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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Tomato-and-cheese-topped Lagana (Flat Bread)

We make this bread all the time, especially when we have guests. The dough is the one I use for my everyday breads, sometimes adding yogurt if I have leftover that is going too sour or any kind of mashed vegetables or greens. In the summer I use a tomato-onion-olive oil mixture, the leftovers from our daily tomato salad, pulsed in the blender, to make my Tomato Salad Bread which can also be topped with cheese and tomato slices.  Tomato Bread S

See also the Smoked Cheese and Kumquat Bread which is basically the winter version of my topped breads. For a more spicy-aromatic topping spread Zaatar mixed with olive oil over the tomatoes.

 

Yields 2 laganes (focaccia-like flat breads), each serving 6-8 people as appetizer

 

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Fassolakia (green beans) from my Mother’s Kitchen to José Andrés’ Book!

We take for granted some of our most favorite summer vegetable dishes, like this one that I learned from my mother and I cook often, as Costas is particularly fond of it too.

But it took me some time to decide and include it in the foods we prepare with the guests who take part in our Cooking Vacation classes. I considered it too simple and kind of self- evident. I was even more surprised when I saw that JoséAndres, the renown chef and humanitarian, included my recipe in his wonderful new book!

He mentions Kea and writes that his mother’s version of braised green beans was almost identical, minus the potatoes. He concludes his head-note saying “…play around and put your own stamp on this lovely Mediterranean dish.” (more…)

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Braised Green Beans and Potatoes in Tomato Sauce (Fassolakia Ladera)

Stringless green beans became widely available in Greece only in the last few years. As far back as I can remember, before we could cook this very popular summer dish we had to slave for hours trimming each one of the flattish beans – a kind of runner bean – that we cooked.

My mother often added sliced zucchini (see variation) when she wanted to save time, trimming fewer runner beans but still making enough food for all four of us. Fassolakia ladera, made with any kind of green beans, even with frozen ones, is an amazing dish! The potatoes take on a wonderful flavor cooked together with the beans in a rich tomato sauce, and I can’t resist eating them while still warm.

Sprinkle with the reserved parsley and serve warm or at room temperature, if you can wait, with crusty bread and Feta cheese.

 

Serves 4-6  (more…)

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TAHINOPITES: Tahini, Cinnamon, and Walnut Cookies, in Lemon Syrup

Traditionally made in Cyprus before Easter, during the spring Lent – when all foods deriving from animals are prohibited – tahinopites are 6-7-inch round, syrupy breads, coiled and stuffed with a tahini mixture. As the coiled tahinopites bake, the thin layer of dough cracks and the stuffing oozes out, caramelizing; these crunchy, darkened, sugary tahini bits are the best bites.

Why not have more of the best parts of the pie? I decided to shape the dough differently in order to increase the caramelized area. The results are bite-size, cookie-like tahinopites — a kind of Eastern Mediterranean Cinnamon Rolls. It is important to get the highest quality tahini paste for these cookies. They taste best made a day in advance.  As they cool, they absorb and fully incorporate the lemony syrup.

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Makes about 56 cookies

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