Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Taramosalata (or Tarama)... Fish Roe Salad is Good For You!


Taramosalata (or Tarama) garnished with an olive.

Fish roe is a superb source of vitamins A and D, zinc, and long-chain fatty acids. As deficiencies in one or all of these nutrients can cause birth defects during pregnancy, I highly recommend this recipe for pregnant women in particular. This is not to say that the rest of us cannot benefit from the inherent richness of this dish, so let us follow the dictum of Hippocrates and “make our food our medicine”. Carp roe (also called ‘Tarama’), is the variety most commonly used today for taramosalata and there are two types: one is distinctively dyed a salmon-red colour and the other is the undyed natural beige coloured roe.

When I was very young, I thought this dip was like a pudding and I simply could not get enough of it, I did not bother to eat it with pita or any other kind of bread; I preferred it on its own. However, it appears my palate has mellowed with age and I have grown to appreciate some warm Greek-style pita bread as an accompaniment, even if only to have something to mop up the plate with! There are several variations in making this dip, but this one is the standard version and ought to be familiar to anyone who is (even moderately) acquainted with Greek food. Tarama (or taramoslata) is even available in non-Greek supermarkets these days; a testament to the widespread popularity of this Greek appetizer.


Recipe:

½ cup carp roe
½ loaf of two day old white bread
2 cups of Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 lemons
1 large onion, grated

1. Remove outside crust and soak inner bread in water, then squeeze well to drain and set aside.
2. Place fish roe in food processor/blender and mix on its own for a minute or so to break down the eggs.
3. Add grated onion to processor and continue mixing.
4. Add moistened bread in stages to processor/blender and mix well, then slowly add the lemon juice and olive oil while constantly mixing. Note: When adding the olive oil and lemon juice, you must add them in a slow and alternate fashion by first adding some of the lemon juice, and then some of the olive oil and so on until both are incorporated into the tarama.

Refrigerate before serving to firm up the tarama. Garnish with cucumber, tomato slices and/or olive(s) and serve with warm pita bread.

Kali Orexi!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Piquante


Feta and Roasted Red Pepper Piquante

When outdoors in the late summer and early autumn, in neighbourhoods where there are Greeks, chances are you'll catch the scent of roasting peppers wafting on the breeze. With our family this practice is almost a ritual. My father visits the farms north of Toronto to find the best peppers available. We then set aside the better part of a Saturday afternoon and we hold a pepper roast! The wonderful scent of grilling peppers is one of my earliest and fondest reminiscences of family cooking as a child.

So, I just love going into the freezer and pulling out the roasted red peppers we froze from last summer. I roasted an entire bushel of red peppers on the barbecue and then we packed them in small batches and put them in the icebox for use throughout the winter months. This recipe is one of my favourite things to do with those roasted red peppers; it is easy and quick to make, and is an excellent appetizer dip for entertaining guests.


Recipe

1/4 kilo of Greek feta cheese
2 roasted red peppers (peeled and seeded)
2 small dried chili peppers
60 ml. (4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
fresh ground black pepper

  1. Crumble feta cheese into food processor/blender.
  2. Remove seeds from and finely chop the dried chili peppers then add to processor/blender. (This dip ought to be spicy but not red hot, so make sure to remove the seeds)
  3. Ensuring that the seeds and skins have been removed, add the roasted red peppers to processor/blender.
  4. Add olive oil and a pinch or two of fresh ground black pepper to processor/blender.
  5. Start processor/blender and puree ingredients until consistency is uniformly smooth.
Refrigerate until needed and serve with warm pita bread.

Kali Orexi!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Island of Love



As this is Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be appropriate to send out a special posting to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, even though Valentine’s Day is not something Greeks were wont to celebrate in days past. Saint Valentine is, after all, a Roman Catholic saint and does not appear in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Yet, with more than a little help from Greek florists, chocolatiers, lingerie peddlers and the mass media, North American commercialism has exported this custom to Greece as well.


