Zucchini Fritters with Basil and Oregano

A much sought after appetizer served at all Greek taverns today. In the old days it was considered a poor man’s’ keftedes (meatballs), for the people who could not afford to buy meat. The mixture is very similar to the one for the crust-less pie, but needs to be drier, so squeeze more liquid out of the grated zucchini. Similar appetizers are made in the winter with greens (horta).  Spinach, chard or mixed wild greens can be used, and the fritters are called hortokeftedes.

Scroll down for Oven-roasted Patties, a VARIATION I developed for EATING WELL magazine

part of a piece about the healthy Cooking of Crete (March 2020).

 

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Makes 6 to 8 meze servings (more…)

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Giant Bean and Green Olive Salad

I first made this with a few leftover, homemade cracked green olives from the batch my friend Yiannis Tsivourakis had sent me from Hania, Crete. They were cured in a wonderful lemony brine, part of which I used in the beans’ dressing.

When I made the salad again I wanted to imitate this brine, but also somehow incorporate into the beans the flavor of the traditional lemon-coriander green olives from Cyprus, which I love. I was in luck, as I found the perfect rendition of these exquisite olives described in Dimitra’s blog.  She write that she is “a Greek Cypriot girl born and raised in London,’ and in her blog posts lots of traditional Cypriot dishes, but also foods from all over the world, things she cooks at home for her family. 

I suggest you dress and make lots of Dimitra’s wonderful green olives –not just the ones you need for the bean salad. I am sure you will enjoy nibbling on them with some good, crusty bread, anytime of the day… 

 

 

Serves 4-6 as part of a meze spread (more…)

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Shanklish: Spicy Levantine Cheese

Syrian-born chef Mohammed Antabli makes a modern version of this age-old sun-dried cheese of the Levant, using a mixture of yogurt and feta, then rolls the little balls in spices, and serves them at Al Waha, considered one of London’s top Middle Eastern restaurants. I used his recipe, but varied the spices slightly, following his brilliant way of ‘aging’ these wonderful cheese balls.

Crumble them over salads, like the one with beets and arugula, or slice the log-shaped cheese and serve it on its own as an appetizer, drizzled with good, fruity olive oil.

You can also preserve shanklish in jars, submerged in olive oil, in the refrigerator; it will keep for up to 4 months or more.

Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

 

Detail from a photo by Penny De Los Santos

 

Sun-drying laban—a fresh cheese made by straining yogurt—was one means, before the invention of cold storage, to preserve perishable dairy products. The cheese was shaped into balls and then rolled in an aromatic mix of seasonings—za’atar, red pepper flakes, or a mixture of local herbs and spices—and then dried completely until rock-hard, finally ready for extended storage in clay jars.

These fermented, extremely pungent shanklish balls are a multipurpose spice in their own right. Ground with a mortar and pestle, they can be used to provide different dimensions of flavor to salads and vegetable dishes.

 

For about 32 golf-ball-size pieces, or 2 logs (more…)

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Sweet and Sour Eggplants with Nuts, Raisins, Basil and Mint

 

I love melanzane alle noci e mandorle, the sweet and sour Calabrian eggplants that are crunchy with nuts and fragrant with basil and mint. They are great as a side dish with any cold meat, with grilled lamb chops or chicken legs. Traditionally, though, they are an antipasto (appetizer) served on the sideboard.

 

They also make a wonderful bruschetta if spread on toasted bread with shavings of parmesan, thin slices of mozzarella, manouri or sprinkled with crumbled feta. I often add grilled peppers –either home made, or store-bought– with the eggplants, and in the winter diced roasted squash is another interesting companion. Adjust the spicing of the  sauce accordingly.

Adapted from my Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.

 

 

Makes 6-8 appetizer servings

 

(more…)

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Creamy Eggplant Puree (Hünkar Beğendi)

This is my take on  Hünkar, which  is traditionally prepared with sheep’s milk butter; but I find that this olive oil variation can be equally sumptuous. Cheese plays a very important role in my version and can alter the taste dramatically: Gruyere and cheddar make a richly sweet dish, but smoked cheddar or provolone combined with Feta adds a spicier note.

 

 

An Ottoman Sultan, a French Princess…and Hünkar Beğendi – all the necessary ingredients for romance, intrigue, and culinary invention.  According to legend this rich and creamy eggplant puree was created in the 18th century by one of the Sultan’s cooks.  The occasion was a dinner given in honor of a French Princess visiting the palace of the Ottoman ruler in Istanbul. The French were known for their love of vegetable purees, so the cook paid homage to the Princess by presenting an Oriental version, using the Empire’s most admired vegetable.  The dish was a great success.  We know less about the Sultan’s pursuit of the Princess…

 

In Turkey and in Greece hünkar traditionally accompanies a tomato lamb or beef stew. I love it on its own, or topped with my  Basic Tomato Sauce. You can also serve it with braised kale or other hearty greens. Hünkar makes a great appetizer: serve it with toasted pita triangles to scoop-up the creamy puree or spread it on toasted, garlic-rubbed multi-grain bread.

 

Adapted from my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

 

 

Serves 4 as a main dish, or 8-10 as an appetizer (more…)

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