Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stuffed Pork Loin - Hirino Gemisto (Χοιρινό γεμιστό)

Traditionally, pork or rooster (and sometimes both) are served as part of Greek family meals on New Year's Eve or Day.

Pork Loin stuffed with Kefalograviera cheese and mushrooms. Click to enlarge image.

Yesterday marked our second wedding anniversary and Sophie and I spent a quiet evening entertaining at our home. The table was set for six; the guests included our Best Man and Lady, along with another couple who are also very dear friends. According to my version of an ancient custom, I rarely invite more than nine guests to an indoor dinner symposium. I call it the “933 Rule” and it really is quite a successful play when entertaining guests over the Holidays. The company, in order to be close yet not unmanageable, must never exceed the number of the Muses (nine), nor ever be fewer than the number of the Fates (three). Nor should anyone present consume more cups of wine than there are Graces (also three). Now, three glasses of wine may not sound like a lot, but it is the equivalent of a typical bottle of wine i.e., 750 ml. In my estimation, a bottle of wine all to oneself is more than enough to “have a good time” as the saying goes. Mind you, this last rule is more of a guideline than a strict cut-off point… But, I do drop a subtle hint or two when I think someone has overdone it. :-)

The menu consisted of stuffed pork loin as pictured above, served with a roasted tuber and root medley, and a rice pilaf topped with baked mushrooms and onions; there was also a baked chickpea dish, and a romaine lettuce hearts and cucumber salad. In addition, the table was set with a platter of assorted Greek cheeses (including Kaseri and Feta), some village style cured olives, and some Greek peperoncini peppers. For dessert, I had baked a Milopita which was accompanied by coffee, tea, and cognac.

The pork loin was simply superb; succulent and moist all the way through. I had splayed the loin in a double butterfly manner to ensure as large a rolling surface area as possible. I wanted a tight and complete roll that would not leak its contents when tied and roasting in the oven. As the loin was the better part of two feet long, it was a delicate process to open it up in such a fashion, but the finished product was well worth the extra effort and care.

Once the loin was cooked and sliced, I served each piece with a drizzle of jus which I reduced from the pan drippings combined with some apple juice and Greek thyme honey. Also, I had tenderized the inner surface of the meat with a mallet and rubbed the loin (inside and out) with Greek extra virgin olive oil, and had seasoned it all over with paprika, marjoram, salt and pepper. Then, I spread a layer of shredded/grated Kefalograviera cheese followed by a layer of sliced mushrooms lightly seared in butter over top of the meat, covering about two-thirds of the inside open face of the loin, and leaving an uncovered band about two inches in width running along the edge furthest from me. At which point, I rolled the meat lengthwise toward the cheese-less band, and then tightly tied it with twine at both ends and in the centre, and then again at two-inch intervals along its entire length. The final preparatory step was to tightly wrap the meat in some aluminum foil and allow it to sit on the counter for a couple hours before cooking. I wanted the meat to be at around room temperature when it went into the oven.

Finally, I removed it from the aluminum foil wrap and cooked the loin uncovered on a rack over a pan in a moderate 350 oven for 1 ½ hours. From time to time, I basted the loin with the pan drippings and turned it only once to ensure an even roasting. The result was flavourful, tender, and moist.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve and my wife and I will be spending it with our son, Ilias, who is still in the NICU at the hospital. Though, we do expect him home very soon. So, from the three of us to all of you, we hope 2009 brings you and yours nothing but health, happiness, peace and prosperity.

Pánta Kalá! (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 29, 2008

My Greek Pistachio Story - Fystikia (Φυστίκια)

Pistachios are quite popular in Greece. They are used in all manner of recipes, and Greeks also enjoy eating them roasted with salt (as pictured below) or raw. In point of fact, there is hardly a Greek home during this holiday period which will not have a bowl of roasted and salted pistachios sitting out on a table for guests to nibble on. Pistachios are used in Greek baklava; they are made into brittles, added to cakes, cookies, and any number of baked goods and bonne bouches.

Roasted & salted pistachios from Aegina. Click to enlarge image.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the pistachio seed has been a part of Greek food culture since at least the 2nd Century B.C., and likely much earlier. The English word pistachio is derived from the ancient Greek word pistákion (πιστάκιον). The ancients credited the origins of the pistachio tree to Arabia and Syria.

Today, the island of Aegina and the region around Megara are the traditional epicentres of pistachio cultivation in Greece; with more recent production also taking place in Phthiotis, Boeotia and the Aegean island of Euboea (Evia). The pistachios of Aegina are considered the best and have attained preeminence in Greek marketplaces and in popular preference; they are referred to as fystiki Aeginis (pronounced: fee-STEE-kee ay-YEE-nees). However, I have found that the Megarian pistachios are equally good and they do not command the same premium in price, even though Megara is quite close to Aegina. Greece is the largest producer of pistachios in Europe and the sixth largest exporter of pistachios to the world; the bulk of global pistachio cultivation takes place in Iran.

Pistachio spoon sweet from Aegina. Click to enlarge image.

The first pistachio I ever tasted was immature and raw, just like the ones used to make the spoon sweet pictured above. I remember my grandmother was irrigating one of our plots in the lower plain of the village and I had gone along for "company". At ten years of age, I was a rather willful child and in constant need of curiosities to occupy my attention.

So, as I was not off flipping rocks in the nearby river to find and collect crabs in my grandfather’s cap (my favorite village pastime), I was nosing about her feet and right in my grandma’s way no matter which way she turned. At some point, the old woman hastily plucked a branch of what looked like a bunch of unripe grapes from a small tree and handed them to me, instructing me to eat them and be still.

Now, I cannot say that I was immediately taken with the flavour as it was actually rather “green and somewhat piny” (which is the best way I can describe it), but there was something to the texture which made it amenable to my young palate; also, I liked the way I had to pop the inner seed from its immature outer shell and right into my mouth, just as my grandmother had shown me how to do it.

To this day, I have a thing for pistachios in any form. Though, I have to admit, my all-time favourite pistachio preparation remains the spoon sweet which is a specialty of the island of Aegina. Earlier this evening, my wife and I consumed the last two spoonfuls of my zealously guarded hoard of the stuff. We still have some of the roasted variety from Aegina to carry us through to the New Year, but they will not last much beyond the next couple days. Thus, all good things come to an end, in order to make room for more good things to replace them in the future.

Cleaning out the cupboards, pantry, and fridge for the New Year, I leave you with that for now.

Pánta Kalá! (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christopsomo – Christmas Bread (Χριστόψωμο)

My Greek Christmas bread in all its glory. Click to Enlarge Image.