Of course, the celebration of love is hardly something new to Greece. In fact, the concept of love as we understand it today is a Greek notion. Without going into too much detail, the ancient Greeks had a word for everything under the sun, including “love”. However, unlike the English word “love” which is used interchangeably for a) love between family members, b) love among friends, and c) erotic love, the Greeks delineated between all three types.

The English word “erotic” has its origins in the Greek word “Eros”, which is both a minor god in the Olympian pantheon (the son of Aphrodite) and the state of sensual loving or desire. The prefix “philo” as in philosophy, philology, philately and philanthropy has its origin in the Greek word “philia” and signifies the love between friends. Finally, there is the bond of Christian love as among family members and community which is called “agape”. Suffice it to say; when an Englishman speaks of “love”, a Greek requires further clarification…

Now, one could go on and on about all three types of Greek “love”, but that would make this posting longer than intended, so let me connect this discussion back to Greek food. An ancient tragedian once wrote:


εν κενη γαρ γαστρι των καλων ερως
ουκ εστι πεινωσιν γαρ η Κυπρις πικρα

“There is no dignified love on an empty stomach
As Hunger makes Love bitter”.


So, let us heed the advice and make sure that we are well fed this Valentine’s Day as this will help to stoke the flames of desire in a good way. Interestingly, two different words are used in the quote above to express the notion of love; the first is ερως (eros), and in the second line the proper name Κυπρις (Cypris) is used. Now we know that Eros was a godling (i.e. the little winged cherub with the bow and arrows whom we know by the later Roman name of Cupid) and that his name was also used as a verb to signify love as desire. But the name “Cypris” is probably unfamiliar to most, unless we use her other name: Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love. Now, the resemblance between Aphrodite’s alias “Cypris” and the name of the modern day country of Cyprus is not a coincidence. The island of Cyprus is the birthplace of the goddess Cypris/Aphrodite and bears her name to this very day, which makes Cyprus the original ‘Island of Love’.

With all this in mind, I set about making some dessert for our Valentine’s meal tonight. Not surprisingly, I chose a specialty from Cyprus as I thought it would be quite appropriate to the occasion:

Cypriote Loukoumia

For the dough:

2 cups of flour
½ cup of butter
½ cup of sugar
1½ cups of milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling:

1 cup of finely chopped almonds
½ cup of orange marmalade
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
Confectionery sugar

  1. Melt butter in a pot over a medium-high heat and slowly add flour while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid clumping.
  2. Once flour and butter have been well-mingled, lower heat to medium-low and slowly add the milk, making sure to continue stirring as the mixture thickens and starts clumping. When all the milk has been added remove the pot from the heat and add the sugar, egg (beaten), and baking powder to the dough and mix well until the dough is uniformly smooth.
  3. Prepare the filling by mixing together the marmalade, chopped almonds, orange blossom water, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Using a rolling pin, spread pieces of the dough on a floured surface to the uniform thickness of a banana peel.
  5. Using a tumbler or cookie cutter, cut discs from the flattened dough.
  6. Place a small amount of the filling mixture in the centre of each disc.
  7. Fold each disc in half over the filling into a half-moon shape and tightly pinch together the edges to ensure a good seal.
  8. Place cookies on a buttered pan and place in pre-heated oven at 350° for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle cookies with confectionery sugar before serving.

Yield: Approximately 20 pieces.

Enjoy!

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Feta Tiganiti... Pan-Fried Feta Cheese

This is one of my favourite cheese appetizer dishes. Once you try this, you will have a hard time going back to eating plain feta cheese. 

It is really important that you use a good quality feta cheese for this recipe. I used the best: Feta Tripoleos, which is authentic Greek feta cheese from the southern Greek city of Tripolis. This particular feta is stored in wooden barrels and not tins or plastics. Some of the finer cheese shops will stock this variety and I highly recommend it.

