The Green, Winter Greek Salad

Inspired from the traditional Lesbos winter salad as I adapted it from the recipe in my book The Foods of the Greek Islands.   Greek Salad is seasonal here; in the summer tomatoes are its basic ingredient but in the winter it is definitely green.

 

 

Greek Salad is seasonal here; in the summer tomatoes are its basic ingredient, but in the winter it is definitely green.  From the first October rains up until the end of April, the greengrocers of Mytilini, the capital of Lesbos, used to sell each head of romaine lettuce tied together with two or three sprigs of borage (often with its little blue flowers), two or three scallions, several sprigs of peppery arugula, four or five sprigs of dill or fennel fronds, a few sprigs of peppery wild cress and either fresh mint or a little wild celery. Once home, these essential ingredients for the local green winter salad are thinly sliced and tossed with a simple vinaigrette.

It’s important to cut the greens at the last moment and to slice them very thin. If they are coarsely cut, the salad will taste different.

 

 

Makes 4 servings (more…)

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Comforting, Olive-oil-fried Potatoes, and Eggs

Slightly soggy, not particularly crunchy olive-oil-fried potatoes, accompanied by an olive-oil-fried egg, or just yogurt, or a piece of tangy feta, was the ultimate comfort dinner for my sister and me.

 

Many older Greeks share the experience; I guess now pizza –ordered out or microwaved– has replaced our beloved tiganites patates (fried potatoes) which need dedicated mothers to peel, cut, and fry the potatoes from scratch, since the frozen kind was never an option…

 

Shallow frying any kind of vegetables, meatballs, or fish in olive oil is the tradition for home cooks around the Mediterranean. My mother was re-using the frying olive oil 2-3 times, passing it through a fine sieve after frying the potatoes. She was keeping it in a separate bottle, to have it handy for the next time she had to fry potatoes, zucchini or meatballs. Of course, after frying meatballs or fish the oil had to be discarded. My mother sometimes added pieces of dried bread or leftover rice to soak up this frying oil and feed the semi-stray cats that roamed around our vast garden in the outskirts of the city, where I grew up.

I was very pleasantly surprised when I found this humble childhood comfort food served at the prestigious Paco Meralgo tapas restaurant in Barcelona. Called “ous de pages ferrats” (meaning ‘fried farm eggs’ in Catalan) the dish was exactly like our favorite childhood dinner; only it had two, instead of just one eggs with the fried potatoes. My friend, the renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés has demonstrated on US television his special technique for frying each egg in olive oil so that the white is cooked and firm, but the yolk stays wonderfully soft and runny.

 

Apparently, Catalans as all Spaniards share our affinity for olive-oil-fried eggs, as it is obvious from the famous ‘Old Woman Frying Eggs,’ Diego Velázquez’ early 17th c. painting. Like the old lady in the painting, Stelios Trilyrakis at his Dounias tavern, fries his incredible potatoes in a clay pot over live fire. No wonder people from all over the world brave the long, winding, and often harrowing road to drive to the village Drakona, high in the mountains of western Crete, not just for the potatoes but for all the delicious age-old traditional dishes Stelios prepares.

 

Fried potatoes are always my favorite comfort food, and when, ten years ago, my dear friend, the famous chef and author Deborah Madison asked me to send her my favorite recipe for her book ‘What we Eat when we Eat Alone,’ I described my beloved olive-oil-fried potatoes which I often accompany with a simple sauce of yogurt with some spicy Dijon mustard these days; my deep-flavored fried eggs, usually from our neighbor’s hens, I prefer to enjoy with toasted slices of my home-made bread.

 

 

 

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Bringing Crete to Napa

We Greeks are thrilled that recently there seems to be a trend leading people back to the honest, no-frills, unadorned dishes that our grandmothers used to cook. Foreign visitors, especially those who are genuinely interested in food, often go to great lengths trying to find the long-forgotten, plain, everyday home cooking; and this is what we demonstrated at the Worlds of Flavor conference held last November in the renovated, wonderful Copia, in Napa Valley.

