Complete List of Recipes & Reflections

Monday, December 20, 2010

Greek Food Holiday Wishes 2010

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

Available in bookstores and most major online book retailers worldwide!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Καλές Γιορτές! Happy Holidays!

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

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mastiha Pumpkin Spice Soup - Κολοκυθόσουπα με Μαστίχα

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

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

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

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

Mastiha is the spirit of the lentisk tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mastic Pumpkin Spice Soup

Ingredients

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

Preparation

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

Makes 8 servings and good to freeze for reheating.

Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Greek Food Festival Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

34th annual Richmond Greek Food Festival

32nd annual Des Moines Greek Food Fair

New Jersey Greek Fest 2010


Pànta Kalà (Always Be Well),

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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Baked Sole (Γλώσσα στο Φούρνο)

Looking for a healthy meal that is quick and easy to prepare? Something that will have you in and out of the kitchen in 30 minutes flat? Look no further, this recipe will have you sitting down to an enjoyable dinner before you can learn to say νιψονανομηματαμημονανοψιν! Minimal prep time, basic ingredients, and very little supervision are required for this dish from the Aegean islands.

A sampling of Aegean flavours - Click to Enlarge Image

I first ran across variations of this dish on the island of Santorini, where I was working in the mid '90s. Being the adventurous sort, I spent a couple years getting the "Summer Lovers" thing out of my system by escaping to the Greek isles and experiencing all that they have to offer. Let me just say that the reality was everything I had imagined it to be and more.

If you have ever considered just chucking everything and going to ground somewhere in the Aegean for an entire summer, I urge you to do it without a second thought. If you have yearned to experience the stark afternoon light of Helios while wandering among whitewashed walls and cobblestone streets, as a scintillating blue sea laps against the shore and the Etesian winds blow, now is the season to start packing. Time stands still on a Greek isle, but you need to get there first.

This fish recipe is a small sampling of the flavours that mingle among the Cyclades. Serve this dish with a side of rice and some steamed asparagus, along with some Assyrtiko wine. And, if you do decide to visit Santorini, be sure to leave with some capers (harvested from the wild throughout the island), along with your memories.

Neatly arranged and ready for the oven - Click to Enlarge Image

Ingredients:

4 sole fillets
1 large lemon
1/4 cup of capers
3 tbsp. of Greek extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 tbsp. chopped fresh green onion (or celery leaves, or parsley)
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
Salt and Pepper

1. Wash the fish well under cold water and pat dry with a paper towel, then salt and pepper the fillets and set aside.
2. Slice half of the lemon into thin slices, then cut the slices in half.
3. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into your baking dish and start to layer/arrange the fish and lemon slices alternately in the vessel.
4. Sprinkle the oregano, dill, capers and fresh green onion (or celery leaves, or parsley) over the fish and lemon slices.
5. Drizzle the final tablespoonful of olive oil and squeeze the juice of the remaining half lemon over everything.
6. Cover the baking dish and bake at 250°F for 30 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

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, March 31, 2010

Fasolada (Φασολάδα)

If people really are what they eat, then I am convinced that Greeks (and many Italians) are in no small part composed of various pulses. Growing up in a Greek household means that you have either learned to enjoy or to dread that next meal consisting of beans, lentils, and/or chickpeas; whether they are dried, fresh, roasted, baked, or boiled, believe me, we have had our fill.

True Greek soul food. Click to Enlarge Image.

Since the remotest antiquity, pulses have been a fundamental staple of Greek food culture. Indeed, beans were such a familiar item to Homer that he used a bouncing bean simile to describe the manner in which an arrow deflected from the armour of King Menelaus in a mortal encounter (Iliad, Book XIII, 589). And depending on whom you believe, Pythagoras either admonished against, or eagerly encouraged his fellows in the consumption of beans.

Best thing about beans? They’re cheap! Next best thing about beans? They are good for you. Third best thing about beans? They are easy to cook. Everybody wins with beans, unless one happens to be near the end of the Lenten fasting period…

For Greeks, the 40 day pre-Easter Lenten fast means beans have been quite common over the last little while, which means we are eagerly looking forward to the Paschal lamb this coming Easter Sunday. So, I will wish you all a Happy Easter and Καλή Ανάσταση! As a bonus, I will share with you what went into my last bowl of fasolada for quite some time to come. ;-)

This is my own version of the rustic bean soup which is a Lenten friendly dish and makes for a hearty vegan meal.