Recipe:

250g of Greek feta cheese
1 egg
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
fresh ground black pepper
sesame seeds

1. Using a sharp knife and without hesitation, cleanly slice the feta into 1/2 inch thick slices, be careful not to crumble or break the cheese when slicing. When the cheese is cut, put the slices on a plate and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to ensure that the cheese is firm.

2. In a shallow bowl, beat the egg well and mix in the oregano and the pepper.

3. Cover the bottom of a small plate with a generous amount of sesame seeds.

4. Dip the cheese into the egg mixture making sure to cover both sides well, then dip it into the sesame seeds and completely cover both sides of the cheese with a layer of sesame seeds; pat the seeds onto the cheese with your fingers if necessary to ensure a complete encrusting.

5. Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan at a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, place the sesame-covered cheese in the pan and cook until you see the cheese starting to melt along its bottom edge, then carefully turn the slice over and cook to the melting point again. Remove and serve immediately.

I know you will enjoy this one...

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

23 Almonds a Day Keep the Doctors Away - Bianketa



Biankéta... Almond Tangerine Bites. Puréed blanched almonds flavoured with tangerine rind and juice, sweetened with brown sugar and dusted with confectionery sugar before serving. These wonderful little delights leave a lingering tangerine flavoured scent in your mouth long after you eat them up! Cute little morsels...

The almond ('amygdalo' in Greek, pronounced "AH-MEEG-THA-LOW") has a long history in Greece. Today, Greece is the fourth largest producer of almonds in the world after the United States, Spain and Italy. The epicentres of Greek almond production are the prefectures of Magnesia, Larisa, Serres and Kavala, and the cultivation of the almond tree is a traditional practice that dates back to ancient times. In the Classical period, almonds were common "dinner ornaments" (αναθήματα δαιτός) and those from the island of Naxos were especially prized. Other centres of almond production in the ancient Greek world included Cyprus, Thasos, Paphlagonia and the Pontus. Indeed, almonds were so common among the Greeks of old that the ancient Lacedaemonian (i.e. Spartan) word for our "nutcracker" was "almond-breaker".

Although opinions differed as to the nutritional value of the almond -and at what stage of its development it should be consumed- many ancients believed that bitter almonds eaten before a symposium (drinking party) would reduce the intoxicating effects of wine. We have one story related by Plutarch which tells of a physician at the house of Drusus (Tiberius Caesar's son), who was unbeatable at drinking contests until it was discovered that he would eat several bitter almonds before the start of a party; when he was prevented from doing so, he could not hold his drink any better than the rest of the assembled revellers.

Today, we know that raw almonds are a truly exceptional foodstuff: they are an excellent source of mono unsaturated fatty acids, especially oleic acid, one of the two “good fats” which lower cholesterol levels in the blood; they are a rich source of vitamin E, as well as vitamin B, copper, magnesium, manganese, and riboflavin (B2); they are also a great source of calcium and phosphorus. In addition, almonds are low in saturated fat and are cholesterol free; they are also a superb source of protein, one ounce of almonds (about 23 almonds) provides 6 grams of high quality and easily digestible protein. Finally, as if all that were not enough to turn you into a fan of the humble almond… almonds are a great source of dietary fibre (!).

For Greeks, almonds are also a potent fertility symbol. No Greek wedding would be complete without sugar-candied almonds or ‘koufeta’ [pronounced KOO-FETA] which are often placed on a ceremonial tray along with the bride and groom’s wedding wreaths. According to tradition, single girls and women are encouraged to take one of the koufeta from the tray and place it beneath their pillow that night, whereupon (or so the tradition holds) they will dream of their future husband on the third night thereafter. Koufeta are also given to all the guests at the wedding reception and are usually distributed in a tulle wrapping and often attached to some form of gift or party favour (bomboniere) for the guests. The koufeta are always distributed in odd numbers, usually 5 or 7 per favour as this represents indivisibility. The contrast between the sweetness of the candied exterior and the mild bitterness of the almond within represents the bittersweet duality of married life. The white candy exterior of the koufeta represents purity in the marriage and the shape of the almond represents the union of matter and spirit.

