Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Taste of the Danforth

Every year for the past 16 years, the city of Toronto goes Greek for a weekend. The annual "Taste of the Danforth" street festival is one of our city's premier summer events; and it's all about the food, especially the Greek food. Since its inception, this yearly fete has grown to become North America's largest event of its kind. When all is said and done, over 1 million visitors are expected to attend "The Taste" this year.

The most striking aspect of "The Taste" is the sheer size of the crowds. It really is quite a spectacle; day or night, it's a people watcher's delight. In the first photo below, the view is looking east from Chester Avenue along Danforth Avenue, into the heart of Toronto's Greektown. All along the street, people line up to purchase all manner of tasty eats, or they stroll leisurely along one of Toronto's major city roadways. For the three days of "The Taste", Danforth Avenue is closed to vehicles and only pedestrian traffic is allowed. The second photo is a shot of the beer garden in the "Alexander the Great Square", located at the intersection of Logan and Danforth Avenues.

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What would a Greek themed street festival be without pork souvlaki? Yiannis, one of my past co-workers, is pictured grilling it up outside the Astoria Restaurant. Or, if you prefer seafood, you can always try a shrimp souvlaki, or some grilled squid tentacles from Avli restaurant, as pictured below.

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I'd wager that my brother's chums, Jimmy and Nick, from Kalyvia restaurant did not sleep a wink as I found them in exactly the same spot, two days running, cooking up chicken and pork souvlaki sticks. And for those of you who like a good gyros, there was plenty to go round and around. ;-)

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One interesting sight this year was a group of individuals dressed in 5th century BC Greek hoplite outfits. These folks are part of an organization called Hoplologia whose purpose is the re-creation of the past through what they call "experimental archeology". In addition to the food and history, it would not be a Greek festival without some Greek music, courtesy of Yiannis Kapoulas & his band Ena K’ Ena.

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Last but not least, the sweets: loukoumades, baklava, and kataifi... I think this picture says it all.


That's it for this year's "Taste". There is no doubt in my mind that this annual event is one of the greatest foodie extravaganzas on the planet. So, if you're in our neck of the woods next year, and you enjoy Greek food, be sure to visit Toronto's original and best street party.

Opa!

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

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Revani (Ρεβανί)

According to the Greek Orthodox Christian calendar, today is the Metamorphosis (Transfiguration) of the Saviour. The Greek word for "saviour" or "deliverer" is Soter (Σωτήρ), and my Greek name is Sotiris; which makes this my Name Day. In point of fact, my name is an epithet which pre-dates Christianity among the Greeks. The term, Soter, has been used as an epithet for Olympian gods, ancient heroes and liberators, and most recently, as a title for Jesus of Nazareth.

A thing of beauty! - Click to Enlarge Image

For Greeks, Name Days are more important than birthdays. Indeed, it is on one's Name Day that a party in honour of the individual is held, usually at the celebrator's home. Name Days are a time for family and friends, and the day is filled with visits and phone calls from well-wishers. The traditional greeting for someone who is celebrating a Name Day is "Chronia Polla" (Χρόνια Πολλά), which translates as "Many Years"; similar to, though less specific, than the Italian "cent'anni" or "Hundred Years".

Among the most popular features of a Name Day celebration are the desserts which are prepared (or bought) for the occasion. Along with copious amounts of Greek food, visitors are always treated to a sweet "for the health" of the honoured individual. The treats are often family specialties which are served up with a glass of water, a coffee, or a shot of liqueur, usually Ouzo or brandy.

This year, I prepared one of my own specialties for the occasion, it is called Revani. Revani is essentially a syrup-soaked semolina cake. Traditionally, Revani is a specialty of the city of Veria in the northern Greek province of Macedonia. There are a number of regional variations of this cake throughout Greece. In some Revani, nuts like almonds or walnuts are added, in Veria they add yoghurt to the mix, and I have even run across a Revani with a chocolate centre. My Revani recipe is lighter than many of the other versions, and rather than adding them to the mix, I prefer to garnish it with some chopped blanched almonds and/or candied orange or lemon rind.


