Yogurt and Herb Pies Wrapped in Grape Leaves

In this recipe, the cornmeal-thickened yogurt with scallions and herbs, baked or fried and wrapped in tangy grape leaves, develops into an unexpectedly sophisticated “pie” with complex flavor.

In an earlier version, I made a large pie that I baked in the oven. It was good, but difficult to divide into portions. Paula Wolfert suggested small fried “packets,” which worked much better. Now I propose something in between: individual little pies, baked in tartlet pans or shallow muffin tins. When finished under the broiler, the grape leaves caramelize beautifully! Serve with risotto or any grain pilaf.

My friend, David Tanis has created and published in the New York Times his own brilliant version of the recipe using chard leaves instead of the grape leaves.

 

 

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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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Oven-roasted Summer Vegetables, Briami

We often roast the vegetables in the wood-fired oven and they become even more delicious and smoky. But even in the conventional oven, with the addition of some pimenton –the Spanish smoked pepper– if you like, this is a glorious and extremely easy dish to make.

When we were kids, before we had an electric stove with an oven, my mother used to get to our neighborhood’s bakery a pan of mixed vegetables well-doused in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano and other herbs. It was roasted in the communal oven, after the breads were baked, and we collected it just before lunch. Especially practical on summer days when we went swimming, as the baker was left to cook our lunch!

Serve it either warm or at room temperature, preferably with the addition of feta cheese, and fresh, crusty bread! These days we may just roast eggplants and peppers, omitting the potatoes if we want to serve the vegetables with rice or bulgur (see the Variation).

 

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