Lazarus’ Breads

On Saturday before the Holy Week, in many parts of Greece women used to bake anthropomorphic breads called ‘lazarakia’ to celebrate St Lazarus’ resurrection.

According to the old customs groups of girls called lazarines used to go around the village from home to home carrying baskets decorated with spring flowers and aromatic herbs, singing Lazarus’s carols and announcing the coming Easter feast:

“…Wake up Lazarus today is your day of joy {…}
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and we’ll eat mackerel
but next Sunday we will feast on Easter lamb!” (more…)

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The Origins of Mousaka, and my Sloppy Version

Based on my mother’s recipe my version of the ubiquitous dish is more like a gratin as it was probably in the old days.

Mousakas-pot-CUT-S

In the late ‘80ies, when I first started to research the origin of various popular Greek dishes, I was convinced that the current version of béchamel-topped mousaka was invented during the golden years of the Ottoman Empire, probably in the spectacular kitchens of Topkapi Palace, in Istanbul. Maybe a creative French-educated cook enriched the traditional Middle Eastern dish with the classic French sauce, I thought. But further investigation revealed that before the early twentieth century there was no mousaka as we know it today.

It is not surprising that the most popular Greek dishes throughout the world are not the chickpea or bean soup, the yellow split peas or the stewed mixed seasonal vegetables and greens that most Greeks ate regularly up until the late 1960ies. Those dishes only recently started to be part of the menu of upscale Greek restaurants, after the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet were publicized. Mousaka, pasticcio, Greek salad, and maybe youvetsi (baked lamb with orzo in tomato sauce) are the dishes most non-Greeks consider to be the epitome of Greek cooking. Yet, most of those dishes have very little to do with traditional foods.  They were developed, or drastically revised, by professional cooks and restaurant owners who were particularly interested to please the Athenian upper class of the early 20th century. The cosmopolitan Greeks of Smyrna (Izmir today) and Alexandria, in Egypt, were brought up eating mainly French-inspired foods in these prosperous cities of the Mediterranean, thus favored tamed, sweet and creamy combinations of traditional oriental favorites –like the eggplant casserole; dishes that also pleased the palates of European and American visitors. (more…)

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Mushroom, Garlic, and Yogurt Avgolemono

Use the sauce for any kind of stuffed leaves –with meat or vegetarian— as well as with braised greens and other vegetables.

1/2 cup dried wild mushrooms
1 tablespoon wakame or any dried seaweed (optional)
1 1/2 cups very hot water
3 garlic cloves, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup white wine
2 large eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice, or more to taste
1 cup thick yogurt, preferably full-fat
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl soak for 20 minutes the mushrooms and seaweed, if using, in 1 1/2 cups very hot water. Drain, reserving the broth, and puree in the blender, together with the garlic.

In a saucepan warm the olive oil and briefly sauté the mashed mushrooms until the garlic starts to smell. Add the wine and the reserved broth, together with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of water and the yogurt. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water and the remaining lemon juice, then whisk this into the egg mixture. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1 1/2 cups of the hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time, into the egg mixture.

Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan and simmer, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens and starts to boil. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt, pepper and more lemon juice if you like.

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