Allow me to treat you to some Revani in honour of my Name Day. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

6 eggs
2 cups fine semolina
1.5 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
0.5 cup of unsalted butter
0.5 cup of milk
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the syrup:

2 cups of sugar
2 cups of water
1/2 cup Greek blossom honey
juice and rind of 1/2 a lemon (or orange)

  1. Sift together the semolina, flour, and baking powder.
  2. Cream the butter in a mixer until the butter is light and fluffy; usually this takes about half an hour or so, with the mixer set to a medium-high speed.
  3. Add sugar to creamed butter and mix well for a few minutes.
  4. Add egg yolks to the butter and continue to mix well for several minutes.
  5. Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks.
  6. Add the flour to the mixing bowl in stages, alternating with either some milk or some of the whipped egg whites; continue until all three are added and mix everything well.
  7. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 9 inch square baking pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for approximately 45 minutes, until the surface is golden brown.
  8. Prepare the syrup by adding the 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, the honey, lemon juice and rind in a saucepan and bring to a boil; allow it to simmer for 10 minutes or so.
  9. When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, place it on a trivet, and proceed to pour the syrup overtop of the entire cake using a spoon or ladle. Pour the syrup slowly in order to allow for a complete and uniform suffusion of the cake. Note: save the candied lemon rind and chop it up into small pieces for use as a garnish for slices of the cake.
  10. Set the cake aside to cool, preferrably overnight, cut into diamond shaped pieces and serve as is with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or with a garnish of chopped blanched almonds and some of the candied rind (which we saved from the syrup).

Pánta Kalá! (Always Be Well)


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

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grilled Banana Pepper Salad (Πιπεριές Ψητές με Φέτα)

The summer grilling season ensures a steady supply of grilled vegetables on our table. One of my father's favourite salads during this period is also one of the most notorious in our family.

Grilled hot banana peppers - Click to Enlarge

I'll never forget the day I first sampled this recipe. You have probably walked by them a thousand times in the vegetable section wherever you shop, and yet, you may never even have given them so much as a second glance. Here is what I often think about whenever I see hot banana peppers in a market:

My father proffered a plate and slid a cousin of one the beauties from the photo above on to my dish. He instructed me to roll it up, slip it into a wedge of folded pita, and take a large bite. My mother, meanwhile, warned me not to listen to my father, that the pepper was too hot. But, I was a child, and a wilful one at that, so my mother's warning served as nothing more than the equivalent of a challenge. I did as my father instructed, though, instead of just taking a bite, I shoveled the whole thing into my mouth and started chewing. After all, how hot could it be?

Well, friends, the scene that ensued is etched into the very corners of my mind for it quickly developed into a wholly disproportionate series of events. We're talking about a Greek family here... In a nutshell, the script consisted of a mad scramble for water, which, when put to my burning lips, ended up going down the "wrong pipe". This resulted in a spasm of ugly choking, fiery coughing, my father's backslapping, my sister's wailing, the rooster crowing, the cattle lowing, the cymbals crashing, the lightning flashing, the seas heaving, the earth shaking, my mother's scolding, and me, ultimately crying. Ha! Who would have thought such dramatic moments could follow the simple act of consuming a humble pepper with a bit o' cheese and stuff?

But, do you think such an episode served to dissuade me from ever eating hot banana peppers again? Sister, it didn't even leave a scar. Also, it provided some valuable insights regarding the tragic hilarity of family politics. I am definitely a better and stronger person for it. Life in a Greek family has its spicy moments.


I have a few things to say regarding prep for this dish. First, don't bite your fingernails, you'll need them to quickly and effectively peel the peppers. Second, peel the peppers when they are hot and keep your finger tips moist. Third, handle the peppers gently so as not to tear them, and try to peel away large sections of the charred skin. Lastly, a little bit of real Greek feta cheese goes a long way. I used no more than the equivalent of three tablespoons of it, crumbled over top of the peppers in the photo above.

If you wish to tone down the heat a bit, carefully slit the grilled peppers open and remove some or all of the seeds. Banana peppers come in a variety of heat intensities, so proceed at your own risk. As far as Greek food recipes go, this one's about as easy as they come. Add a little heat to your summer sizzle.

Ingredients:


hot banana peppers (a.k.a. Hungarian or wax peppers)
real Greek Feta cheese
Greek extra-virgin olive oil
dried Greek oregano
Greek wine vinegar
NOTE: Yes, I use Greek products as much as possible as I deem them to be superior quality, especially the cheese, here's why.

  1. Grill peppers until charred and peel.
  2. Spread peppers flat on a serving dish and add crumbled Feta cheese over top of the peppers.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil and a some wine vinegar over everything.
  4. Finish with a sprinkle of oregano and serve.
I usually serve this alongside grilled chicken or pork.

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit!)


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