The many centuries-old custom of the Christopsomo or ‘Bread of Christ’ is a universal Christmas Greek food tradition. Today, all over Greece and throughout the Diaspora, Christopsomo loaves will be baked and set aside for the breaking, which depending on where you are from in Greece is performed at either Christmas Eve dinner or lunch on Christmas Day. This bread is a sweet yeast bread, and is characteristically decorated with the symbol of the cross which is usually embossed overtop of the loaf with two dough strands that intersect and divide the bread into four segments. Other standard decorations include walnuts in their shells and sesame seeds (white and black). More elaborate designs are also traced on the surface of the loaf in some regions of Greece, as in Crete, where ornate symbols are carved into the surface of the bread. Usually these symbols are associated with the livelihood of the family. For instance, if agriculture is the primary activity of a given family, their Christopsomo might bear symbols that relate to agrarian activities, i.e. farming tools, crops, animals and so on.

Along with the specific ingredient list (which often differs by locale), the custom of the Christopsomo usually includes a ritualistic cutting or breaking of the bread. In our family, the bread is literally broken in half by the eldest male family member present at the table on Christmas Day. This is done by placing the bread on his head and by pulling on either side until the loaf is broken roughly in half. The two pieces are then examined and if the piece that ended up in his right hand is larger than the other, the coming year will be a good and bountiful time for the whole family; if it is smaller, then the coming year will be fraught with difficulties and challenges.

This recipe is my family’s version and originates in the region known as Arcadia in the central Peloponnese.


4 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of golden raisins
1 cup of walnut pieces
4 whole unshelled walnuts
½ cup of sugar
3 tablespoons Mastic Liqueur (or Ouzo)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 ½ tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 ½ tablespoons black sesame seeds
¼ cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Finely grated rind/zest of one medium-sized orange

  1. Mix yeast with three tablespoons of flour, one teaspoon of sugar, and ½ cup of warm water, then set aside for 30 minutes to proof. The entire surface of the yeast mixture should foam up and rise markedly before it is ready to use.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, sift the remaining flour, then add the sugar, salt, ground cinnamon and ground clove, and then create a hole in the centre of the dry ingredients.
  3. Add yeast to the centre hole in the dry ingredients and start kneading to combine well.
  4. Once the dough starts to form into a crumbly mass, add the Mastic liqueur (or Ouzo) and then slowly add a ½ cup of warm water to the mix, kneading well all the time to combine thoroughly. Once the water has been absorbed into the dough, slowly add the olive oil and work the dough until it has been incorporated.
  5. Once the dough mass has taken shape, add the orange rind and knead it well into the dough, then add the raisins and walnut pieces and continue to knead the dough until it forms an elastic ball. Note: this dough will be a rather heavy dough and although you may use a machine to knead it through the initial stages, it will need to be finished by hand to ensure a thorough and proper kneading.
  6. Using a sharp knife, cut away a piece about the size of an orange from the dough, and further divide that piece in half so you are left with one large ball of dough and two small pieces.
  7. Knead the larger dough mass some more then place it in a round greased baking pan (I used a 9-inch spring form pan), and use the palm of your hand to shape it to fit (and evenly fill) the entire bottom of the pan.
  8. Roll out the two small pieces of dough to form two strands of equal length that will be long enough to form a cross overtop of the surface of the dough in the pan.
  9. Wet your hands with warm water and place the two dough strands on top of the bread dough in an intersecting fashion to form a cross, then press them down into the dough and continue to flatten the loaf evenly with moistened hands. Using the tines of a fork, follow round the edges of the cross formed by the now flattened strands and score them slightly to ensure that they bond with the surface of the bread and do not come away when rising/baking.
  10. Press the four unshelled walnuts into the four ends of the dough strand cross such that they stand up straight, then sprinkle the entire surface of the loaf with the white and black sesame seeds.
  11. Cover the pan with a cloth and set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours until it has doubled in bulk.
  12. Once the dough has risen, place the pan in an oven pre-heated to 350°F (180°C) and bake for one our or so, until a deep chestnut colour has formed evenly across its entire surface and the bread is ready.

There you have it, a traditional Greek bread to accompany your Christmas meal.

A Merry Christmas to those of you who do celebrate the holiday, and my Compliments of the Season to all.

Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Galatopita: Milk Pie - Video Recipe

As for Greek desserts, this is one of my favourites.  It is easy to make and tastes great. I posted the original recipe in March and it has generated numerous email responses from people thanking me for sharing it. I decided to publish it as a video recipe to underline the simplicity of making this pie.

The original posting of this recipe along with the ingredient list can be found here. As mentioned in the video, variations of this recipe can include phyllo pastry as a pie shell, the addition of vanilla extract/flavour to the mix, as well as fruit preserves or other spreads as toppings; cinnamon can also be sprinkled overtop. I sincerely hope you will try this recipe and let me know how it turned out for you.

Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos 
Greek Gourmand™ 
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tzatziki Recipe Video (Τζατζίκι)

I receive several requests every month for a Tzatziki sauce recipe, so I finally decided to oblige and provide my own take on the famous condiment. 

Creating a recipe video is always a learning experience. This is my first cameo appearance in an instructional Greek cooking video (I have to admit, I was a little nervous), so there is much room for improvement from a presentational, technical, and production value standpoint. On the other hand, I believe my recipe for a classic Tzatziki sauce leaves very little room for improvement, as the result is simply excellent - even if I do say so myself. Rich and creamy, with a bold garlicky flavour mingled with the freshness of the cucumber and dill, this sauce (or dip, or salad) will have you, your family, friends, and guests coming back for more. Just make sure to refrigerate it well before serving as the flavours need some time to coalesce in order to impart the full gustatory sense of this "salad" that eats like a sauce.  

Let me just say that I likely could have edited this video until the cows came home (figuratively speaking of course, as we don't have a dairy farm), but I am happy with the recipe itself, so I decided to publish it as is.  My one solace: I am quite certain that after watching this Greek recipe video, you will not easily forget how to make a great Tzatziki sauce, it really is easy. So, enjoy it in good health!

Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos 
Greek Gourmand™ 
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Greek Food Holiday Wishes

As the Santa Claus Parade officially kicked off the Christmas shopping season last weekend here in Toronto, I thought I might get a headstart on everyone and send out my Greek Food Holiday Wishes via a Video Card:

Wishing You and Yours the Very Best for the Holiday Season 2008; may your tables be filled with Greek food and your hearts with Love and Peace. And if you live where you may need one, keep those shovels handy; shoveling makes for good exercise after a holiday meal with all the fixings...