Finally, if the foregoing attributes of the almond are still not enough to make you a fan of this ancient foodstuff, almond trees are also valuable climatic/meteorological instruments as they are among the first trees to blossom at the advent of springtime. As a result, late frosts are the enemy of the almond tree. My grandmother used to point to the almond trees in our village and tell me that when they started to blossom the winter would be over…

In keeping with the almond theme of this article, I wish to share one of my favourite Greek almond treat recipes which originates from the island of Kerkyra (or Corfu), one of the Ionian Islands off the west coast of Greece. This easy to make treat makes an excellent substitute for unhealthy sweets and other junk foods that we tend to feed children or gobble up ourselves when we don’t think about the quality of our nourishment. So, without further comment, allow me to introduce you to the bonne bouche known as: “Biankéta” or as I like to call them: Almond Tangerine Bites.


Biankéta – Almond Tangerine Bites

  • 5 tangerines
  • ¼ kilo of raw almonds
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • icing sugar

1. Blanche the almonds in boiling water for several minutes and then remove the skins.

2. Boil three (3) of the tangerines in a generous amount of water for five (5) minutes to remove the bitterness of their rind.

3. Squeeze the juice from the remaining two (2) tangerines and set it aside.

4. Peel the three (3) boiled tangerines and put the skins along with the blanched almonds into a blender and puree together until very finely ground.

5. In a large bowl, mix the sugar into the ground almond-tangerine paste and slowly add the tangerine juice while continuing to mix well.

6. Roll small pieces of the mixture into walnut-sized balls using the palms of your hands and set them aside on a sheet of wax paper to dry.

7. Dust lightly with icing sugar before serving. Note: Another serving option would be to cover the 'bites' in chocolate for a wonderul variation that is sure to please. 


Enjoy!


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com/

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Path of Least Resistance


*
We may live without poetry, music and art;
We may live without conscience and live without heart;
We may live without friends; we may live without books;
But civilized man can not live without cooks.
He may live without books, -- what is knowledge but grieving?
He may live without hope, -- what is hope but deceiving?
He may live without love, -- what is passion but pining?
But where is the man that can live without dining?

--”Lucile” Owen Meredith (Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton) (1831-1891)



There is really no easy way to introduce this subject so let me simply name it: Gluttony. Basically, the term “gluttony” connotes an ongoing habitual propensity to overeating and, in effect, eating for eating’s sake; something that is generally frowned upon by our fellows. Even so, one has to wonder if an insatiable appetite can ever be a good thing, or at least, not entirely bad.

As human society evolves and changes, so do our conceptualizations. Our modern understanding of gluttony has a long history that is inextricably linked to everything from medieval religious notions of sinfulness, to scientific views on health and well-being, to the fact of our mortality. Today, we (for the most part) view gluttony as a malady that requires medical or spiritual attention, and the search for an effective ‘cure’ has produced a myriad of treatments, diets, drugs, ablutions and regimens – some more and some less effective than others. But, the perceived problematic nature or stigma of gluttony remains more or less consistent.

Happily my friends, I can report that among the many things that have been said and written about gluttony in the past and present, I believe I have stumbled across a neglected path through the Garden of Earthly Delights; a once well-used trail that has been thickly overgrown by the vines of several intervening millennia which obscure its course; but I will try and draw its map.

