Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Monday, July 25, 2011

Beat the Heat, Greek Food Style!

The husbandman is always a better Greek than the scholar is prepared to appreciate, and the old custom still survives, while antiquarians and scholars grow gray in commemorating it.
- Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher, author, naturalist.


My son demonstrates our method for beating summer heat, click to enlarge

My paternal grandfather was the quintessential husbandman. His day consisted entirely of tending to the fields and groves. Whether it was the wheat or olive, almond or chestnut harvest; whether it was the planting, trimming or the watering, he was forever to be found out in the open air, toiling to feed and provide for his family. My grandmother tended the home and the animals- the chickens, goats and sheep. The pig largely looked after itself. ;-)

In my early teens, I was fortunate enough to spend entire summers at our ancestral home in rural Arcadia. I had the opportunity to experience an agrarian lifestyle which is quickly vanishing from today’s Greek countryside. Indeed, it is all but gone.

One sweltering July day has remained vividly etched in my memory. For, it was during the midday meal that my grandfather taught me a trick to beat the summer heat, one that had been taught to him by his father, whose father had taught him; and so on back in a long line of fathers and sons…

I marvelled at my grandfather’s towering figure wielding the long-bladed scythe as he cut down the wheat stalks in great sweeping swathes in the dry hot air of summer. Now and again he would pause to wipe his brow with the red kerchief stuffed in his pocket, and then continue reaping in a steady methodical manner. Though the heat was oppressive, he moved with definite purpose and paused only to call me to bring him a drink from his wineskin.

At his signal, I fetched the afternoon repast from the mule’s pack. It was tied in a large chequered cloth napkin by my grandmother who had prepared it with care that morning. The simple meal consisted of some Kaseri cheese, a couple pieces of homemade sourdough bread, a few olives and a tomato or two, along with a smallish cucumber.

As we sat in the shade of the tree, eating lunch, he cut up the cucumber with his pocket knife and offered me a few pieces of the cool fruit.

“Want to learn a trick that will keep you cool in the afternoon heat?” he asked, smiling. I nodded enthusiastically as I chewed the mouthful of bread, cheese and cucumber I’d stuffed in my mouth.

In answer, he reached down and picked up one of the two discarded ends of the cucumber he’d sliced up for us and stuck it, cut-end flush on my forehead. And there it stayed. Best of all, it was cool and refreshing. So much so, that I felt immediate relief from the afternoon heat extending from my forehead like tendrils down through the rest of my body. It was foodie magic!

My grandfather proceeded to pick up the other end of the now disappeared cucumber and stuck it with a soft splat on his own forehead. Then he smiled and I laughed at the apparition of my grandfather with a single green nub of a horn affixed to his forehead. “You think I look silly?” he asked. “You ought to take a look in the mirror!” he laughed as we both found amusement in the aspect of each other’s cucumber-horned visages.

I never forgot that afternoon meal in the shade by the freshly mowed field. Every summer, when the heat gets to me, I make a beeline for the nearest market or the fridge, where I pick out a cucumber to serve as my personal refrigeration unit. It works, and best of all, it’s good for the environment and our skin!

This summer, I passed this old family custom on to my own son. In doing so, I thought it might be beneficial to others to learn of such an easy way to find immediate relief from the heat. I hope this old cucumber end on the forehead trick works as well for you as it does for us. If nothing else, it will put a smile on your face and make the day’s heat a bit more bearable. But, trust me, it really does work. Give it a try...

Greeks are famous for wearing flora of all kinds. From the laurel wreaths that crowned ancient Olympic victors, to the basil sprig my father tucks behind his ear, we wear our plants and eat them too. Try our cucumber-on-the-forehead trick and beat the heat this summer!

P.S. I’ll explain the significance of the basil sprig behind the ear some other time. :-)

Stay Cool,

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.