 

It was a foggy, bitingly cold morning as we stood at the back garden of Copia, in Napa.  With chefs Yiannis Tsivourakis and Dimitrios Mavrakis we had come for this fall’s Worlds of Flavor to present dishes from Crete to food professionals and chefs from all over the world. That morning we were giving our last workshop and tasting and had prepared a few more dishes in an open fire. As we were grilling and plating the stuffed calamari, the sunflower-seed-crusted cheese, and the smoky eggplant-pepper salad we almost forgot the humid cold, experiencing such warmth and genuine interest from the twenty or so participants. They tasted, expressed their gratitude, and asked relevant questions, making us proud and somewhat puzzled that the peasant-inspired, simple foods we learned from our ancestors were so enthusiastically received by savvy professionals.

 

See HERE the Video of our Ecolab presentations

 

The previous day at eight in the morning we were scheduled to deliver our big cooking demonstration at the Ecolab –the large, state-of-the-art amphitheater of Copia. We were somewhat afraid that very few if anybody would wake up at the crack of dawn to come see us. As we were being ‘wired’ with our microphones in the back room, all three of us were stressed and trying to concentrate and do exactly what we were supposed to do –show the slides, cook and plate our dishes, and especially keep the timing as it was planned. We had the feeling that we were fussy and nervous for no particular reason; besides the cameras that recorded the presentations, we didn’t expect more than a handful of people in the audience. Anne Mc Bride started to introduce me and as I stepped toward the podium and faced the audience I almost screamed seeing the vast amphitheater completely packed! Every single seat was occupied; there were even people standing in the back.

 

 

Chef Yiannis started the demo cooking the delicious olive-oil-fried snails with rosemary and vinegar.  Then he prepared my favorite tomato-braised chestnuts with pearl onions and mushrooms, a dish originally cooked in the villages high up in the rugged mountains above Chanea, on western Crete.

 

(more…)

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“Mallorcas” Sweet Tsoureki Buns

Adapted from the Puerto Rican ‘Mallorcas, the slightly sweet breakfast buns I found in the festive pages of SAVEUR magazine.

 

“Fluffy, eggy, buttery, sweet, coiled like a snail’s shell, and generously dusted with powdered sugar, the pan de Mallorca is named for its land of origin, in Spain. They are delicious on their own, or split and turned into sweet-and-savory ham, egg, and cheese sandwiches,” the magazine’s introduction explained.

 

The dough is very similar to challah and the traditional Greek tsoureki,  –the sweet brioche-like festive breads we bake for Christmas and Easter. In my version I substituted light olive oil for the butter, and used whole eggs, instead of just egg yolks, then I decided to brush the dough rectangle with my Seville orange marmalade before rolling and cutting the buns. I also placed them one roll next to the other, like cinnamon rolls, and I wish I had managed to make all the buns roughly the same size…

(Photo from Saveur magazine

 

Makes 6 large buns            (more…)

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Pumpkin, Cranberry, Ginger, and Pistachio Cake

Adapting Julia Moskin’s wonderful All-in-one Holiday Bundt Cake I baked this simpler version using olive oil instead of the butter –as I usually do—and pistachios instead of pecans. I omitted the chopped apple, using a bit more mashed, freshly baked butternut squash.

 

“This holiday recipe comes from the baking expert Dorie Greenspan. She calls it “all-in-one” because it includes elements from both Thanksgiving and Christmas: pumpkin, nutmeg, cranberries and ginger. It’s really the perfect dessert for either feast, or any occasion in between,” writes Moskin in her introduction.

 

 

Both our friends, who were with us this past weekend, as well as Costas, who loves all kinds of moist and nutty cakes, agreed that this is a real treat!

It is very easy to make, especially if you bake it in two long cake pans, as I did, instead of the more elaborate but tricky Bundt pan.

No glaze is necessary, but if you happen to have some lemon curd it is a lovely addition!

 

Makes 2 long Cake Pans (more than 12 servings) (more…)

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