My Green Taramosalata

Lately I have moved from rengosalata –smoked herring or kipper spread— our family’s traditional Kathari Deftera spread, back to the common taramostalata –carp or cod roe spread.

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Fortunately, we can now get good quality carp roe, a far cry from the salty and tasteless, red-dyed one, that was the basic ingredient for the iconic meze. I guess my mother had chosen to make the more time-consuming smoked herring spread because she couldn’t stand the pink, salty, yet flavorless taramosalata that the majority of taverns and homes served.

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She prepared rengosalata using the roe of smoked herring (kipper) carefully choosing a herring with swollen belly to make sure it had enough roe for the spread. In the turn of the 20th century wealthy Athenians used Russian caviar, or avgotarraho for the iconic, elegant Kathari Deftera meze. (more…)

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Instant Pies with Greens or with Chocolate and Nuts

Skillet pies –tiganokouloures or tiganopsoma in Greek, and gözleme or saç böreği in Turkish— have become our everyday project these days.

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There are three reason for this late obsession of ours: First because Costas has almost completely mastered the art of rolling perfect phyllo and he is eager to use his new skill as often as possible; second, we gather plenty of wonderful, juicy spinach as well as chervil, fennel and other aromatic herbs from the garden; the third, and probably the most important reason of these repeated attempts is the newly acquired electric saç (hot-plate) that I brought from Istanbul.

Not that skillet pies cannot be cooked perfectly on a griddle or ridged skillet. They are ingenious creations of the frugal Mediterranean cooks who prepared in minutes a delicious snack or meal with whatever they happened to have at hand: wild or cultivated greens and herbs, grated zucchini or squash, eggplant, pepper or even cooked grains or beans, usually flavored with cheese and/or sausage. The recipe I have in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts can be prepared in any kitchen, either here, or on the other side of the Atlantic. And this has been proven, since David Tanis chose to publish it at the New York Times, calling it ‘Greek Pie on the Skinny Side’.

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Cabbage Revisited: with Dried Mint and Other Spices

We had just gotten an enormous cabbage from our neighbor’s garden and I was contemplating using the outer leaves to make lahano-dolmades –stuffed cabbage leaves— or maybe my simpler stuffed cabbage logs.

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Then I saw Ozlem Warren’s recipe for kapuska, a kind of de-constructed stuffed cabbage leaves, where cabbage, ground meat and bulgur are braised together. I also remembered that in my book The Foods of the Greek Islands (published in 2000) I had a kapuska recipe from Chios; it was pork with cabbage in a fragrant, and spicy tomato sauce.

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Here is what I wrote in the head-note:

“This dish is called kapuska in Olympi, an unspoiled medieval village on the island of Chios. The word is probably Slavic, and it is also used in Turkey for a similar dish. (more…)

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A Pie-like Stuffed Bread with Broccoli

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As it often happens with my garden’s vegetables, I forgot to cut the broccoli when it was still hard and firm. Now it had opened and was soon going to fill with tiny yellow flowers, but I knew that this didn’t mean it wasn’t still delicious. I separated the stems from the very tender tops, and cooked them in boiling water for about ten minutes; I added the tops and cooked for another four minutes, then drained everything through a fine colander.

There was quite a bit of green mash at the bottom of the colander, from the over-ripe florets. I diced the stems, added the green mash and decided to use it as stuffing for breads. I was inspired by Scacciata con i Broccoli, a Sicilian stuffed focaccia from Catania originally made with the purple, very flavorful broccoli that was once the only kind we had in Greece. (more…)

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EPIPHANY: The Day of Lights when the Waters are Blessed

(I wrote and photographed this a few year back; I doubt that I could do it better today…)

Despite the usually bitter cold of the January morning, there are always brave young men, different each year, who dive to retrieve the cross the third and final time the priest casts it into the sea… Photon double

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Epiphany (January 6), or Day of the Light –ton Photon in Greek— is an important religious and cultural celebration that marks the end of the holiday season. Up until the 4th century A.D. Epiphany was considered the first day of the year, observed as a three-day commemoration of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. People believed that on the eve of the 6th the skies open, granting the prayers of the devout.

