You do not necessarily need to roll your own phyllo if you want to make an authentic Greek or Eastern Mediterranean pie. You can opt for the crustless version, adapting this basic recipe using any seasonal vegetable: a combination of sautéed leeks and carrots in the winter, or eggplant and peppers in the summer, for example.

The traditional ‘naked pies,’ the ones that are not wrapped in phyllo as most vegetable pies are, often include cheese --crumbled feta in most cases-- but there are traditional vegan variations like the hortopsomo (literally ‘green bread’) of Epirus and southern Albania. In it the greens and herbs are bound together by cornmeal. My favorite ‘naked pie’ is the one we make in the summer with zucchini, of which we often have an overwhelming abundance in June, fresh from our garden.

It has become our trademark dish at Kea Artisanal; our guests rave about it, and so we thought we give you Costas’ detailed description. You need to have a fig tree nearby as there is no substitute for the fig leaves which protect the fish but also caramelize over the charcoal fire imparting a wonderful flavor and aroma to the delicate flesh…

“…the best way to present this fish I mean, then in fig leaves with not too much origano is the way. No cheese, no fancy nonsense. Simply place it with care in the fig leaves and tie them with rush-cord from above. Then put into hot ashes and use your intelligence to work out the time when it will be roasted: don’t let it burn up…”

Archestratus, The Life of Luxury: modern English translation
and commentary by John Wilkins & Shaun Hill (PROSPECT books)

Sesame halva is one thing, but quite a different and very popular Greek as well as Eastern Mediterranean sweet --also called ‘halva’-- is made with flour, semolina, corn or other grains toasted in butter or olive oil and steeped in syrup.

Halvas simigdalenios (semolina halva) is the Greek version of this simple old sweet. In our halva the grains are toasted in olive oil instead of the butter used in Turkey and the Middle East. I have also come across an old frugal confection of olive oil halva made with chickpea flour instead of semolina. The simple, yet enticing sweet is often prepared during Lent as it is vegan with no eggs or dairy. Halvas simigdalenios used to be the free dessert offered at Greek taverns; but now it is replaced by the simpler yogurt topped with commercial preserves or jam that requires no cooking.

Halva (or halvah) means ‘sweetmeat’ in Arabic and it can refer to several desserts. This different richer halva is also popular in Iran, Turkey, and the Persian Gulf. The grains are sautéed in butter and then moistened with sugar or honey syrup to make a soft buttery confection. In the 1862 Turkish Cookery Book by Turabi Efendi are listed several such helvãssi. Greek-Turkish author and researcher Marianna Yerasimos in her marvelous book 500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine has recipes for a few such sumptuous halvas. Unlike tahin helvãsi (sesame halva) which the Ottomans considered poor people’s sweet, according to Gerasimos, these grain confections are often moistened with elaborate syrups combined with milk and enriched with almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and other nuts.

With fried green peppers and parsley, my spread is playful and addictive.

Every Greek cook, as every cook around the Mediterranean, has her or his version of melitzanosalata (eggplant spread). This is the one I usually make and have published in my book Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.
I have seen in some Greek and Middle Eastern taverns the smoky spread served inside the charred skin of the eggplant. I tried it, but find it quite difficult to grill the eggplants so that the skin is well blackened but still firm enough to hold a filling. You can try, if you like.

But whichever way you present it, the flavor of this spread is playful and addictive.
You can even lighten it, if you like, adding a couple of tablespoons of thick yogurt, just before serving.
Serve as an appetizer with toasted bread, or crudités. It is also good on baked or steamed potatoes, and on steamed or grilled fillets of fish, as well as with chicken breast.

Yet one more ingenious Mediterranean way to combine the garden’s vegetables with eggs and make a hearty, fast and enticing dish!