Kalés Giortés (Happy Holidays),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pastokydono or Komfeto: Quince Paste (Παστοκύδωνο / Κομφέτο)

The quince and the Greek honey melded into a translucent paste delight, freckled with slivered blanched almonds. Click to Enlarge Image.

This Greek dessert is a specialty of the island of Kefalonia. Long before chocolates and other modern sugar-based confections appeared on the scene in Greece, Greeks were fond of this autumn harvest sweet; one used to be able to find it everywhere from bakeries to street kiosks, wrapped in quaint little folded parchment paper packets. Alas, times have changed and it is no longer so widely available. If you do find it, it is usually made with sugar as using honey exclusively would make it prohibitively expensive to sell competitively in the agorá. But believe you me; one can taste the difference in the finished product. The sugar-based versions are far too sweet for my palate.

Greek honey is world renowned for its quality, flavours, and therapeutic benefits. Indeed, honey is a universal medicine in Greek households. As far back as I can remember, some thymarisio meli (thyme-honey) mixed with fresh lemon juice was a cure for symptoms ranging from the sniffles to full-blown bouts of congestion and coughing that accompany the common cold. My father even prescribed it as a preventative measure in the winter months. As a child, I had my daily dose before breakfast every wintry morning and liked it! My father used to tell me it would make me smart and strong, so I looked forward to each day’s spoonful, plus, it tasted good. Did it work? Well, let me just say that I did not come down with common seasonal ailments as often as most of my non-Greek friends; but when I did, I was not down for long. I say non-Greek friends because the other Greek kids (and there were many, as I grew up in a Greek ghetto here in Toronto) were likely undergoing the same regimen at home themselves.

There are exactly four ingredients and no more in the pomiferous preparation which is our original subject here: quince, a Greek honey, almonds, and a hint of cinnamon. This is a fast-friendly dessert as there are no dairy or animal products in it, and it is reputed to have a salutary effect in cases of chronic diarrhea. Which brings to mind Hippocrates’ counsel: “May food be your medicine, and may your medicine be food.” To which I reply, “It’s all Greek food to me Hippocrates!” :-)

When done properly, the dessert achieves a translucent yet dense gelatin-like consistency. It is served in slices and can be garnished with crumbled pistachio or other nuts. Of course, you can serve it simply on its own which is just how I like it, along with a cup of tsaï faskómilo (“wild sage tea”), or as it is more commonly known: Greek mountain tea.

Unfortunately, I will not be sharing the recipe for this amazing dessert today; I offer it only as a subject for reflection. After all, my blog is entitled Greek Food Recipes and Reflections. The recipe was a gift to me from a Kefalonian friend who has since passed on, yet her memory will endure in my heart forever. Who knows? Perhaps I will put it into a recipe book or something sometime in the future. Stay tuned. In the meantime, there are lots of other great traditional Greek food recipes on my blog for you to try, so have at it!

Pánta Kalá (Always Be Well),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

P.S. One thing I will say is that upon trying her first piece of this dessert, my wife, Sophia, urged me to turn the remaining fresh quince into more of this... I resisted, but half-heartedly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stifado - Video Recipe (Στιφάδο)


Barrel of Mavrodaphne wine from 1873, the world's second oldest extant wine at 135 years. (Photo courtesy of Sotiris Blatsis)

A Stifado is essentially a savoury onion-based stew with meat and is an excellent comfort Greek food for those of us who are anticipating the winter doldrums. One can use rabbit, chicken, lamb, pork, beef or veal in this quintessentially Greek dish. Stifado can even be made with deer and moosemeat.

In this video recipe for a Beef Stifado, I use a Greek wine vinegar which can just as easily be substituted by a unique Greek red wine called Mavrodaphne (or Mavrodafni). Indeed, fellow food blogger Hank Shaw from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook swears by Mavrodaphne in hisStifado recipes, and I agree that it definitely adds another dimesion to the meal. But, for those of you who may have a hard time finding some Mavrodaphne, the wine vinegar will do just fine. For those of you who do happen to have some Mavrodaphne on hand, use it in roughly the same quantity as the vinegar in the video ( i.e. 2 or 3 tablespoons). As a side note, Mavrodaphne wine also makes an excellent accompaniment to chocolate-based sweets, so it can also be served as a dessert wine when not used in stews or the like.

So there you have it, a classic Stifado recipe as my yiayia (grandmother) used to make it. This one pot meal is rustic Greek cooking in all its simple and tasty glory.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Foodbuzz Publisher Community Launches

Dear Readers,

Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I put an emphasis on quality in my postings and recipes. So, if I did not think the people at Foodbuzz were a fantastic group doing some excellent work in online food publishing, I would not have added this posting. In a few words, I want to announce the official launch of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community. Foodbuzz is an online culinary publishing network that currently includes over 1100 featured publishers worldwide. The range of food related material, from recipes to restaurant ratings and reviews which are available through Foodbuzz is enormous and growing daily. Join the community and offer up a restaurant review or share your recipes; there can never be enough information shared about food, especially if it is good!

Recently, Foodbuzz launched a global food blogging event known as 24, 24, 24 in which 24 blogs worldwide served up 24 signature meals to groups of guests, and published postings on their respective events within 24 hours. As the first such event of its kind in the world it was a huge success and has led to a series of monthly "24, 24, 24" food blogging events. This coming Saturday, October 25th 2008, is the second installment of "24, 24, 24" and it promises to be a tasty weekend for all those involved. I am looking forward to the Buzz from this weekend’s event. Stay tuned.

Here is a promotional video from the last (and first!) Foodbuzz "24, 24, 24":


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Village Greek Salad (Χωριάτικη Ντοματοσαλάτα)

Village Greek salad in all its glory - Click to Enlarge Image

Exactly when the tomato arrived in Greece is a matter of conjecture; there are various apocryphal anecdotes and references but nothing definitive. One thing is certain; it arrived sometime after Columbus returned from the New World in 1493. The tomato is native to the Americas and was introduced to Europe after the Discovery made by the great 15th Century navigator on his celebrated voyage across the Atlantic. If Christopher Columbus was of Greek origin as some claim, it may have arrived in Greece earlier than commonly supposed. In any case, the tomato qua tomato has been a part of European and Greek recipes for no more than a few centuries all told. It is downright astonishing how this species of nightshade spread and insinuated itself into the national cuisines of the European continent in such a relatively short time. After all, where would Italian cooking be without the tomato? How about the Spanish food fight festival known as the Tomatina? What of Greek salad?