According to Greek Mythology, Erisychthon was cursed with an insatiable hunger by Demeter (goddess of agriculture and harvests) for clear-cutting one of her sacred groves. Erisychthon’s hunger became so great that it consumed all his wealth and property, as well as that of his parents. Things got so bad that he even sold his daughter to feed the frenzy of his appetite. Poseidon, god of the sea, took pity on the blameless girl and gifted her with the ability to shape-change at will, which allowed her to escape from her new owner and return to her family; whereupon her father sold her all over again, and again, and again… Finally, his insatiable desire for food drove Erisychthon to consume his own flesh and thereby put an end to his plight. The myth is often viewed as a morality or cautionary tale, but it is unclear that this was its original intent as the Greek myths are generally understood to be free of value judgments as we understand them. As the archaic Greeks believed in an unalterable fate for mortal beings, the idea that things could have worked out any differently for Erisychthon is an alien supposition in the original context of the mythical corpus and its accompanying world-view. That being said, the plight of Erisychthon and its effects upon himself and his family is not something pleasant to contemplate, nor was it ever meant to be.

Still within the mythological tradition, the demigod Hercules was also a renowned glutton. However, in his case, it is not a particularly surprising quality given that he so far superseded his contemporaries in all other things. So it could hardly be shocking that he also ate more than they did, after all, bigger engines not only work harder but they require more fuel than lesser motors. Thus it may just be that by normal human standards Hercules was a glutton, even though he himself was only partly human. Nor should it be ignored that Hercules did not have Erisychthon’s money problems, as he basically took or was given whatever he wanted wherever he went.

Leaving the legends behind and turning to the ancient Greek historiographical texts, references to the gluttonous are numerous, including the following list of famous gluttons:

• Cleonymus of Athens -a demagogue rabble-rouser (and a contemporary of the comic poet Aristophanes) whose name became a byword for gluttony both during and long after his lifetime.
• Myniscus of Chalcis -a tragic actor and a contemporary of the philosopher Plato.
• Aristoxenus of Cyrene -a philosopher who was famous for his appetite as opposed to his ideas.
• Melanthius -an Athenian tragedian of otherwise unremarkable ability.
• Peisander of Athens -a conspiratorially inclined rascal who was accused of plotting to foment war with Sparta, and a contemporary of the philosopher Socrates.
• Philoxenus of Leucas -notorious as a parasite (i.e., moocher) and likely a contemporary of Plato.
• Charippus & Charidas (for both of whom I could find no further reference)
• Alcman - an early choral lyric poet from Sparta.
• Calamodorus of Cyzicus and,
• Timocreon of Rhodes, both a poet and an athlete of great prowess; whose epitaph was composed by his contemporary, the great poet Simonides and it goes like this:

πολλά πιών καί πολλά φαγών καί πολλά κάκ' ειπών
ανθρώπους κειμαι Τιμοκρέων Ρόδιος

"After much drinking, much eating, and maliciously slandering
many people, Timocreon of Rhodes rests here."


In addition to the abovementioned, there was also Dionysius, tyrant of Heraclea, who was the son of the tyrant Clearchus. His gluttony led to enormous weight gain, which in turn affected his vanity. He was so ill at ease with his extreme obesity that he had a portable screen-like structure constructed which resembled a small, squat tower; and when holding audiences or receiving visitors, Dionysius would have this tower placed around him leaving only his head sticking out above the ‘parapet’ so he could see -and in part be seen by- his interlocutors. All of this notwithstanding, he was reputed to have been the gentlest and most impartial of all the ancient tyrants that had ever lived. He died at the age of 55, after a remarkably long reign of 32 years.

This historical discussion would not be complete, and might even be open to a charge of sexism, if we dealt only with the famous male gluttons of the ancient Greek world. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), based on the extant sources, there is only a single instance of a gluttonous ancient Greek woman on record: Aglaïs, daughter of Megacles. She was a professional musician who played a kind of trumpet while wearing a memorable outfit. It was reported that in one sitting, Aglaïs devoured twelve pounds of meat, four loaves of bread, and drank nine pints of wine.