Usually it is served as an appetizer but it is quite filling and I prefer it as a main course for lunch or dinner, complemented with good bread –my own, of course.
Shakshouka means "a mixture" in Arabic slang, and the dish is believed to be of Tunisian origin. Another theory is that chakchouka derives from a Berber word used for vegetable ragout. According to a cookbook about the cuisine of Jerusalem the name’s origin is the Hebrew verb leshakshek (to shake).

Whatever its roots, the dish is served all over the Middle East, and recently all over the world!


The best shakchouka I’ve tasted was served in a restaurant called Doctor Shakchouka, in Jaffa, Israel. The owner brings the dish to the table in the skillet in which it is cooked, and diners dip big pieces of crusty bread into it, devouring them instantly.

Last week, for the first time, I made my own concentrated sour grape juice. I have written about it before, as I became addicted to the Lebanese dark and syrupy condiment that I can no longer get…

From the very old and robust grape vines that engulf the fence of our property in Kea we gather and stuff tender grape leaves in May for our trademark dolmades. But the dark grapes our vines produce later in the summer, although sweet, are filled with seeds and difficult to swallow. Plus we hardly ever manage to harvest them when they ripen, since wasps and all kinds of insects attack them as soon as they start to blush. Come harvest time we just find bunches of rotten half-eaten grapes.

The night before I planned to start the process, Costas gathered all the green bunches from the vines.

Ever since I was a child and my mother occasionally made thick syrupy, concentrated lemonade --which I didn’t particularly love-- I had never tried to make my own. When my dear friend Barbara Abdeni Massaad visited us in Kea and saw our lemon trees brimming with fruit, she pointed me to a very different lemonade recipe…

First and foremost this lemonade is not boiled, like my mother’s, and so retains its fresh fruity flavor. In her beautiful, extensively researched and documented book Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry, Barbara writes that she got the recipe for the ‘out of this world’ lemonade from Dolly Shammah, a Syrian lady originally from Aleppo.

This fragrant liqueur is a variation from a recipe for Thyme Liqueur that I got from the south of France and is part of my new book. Since I still have tons of lemons, and also because my Lemon Liqueur is so popular with our friends, I came up with this fusion of the two flavors that I think are the epitome of the Mediterranean Summer!

The French believe that thyme tisane is an excellent digestive and the perfect treatment for a hangover. But I suggest thyme not for its medicinal properties, but because its aroma, especially complemented with the lemon peels and with a bit of help from the alcohol, will transport you to the rugged hills overlooking the dark-blue sea—and if that is not therapeutic, I don’t know what is.

Sliced, drizzled with olive oil and roasted in the oven, our delicious lemons add tartness and aroma to the sweet fennel from the garden. Together they become an irresistible treat…

I took out the last fennel bulbs, some large, others not fully grown, yet starting to bloom. Our two trees are still brimming with large and beautiful lemons which I have to use up, store and preserve as the days get warmer. Soon we won’t have any more juicy fresh lemons, so I have to freeze as much juice as I can, and of course made more lemon curd and marmalade. I will also plan to make the unusual lemonade my friend Barbara Abdeni-Massad has in her spectacular book Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry; I hope I will post my version of her lemonade soon.

This year is the first time I managed to gather a substantial amount of fragrant rose petals to make a small batch of jam.

The kitchen is filled with the haunting, sensual aroma and although I try, I cannot remember for what reason during my childhood I so hated rose petal jam. I had probably associated it with endless and boring visits to monasteries on family excursions throughout Greece. Nuns traditionally prepare and offer visitors a spoonful of rodozahari (rose petal jam), which I always declined to taste.

Inspired by the exquisite “tasty, bite size, fruit candy” my friend June Taylor--the marmalade-maker par excellence— makes.

Trying to take advantage of our fragrant, thick-skinned lemons, I took the time and candied some lemon and Seville orange peels, after tasting June’s treats. I posted a recipe, the result of my very first try following the Greek way for making ‘spoon sweets.’ The peels were good, somewhat chewy, but nothing like the tender and fragrant citrus triangles June makes.

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