Like the Italians and the Spanish, Greeks use the tomato in everything from casseroles to soups; they stuff them, roast them, bake them, fry them, dry them, grate them, pulp them, and turn ‘em into sauce. Opa! But the single most popular way for tomatoes to be consumed in Greece is in a salad; and not just any salad of course, but a Greek salad. Just what makes a Greek salad anyway? If you ask a Greek this question, he/she may require clarification. “What kind of salad do you mean?” they might ask. After all, Greeks have all manner of salads or salates as they call them (in Gk. pronounced “sah-LAH-tehs”, which is plural for “sah-LAH-tah”); from Taramosalata, to Lahanosalata, to every kind of salata you can imagine… and even some you cannot. In short, Greeks are the biggest salad eaters on the planet; for them everything is potentially a salad.

So, if what you mean by Greek salad is a tomato salad that includes feta cheese, olive oil and oregano as its most basic constituents, you will need to be specific. More often than not, if you are in a Greek restaurant, both in Greece and abroad, the classic tomato salad with feta cheese is usually referred to as a ‘horiatiki salata’. The word horiatiki is Greek for “village” and is pronounced as “hor-YIA-tiki”. Typically, a horiatiki salad will include onions and cucumbers as well, and in most cases black olives too. As my family is from Arcadia in the Peloponnese we also include Greek pepperoncini in our version of the famous salad, as the small “Golden Greek Peppers” are a specialty of our region.

My father's pride and joy, a 1 kg. tomato! - Click to Enlarge Image

I used tomatoes from our kitchen garden for this dish, as we still have quite a few left. My father-in-law brought us some seed from Greece in the spring, so our tomatoes are actual Greek tomatoes. Yesterday, I pulled the remaining tomatoes off the vines as we had a frost warning for the overnight period. This year, the family prize for the largest tomato went to my father who managed to grow a truly behemoth bunch of tomatoes; the largest of which was a 1 kg (2.2 lb) monster, as pictured above. The award was a bottle of ouzo. The monster tomato ended up in a salad exactly like the one pictured in this recipe, and it was tasty!


3 medium sized ripe tomatoes cut into quarters or sixths
½ a cooking onion, sliced
½ a cucumber, peeled, halved and sliced
Several Greek pepperoncini (be sure to squeeze them to drain the brine before using)
Some Kalamata or wrinkled black olives (the choice is yours)
½ cup (125 ml.) crumbled Greek Feta cheese
¼ cup (60 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons (30 ml.) Greek wine vinegar* (optional, I normally do not add it)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) dried Greek oregano
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste* (optional, I normally do not add it as the Feta is already salty enough)

  1. Wash and cut the tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and put them together into a salad bowl.
  2. Add several olives and pepperoncini to the bowl.
  3. Sprinkle the crumbled feta overtop of the vegetables, then follow with fresh ground pepper, oregano, and the olive oil (salt and vinegar are also options at this point, but are not required ingredients. I do not add salt because as I stated above the Feta cheese is already quite salty, and any additional salt will only serve to make the tomatoes drain their water, thereby limiting the standing time of the salad).
  4. Mix everything together a couple turns, but don’t overdo it, and serve.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Yiouvetsi Kritharaki Kypriako – Cypriot Orzo Yiouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι Κριθαράκι Κυπριακό)

A hearty Greek recipe from Cyprus - Click to Enlarge Image

This dish requires no introduction to our Cypriot friends, and though yiouvetsi [γιουβέτσι in Gk., pronounced “yoo-VE-tsee”] dishes are common fare throughout Greece, this variation employing ground meat is from Cyprus. As the 1st of October is Cypriot Independence Day, and since I was unable to attend the reception held by the Consulate General of the Republic of Cyprus here in Toronto due to a nasty cold, I thought I might whip up a dish to belatedly commemorate the occasion in absentia, as it were.

We are now in the Autumn season here in the Northern Hemisphere, and this recipe is a representative Greek comfort food that is easy to make and even easier to eat during the increasingly colder and shorter days that are upon us. The term “yiouvetsi” can best be translated as ‘casserole’ and the name is derived from the type of earthenware vessel that is traditionally used to bake it; a deep two-handled round clay dish. I used an oval stoneware casserole as I broke my yiouvetsi dish (boohoo!) and have not had a chance to replace it. The main point here is that a metal pan is no substitute for a ceramic cooking vessel when one is trying to remain true to traditional Greek food cooking techniques. If you have a ceramic casserole dish, this would be a good recipe to use it on. If you do not have clay or stoneware crockery, then I recommend something like a CorningWare® or Pyrex® glass-ceramic ovenproof dish, as a metal pan will require that you stay on top of it and stir the contents often or the pasta will stick to the sides and bottom. My grandmother used to say that "a true yiouvetsi is stirred only once, half-way through the cooking and no more".

My yiouvetsi straight out of the oven - Click to Enlarge Image

Variations on the yiouvetsi theme in Greek cuisine can include cuts of lamb or chicken, or it can be made without any meat whatsoever. Cheese (usually a dried Greek whey cheese known as myzithra) can also be grated and sprinkled overtop when serving; though I typically do not use cheese on the meat-based variations, it remains an option. Usually, the meatless version of this dish is referred to simply as manestra [pronounced "mah-NE-strah"]. NOTE: Other pasta noodles may also be used to make yiouvetsi, but the krytharaki (orzo) noodle is the most commonly used for this purpose in this Greek recipe.


1 lb. (450 gr.) ground veal
1 quart (1 litre) beef stock
1 ½ cups (375 ml.) of orzo pasta
1 cup (250 ml.) fresh strained tomato juice/sauce [or 2 tbsp. (30 ml.) tomato paste diluted in 1 cup of water]
1 onion, grated or finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped or pressed
1 cinnamon stick (a couple inches in length will suffice)
4 spice cloves
3 tablespoons (45 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) butter
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, then, over a medium heat, add the ground veal and breaking it up with a wooden spoon sauté the meat for 5-8 minutes stirring constantly until it is thoroughly browned.
  2. Once the ground veal has been completely browned, add the onion, garlic, tomato sauce, cinnamon stick, cloves, salt and pepper to the saucepan with the meat. Stirring the contents well, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes over a medium-low heat.
  3. In a separate pan/pot bring the beef stock to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low, so as to keep it hot until we need it.
  4. When the meat has cooked, remove the cinnamon stick from the pan. Add the uncooked orzo pasta to the hot beef stock for a couple stirs, then add the stock to the pan with the meat sauce and stir to mix thoroughly.
  5. Butter the sides and bottom of the casserole, then add the yiouvetsi mixture to the dish and bake uncovered at a moderate heat 350° F. (180° C.) for 50-60 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed by the pasta. Stir the yiouvetsi well with a wooden spoon only once at about the 25 minute mark (making sure to get into the corners of the dish) then let it cook undisturbed for the remainder of its allotted time. Look for the surface of the yiouvetsi to form almost a crust-like top layer, especially near the edges of the dish. Remove from the oven when done and let the casserole sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 Servings.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fassolakia Moraïtika – Peloponnesian Braised Green Beans (Φασολάκια Μοραΐτικα)

