Lemon is a Greek perversion

Our lemon harvest is so plentiful this year that I cannot stop making several batches of marmalade, lemon curd, cakes, liqueurs, lemonade, preserved lemons etc. and still I have plenty of wonderful large and fragrant fruits to offer to friends. 

My mother used to keep a couple of juiced lemon halves by the sink, and she would rub her hands often with the lemons, to keep her hands soft and white. Even at the age of ninety-three, after a lifetime of cooking and cleaning, her hands were still silky and beautiful.

We take lemons for granted in Greece; every Greek pantry has a steady supply of lemons which, along with salt, pepper, and olive oil, is considered an essential and basic ingredient. I didn’t give lemons much thought, until some years ago.

I was sitting with my friend, food and music writer Fred Plotkin, at a trattoria in Otranto, a pretty little town in Puglia, on the heel of the Italian boot, the edge of Magna Graeca. It was a blazing hot summer afternoon, and I was very excited because I was finally going to taste fava e cicorie (mashed fava beans and steamed greens), a traditional country dish of the area.

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Pickled Huevos Haminados (slow-cooked Eggs in Onion Skins)

1a-eggs-pickle-jar1-smallThe pickled eggs taste better if they are slow-cooked with onion skins. But plain, hard-boiled eggs work well too. Serve as appetizer, drizzled with good, fruity olive oil, sprinkling with salt and pepper, or add to any salad of fresh, boiled or steamed vegetables. They complement beautifully bean, chickpea or lentil soups.

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6 eggs ( 6-12 appetizer portions) (more…)

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Slow Cooked Eggs (Huevos Haminados) Decorated with Leaves

Two years ago, with eggs from our neighbor’s hens, I made these onion-skin-colored Easter eggs, most of which I later pickled, because what I like most is pickled huevos haminados, which are simply delicious!

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Sephardic Jews who live in Salonika, and all around the Mediterranean, prepare huevos haminados (baked eggs) as they were called in Ladino, the dialect of the Jews who were expelled from Spain. Prepared on Fridays to serve on the Sabbath, they were originally placed in a covered clay pot filled with onion skins and water and baked in a communal oven, hence the name. Later, the eggs were simmered for hours on top of the stove. The onion skins darken the white shells and give the eggs a distinctive flavor and creamy texture.

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With Lemon Verbena and Lemon

I love lemon verbena, and I insist we keep planting shrubs, although they don’t thrive in our poor soil and dry island climate. They are never lush, with shiny green leaves, as they are supposed to; their leaves are tiny and come in small clusters here and there, on long woody stems. But I keep trying, so, last year we decided to keep one in a large clay pot, instead of planting it in the ground. It seems to be doing a bit better, and so far, looks green and happy.

Lemon verbena is called ‘louisa’ in Greek –like in Spanish– and I find this romantic name better suited to this exquisite, fragrant plant. (more…)

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Olive Oil and Yogurt Cake with Lemon, and Lemon Verbena Leaves

Often, this cake was doused in syrup as you see in the original recipe. Traditionally scented with plenty of lemon zest, I thought that adding lemon verbena leaves would make my cake more fragrant and interesting. Apparently, it seems that it does, at least this is what Costas and I thought after tasting the first new version.

Keep in mind that this is not a light, airy cake, but has a somewhat dense texture that we love! I suggest you bake it a day before you serve it, so its flavors have time to develop and deepen.

Serves 8-10 

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Liver Pâté with Thyme, Orange, and Pistachios

A fast and easy pâté that I make with the flavorful innards from the free-range turkey or the rooster we get for our festive winter lunches.

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I no longer remember which pâté recipe served as the base for my adaptation. As is my habit, I start by sautéing the onions with olive oil, instead of butter or duck fat, adding orange jest and also pomegranate molasses, which give it a lovely, fruity flavor. I prefer to use unsalted pistachios, but if you cannot get them, salted are fine.

This pâté is an ideal appetizer or first course, served with a simple green salad, like the one we make from the Romaine and other lettuce leaves and arugula from the garden.

I am sure your friends will appreciate a jar of this homemade pâté, so you may like to double the recipe.

Serves 6-8, about 2 ½ cups 
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Chocolates and other Edible Gifts for Yourself and your Loved Ones

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They are appreciated, I think, and in any event, they are less of a problem when you bring to a friend’s dinner party, since flowers are a pain for the hosts forcing them to stop everything and try to find a vase…   

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As soon as the weather cools significantly I prepare my first batch of rustic chocolates. We keep them in a jar and we eat one or two pieces after lunch, offer to friends who drop by, or give them as gifts. When the jar is almost empty, I make more, exactly as I do with my savory crunchy cookies that I keep in a similar jar.

I published the basic recipe for the chocolates in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, since my friend Vicki Snyder insists that every cookbook, no matter what its subject, should include a chocolate dessert. But I have the habit of changing and enriching my recipes, even after I have published them, so here is my updated version of the very easy chocolates I make over and over. This time, as I anticipated preparing a few gift boxes, I doubled the recipe, melting 3 pounds of bitter-sweet chocolate, in two separate bowls, otherwise it takes too long for the pieces to melt. Costas and I spread the mixture in two pans and left them to harden overnight. If we had cut them after two hours the pieces would be even and square; but this time a few pieces crumbled as we cut the hard mass of chocolate with a large bread knife.

I also add pistachios to my Chicken Liver Pâté which is flavored with thyme, orange and brandy. I am sure your friends will appreciate a jar of this homemade pâté, which is an ideal appetizer, so I suggest you double the recipe.

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We also made quince preserves (page 236 in my book) and since we had extra quince from our trees, I cooked some in sweet wine with honey, as I describe in the recipe for the stuffing of the Quince Pie Rolls, minus the raisins. (more…)

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Rustic Chocolates with Dried Figs and Nuts

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Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.

These bitter-chocolate-nut-and-fruit bars are delicious and almost guilt-free, as they have no added sugar. You will enjoy eating them and they make a much-appreciated edible gift; in any event, they are less of a problem when you bring to a friend’s dinner party, since flowers are a pain for the hosts who must stop everything and try to find a vase…

For about 80 pieces (more…)

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Strudel-like Quince Pie Rolls

 

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The stuffing I propose has no sugar; the fruit is cooked in sweet wine with raisins and honey. I just sprinkle with light brown sugar and cinnamon as I roll the pies…

More than a year passed but I still remember the wonderful strudel our friend Martina Kolbinger-Reiner baked while she and her husband, Peter came to Kea. They rented a studio flat in Hora for a week and when we decided to have lunch at a friend’s beautiful garden with dishes I would cook, Martina suggested to make a strudel for dessert.

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I am not very familiar with strudels –one or two I had in the past were too heavy with butter and soggy— but I knew Martina’s would be the real thing. I thought that she was going to use frozen phyllo or puff pastry for the casing, but when she brought her strudel I was amazed by its delicate, silky phyllo-like crust.  (more…)

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QUINCE Pie Rolls with Almonds, Raisins and Honey

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Inspired from apple strudel, the stuffing I propose has no sugar; the fruit is simmered in sweet wine with raisins and honey. I just sprinkle it with light brown sugar and cinnamon as I roll the pies. If you like the pie sweeter, sprinkle each piece with confectioner’s sugar as you cut to serve.

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If you are familiar, or you want to try the traditional Austrian way of making the dough and rolling the strudel on a piece of cloth you can roll one or two larger strudels with that filling instead of four pie rolls. And if you have no quince, use apples, following the instruction for the thinly-sliced, raw apple filing that is used in the strudel.

Makes 4 pie rolls; about 16-20 pieces  (more…)

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