Tyropita : Creamy Cheese Pie

As kids, my sister and I used to love this  sweet, creamy tyropita. I did not find the recipe my mother used since I have never made this particular pie until Costas and I happened upon the mention of Tyrinis, the traditional cheese-eating day,  the last non-vegan Sunday before Kathari Deftera, the colorful beginning of the Lent preceding Greek Easter (May 2 this year).

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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Melomakarona Tart with Fruit or Lemon

The Greek old-fashioned Christmas cookies are vegan because people ate them during the days of Lent that precede Christmas. You can use the dough –an olive-oil-shortcake– as a pie crust, filling it with cooked apples, quince, or other seasonal fruit. I particularly love to make a fragrant Lemon tart, using Lemon Curd, or your favorite lemon cream. 

No specific recipe needed. Use half the Melomakarona dough, and lay it on a parchment-paper- lined 9-inch pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, let cool completely on a rack and then fill with your favorite Lemon Cream or with Lemon Curd and serve sprinkling with coarsely ground walnuts. 

To make a Quince or Apple Tart, fill the crust with poached quince or apples, using as an inspiration the filling from the Quince Rolls. You can also mix the poached fruit with Quince Preserves, and serve sprinkle liberally with walnuts. 

 

 

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An Eastern Mediterranean Staple: Ksinohondro, Trahana, and Kishk

 This traditional fermented ‘pasta,’ an ancient staple, is made in the summer with coarsely ground grains – wheat or barley – and milk or yogurt.  

Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Scroll down to find the basic recipe for the traditional soup or porridge. 

 

The two essential ingredients are transformed into a flavorful and nourishing ‘pasta’ for the winter months. Though I can’t prove it, I have a hunch that early agricultural communities, in different parts of the world, thought up methods to combine and preserve grain and dairy; this is why fermented ‘pasta’ comes in distinct regional variations throughout the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

 

I wouldn’t suggest that you make your own ksinohondro and/or  kishk if there were good-quality commercial alternatives. In Chania, Crete, women sell wonderful homemade ksinohondro at the weekly farmer’s markets of this beautiful city; but unless you know somebody on the island to buy it for you, this delicious, traditional staple is seldom available elsewhere in Greece. On Lesbos island a similar ‘pasta’ is called ‘trahana’ and is often shaped into cup-like forms.   (more…)

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PASPALAS: The Rustic Pork Confit of Kea

Like many foods we grew up with and take for granted, I have somehow overlooked until now the humble fried bits of pork used on Kea as general flavoring for eggs, greens, and any vegetable or bean dish.

 

Kean women prepare it each winter with leftover scraps of pork and fat, after the traditional slaughtering and butchering of the family pig. In the old days, the bits were heavily salted so that they wouldn’t spoil as they were stored in clay jars to be used much like Maggi cubes –a common European food flavoring– throughout the year. Costas calls paspalasthe Kea bacon,’ but unlike bacon it is not smoked and it is already fried when you use it to flavor eggs and other dishes.

 

Read about Pig Slaughtering on Kea as I had described it at the Atlantic.  

 

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The importance of this rustic flavoring became apparent when I prepared it in the kitchen of Zaytinya—Jose Andres’ Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant, in Washington DC. During my annual January visit, a few years back, we were trying traditional winter dishes from Kea and other Cycladic islands for a pork and xinomavro wine feast, and Chef Michael Costa was immediately taken by paspalas’ intense and versatile flavor. We made several batches, using pieces of locally grown pork that the chef and his sous-chefs butchered in the kitchen. Besides the Kean scrambled eggs–also called ‘paspalas’ –we filled jars with the pork confit for future use. Bonnie Benwick, the former food editor of Washington Post got enamored with it, as well as with the eponymous scrambled eggs from Kea, and  made the dish famous in her column!

 

(more…)

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Roasted New Potatoes…without Recipe!

I often feel that the side dishes are more interesting than the meat or poultry that is traditionally served these days. A few years back when we dug out the second crop of potatoes from the garden I couldn’t wait to serve them simply roasted, rubbed with olive oil!

 

potatos

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Besides olive oil I sprinkled the new, scrubbed potatoes with salt and pepper—I love to use Maras or Urfa pepper flakes that add deep, fruity flavor not just heat. I scattered a few sprigs of thyme, savory, rosemary or some sage leaves, whatever I could grab from the garden; I also added one or two onions, quartered, and two whole heads of garlic halved horizontally, tossing everything in a bowl with olive oil. Onion and garlic add their flavor to the new potatoes as they roast together on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. This detail is very important: cleaning the pan afterwards is a breeze; otherwise the roasting vegetables caramelize and stick to the metal so it needs soaking and quite a bit of scrubbing… (more…)

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