A rustic Greek vegetarian dish from the Peloponnesus

There was once a City Mouse who went to visit his cousin in the Country. The Country Mouse was a simple fellow but he loved his relative from the Big City and did his best to make him feel at home; all he could offer him were some beans and bread crumbs, and he generously spread these before him. The City Mouse snickered at the poor country food, and said: "Cousin, I cannot understand how you are satisfied with such simple food as this… Of course one really should not expect too much seeing as you live way out here in the Country, but why don’t you come back with me to the city for a while and let me show you how to really eat? A week in town with me and you will wonder how you could ever have been content with country living." And so, the two mice set off for the Big City and arrived at the City Mouse's residence late in the evening. "You look like you could use some refreshments after our trip," the City Mouse offered politely, and led his Country cousin into a large dining room where they found what remained of a rich banquet. Soon the two mice were feasting on tasty meats and puddings and all the trimmings of a fine table. Without warning, they heard some loud voices and then some vicious growling and barking. "What’s all that noise?" gasped the Country Mouse between bites. "Oh, that’s just the dogs of the house," answered the other. "Just the dogs of the house!?" cried the Country Mouse in a frantic tone, dropping the sauce-dripping dumpling he had been munching on. In that instant the dining room door burst open and in rushed a pair of large dogs, and the two mice jumped from the table and scurried madly for cover through a small crack in the wall. "Alright then, take care Cousin, and thank you for your grand hospitality here in the Big City" said the Country Mouse when he had regained his breath and some composure. "Are you leaving already?" asked the other in a surprised tone. "Yes," he replied; "Better beans and crumbs in peace and quiet than puddings and fine wines in fear and trembling." [Story adapted from Aesop’s Fables.]

With all that is going on in the realm of food production these days, it is likely in our best interest (collectively and individually) to revert to a simpler and less refined manner and substance of eating. Daily we hear about tainted mass-produced foodstuffs leading to illnesses and sometimes even deaths. Here in Canada, within the span of the last four months we have had massive nationwide tomato, cheese, and processed meat recalls due to bacteria contaminations of one sort or another. The latest incident involved processed meat products and has led to sixteen deaths and a number of seriously ill people, and the tally is still not complete. In China, baby formula and other milk products have caused a plague of infant illnesses and the list goes on. So, here we are in our 21st Century world of convenience and plenty too plenty and many of us are suddenly realizing that we are fat and our food may not be safe. Yes, things have suddenly become quite scary for consumers the world over… Perhaps now is a good time to return to more basic and traditional eating habits?

Since it is not feasible for most of us to move to the countryside and lead a pastoral lifestyle, there are still steps we can take to regain some measure of personal quality control over the food we put in our bodies. As an alternative to conventional super market shopping, many people have moved “off the grid” so to speak, and are now shopping in local Farmer’s Markets or receiving weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) deliveries to their homes. Small independent bakeries, fish markets and butcher shops are also more direct sources for produce and ingredients than the large retail chains. As well, the personal interaction with producers and suppliers makes shopping for one’s food an intimate, engaging, and immediate experience as opposed to an impersonal and alienating chore.

My wife and I (just like our parents and most of our relations) keep a kitchen garden through the summer that yields a surprising amount of produce during the course of its flourishing and harvesting. From fresh herbs like mint, rosemary, basil, thyme and oregano, to vegetables like celery, green onion, lettuce, peppers, eggplants, zucchinis, tomatoes and green beans; our little patch is worth every bit of effort and time spent on it, which is really not a great deal at all. Of course, this food source alternative is not feasible for many people who live in apartments or who do not have garden plots, but for those who do- this is one truly viable approach towards more personal oversight with respect to the foods we ingest. There is also a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment in harvesting and eating one’s own produce which is always a fulfilling experience.

So, with that, I can turn to my featured Greek food recipe, a taste of the Greek countryside: Fassolakia Moraïtika, (pronounced “fah-soh-LAH-kee-ah moh-rah-yee-tee-KAH”). In Greek, fassolakia are fresh green beans, and the appellation Moraïtika refers to the region of origin for this recipe: the Morea, which is what the southern peninsular region of Greece (Peloponnesus) was called in the Middle Ages and early in the Modern Era. Arguably the most famous figure of the Greek War of Independence from Ottoman domination, Theodoros Kolokotronis, was known in his later years as the Old Man of the Morea, and this nickname is the title he gave to his riveting autobiography. The name Morea is from the Greek word for the mulberry tree (moria), which due to its abundance in the southern and central Peloponnese made the region into the epicentre of silk production for the Byzantine Empire from the 6th Century A.D. onwards.

I used freshly harvested green beans, along with tomato and mint from our garden for this Greek vegetarian recipe. This year our four beanstalks produced enough beans for me to cook 6 more meals for my wife and I, which we froze for later consumption. All it takes is some heating in a saucepan for a quick and healthy dinner anytime. I usually serve this dish with some fresh bread, a few olives, and some feta cheese. This recipe is rustic Greek cooking in its simplest form. The pairing of the mint with the green beans makes for a wonderful marriage of flavour and texture. The potato is optional, though I highly recommend its inclusion. This dish can also be served with some braised veal or lamb, and like much of Greek cuisine, can be eaten warm or at room temperature.


2 lbs. (1 kg.) fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 medium sized cooking onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups (375 ml.) of fresh tomato juice, sauce, or strained tomato pulp
1 large or 2 medium sized red skin potatoes, washed and cut into eighths*
½ cup (125 ml.) of Greek extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (60 ml.) of chopped fresh mint (if using dried mint 2 tbsp. will suffice)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash and clean the beans by trimming the ends and removing the strings. I use a bean slicer to remove the bean strings and to cut the beans lengthwise.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a cooking pot over a medium-high heat and when the oil is ready reduce the heat to medium and sauté the chopped onion until slightly softened and translucent.
  3. Add the beans to the pot and stir them well to mix with the olive oil and onion, then cover the pot and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then, uncover the pot and stir the contents again before adding the potato, tomato juice/sauce/pulp, the mint, and the salt and pepper along with 1 cup of water. Stir everything well, but make sure that the potato pieces end up under the beans in the pot. Bring the contents to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot (leaving it slightly open to allow steam to escape so the sauce may reduce) and let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the beans and potatoes are tender enough to be cut with a fork. Stir occasionally if necessary but avoid the temptation to add water to cover as this will result in a runny, thin sauce, and this dish is not meant to be soupy. IMPORTANT: stirring is not recommended in the latter stages of cooking as doing so will break up the potato chunks and this should be avoided.