Some anthropologists link Epiphany with the ancient Athenian ceremony of plynterion, the cleansing of the goddess Athena’s statue. During that ceremony, she was taken to the seaside in Faliron to be washed in the sea, thereby renewing her mythical powers. Similarly, as the anthropologists have noted, the church icons are often washed prior to the Epiphany celebration.

Nearly 2000 years ago the first Christians celebrated with long street processions, white candles in hand (a tradition modern Greeks preserve during the Resurrection ceremony, on Easter), hence the term Epiphany, the Day of the Light. Jesus intrinsically blessed the water by his immersion in it, and each year Greek Orthodox priests perform a ritual, casting the cross into the water, replenishing Jesus’ blessing in the water and on the community, as well.

 

All over Greece different forms of fried pastry are prepared in celebration: dilpes, pastry squares or ribbons, like the spectacular kserotigana of Crete, and loukoumades, dough puffs similar to Italian zepolli; photopites, the spicy-sweet fritters of Amorgos are the most interesting of the kind. (more…)

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The Festive, Olive Oil Bread from Provence

As you see, my baking frenzy continues…BREAD Pompe S

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When I first read a description of this traditional festive bread I was surprised by the amount of olive oil it contains. I looked up many French recipes and they all agreed that for each pound of flour there should be one full cup of olive oil added. There were few minor differences in the aromatics among the recipes, with some suggesting just a few aniseeds, and others a lot more –I chose to follow the latter. (more…)

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My Baking Frenzy

Bread Kaak1 SIn less than ten days I made two batches of melomakarona –my favorite spiced olive oil and orange cookies that are soaked in honey syrup– and also kourambiedes, the buttery, toasted almond cookies that are dredged in confectioner’s sugar. But first I baked two different variations of savory grissini and ring-shaped cookies with aniseed, coriander, mahleb and cumin; and this for me is definitely a ‘baking frenzy!’ (more…)

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Mini Honey-nut Squash and More Quince (!)

Bear with me even if you are fed up with my insistence to suggest yet more quince recipes. This time I have the perfect substitute for you in case you cannot get the fragrant old apple-like fruit, which for me is the epitome of our Mediterranean winter.

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I actually envy you, because you can get these absolutely fantastic mini butternut squash, or honey-nut-squash as they are called, developed by Michael Mazourek, a plant breeder at Cornell University, in collaboration with the visionary Dan Barber.  I had the chance to taste this incredible, sweet squash whose skin is also edible, at Oleana. My old friend, the brilliant chef Ana Sortun talked to me about this new exciting variety that they cultivate at her family’s Sienna Farms. (more…)

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An Old-Fashioned Mediterranean Cake

An afternoon in the beginning of summer, Ela, my next-door neighbor, brought us a piece of airy, bright yellow cake.  The cake, she said, was a traditional south Albanian recipe she got from her mother, who in her turn had gotten it from her own mother. She called it pendespan and I immediately recognized the word as a variation of what we call pandespani, the rich cake my aunt Katina occasionally would make.

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The basic cake recipe in our family was the one called Tou Giaourtiou (meaning ‘made with yogurt’), a much heavier and filling dessert, with batter that, besides yogurt, also included olive oil, and margarine or butter. Apparently, both the Albanian pendespan and the Greek pandespani originate from the very old Italian Pan di Spagna (Spanish Bread) and the French Pain de Gênes (Genoa Bread or Cake). In modern patisserie that old name was lost, and these cakes evolved into the various common Sponge and Pound Cakes, with the addition of butter.   (more…)

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Roasted Quince with Carrots

I was desperately trying to find ways to use up the quince surplus we had this year, but I know mine is hardly a ‘problem’ many of you are likely to have…

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Besides making Quince Spoon-sweet, cooking quince with sausage or poaching slices in sweet wine and honey, I wanted to find some simpler way to use the tart fruit in savory preparations, besides braising quince with meat or poultry –a favorite Greek Sunday and festive dish.  (more…)

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