serve at the restaurant and I'm sure you will love it too.

Greek yogurt (γιαούρτι - yaoúrti) has become very popular worldwide because of its
delicate balanced sourness, full taste and of course its thickness, something that makes it easy
to use in many recipes, sweet or savory, as a replacement for double cream or other milk
creams rich in fat. It's most visible characteristic compared to ordinary yogurt is its density, a result of it being  double-strained. 
You can find Greek yogurt almost everywhere, but if you can't, you can strain thinner yogurt at home to thicken it and use it in recipes that call for Greek yogurt. To strain yogurt, place a colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl (to catch the liquid) and empty two cups of plain yogurt into the colander; leave it to drain for 2-3 hours. Two cups of plain yogurt will obtain about 1 cup of thick strained yogurt. If the weather is very hot, let it drain in the fridge.

Tirópsomo - Feta bread

Jan 28, 2013


  In Greece we love both feta and bread and this pair, together with some olives, are the most common choice for a quick snack between meals.
Tirópsoma, sold in every bakery across the country, are savory breads made from common bread dough with the addition of feta in the batter, making it an easy snack to enjoy while on the go. 
     These feta breads can be flavored with oregano, olives, or even sun dried tomatoes in a   ‘special’ version. When feta bread is made at home the list of seasonings, herbs, cheese or even flour is endless. Here I give you the basic feta bread recipe that we make at home.  You can be more creative and try various additions or just follow this classic traditional version.