Note: The red skin (or any other variety of) potato is optional but recommended. Also, I normally use a full cup of olive oil in this recipe as this dish is technically categorized as part of the ladera (or ‘olive oil based’) class of Greek foods. However, I have called for only half a cup of olive oil in the ingredients list as I know that many non-Greeks are not used to foods with such quantities of olive oil. If your palate is open to it, use the full cup (250 ml.) of olive oil, as it results in an overall richer dish.

Serves 4 – 6

There you have it, a return to the countryside of southern Greece with this simple, seasonal, and healthy Greek recipe. Can you say “Opa!”?

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tiganites: Greek Pancakes (Τηγανίτες)

Aunt Jemima or Uncle Socrates? Click to Enlarge Image.

What did the ancient Greeks eat? This question has been asked for centuries and it has spawned numerous scholarly, specialist, and dilettante studies on the matter. There have also been countless attempts at re-creating ancient Greek recipes and the Internet is full of such investigations. However, we need not look too hard to discover one ancient Greek food which is still around today; indeed it is a staple of numerous modern European and North American cuisines.

In Canada and the United States we know them as pancakes or flapjacks, in France they are called crêpes, and the Scots and Irish know them as drop-scones or griddlecakes; in Australia and New Zealand they are referred to as pikelets, and in Russia they are blini. The Greeks call them tiganites (Gk. τηγανίτες, pronounced as “tee-gha-NEE-tehs”) which is from the ancient Greek taginites (ταγηνίτης) and they have been a popular breakfast food in Greece since at least the 6th century B.C. The oldest reference available to us is from an ancient Athenian comic poet named Cratinus who describes the steam rising from warm pancakes in the morning; these pancakes were generally served with honey poured overtop, as well as fruits and nuts.

To this day, tiganites are popular throughout Greece. They are served much as they were 2600 years ago, usually with honey drizzled overtop, and sometimes with cinnamon, fruits and nuts, or a soft fresh sheep and goat’s milk cheese known as anthotyro spread over them. There is even a religious festival on the island of Corfu (Kerkyra) where they serve their traditional ‘tiganites tou Aghiou’ or “the Saint’s Pancakes” on December 12, in honour of that island’s patron Saint Spyridon. So, the next time you sit down in front of a plate of steaming pancakes, you can reflect on how little some things have changed since the time of Socrates.


1 cup (250 ml.) all purpose flour
1 cup (250 ml.) of milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 teaspoon (5 ml.) baking powder* (optional)
½ teaspoon salt (3 ml.)
Butter for frying
Greek blossom honey or maple syrup for topping
Some chopped fresh fruits and/or walnuts* (optional)

  1. Combine and sift the flour, baking powder * (optional) and salt into a mixing bowl. (I used the baking powder as I like a fluffier pancake, but it is not necessary)
  2. Beat the egg in a separate mixing bowl then add the olive oil and milk and mix together well, then add mixture to the bowl with the flour and whisk to combine the wet and dry ingredients to form a smooth batter. If you prefer a thinner pancake, add a little more milk to the batter.
  3. Heat a medium sized frying pan and add a tablespoonful of butter to melt over a medium heat. (Traditionally, olive oil is used instead of butter to fry the tiganites, but I also use butter from time to time as I like the flavour and it results in a lighter pancake.) Once the butter has melted, use a ladle and drop a dollop of the batter into the centre of the pan such that it will spread out into a disc as it cooks. When the edges of the disc start to dry and bubbles appear, flip the pancake to cook the other side and cook till done. Serve hot with some butter and honey drizzled overtop. You can also add some chopped walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Note: As I live in Canada, I oftentimes use excellent Canadian maple syrup in place of the honey which is normally used in Greek cooking.

Makes 6 – 8 tiganites.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Macaroni, Makaronia, Makaronada, and Pasta… (Μακαρονάδα)

A classic Greek pasta dish - Click to Enlarge Image

For me, this is one of the classic Greek recipes of my childhood. I cut my first teeth on bowls of the stuff and it remains as one of my all time favourite meals. A simple but satisfying lunch or dinner, this Greek pasta dish is a bona fide gem.

Those of you that are familiar with the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding ought to get a chuckle out of this posting. As you will recall from the movie, the father of the bride, Mr. Gus Portokalos (as played by actor Michael Constantine), had a folksy habit of pointing out the Greek etymological origins of common English words. Well then, as Mr. Portokalos might say:

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word macaroni is originally derived from the Greek word makaria ‘food made from barley’ (μακαρία in Gk., pronounced mah-kah-REE-yah). Barley was an all-purpose grain for the ancients and barley meal was used for a variety of purposes including bread baking and as part of sacrificial rites. The makaria was a traditional ancient Greek food eaten at an individual’s wake, which for the Greeks - as with the Irish - is a reception held after a funeral. Some two millennia have passed since this culinary term first appears in the available Greek literature. To this day, the customary dish served at a Greek wake is known as makaronia (pronounced mah-kah-RO-nee-yah).

In Greece, the term makaronia is a generic term that applies to all manner of pasta shapes and sizes. Furthermore, surprising as it may be for some, the actual origin of the Italian word “pasta” is Greek, as well as the word lasagna among other related culinary terms. So, to add my $0.02 to a recent blog discussion on the debate surrounding the origins of pasta… the answer is simple, blame it on the Greeks! After all, the names speak for themselves. Just be sure to take it easy when explaining this to any Italian friends.

Now, the makaronia served at a wake are known as spaghetti in English, and are simply served with a grated Greek cheese known as mizithra or myzithra (pronounced mee-TZEE-thrah) and browned butter. On the other hand, the common everyday ‘garden-variety’ makaronia are similar to what the Italians refer to as tubetti, short tubular pasta shapes. Now, if it happens to be makaronia served with meat sauce it becomes a makaronada (pronounced mah-kah-ro-NAH-tha) and it is always made with a spaghetti type noodle. All quite confusing, I know, but it makes sense to the Greeks, trust me. One more thing, the meat sauce variety is never served at a wake, though the meatless cheese and browned butter variant which is served can also be referred to as a makaronada… [Grin.]

