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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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

BREAD Pompe cut S

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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