July 25, 2009

Tomato Salad

Susan from Athens, 7 June 09, ‘Summer Foods’ thread

In my book the ultimate summer food is tomato salad: wonderful fresh tomatoes are a wonderful seasonal vegetable and at their very best now. Currently I am enjoying a salsa I made in the evenings and served over rusks, although it is just as good over rustic brown bread.

I chop up three to four spring onions and marinate them in a bit of olive oil and vinegar. “A bit” is colloquial for enough for them to be sitting in the oil but not actually swimming in it, which is as accurate as I am willing to get (I always do things like this by eye, hand and mouth to the frustration of my mother who wants a precise recipe). I use red wine or balsamic, depending on my mood, sometimes a combination of both, but never too much: the vinegar is there to add a bit of zing not to drown the taste of the tomatoes. I add a pinch of salt and some oregano, sometimes some freshly chopped chives as well and let the onions marinate while I chop up sufficient quantities of three different kinds of tomato. Using more than one kind gives differences in texture and a deeper taste to the salad. I mix all this together add a pinch of sugar (only because the tomatoes are super-tart at the moment and I mean a pinch) and serve away.

Sometimes I have this with anthotyri cheese, at others with whatever else I’m in the mood for (it goes really well with pate, cutting through the fattiness).


Susan from Athens, 18 Feb 09, Recipe Thread

Yiouvarlakia (Minced meat and rice balls with an egg and lemon sauce)

My English mother cooks from recipes, while I am inspired by recipes and instructions and cook from inspiration, like my Greek fore-mothers. So this recipe has a little of both: its roots lie in one of the collection of Greek cook books my mother acquired before and after she relocated here in the late sixties, in an attempt to understand her new environment and family, with additions taking into consideration the way my grandmother and aunt cook and what I would now add and change. The original recipe – now very much altered – was in Joyce M. Stubbs’: The Home Book of Greek Cookery – A Selection of Traditional Greek Recipes (Faber and Faber, 1963). [In an aside books are rarely now cookery books, they might be books on cooking or eating, but the homely cookery has faded away, I wonder why?] The quantities are sufficient for four people.

400g finely minced meat (beef)
2 medium onions, grated, with juices collected and used
2 spring (green) onions, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, mashed
half a cup chopped parsley – flat leafed please: curly leaf doesn’t exist in Greece
3 teaspoons chopped mint (Greeks would use diosmos – the closest equivalent is spearmint)
60 g butter
85 g long grain raw rice
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon oregano

For the sauce
2 eggs, separated
juice of one and a half lemons

Place the minced meat, onion, spring onion, garlic, parsley, mint and half the butter into a mixing bowl and knead until well blended. Scald the rice (place a separate bowl and cover with boiling water for five minutes), drain and knead into the mixture. Moisten with vinegar, add the seasoning and oregano and leave in a cool place for thirty minutes or more. Shape into round balls the size of a small egg and arrange in concentric circles in a wide-bottomed saucepan (I use a deep sauté pan). Barely cover with boiling water, pouring it in carefully from the side, so as not to break the meat balls. Add salt and the rest of the butter and press down with a plate, before putting on the pan lid. Simmer for three-quarters of an hour. Whatever happens, don’t stir (you will get a mush) or allow to boil dry. You want enough liquid to make an egg and lemon sauce at the end, i.e. at least half a cup, preferably one cup.

Carefully pressing down on the plate that covers the youvarlakia, so that they can’t move around, and taking care not to burn yourself, drain the juices and keep them simmering in a pan (you can add half a stock cube to this if you want more zing – by all means use an healthy organic one).

Make an avgolemono sauce:
Beat the egg whites to a soft meringue and add the yolks. Add the lemon juice drop by drop (yes, that slowly, otherwise it can curdle and you have to start over). Then slowly add two tablespoons of the broth from the yiouvarlakia. Pour all this into the pan with the remaining juices, stirring slowly. Do this either over a very low heat, or else having the juices very hot. Serve immediately, pouring the sauce over the meat balls, without further cooking. You can sprinkle with additional chopped parsley.

If you have leftovers, store the sauce separately from the yiouvarlakia and reheat gently together.