Sunday, July 24, 2011

Greek Cucumber Salad - Αγγουροσαλάτα

With the summer in full swing here in the northern hemisphere, many of us are seeking relief from stifling temperatures. In some regions new record seasonal highs have been recorded; here in Toronto the past week was a true scorcher. Fortunately, Greek food culture includes recipes that are perfectly suited to beating the heat.

A bird's eye view of my Greek cucumber salad, click to enlarge

When Greeks sit down to a summertime meal, they will invariably include a raw salad of one kind or another. One of the more popular summertime Greek salads in our family is the world famous Aggourosalata (ah-goo-roh-sah-LAH-ta), or, Cucumber Salad. There are a few variations on the theme, but it is a very basic dish and serves as a refreshing course alongside other summertime favourites.

The cucumber has been α part of Greek cookery for millennia. It is used in the famous Tzatziki sauce, and can simply be sliced into wedges, salted or not, and consumed without any fuss, much like a melon. Indeed, a little known fact about the cucumber is that it is not a vegetable; it is actually a melon.

Ancient Greek melon patches included the long green fruits alongside more recognizable spherical varieties. Today, alas, cucumbers are found among the vegetables in market produce sections, which can cause some confusion regarding their genus. Fortunately, a few of us are familiar with the old ways and can serve to remind others of our forgotten Greek food heritage.

For presentation purposes this salad makes an impression, click to enlarge

As refreshing as a cucumber salad can be during the course of the summer, there is yet another means by which this melon can bring relief from the heat. My grandfather taught me the trick, just as his father taught him, and I have now passed it on to my son. The technique requires only a small part of the cucumber and does not involve consuming it. I will reveal this family custom in a separate posting following this one, so stay tuned…

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium sized cucumber, chilled, washed but not peeled and sliced thinly
  • ½ medium sized red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons Greek wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dried Greek oregano
  • Kalamata olives
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper; to taste.
Preparation:

In a large bowl, combine and toss all the ingredients together. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Macedonian Halva (Μακεδονικός Χαλβάς)

For those of you who are fasting for Lent or practicing vegetarian/vegans, this is your lucky day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Irish eyes are smilin'! :)

Halva ready for service - Click to enlarge image

One of the hardest aspects of a fast or strict dietary regimen is avoiding tempting sweets and finding acceptable substitutes for dessert courses. This is especially hard on kids. Confections like this one are popular amongst Greek families during the Lenten period. I simply loved this stuff as a child. Still do!

There are probably as many variations on this recipe as there are Greek matrons with culinary opinions. My recipe is quite basic, feel free to add or substitute other elements like pine nuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few drops of orange blossom water or even some lemon rind in the syrup could also be a nice touch.

I should mention that not only are there numerous permutations for this recipe, there are also alternative preparation methods involving the oven, for instance. To add to the complexity of the matter, Greeks apply the term halva interchangeably to flour or nut-based (i.e. ground sesame seed or pistachio etc.,) versions of this confection.

Thus much have I for you today on the topic of my Macedonian halva recipe. I hope you try it. If you know any Irish folk, give them a hug today. Greece and Ireland have a lot in common these days.

Ingredients

1 cup coarse semolina
1 cup Greek blossom honey (anthomelo, ανθομελο)
4 cups of water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil* (vegetable oil may also be used)
¼ cup blanched almonds, chopped
¼ cup sultana raisins* (optional, but highly recommended)
Ground cinnamon

Note: for those of you with a keener sweet tooth, adding a ½ cup or so of sugar to the syrup is an option. I prefer the simple purity of the honey as my sweet tooth has dulled with wisdom... ;-)

