Flooded with Exquisite Eggs!

The moral of the story is that the very fresh eggs from hens that roam around the fields in the winter are best eaten in savory, rather than in delicate sweet dishes.

 

Just before Christmas holidays, our friends and next door neighbors sometimes leave Kea to spend the end of the year festivities with their family in Albania, so Costas undertakes his favorite chore: taking care of their hens and cats. 

 

We wish we could be able to have cats and hens, but, unfortunately, our dog does not permit it…

 

From the coop every night Costas brings at least five and often seven wonderful eggs, and after a few days we are flooded with an incredibly abundant lot! We enjoy them fried in olive oil, add them to pilafs and risottos, scramble them with whatever vegetable or green we have at hand, and occasionally we made paspala, the traditional Kea winter delicacy.

 

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Chicken Soup Avgolemono

Egg-and-lemon-thickened chicken soup is the iconic, typically Greek variation on a much-loved, comforting, winter soup.

It is the traditional one-pot Christmas dish on Rhodes and other Dodecanese islands. Christmas in the Greek islands is not the big feast celebrated in the United States or northern Europe: Easter and the Virgin Mary’s Assumption (August 15) are the important island festivals.

 

The addition of ginger and a piece of lemon peel is my twist on the basic recipe I got from my mother. I think their flavor and aroma deepens the broth’s taste. I prefer making the soup lighter, with vermicelli instead of rice, or even plain — just the broth and pieces of chicken. In that case you may want to add one more egg if you want to make it thicker, creamier.

Sometimes instead of chicken meat,  meatballs such as the Scallion Meatballs,  are cooked in a chicken or meat avgolemono  soup.  

 

 

Until the late 1960s, chicken was considered a great delicacy on the islands. It was the most expensive of all meats and, except for important feasts, it was usually reserved for children and the sick as the lighter of all meats.  The free-range chickens or capons of Greece need a long time to cook, and even then, their flesh can sometimes be tough and stringy. But they make the most delicious soup or youvetsi.

Instead of chicken you can make the soup with de-fatted broth from beef bones or make an exquisite fish soup (psarosoupa) boiling down fish heads, bones, and small fish. I try to always have various homemade stocks in my freezer so that I can make not just soups, but flavor risotto and all kinds of sauces.  

 

 

 Makes 6 to 8 servings as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main course 

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Dried Fruit and Nuts for Sweetness and Strength

Nuts and dried fruit are associated with the Holiday Season and the New Year.

They are supposed to bring luck and help start the year with sweetness and strength, something we particularly need these difficult times…

 

English pudding is one of such festive cakes, but it is somewhat too complicated, with lots of strange ingredients, while the Boozy Fruitcake I propose is quite simple, provided you have help chopping dried fruit, and do not spare the cost of real, aged Cognac, Armagnac, or Grand Marnier needed to douse the cake. 

 

There is also our morning treat: the somewhat heavy yeasted Seedy, Fruity and Nutty Bread, close to a fruit-nut cake, with complex, bold flavor I always have sliced in the freezer. We toast pieces to enjoy with our coffee.

A variation of this bread can become a vassilopita —the New Year’s cake where the lucky coin is hidden.

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Holiday Cookies: Traditional and Others…

Orange, cinnamon, and cloves are the main fragrances that pervade the kitchens around the world in the dark, winter days and long nights. Their sweet, enticing aromas set the mood for the upcoming holidays that mark the end of the year throughout most of the world.

 

 

Melomakarona, the traditional Greek, fragrant, honey-infused Christmas cookies are my favorites! They are vegan, because people ate them during the days of Lent that precede Christmas according to the Orthodox doctrines that some people follow, even if they are not religious. Now they are being rediscovered, as baking with olive oil has become trendy, and even the NYT published a version recently. I have slightly updated my mother’s recipe –which she had from her own mother– adding some ground nuts in the dough.

I think you will find these cookies irresistible, but if you manage to save them for later, they will get even better the next days. They keep for up to 1 month so you may want to double the recipe, especially if you bake melomakarona with friends, as we usually do.

An extra bonus of this aromatic but healthy dough is that you can use it as pie crust, filling it with cooked apples, quince, or make an irresistible lemony tart with just Lemon Curd as its filling. 

 

 

A recent favorite of ours is the old German Lebkuchen  which are fragrant with the enticing Lebkuchen Spice Mix.  It contains all kinds of spices, even ground coriander seeds, but strangely, no ginger! The blogger whose recipe I fam following, strangely calls it German Gingerbread Spice Mix, probably because she caters to Americans, for whom Lebkuchen is not a household name. My only addition to her recipe is an extra 2/3 cup finely ground almonds or almond meal because I don’t use the rice-paper wafers –difficult to find on our island—and wanted to make the dough somewhat thicker. Also, Costas and I prefer the cookies plain, or just drizzled with some bitter chocolate, so I skip the full dipping in chocolate the recipe calls for. (more…)

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Red Lentil Soup with Grains and Spicy Aromatic Oil

Variations on this heartwarming, vegan soup are infinite. The creamy red lentils regain their attractive color, which is lost when they are boiled alone, when they are cooked with carrots, tomato paste and plenty of Maraş pepper.

My recipe is inspired by the soups of Gaziantep, which often combine bulgur and/or chickpeas with the lentils.

 

Photo by PENNY DE LOS SANTOS  from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.     

 

The pulses in Turkey are usually cooked with lamb or beef bones to add body, and the soup is finished with aromatic-infused butter, though olive oil is an excellent alternative.

Vegetarians can make the soup more substantial by adding diced feta, as Costas and I do, or complement with grilled halloumi cheese.

 

 

Serves 6 to 8  (more…)

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