The recipe is very flexible: you can use olive oil instead of butter, you can increase the lemon juice, or the quantity of herbs used, so long as you can make balls that cohere and a sauce that doesn’t coagulate. I can easily imagine a Thai version of these, with some chile peppers sliced in the meatballs, using coriander instead of parsley and adding coconut milk instead of the avgolemono sauce. In fact, in some ways these are naked dolmades, without any vine leaves. Mum’s book starts with a lovely quote from the Deipnosophists or The Banquet of the Learned, by Athenaeus (ancient forerunner of Julia Child and Delia Smith et al) that is entirely apropos: “For when you write a book on Cookery, it will not do to say: ‘As I was just now saying’; for this Art has no fix’d guide but opportunity, and must itself its only mistress be.”

Lemon Curd

Susan from Athens, 12 Feb 09, Recipe Thread

Adapted from several recipes including the one in the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. Quantities maximized to be made with the Almond and Chocolate cake, as I hate wasting 7 egg yolks.

7 large egg yolks
2 large whole eggs
1 and 1/8 of a cup sugar
3/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons butter
grated zest of 3 lemons.

Mix the lemon juice and sugar together and let sit for 5 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Combine with the lemon juice and sugar and place in a bain marie (double boiler) but with the bottom actually in the boiling water (if you can achieve this). Cook whisking constantly (and I mean stirring and whisking without stopping for an instant) for 8-10 minutes, until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon (i.e. thick and syrupy).

Remove from heat. (if it is lumpy – which it shouldn’t be – whisk some more and pass through a fine sieve), add the butter, a small lump at a time, until smooth. Stir in zest carefully. Place in sterilized jars, cool and refrigerate. Makes 2 big jars.

Hint: this makes a great filling for Victoria Sandwich cake or for lemon tarts, but it is amazing on fresh bread or scones.

Crème Brulée

Susan from Athens, Recipe thread, 25 December 08

Originally contributed by Sirio Maccioni to the New York Cook Book by Molly O’Neill. (Wonderful cookbook, great recipe – serves 8, the measures are American not Imperial. The Crème Brulée this makes is thick and creamy but not cloyingly sweet)

4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise,
pinch of salt
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
8 tablespoons packed light brown or raw sugar

1. Preheat oven to 300F. Place eight 3/4 cup ramekins in a roasting pan. Heat a kettle full of water.
2. In a saucepan, over low heat, place the cream with the salt. Scrape the vanilla pod and add the seeds to the cream. Warm for 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and the granulated sugar. Gently pour in the hot cream stirring gently to combine. Strain the custard into a pitcher and skim off any bubbles.
4. Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them up to the rim. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour the warm water you have heated into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminium foil. Bake until set, 1 1/4 hours.
5. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool. Cover individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
6. When ready to serve decide how you will create the crust. The easiest way is using the broiler (grill) on your cooker, which you should now pre-heat. If you have a blowtorch, now is the time to use it, but you may also have those traditional French cast-iron circle-impressions that you heat up to burning on the gas hob and the press lightly onto the surface of the (sugared) custards. Going with the broiler method:
7. Uncover the ramekins and place on a baking sheet. Top each with 1 tablespoon of brown or raw sugar and using a metal spatula or knife, spread the sugar evenly over the custards. Broil until the sugar caramelizes, 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Spanakotyropitta (or Greek spinach pie with cheese)