Preparation:
  1. Combine honey and water in a pan, and set to boil as our syrup. When it has boiled, set it to simmer while you prepare the semolina mixture.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pot over medium to high heat
  3. When the oil is hot, add the semolina to the pot and mix it continuously with a wooden spoon to brown the semolina thoroughly; try to keep it from smoking much, keep it moving in the bottom of the pan. About 6 – 8 minutes. Do not burn it.
  4. Once the semolina has been browned, use a deep kitchen spoon or ladle and gradually add the still-simmering honey-water mixture to the pot. Be careful, do not add it all at once and keep your hands away from the pot opening.
  5. Mix the thickening semolina mixture well and keep adding the syrup until it is fully absorbed then add the almonds and raisins, lower the heat to medium low and continue mixing well for a few more minutes.
  6. Spoon the mixture quickly into 2 small 6 inch spring-form jelly/cake moulds which you have pre-greased with olive oil, and then use a spoon to pat the mixture down well and evenly into each mould; take care to ensure a uniform and level finish.
  7. Set the moulds to cool. Turn out onto a service plate and sprinkle with cinnamon before enjoying.

Total preparation time: 20 minutes

Desserts like this one are about getting back to the basics. Did I mention it is cholesterol free?

Pánta Kalá! Πάντα Καλά! (Always Be Well)


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prasorizo - Leeks and Rice (Πρασόρυζο)

Many of you are likely already familiar with the Greek dish, Spanakorizo (spinach and rice), but how many of you have tried Prasorizo? Leeks have been a part of the Greek pantry for millenia. In ancient Greece, there were leek growing competitions and the largest specimens were awarded as offerings to the gods.

Prasorizo - served with a lemon wedge

The fresh green onions and garlic are excellent complements to the leeks in this dish as they are all part of the genus Allium. This dish is vegan and fast-friendly. However, for those of you who are not (or only partially) fasting, some real Greek Feta cheese also goes well with this dish, whether on the side, or crumbled over top as a finishing touch.

An easy and quick Greek recipe that is tasty and seasonal.

Ingredients:

3 large leeks sliced into thin discs
4 - 6 green onions sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup long grain rice
½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup of chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, pressed/minced
1 heaping tablespoon full of dried Greek oregano
2 ½ cups of water
Salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot over a medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and onions to the oil stir well and sauté until soft (cover the pot for 3 -5 minutes).
  3. Add the rice and sauté for 2 more minutes mixing well to coat the rice with oil.
  4. Add garlic, pine nuts and parsley to the pot, mix and heat through for another minute.
  5. Add seasonings and gradually add 2 cups of water in stages, stir/shake pot to thoroughly incorporate.
  6. Once all the water has been added and the pot’s contents brought to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pot to simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Periodically uncover the pot and give the contents a stir/shake. At the 5-minute mark, uncover the pot, give the contents a stir and, if necessary, add the remaining ½ cup of water. Cover and finish cooking.
  8. When the cooking has elapsed, leaving the pot covered, remove it from the heat and set it aside to stand for 10 minutes.
  9. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve with a lemon wedge.
Makes 4 servings
Total preparation time: 45 minutes.

Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Greek Food Holiday Wishes 2010

IT is with the humblest gratitude that I look back upon the past year. I am thankful for my family, our health, our good fortune and overall life situation. As a result, I feel it is necessary to do what I can to remind myself and all likeminded folk of good intent, that we are blessed beyond imagination. The life of convenience and luxury that attends many of us in our daily habitations and activities is truly remarkable. Let us remember to count our blessings. I wish each of you a healthy and happy Holiday, along with our Best Compliments of the Season for the coming year 2011.

Available in bookstores and most major online book retailers worldwide!

Christmas came early for me this year. In April, I was contacted by an editor from Adams Media, publisher of the best-selling Everything series. They asked me if I would be interested in a book deal with their company relating to the Mediterranean Diet.

For a blogger and writer of recipes this was the ultimate reward and acknowledgement. I want to thank the people I dealt with at Adams Media for choosing my work based solely on the recipes and writings presented in this blog. Over the years, I have tried to maintain a certain level of quality in my recipes and explanations and it is nice to know my efforts did not go unremarked. Thank you.

