Fig-thickened Fresh, Creamy Goat’s Cheese

Figs and the milky, sticky sap from the tree were used since antiquity to curdle the milk and produce a fresh cheese. In Greece we call this soft cheese sykomyzithra  and in Turkey teleme. From Paula Wolfert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking (Wiley, 2009) we get the ancient as well as the contemporary way of making this cheese, according to Musa Dagdeviren. In Musa’s beautiful video on Netflix we see the shepherds whip-up the fresh cheese in the mountains; and of course Dagdeviren has included the recipe for teleme in his recently published, encyclopedia-like Turkish Cookbook  (Phaidon, 2019)

The recipe for this dessert that lingers between sweet and savory, is from Musa Dagdeviren’s book. Instead of dried figs I once used fresh over-ripe figs and the result was a lighter, exquisite cream. I like to sprinkled the bowls with walnuts toasted with brown sugar, salt, and rosemary.

 

Makes 6-8 servings (more…)

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Mastic Ice Cream

The Greek equivalent of vanilla ice cream, this is uniquely flavored, scented with mastic—the crystallized sap of the wild pistachio shrub (Pistachia lentiscus), which grows only on the southern part of Chios island. Exported to the Arab countries and the Middle East, mastic was the ancient chewing gum: hence the verb “masticate.” To this day, it is still chewed to clean and sweeten the breath, while the ground crystals add their elusive licorice-pine-like aroma to many Greek breads and cookies.

Photo by Anders.

 

The recipe for this ice cream is a variation from the ice cream created by chef Jim Botsacos. You can serve it topped with sour cherry preserves, as is the custom in Greece, or simply sprinkled with pistachios.  It goes well with baked apples and quince, with the Olive-oil-yogurt Cake, and with the lemony Pandespani cake.

I still remember the wonderful ice creams we used to make in the summers, when I was a child, using a rented hand-cranked machine, to which we added ice and coarse salt. In those days, the cream was thickened not with eggs but with salep, a potent starch produced by pounding the dried tuber of a wild orchid. Ice creams thickened with salep form strands as you dip into them. Today, such wonderful egg-less ice creams seem to be an acquired taste and one can mostly taste them in Turkey.

 

Makes 1 quart     (more…)

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Homemade Fresh Myzithra (ricotta-like cheese)

Here on Kea we make it with the milk our neighbors often give us. It is probably the first and simplest cheese ever made, and today the various commercial myzithra we get sometimes come from Crete –where is called anthotyro. Cheese makers make it now by adding fresh milk to the whey left from the first, usually the hard cheese they make, adding rennet to the milk.

If you can get leftover whey add fresh milk and do not add lemon or vinegar, just boil the whey with the milk and cream. Needless to say that if you make it with the usual cow’s pasteurized milk you get from the supermarket, combine it with goat’s milk, if you can, and add some cream –more or less, depending on how creamy and lush you want your myzithra.

Serve this delicious fresh cheese plain, as appetizer, sprinkling it with chopped herbs, shallots and garlic, or as dessert, drizzled with honey or jam. You can also use it to make savory myzithropita (cheese tart), or combine it with some feta cheese to make a Greek version of the cheese cake.

 

Makes about 1 pound soft cheese (you may double the quantities for more)

 

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Cheesecake with Feta and Myzithra (Ricotta)

This is my interpretation of the dessert made popular by Americans in  recent years. But fresh cheese desserts abound since ancient times all around the Mediterranean. Ricotta-like cheese, mixed with honey, dried fruit, and nuts was used for some of the first sweets our ancestors enjoyed on special occasions. Apicious the Roman cook and author, describes such a sweet in his book written the 1st century AD.

Both in Greece, in southern Italy, and in Sicily, ricotta-based sweets are very popular, especially around Easter time. Unfortunately, the current American version that uses packaged ‘cream cheese’ and has been adopted by bakers all around the world, is far from the delicious, if less refined-looking traditional cheesecakes from which I was inspired to make this one.

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Melomakarona – Honey-Infused, Olive Oil, Orange and Spice Cookies

The traditional, fragrant, old-fashioned Christmas cookies are my favorites! They are vegan because people ate them during the days of Lent that precede Christmas. I have updated my mothers recipe, adding ground nuts in the dough.

Melomaksrona 015 Sa

I think you will find these cookies irresistible. If you manage to save them for later, they will get even better the next days.They keep for up to 1 month so you may want to double the recipe, especially if you bake melomakarona with friends, as we usually do.

 

Makes about 45 cookies

 

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