Susan from Athens, Recipe thread, 25 December 08

Asking a Greek cook about their spinach pie is like asking for a saga of personal choices in a sea of other people’s failures, because each Greek cook is convinced that their spanakopitta or spanakotyropitta is the best – or their mother’s or grandmother’s version is. And there are as many versions as there are ways of putting together a herb garden. The main ingredients are obviously spinach and in most cases feta cheese, although on Crete that will be a mild cottage-cheese like mizithra or a salty graviera. And there are those who want big thick chunks of cheese and others who want their barely discernible (I belong to the latter category and like my feta very finely chopped indeed and will pulse it in the food processor to get it that way). And it doesn’t end there: you add other greens as well. Plain spinach is OK but it is plain. Everybody adds spring onions (green onions for the Americans) chopped into rounds – some sauté them, others don’t. Then we have myronia and kafkalithres (Caucalis), which are wild greens that add flavour and sweetness. Others add parsley by the handful and dill – which are easy to find. But you can also add maratho (fennel fronds) and even wild carrot greens which offer a variety of flavours. Fresh coriander and spearmint are also good. Lots of people add dried bread crumbs, rice or bulghur to absorb the juices, so the pastry doesn’t get soggy, but that does change the texture.
Adding to the variety you can make it with phyllo pastry (ready made or homemade) or homemade pastries of many varieties. You can put it on a baking dish like a baklava, or roll it up like a strudel or a long cigar-like shape that you roll up like a Danish pastry. You can sprinkle the top with sesame seeds or not (usually with phyllo pastry you don’t). The varieties are endless. Going for simple and internationally available I give you the following recipe. It works for a 10 by 14 inch baking pan or any near enough in size not to stretch the filling too thin or make it bunch up too thick) You will need approximately:

1 1/2; kilo phyllo pastry (A total of 12 sheets and save the good ones that aren’t cracked for the top)
2 kilos spinach washed with roots cut off
salt and pepper
1 cup olive oil or slightly more
4-5 spring onions – chopped medium fine
300 grams feta cheese chopped finely or pulsed in the food processor
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped dill

When making the filling you want to wilt the spinach. You can do this in two ways: (a) by chopping finely, rubbing with salt and allowing to drain for about an hour (which will be high in sodium but very tasty) or (b) by placing it in a large pan with no water over a low heat, covering and leaving it for about six minutes, whereupon the large pile of spinach will have reduced by a lot, into a little mound (this is how I do it).
Either way: place the spinach you have wilted in a colander and press hard to squeeze as much water out of it as possible. Put some elbow grease into this process. Whatever water you do not remove here will end up giving you soggy pastry later on. It is worth the extra effort to squeeze it out well. If you have wilted according to method (b) you should now chop your spinach mound thoroughly and salt to taste (about half to a teaspoon of salt is sufficient).
In a large pan add about half a cup of olive oil, sauté the spring onions lightly – you don’t want them to brown and add the spinach and sauté for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly and add the fresh chopped herbs and the cheese.

Prepare your phyllo dough. If it is frozen or ready-made and paper-dry, lay it out and cover it with a damp dish cloth. After you remove each sheet of pastry replace the cloth, so that it doesn’t dry out entirely. Lay out a bowl with olive oil and one with water and have a pastry brush on hand.
Oil your baking dish and lay down one layer of phyllo pastry. Oil it lightly (i.e. you want a very fine layer of oil over it all but you don’t want oil dripping and pooling). Place your hand in the water bowl and flick very lightly so there are some beads of water on the pastry. In similar fashion layer down six sheets of phyllo pastry with oil and water between each layer (as the pie heats up this water will turn into steam and cause the layers to separate and crisp up). Go up the sides of your tin and don’t worry if the phyllo gets torn or shredded – it won’t show up on the final product. The final layer you brush more liberally with oil.
Next lay out your filling evenly over the whole of the pastry and cover with another six layers of pastry. Trim the corners well and tuck them in (if you don’t cut off a lot of the corner pastry the corner pieces will be very thick with phyllo which some people prefer). Oil well and score through the top 4 layers of pastry with a sharp knife, cutting into 4-5 cm strips from one end of the pan to the other and crosswise into squares or diamond shapes. Brush more oil into the cuts and down the sides and sprinkle the top with water to prevent the pastry sheets from curling upwards. Bake in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven (175 degrees Centigrade) for 40-45 minutes, until golden with the sheets of pastry separating.

Cool slightly and cut the pieces. Serve hot or cold.

Jewels and small coins

Susan from Athens, 19 October, Recipe Thread

A stir fry for two people as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or salmon. I christened it because the vegetables are jewel bright and the multitude of seeds look like small coins.