Indeed, I have not been the most prolific of bloggers on the topic of Greek food, but I suspect that my work is definitely among the most interesting. Nothing else would explain the traffic and overall support. So, I want to thank all of my readers who took the time to share my blog with friends, to comment or drop me a line or two by email to encourage this initiative. You have truly been my inspiration and I am grateful for your continued patronage.

All of that said, we come to the nitty gritty of this post. Yes, I am promoting my book for your Christmas and Holiday gift list(s), but there is more to it than simply that. I am promoting a lifestyle, one that is based on a specific relationship with the food we take into our bodies. How and what we eat is likely the single most determinant factor in whether we develop many of the chronic illnesses or conditions which abound in our civilization. The old Hippocratic dictum to "let food be your medicine and your medicine be food" has never had more relevance than in our present circumstances.

Changing how one eats is not easy, but the effects of improving one's diet can be felt almost immediately. The regimen, as explained by my co-author Connie Diekman is not hard to follow and can have a longstanding salutary effect on your health. The recipes and the sidebar anecdotes and factoids are my contributions to the book. If you, or someone you know, has a resolution coming up which includes eating healthier, our book may hold the key to a salubrious dietary future. Please consider adding it to your bookshelf for this coming year.

It would not be Christmas if we didn't have some traditional Greek cookies on hand to serve our family, friends and guests. Earlier tonight I finished up baking a batch of Kourabiedes. I had posted the recipe last Christmas and I offer it here again as it makes singularly excellent cookies. Just remember to share them! :-) (And for those of you who would like to see Chef Gordon Ramsay taken down a few notches, do watch the video appended to the end of the recipe. LOL! It took a Greek mother's cookie to bring the DONKEY out in Chef Ramsay...)

Finally, stay tuned for a special announcement coming shortly relating to the evolution of my project to bring the Gospel of Greek Gastronomy to the wider world at large. Until then, eat, drink and be well. Wishing all celebrants a Very Merry Christmas!

Καλές Γιορτές! Happy Holidays!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mastiha Pumpkin Spice Soup - Κολοκυθόσουπα με Μαστίχα

An exotic twist to my mother's pumpkin soup recipe. Makes for a rich and inspiring autumn dish that will leave you feeling warm and satisfied, physically and intellectually.

Mastic (or Mastiha) Pumpkin Spice Soup for autumn lunch. Click to Enlarge.

It is exciting times on the Greek culinary front. The Greeks are re-discovering one of their ancient aromatics, the rarest spice on the planet: mastiha (mastic). As exciting a development as this may be, it is a situation fraught with gastronomic risks. In the drive to incorporate mastiha into a “Greek” cooking palette and create new taste sensations, there have been some interesting offerings coming out of test kitchens all over the planet.

Working the resin, mastiha, into a dish is not an easy thing. One must be familiar with the flavour of the aromatic and that takes practice. It is a good idea to buy the raw resin crystals and chew them to acquire the scent. When you do, you will realize it is a challenging flavour to incorporate. Mastiha, like any natural resin, is a concentration of the humours and juices of a tree or shrub. It is a distillation; the essence of its host.

Mastiha is the spirit of the lentisk tree.

An accounting of the flavour of mastiha has never been put forward in any great screed. This posting will be a short attempt to outline a flavour profile and to provide some food for thought on the matter. Comments are encouraged.

There is definitely something borderline unpleasant in the mastic scent and its flavour. Too much mastic can ruin a dish. It is the spice rack’s equivalent of eating blowfish, one wrong move and it’s over. Handle with care.

One of the resins involved in the embalming of ancient Egyptian pharaohs has been determined to be an inferior form of mastic resin, which was the product of a Cypriot cousin of the Chian lentisk shrub. Tests on Egyptian mummies have confirmed the presence of this resin. Today, one of the more widespread commercial uses of mastic is for the varnishing of paint(ings). Interestingly, terebinth (the original turpentine trees) are also related to the shrub which produces mastiha. So, mastic is somewhere between a preservative and a solvent. It can go either way with such substances.

