Feta, Fig, and Herb Savory Cake, or Quick Bread

This is a wonderful and easy everyday treat “from France, where savory loaf cakes are often served with drinks before dinner,” writes Greenspan introducing the recipe she published in New York Times Cooking. She starts with soft goat’s cheese that I cannot get here, so I decided to try the recipe with feta, and it was wonderful!

 
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

 

 

Rosemary and thyme, as well as the tangerine zest give it great aroma and complement beautifully the sweetness of the figs. “If you’d like, use olives or dried tomatoes instead of figs, basil instead of parsley, lemon instead of orange,”  Greenspan suggests;

she also notes that one can “experiment with other cheeses,” and this is exactly what I did.

“The loaf is pleasantly crumbly, and best enjoyed cut into thick slices,” she concludes.

 

Serves 8 (more…)

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Tyropita : Creamy Cheese Pie

As kids, my sister and I used to love this  sweet, creamy tyropita. I hadn’t found my mother’s recipe since I never made this particular pie until Costas and I happened upon the mention of Tyrini, the traditional cheese-eating day. It is the last non-vegan Sunday before Kathari Deftera, the colorful beginning of Lent that precedes Greek Easter (May 2).

As far as cheese pies are concerned, we often make the crunchy Lazy Woman’s Pie. This galette-like cheese treat is the epitome of the day we devote to phyllo making during our Kea Artisanal Cooking vacation; all participants learn how to roll phyllo and the crunchy pie we whip up is such a delight! 

 

 

My mother’s tyropita must have been similar to the well-explained one I found online, accompanied with a video that you can follow easily, even if you don’t speak Greek.

Since we roll our own phyllo and hardly ever make pies with commercial phyllo I had not kept up with the latest technique of spraying the sheets with seltzer or water, a very interesting suggestion that somehow prevents them from drying out completely and becoming like paper, as they usually do.  

I make the creamy base using my basic olive-oil-yogurt béchamel. The olive-oil-egg wash that is brushed on the top layer is the same one we use for the delicious Chicken Pie and it makes a very big difference to the commercial phyllo.

 

Serves 6-8 as main course, and 10-13 as meze (11 X 15 inch –30 Χ 40 cm– pie)  (more…)

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‘Fava’ and the History of the Humble Lathyrus Pea

Santorini Fava is served as meze at taverns throughout Greece and few suspect its long history and roots…

A somewhat spectacular variation of the common dish we offered at the 2019 Oxford Symposium Dinner we cooked with chef Michael Costa. He preferred a perfectly smooth fava puree, and added basil leaves to my chopped scallions, herbs, and bitter greens, which made it perfect!  I also like to top fava with sweet-wine-braised capers and onions, a traditional Santorini condiment.

 

Long before Santorini became one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations it was one of Greece’s most destitute islands.  Poor on natural resources and badly exposed to the harsh winds of the Aegean, Santorini’s impoverished but ingenious inhabitants survived on whatever they could forage or cultivate in small terraced gardens on steep rocky hills. (more…)

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Santorini Fava with Two Toppings

Today Santorini Fava is served as a meze at taverns throughout Greece, often dressed simply with fruity olive oil, topped with sliced onions and dried Greek oregano. I like to top it with braised onions and capers, but also with chopped scallions, herbs, and bitter greens.

MORE about the legume’s history. 

 

A variation of this second version we prepared for the 2019 Oxford Symposium Dinner, we cooked with chef Michael Costa. He preferred a perfectly smooth fava puree, and added some basil leaves which made it perfect!   

 

Serves 8-10 as meze     (more…)

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PAXIMADIA: barley biscuits’ past, present, and future…

 

I revisited paximadia last week because my friend Defne Koryürek from Ayvalık, on the other side of the Aegean, organized an e-workshop as part of the two-day interdisciplinary conference on Food Futures. She used my basic recipe for her lively presentation, and she invited me to take part and speak about the history and uses of paximadia, or peksimet as they call them in Turkey. It was a lovely experience that made me re-think paximadia as an ideal sustainable staple. It is time to revive the way our ancestors used this crunchy, twice-baked bread not just to accompany cheese and meze spreads –as I had suggested in the article I did for Eating Well magazine —   but also instead of pasta in broths and soups, and of course in salads.  

 

 

When, in the fifties, Ansel Keys and his colleagues studied the eating habits, the state of health, and life expectancy of various peoples in seven countries, they decided that the inhabitants of Crete were faring best of all. Paximadia (barley rusks) in those days were the staple food of the Cretans. But when their traditional eating habits became the model for the now famed Mediterranean diet, the barley biscuits were translated into “whole wheat bread” for the unaccustomed and refined Northern Europeans and Americans. Barley flour has now completely disappeared from the shelves of the supermarkets in big cities, and one can only find it in health food stores or at wholesale distributors of animal fodder. But on Kea as on other islands we can get a pound or two from the local bakeries which still bake the traditional hard and dark paximadia.

 

1-Barley-Paximadia

Paximadia–barley rusks–in various shapes from the Greek islands and Crete.

 

An old man from Mykonos told me that in the old days merchant ships preferred his island as a stopover because sailors loved to stock up on paximadia from the local bakeries made with a combination of barley and wheat flour. Similar biscuits are baked in most islands of the Aegean and the ones from Crete are still the most popular throughout Greece. One can get various kinds of Cretan paximadia in food stores and supermarkets. Although people belonging to the generation that traditionally fed on this kind of dried bread has either died or switched to more refined foods —like fluffy supermarket, crustless, sliced bread– there is a new generation of consumers who have tasted paximadia during their summer vacations in the islands and loved them. Once back in the city they started to look for them in their local bakeries, so now in most Athenian neighborhoods one can find darker or lighter paximadia, baked using mixtures containing more or less barley flour in addition to the wheat flour that makes lighter and crunchier biscuits, which need no soaking.

(more…)

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