1 long seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into 3cm segments, each of these quartered
1 red pepper, de-seeded, cut into thickish short strips
2 tbs vegetable oil for stir frying (I use olive, but peanut is better)
2 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbs grated ginger
1 tbs sesame seeds
1 tbs flax seed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbs soy sauce
a few drops sesame oil

Mix the wine with the soy sauce and half the ginger in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat a wok (or a cast iron frying pan), and once hot, add the oil, swirl around and stir fry the cucumber and pepper until the cucumber just begins to change colour, but no more. Add the garlic and the other half of the ginger and stir to distribute evenly, until the scent rises aromatically, then the seeds and stir until they start to pop. Pour the wine mixture over, cook for another two minutes. Remove from heat, dot with drops of sesame oil and serve with grilled chicken or salmon.

Battered sun-dried tomatoes (Liastes domates sto kourkouti)

Susan from Athens: comment to “Flat Tyre” on October 1, 2008

This is actually a traditional delicacy on the island of Tinos, where they traditionally sun dry their tomatoes (some of the best I’ve ever eaten), in order to preserve them for the winter months. This is a warming hors d’oeuvre or snack, or can be turned into the gluttonish main part of a meal. The quantities are deliberately vague and can be added and subtracted to, at will. Greek batter for frying in is simply a paste made of flour and water so this is unbelievably simple

sun-dried tomatoes (as many as you think you will eat)
enough boiling water to cover them
all-purpose flour
water to mix it to a paste
Olive oil (it doesn’t need to be extra-virgin or super-fancy) for frying

Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Set aside to steep for half an hour. When about 25 minutes have passed, in another shallow bowl, mix half a cup of flour with enough water (added slowly) to make a not-too-thick but not-too-runny paste. This sounds vague but you basically need it to be sticky enough to coat the tomatoes on all side, but still runny enough that it can coat, so a consistently thicker than pancake batter but a lot wetter than a sticky dough.

Put about a half centimetre of oil in a frying pan and heat over a medium heat. As with all frying, you want it hot, but you don’t want it burning. Only experience and experimentation teach you the exact way to do this. If it is smoking it is too hot and you should take it off the heat.
Strain the tomatoes. You don’t have to get them super-dry. I keep the liquid for adding to tomato soup or to a stew, much as I would soaking liquid from dried mushrooms. Place up to ten tomatoes at a time in the bowl and turn them round a few times to coat with batter. I find my fingers are the best way to do this. After all batter does wash off. Then place them individually into the frying pan with some distance between them, as the batter will very slightly swell up. Ten is the maximum number because by the time you have put ten in, washed your hands and got your turning implement of choice (slotted spoon and fork, or tongs or fish slice or whatever you prefer) it is time to turn them over. Check to see if they have changed colour to golden and turn in the same order you put them into the frying pan. If you think they might need some more, turn once more after a reasonable amount of time. Once done (i.e. golden all over and not burnt) remove from the frying pan and place onto a draining plate covered with frying paper.

In my household these very rarely actually make it to table. They are eaten (with burned fingers and mouths) on the fly. But they are also very good if served with skordalia (Greek aioli like sauce, a recipe for which I have already given) or tzatziki (garlic mushed up with grated cucumber and strained yoghurt). If you want to get fancier (and you should) you can add salt and pepper to the batter. If you want to get even fancier, Hungarian smoked sweet paprika makes a fabulous addition. You can also sprinkle them with oregano, or freshly chopped parsley or mint when finished. But they are great in and of themselves. Not a diet food but most definitely a comfort food.

Judy’s chutney

Susan from Athens, comment on “A few words from our sponsor.”

3 October 2008

Susan says:

This is my mother’s general use chutney recipe which we consume with grilled meat, cheese, cold cuts and (my sister Katerina) with lentils. The original recipe, several generations back was from one of Maddhur Jaffrey’s books, and it is long enough ago that which book is a matter of conjecture, but this is after various changes have been made to it.

500 g sour cooking apples (3 medium apples)
220 gr dried apricots
50 g sultanas
2 cloves garlic peeled and mashed
2 one-inch cubes of ginger grated
400ml white wine vinegar
385 g caster sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Peal, core and chop the apples. Combine all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan. Bring to a vigorous simmer for 30 minutes until thick and jam-like.
Place into sterile jars and vacuum pack these. We store it in the fridge, but it rarely lasts very long.