As to the flavour itself, it has a peculiarly pharmaceutical quality to it. Whether in liquor form or as a flavouring agent, mastiha retains something of a medicament in its clingy aftertaste which verges on but never quite achieves the “green” character of a pine informed flavour; it lacks a sense of the verdigris that makes pine "piny" (ironic though it may be). The mastic redolence is of a drier nature than the more commonly recognized verdurous pine scent.

Though the mastic tree is an evergreen, it is not of the coniferous genus. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking they will find familiar piny overtones in mastiha, because they won’t. It is different; it has something faintly akin to the character of green pistachio in its makeup, which is not surprising as the lentisk is related to the pistachio tree. This probably explains why I’ve always liked pistachios with my mastic-flavoured ice cream(s).

To ship this recipe, I am hoping this attempt at an explication of the mastic flavour is sufficient to encourage you to try my soup as outlined below. I believe I have achieved a balance of flavours that allows the mastic to offer its more palatable, saporous qualities. Do let me know if you try it. I think it will make an excellent addition to any Thanksgiving table. For what it's worth, I used the innards of our Jack O'Lantern Hallowe'en pumpkin for the recipe.

I carved this pumpkin for our son's first Trick or Treat. Click to Enlarge.

A heads-up: I’d like to add that Chef Gordon Ramsay will be making an appearance at the Arcadian Court (I love that name!) in Toronto next week, on Thursday, November 18 between 5:30 and 7:30PM. I happen to count myself among Chef Ramsay’s admirers, so I put this out there for you too. Perhaps we will see you there...

Mastic Pumpkin Spice Soup

Ingredients

6 - 8 cups fresh pumpkin pulp
4 cups chicken/vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 tbsp. butter (optional)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped onion
½ tsp. ground mastic
½ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large pot; add onions and sauté until soft.
  2. Add broth, spices, salt, pepper, mustard and water to pot, stir and bring to boil; add shredded pumpkin pulp to pot, stir and cover to boil. When boiling, lower heat to medium low, keep pot covered and let simmer for 30-40 minutes.
  3. When the pumpkin pulp is sufficiently softened, use an immersion blender and puree the soup to a creamy consistency. Cover and let simmer for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, then serve with a dollop of Greek-style strained yogurt in each portion.

Makes 8 servings and good to freeze for reheating.

Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Greek Food Festival Season

Get ready for another summer season of great Greek food and cultural entertainment, coming soon to a Greek festival near you!

Crowds milling about and lining up for grub at Taste of the Danforth 2009

Here in North America the summer is almost upon us, and the numerous Greek food festivals that accompany the fine weather are also spinning up. Whether organized by Greek Orthodox parish groups or local business associations, these festivals are always worthwhile events for foodies as the grub is plentiful, varied and reasonably priced. And the people watching opportunities are pretty good too...

What can you expect to taste, see and hear at a typical Greek food festival? Well, the menus usually include items like Spanakopita, Souvlaki, Tzatziki, Baklava, plus a whole bunch of less well-known regional Greek specialties. In addition to the nosh, you can also drink some Ouzo or sample a growing array of excellent Greek wines that are usually on offer. Accompanying the food and drink are the numerous traditional dance shows and musical ensembles which can aid digestion by getting one in the mood to dance. Just don't expect to be breaking any plates as they are usually made of paper or styrofoam, but you and your friends can always throw a few napkins about as you cavort.

As there is no central directory/catalogue for North American Greek food festivals, I thought it might be helpful to bring attention to the various events by opening up this blog to periodic festival announcements. So, if you are a festival organizer, participant or visitor who would like to spread the word about a particular Greek food fest, feel free to send me an email at greekgourmand(at)gmail.com and I will add you to our festival updates.

Looking forward to some great summer food fests, starting with this week:

34th annual Richmond Greek Food Festival

32nd annual Des Moines Greek Food Fair

New Jersey Greek Fest 2010


Pànta Kalà (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.