Some mizithra we brought back from Greece - Click to Enlarge Image

It is impossible to write about makaronia and makaronada and not spend some time on mizithra cheese. Mizithra is a traditional Greek cheese and is the forebear of all whey cheeses. It has been made in much the same manner for thousands of years and has its own distinctive aroma and flavour. Mizithra is made from sheep and/or goat milk and can come in a fresh, soft and spreadable form; or aged and shaped almost like a fat-bottomed pear in a hard, salty ball. The soft mizithra has an almost sweet flavour and is used as a spreadable cheese or in baked goods and pastries. On the other hand, the aged salty mizithra variety is almost exclusively used for makaronia and makaronada dishes. Mizithra cheese is designated as PDO/PGI by the European Union.

In my grandmother’s time and for ages before her, the mizithra cheese that was to be dried and aged was hung outdoors in cloth squares called tsantilas (or τσαντίλα in Gk.). A tsantila was pinned up by its four corners and hung from a tree branch; the mass of drying cheese remained suspended in the resulting ball shape which its weight formed in the bottom of the hanging cloth. That is how the hard mizithra cheese gained its distinctive fat bottomed pear-like shape. Now, if you look but cannot find any mizithra at a cheese shop near you, try using parmesan as a substitute (but only as a last resort as the flavour is not the same). Note: Greeks do not use parmesan in traditional pasta dishes, we generally use mizithra. Once you have grated mizithra on your makaronia, you may just develop a taste for it.


1 lb (½ kg.) lean ground veal
1 white onion (diced)
1 clove of garlic (peeled but whole)
1 medium sized cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups (375 ml.) fresh strained tomato juice (or ¼ cup tomato paste diluted in 1½ cups of water.)
¼ cup (60 ml.) white wine
⅓ cup (80 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil
Spaghetti style pasta
Grated mizithra cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the diced onion until soft. Add the ground veal to the pan and stir it up well to break it up thoroughly. Keep stirring over a medium high heat for 5 minutes or so to brown all of the meat and mingle it completely with the onion.
  2. Once the meat is browned, add salt and pepper to taste, the wine, and then add the fresh tomato juice (or tomato paste diluted in water) to the pan and mix well. Bring to a boil, add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves and whole garlic clove to the pan, cover them in the sauce, then reduce the heat to a medium low; cover the pan leaving it only slightly uncovered to allow the water to evaporate as steam and then simmer for 30 minutes. We want the sauce to reduce such that the water is steamed away and the tomato and cinnamon hinted olive oil is left behind with the meat. Stir the sauce occasionally to allow the cinnamon essence to completely suffuse the sauce. Note: the cinnamon stick should be no longer than 2 inches (5cm.) as we want the cinnamon to flavour the sauce but not too intensely. When ready, the meat will have absorbed all of the liquid.
  3. Boil pasta in a pot until done to your preference, then strain and serve it with a generous sprinkling of grated mizithra cheese and then spoon the meat sauce overtop. Make sure to stir the meat sauce up before spooning it out to get some of the orange tinted olive oil in each helping. Mix the meat and pasta in your plate/bowl and then get down to business!

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit),

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Note: Mizithra can also be spelled as Myzithra cheese in English.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Grilled Eggplant Salad (Σαλάτα Ψητή Μελιτζάνα)

An excellent seasonal eggplant salad - Click to Enlarge Image

This posting is all about appreciation. Appreciation for the people who visit this Greek food blog and take the time to comment when they see something they like; appreciation for those who share this blog with their friends, and those who share its contents with the world by Digging, Stumbling, or otherwise adding it to their social networks; appreciation for the many friendships I have made with other bloggers who post about their lives and passions, whether these be Greek food related or not. It continues to be my great pleasure to share my thoughts and Greek recipe selections and reflections with all of you. I am deeply moved and inspired by the encouragement and support you have shown to a perfect stranger who rambles on about Greek cooking and history and the like. Truly, your example typifies the concept of xenia (Greek notion of a guest-host relationship) and I graciously thank each and every one of you for the thoughtfulness behind your visits. We all lead busy enough lives and the fact that you took a moment to stop by and show this blog a little bit of love means the world to me, and I just thought you ought to know. Thank you.

So, enough of the mushy stuff and let me get straight into a great seasonal salad with a short introduction. One of my all-time favourite Greek restaurants in Toronto is called Pappas Grill. Like most Greek restaurants it is a family-run affair and has been a fixture in Toronto’s Greek Town for over twenty years. The food is, in a word, excellent. Their menu is quite varied and there is something on it for every palate. The wine selection is also very good and is carefully chosen to accompany the foods on the menu. The wood-burning oven and the dishes that come out of it, along with a great summertime patio are also reasons I like this place. One of my favourite appetizers at Pappas is the Grilled Eggplant dish. This seasonal eggplant salad recipe is adapted from the one on their menu, and I have been making and enjoying it for well nigh on a decade now. My wife, who ordinarily does not like eggplant all that much, is crazy about this dish.

I used eggplant, tomato, and parsley fresh out of our kitchen garden for this Greek vegetarian recipe. When I cut the eggplant, it was “dripping its honey” as they say in Greece. The tomatoes were moments from the vine, and the parsley was simply redolent with the freshness of its immediacy to hand. I cannot adequately express in words the total satisfaction of cooking and eating fresh produce from one’s own garden; it is a true delight and one of life’s most indulgent pleasures. Selah.


1 large eggplant
3 tomatoes
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, pressed or very finely diced
1 tbsp. (15 ml.) dried Greek oregano
Greek extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Slice the eggplant into discs along its length - not too thin and not too thick.
  2. Fill a large mixing bowl or pot with salted water, place the eggplant discs into the salt bath and set a plate overtop of them to weigh them down into the bowl. Leave to soak well, say 20 – 30 minutes. Mix them up periodically to ensure the salty water soaks them completely. We do this to remove the bitterness from the flesh of the eggplant.
  3. Chop tomatoes into small cubes or pieces and place in a bowl.
  4. Add chopped parsley, pressed garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and 2 -3 tablespoons of olive oil to the chopped tomatoes and mix well then set aside.
  5. Light you grill and aim for a temperature of 400 or so. When the grilling surface is ready, spray or run a wipe of some vegetable oil over it to act as lubricant.
  6. Using your hands and working quickly over the grill, brush (or spray) the downward facing side of each slice of eggplant with a little olive oil before placing it in order across the grill, starting from the top left rear section and filling the entire surface in rows. Once all the eggplant discs are on the grill, give each of their upward facing sides a brushing (or spraying) with some olive oil. Grill until they have visibly softened around the edges, watch them carefully but give them a few minutes to cook through and absorb the olive oil, then give them another brushing of olive oil and turn them over. Grill for another few minutes and then give them a final brushing of olive oil; leave them on the grill for another minute or so and remove onto a platter or dish. They should be quite soft yet not burned, visible grill marks are also desirable but not at the expense of burning them through, so watch them carefully while they are over the heat.
  7. Arrange several eggplant discs on a serving plate, spoon some of the chopped tomato mixture overtop, sprinkle with some oregano, and serve with some crusty bread.