I also use this as a basis for mixing with pan juices with a bit of mustard and wine or juice when cooking meat or chichen.

Kritikos Dakos

Susan from Athens: comment in “Horses and Mud” on 09/09/08

This is something that is also known in Greece as koukouvagia (which means owl) for reasons that remain unknown to me. It is a Cretan dish with variations arising throughout the Aegean Islands because it is a poor man’s food. In its basic form it consists of a paximadi – a common form of preserving bread in a twice-baked rusk, which can be made with any kind of sourdough bread: wheat, corn or rye being the most common and are easy to find in Greece, but very difficult to find abroad. A quick google search gives me:


which at least provides a visual, although I don’t know the specific make.

So a Dakos is something between a salad, a sauce and a salsa which you pile on top of the paximadi, and top, if you so wish, with crumbled anthotyri, a fresh crumbly sheep’s milk whey cheese. Sometimes you see it topped with feta cheese but this is not authentic. (You can also top it with crumbly chevre cheeses, which is also not authentic, but very delicious).

The ingredients then vary but most varieties have tomato, red onion, garlic (lots of people omit this but I love it), olive oil and oregano. Quantities depending on the people eating and their appetites and whether this is a main meal or a side dish.

The main ingredient is tomatoes and it has to be very ripe tomatoes. Not sugary, mushy tomatoes, but the kind of tomato that spills its juices out all over, and if cut for a salad is sitting in its juices within a couple of minutes. These can be treated in two ways, depending on preference and the actual state of the tomato. If you can cut it, dice it into a medium dice. If you have a food processor you can trust not to mush, cut it into chunks and pulse quickly a couple of times. If it cannot be cut at all, slice in half and use the thickest grater you have to grate all but the skin into a bowl.
Depending on how you have treated the tomato, treat the onion and garlic: Chop or grate.
Mix together, pour olive oil on top, season with salt and pepper and rub some nice oregano over the whole.

Spoon the mixture over the paximadi (making sure the juices soak into the hard rusks) and crumble the cheese on top of that and/or add olives, the small tiny Cretan ones, that are the size of your smallest fingernail.

That is the basic dakos. There are variations. My latest variation, for the end of summer harvest tomatoes we currently have, with quantities for two people as an evening salad (which I have accompanied by a hard boiled egg or some cold cuts or leftover ratatouille) is as follows:

2 large paximadia or six bite-size ones
1 large very ripe tomato
6 tart cherry tomatoes
½ a small red onion
1 clove of garlic
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil or more
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon sweet smoked Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon thyme

Dice the onion and finely chop the garlic (don’t use a garlic press – the taste is different). Place into bowl, add the olive oil, salt and pepper and paprika and allow to marinate while you cut the tomato (and a bit longer if you can – I find Greek onions much milder than those in the UK and much more flavourful than those in the US. Marinating them takes a bit of the bite away). Dice the large tomato and cut each cherry tomato into sixths, cutting once in half and each half into thirds. The cherry tomatoes add a pit of texture.

Mix into the onion. Rub the oregano and thyme over the mixture and stir (rubbing the herbs makes sure there are no little tough bits but also helps release their essential oils). Let it sit for five minutes and then pour over bite-size paximadi portions (or if, like me, you’re lazy just dip the paximadi bits into your bowl). I am currently not using cheese, but you can.

Marinated Raw Courgette

Susan from Athens: comment in “Horses and Mud” on 9/9/08

1 courgette (zucchini), peeled and sliced into strips using a vegetable peeler
4 tablespoons of olive oil
zest and juice of one or two lemons
fresh thyme
handful of roasted (and I underline roasted) pine nuts.

Marinate the ribbons of courgette in the lemon juice for half an hour (or as long as it takes to prepare the rest of your meal, whichever comes first). Add the olive oil and sprinkle over with the roasted pine nuts and fresh thyme.

The crunch of the courgette and the sharpness of the lemon contrast beautifully with the buttery taste and texture of the roasted pine nuts.

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