Nor were the ancient Greeks oblivious to the legendary gluttons of neighbouring peoples. One extant list includes the following noteworthy non-Greek habitual gorgers: Pityreus the Phrygian, Cambletes a Libyan, Thius a Paphlagonian, Mithridates of Pontus, and Cantibaris a Persian. Gluttony, it seems, was a multicultural phenomenon throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. More than that, it was a form of celebrity even among foreigners.

Now, all the aforementioned individuals were such remarkable eaters that during their lifetimes they attracted the interest and attention of poets, wealthy intellectuals and indigents alike. So much so, that their names have lived on through two and a half millennia of recorded history. Achilles, Leonidas, and Alexander achieved their desire for imperishable glory through the hardship, privation, brutality and loss of warfare and endless campaigning. If it were ever a question of who chose the path of least resistance to achieving immortal fame, then surely the gluttons have the advantage!

One thing that should be made clear is that the ancient Greeks distinguished between casual or occasional bouts of gorging versus gluttony proper, the Greek word for gluttony is αδηφαγία (adephagia). On the other hand, the modern English word bulimia stems from the Greek word 'boulimos' (βούλιμος) for which the literal translation is 'ox-hunger' (i.e. hungry like an ox). Today, psychiatrists maintain that bulimia is an eating disorder which stems from depression or low self-esteem and requires medical treatment with everything from drugs to surgery. A popular observation in vogue among the ancient Greeks was that the 'ox-hunger' was usually prevalent on colder days as opposed to warmer, though they were not quite sure why. But the important point is that gluttony and binge-eating were not confused, as so often happens in our modern world of blends, smudges, and grey zones. Gluttony then, among the Ancients, was a reputation earned by habitual over-consumption and not just an occasional face stuffing. After all, as Aristotle maintained, the appearance of one swallow does not herald the arrival of summer. So too for the glutton: one or several isolated session(s) of excessive self-indulgence a glutton does not make…

The most striking dissimilarity between the ancient Greek perception of gluttony and our own conception of it is evidenced by a conspicuous religious difference. This difference, odd as it may seem at first, may provide us with a clue to a perspective which might help to offset some of the stigma usually associated with gluttony in our day and age. The ancient Greeks actually had a shrine devoted to the goddess Adephagia, situated on the island of Sicily (then largely populated by Greeks). At first, the idea of a temple dedicated to the divine personification of Gluttony may seem a peculiarity that is difficult to reconcile within our own conceptual horizon. However, it helps to step back for a moment and take a purely existential viewpoint.

Food in the ancient world was a much more ever-present preoccupation for people than it is in our modern culture of ready to hand convenience. Indeed, at any given moment in any of the pre-industrial agricultural human societies that have flourished on this planet, entire populations were always just one harvest away from starvation. When one considers this fact, the very existence of famous gluttons under such conditions takes on a whole new dimension. Gluttony becomes a symbol of abundance. So much abundance that reputations for a life of overindulgence can be established and remarked; the glutton thus becomes an important sociological phenomenon and indicator of a given society’s ability to feed itself.

Which brings me back to the Temple to Gluttony on Sicily: from what is recorded, we know that within the precinct of the temple a statue of the goddess Demeter stood alongside that of the statue of Adephagia, and that they were apparently worshipped in tandem. The goddess of crops and harvests (Demeter) was thereby closely associated with the goddess of Gluttony. Ostensibly, offerings made at this remarkable shrine were done so out of gratitude and hope for the plentiful bounty of the harvest, which allows for extravagant ongoing overindulgence even to the point of gluttony. This appreciation of gluttony as a catalyst and focus point for grateful religious sentiment is a most difficult idea to reconcile with the post-Medieval Western understanding of the term as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. However, perhaps there is some hope for us yet… In short, remain optimistic and always try to look for the good in all things, including gluttony.


Ravenously Yours,

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com/

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


*Sources:

Aelian, “Historical Miscellany
Athenaeus, “Deipnosophistae
Aulus Gellius, “Attic Nights
Diodorus Siculus, “Library of History
Ovid, “Metamorphoses