Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

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.

Ingredients:

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
http://www.greekgourmand.com
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.

Ingredients:

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
http://www.greekgourmand.com
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.

Ingredients:

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Village Zucchini Fritters (Χωριάτικοι Κολοκυθοκεφτέδες)


My mother-in-law's Greek village recipe - Click to Enlarge Image

This timely seasonal Greek recipe incorporating zucchini has many permutations throughout various regions of Greece. This particular version is my mother-in-law’s “village” recipe and makes for an excellent Greek vegetarian appetizer dish. You can serve these fritters with some tzatziki (Greek yogurt garlic sauce) or eat them on their own; either way, they make for some addictive eating; so go easy, it is fried…

I used fresh-picked zucchini and mint from our kitchen garden to make this dish. Also, I usually make this recipe using a mixture of peanut oil and Greek olive oil in the frying for the reason outlined in my Feta Fries recipe. Contrary to popular opinion, olive oil is excellent for frying and is used liberally for that purpose throughout Greek cuisine. Its high smoke point (210º C/ 410 º F) is well above the ideal temperature for frying food (180º C/350 ºF), and it retains many of its healthful properties. Olive oil is a highly monounsaturated fat and is quite resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation, so fry with it in Good Health!

Ingredients:

1 medium sized zucchini
1 medium sized potato
2 eggs
1 large fresh garlic clove, pressed or finely shredded
½ white onion
½ cup (125 ml.) of dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons (30 ml.) finely chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons (30 ml.) flour
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) dried Greek oregano
1 tablespoon (15 ml.) Greek extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of baking soda or ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml.) baking powder
salt and pepper to taste
oil for deep frying

  1. Wash the zucchini and potato and shred them entirely using a grater/shredder into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Finely chop the onion and add it to the bowl.
  3. Heat frying oil in a large pan, the depth of the oil should be no more than a ½ inch (1.25 cm.) and set the burner for a medium heat, allow three to four minutes for the oil to heat thoroughly.
  4. Beat the eggs well and add them to the mixing bowl along with the finely chopped mint leaves, oregano, garlic, 1 tbsp. (15 ml.) extra virgin olive oil, breadcrumbs, flour, salt and pepper, and baking powder/soda and mix everything well until a thick batter-like consistency is achieved. As the zucchini will begin to seep its water immediately upon being shredded, it is a good idea to work quickly with the resulting mixture as the mixture must not be allowed to become watery. If it does end up thin, add some more breadcrumbs or a little more flour to thicken it up slightly. Note: if you are going to use baking soda, make sure to use only a slight pinch as a little goes a long way and if you use too much the fritters will have a bitter flavour.
  5. Using a large spoon, add portions of the mixture to the hot oil in small clumps making sure to try and form them as small pancakes. This is the main reason I use a large frying pan for this dish as it is easier to control the resulting shape of the clumps than it would be in a deep-fryer.
  6. Cook the fritters well for about 3-4 minutes on the one side, then carefully turn them with a small spatula or a large fork to cook the flip sides as well.
  7. Remove fritters from pan when they are golden brown and set them aside to drain on a plate/tray lined some paper towel or napkin.


Serving: 12-14 pieces

These zucchini fritters can be served with some tzatziki sauce, or on their own. I have not included a recipe for tzatziki sauce at this time, but will be sure to do so in the next couple days.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand
http://www.greekgourmand.com
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.