I prefer this dish at room temperature, so I refrigerate the tomato mix and the eggplants and serve it the following day after leaving them out on the counter for an hour or so, but it can be eaten warm as well. Note: If I am going to refrigerate it, I do not add salt to the tomato mix; I add the salt when serving as this prevents the tomatoes from seeping too much of their juice.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

P.S. For those of you still wondering what the term Selah means, you can sorta find out here. ;-)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Loukoumades, The Ancient Olympic Treat (Λουκουμάδες)

The official ancient Olympic doughnut - Click to Enlarge Image

The Olympic Hymn

Ancient immortal spirit, pure father
Of the beautiful, the great and the true,
Descend, appear, and emblaze this place
With the glory of your own earth and sky.

In the race, the grappling, and the toss,
Kindle the impulse in all noble contests,
Crown with the perennial wreath,
And fashion the steely and worthy body.

Plains, mountains, and seas glow in your presence
Like some great clear porphyrous shrine,
And every nation hurries here to your temple
In supplication, ancient immortal spirit.

- Costis Palamas (1859-1942)
Translation from Greek by: S. Sotiropoulos,
Canada ©2001

Two thousand seven hundred and eighty four years ago, in 776 B.C., the ancient Olympic Games were born. The very first Games were a simple affair consisting of only one event: a 200 metre footrace known as the ‘stadion’ from which we get the English word ‘stadium’. Over time, the Games developed to include many more events such as wrestling, jumping, discus and javelin throwing, chariot racing and boxing. When the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I abolished the ancient Games in 394 A.D., he not only put an end to a quadrennial pagan athletic festival, but he also put an end to a calendar system that reckoned its dates according to the succession of Olympiads since 776 B.C., a period of some 1170 years. Let us hope that the Modern Olympic Games will last as long.

The history of Greek gastronomy is inextricably linked to the ancient Olympics in three ways. First, and literally so, there was the amateur athlete who claimed the sole wreath of victory in 776 B.C. A cook or mageiros (μάγειρος in Gk.) by the name of Coroebus of Elis was proclaimed victor of the stadion race in the first Games at Olympia. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who has made the mad dash for the kitchen at the slightest hint that something was burning…

Ancient Olympia, August '07 sporting my wild olive wreath - Click to Enlarge Image

The second point of confluence between the history of Greek cuisine and the Olympic Games was the traditional victory prize for athletes in the ancient Games. Victors were awarded a wreath or kotinos (κότινος in Gk.) fashioned from a small branch taken from a wild olive tree that stood in Zeus’ sacred grove at Olympia. The kotinos is an unmistakable symbol of the importance of the olive and its cultivation to the Greeks, both past and present. Olive oil is a fundamental ingredient in Greek cooking and has been so from the most ancient times.

The third and final point of convergence between the history of Greek food and the ancient Olympic Games was the ritual feeding of the victors at ancient Olympia. The poet Callimachus tells us that one of the earliest prizes awarded to the winners were what is commonly translated as “honey tokens” (χαρίσιοι in Gk.), which were essentially fried balls of dough covered in honey. These were offered to the victorious athletes in a highly ritualized ceremony along with the kotinos wreath. Callimachus’ reference to these “honey tokens” is the earliest mention of any kind of pastry in European literature. Today, the “honey tokens” of Callimachus are known as Loukoumades (pronounced ‘loo-koo-MAH-thess) and can be found throughout Greece in special pastry shops that serve only Loukoumades. One of my favourite such shops is Savva’s Loukoumades (Λουκουμάδες του Σάββα) located in a town called Polychrono on the western peninsula of Halkidiki, in the northern Greek region of Macedonia.

In tribute to the origins of the Olympics and as a dedication to the first gold medalist of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Katerina Emmons of the Czech Republic, I present a recipe for Loukoumades - the original doughnuts. This simple recipe is adapted from the one found in the book Greek Cookery by Nicholas Tselementes, and I use it whenever I make Loukoumades at home. There are several more involved versions of the recipe, including my mother’s, but I like this one for its authentic simplicity. After all, there is really no sense in re-inventing the wheel, or in this case, the ancient Greek food progenitor of the modern donut.


4 cups flour
1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ - 2 cups lukewarm milk/water
1 cup of good quality Greek honey
Oil for deep frying (I used vegetable oil)
Cinnamon powder for dusting

  1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup lukewarm milk/water then cover the bowl with a cloth and let it stand for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to rise.
  2. Then gently add the flour and salt to the mixing bowl in stages and continue to mix well; sparingly add the remaining (and/or any additional) lukewarm milk/water while continually mixing. The resulting batter should end up as soft and sticky dough, soft enough to be able to drop from a spoon.
  3. Cover the mixing bowl with a cloth and place in a warm spot to rise for a couple hours, or until it has doubled in bulk and has bubbles forming on the surface.
  4. When the dough has risen, heat oil in a deep pan/fryer and prepare to fry the loukoumades in batches. You will need a teaspoon and a cup of cold water for this part. Dipping the teaspoon into the water before using it to spoon up portions of the dough will ensure that it does not stick to the spoon.
  5. Drop teaspoonfuls of the dough directly into the hot oil, helping with your fingertip if the dough does not easily slide off the spoon. (Just remember to wipe your finger before the next spoonful).
  6. Fry each batch of dough balls until they puff up and achieve a golden brown colour. When they are ready, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them on a platter lined with paper towel to drain for a couple minutes.
  7. Place the loucoumades on a serving platter and drizzle the Greek honey overtop to cover. Dust with cinnamon powder and/or crushed walnuts or sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Additional Notes:
Many recipes for Loukoumades call for a boiled sugar-honey-water syrup bath, but I prefer not to mix sugar with my honey as I like it pure and unadulterated. As well, you can sprinkle the Loukoumades with some crushed walnuts before serving. Lastly, Loukoumades are best eaten on the same day as they are made.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)
Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.