Ingredients:

1 lb dried haricot (white kidney) beans
2 medium sized carrots, sliced into discs
2 medium cooking onions, diced
2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
1 cup tomato sauce (i.e. pommodoro) or 3 finely diced tomatoes.
1 medium sized parsnip, quartered and thinly sliced
1 tbsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. dried thyme
3 bay leaves
¼ cup of olive oil
4 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
4 - 6 garlic cloves, whole or halved
Salt and pepper

  1. Soak beans overnight in roughly three times their volume of water.
  2. Dump beans into a colander and rinse well before use.
  3. Put 3 quarts of water in a pot, add the beans and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim away surface foam as it develops. Boil beans for 15 minutes, continuing to skim away surface foam using a wooden spoon. At the 15 minute mark, skim off the last bit of foam and dump the pot’s contents into a colander to strain and rinse the beans. Also rinse the pot well.
  4. Put another 3 quarts of fresh water in the pot, bring it to a boil and add the beans. After 5 minutes, skim any remaining surface foam that may develop, and then add all of the remaining ingredients into the pot. Stir the contents of the pot well and when it has resumed boiling, cover the pot with its lid slightly ajar and let it simmer over low heat for 2 hours (or until the beans are soft). Stir occasionally and check to ensure ample liquid in the pot to keep the beans from sticking to the bottom. Though it is technically a soup, you do not want a very runny fassoulada, nor do you want one that is thick and gooey, so monitor the water content of the pot and add a cup or so if necessary.

ΚΑΛΟ ΠΑΣΧΑ! HAPPY EASTER!

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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Greek Food in Toronto's Greektown

This past January marked the second anniversary of this blog. In the last couple years, my writing about Greek food and gastronomy has brought me into contact with many wonderful people from all over the world. Food is truly the most enjoyable and effective means of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together in convivial fellowship. I look forward to many more years of writing about Greek food and connecting with like-minded folk throughout the world via the Internet, and in meatspace whenever possible.

Two of the people I have met through this blog are inspirations when it comes to publishing food related content on the Internet. Last April, I finally had the opportunity to meet Chef Mark Tafoya and food philosopher Jennifer Iannolo, co-founders of the Culinary Media Network. While visiting from New York on a food media junket, Jennifer and Mark put out a call for an impromptu 'tweetup' of Toronto foodies.

Upon discovering that Mark and Jen's junket itinerary did not include a visit to Toronto's Greektown, I extended an invitation to show them around my 'hood. The following video is a chronicle of that visit. We had a great time that day and I think it shows!



I want to extend a special "Thank You!" to Chris and Soula of Pan on the Danforth for their gracious hospitality.

Hope you enjoyed the video, and I hope you have enjoyed this blog over the past couple years. This year, I plan on taking things in a new direction and I have some exciting announcements to share in due time, so stay subscribed! As always, I look forward to your comments.

Amiably,

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tastes of Cyprus – An Interview and a Recipe

According to Greek Mythology, the island of Cyprus takes its name from the goddess Aphrodite, which makes the island her own special abode. I have never been to Cyprus, though I have heard of its natural beauty, and I do have a number of Cypriot friends. Toronto has a sizable Cypriot community, and over the years, I have had a chance to learn something about their ways and means. I have also had a chance to sample some of their foods.

A table filled with Cypriot and Greek food specialties

There are many similarities between the foods of Greece and Cyprus, but there are notable differences too. At the invitation of the Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Stavros Avgoustides, I had a chance to sample some specialties of that island nation. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual cutting of the Vasilopita at the Cypriot Consulate in Toronto. It was a small, intimate affair which included family members of the consulate staff, the consul general and staff from the nearby Greek Consulate, local community leaders, and last but not least, yours truly.

Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus, Mr. Stavros Avgoustides, cuts the vasilopita as his family watches

Mr. Avgoustides was also happy to answer some questions I had prepared for him about Cypriot cuisine. Seems he and I share a common interest in food and uncommon anecdotes which relate to its preparation and consumption. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed our interview, his answers were informative and interesting. He was also kind enough to provide a recipe for Koupepia, a stuffed vine-leaf recipe which is similar to Greek dolmades, yet different and very tasty.

Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my interview on Cypriot cuisine with the Consul General of Cyprus in Toronto, Mr. Stavros Avgoustides:
Q: What would you like my readers to know about Cypriot cuisine?

A: Cypriot cuisine is shaped by the island's Mediterranean climate, its geography, culture and history. It is a unique blend of Greek, African and Middle Eastern dishes.

Q: If there was one dish that you would associate with Cyprus, what would it be?

A: Kolokasi- A root vegetable (colocasia esculent) rather like a sweet potato cooked in a casserole with pork and celery in tomato sauce. They say that Richard the Lionheart had kolokasi at his wedding feast in Limassol in 1191.

I think Cypriot Mezedes is considered the most famous dish or combination of dishes. On Cyprus, Mezedes is a rich selection of appetizers and savouries in up to 20 saucerlike dishes! They include: fresh and pickled vegetables(cucumber and "kapari" - pickled caper stems), "elies tsakistes" ("crushed" green olives with a dressing of lemon, garlic, herbs, coriander seeds and oil), "Lounzta"(smoked and marinated loin of pork) and "Chiromeri" (marinated, smoked and pressed ham), "octapodi krassato"(octopus in red wine), grilled "halloumi" (local cheese made from sheep's milk), "tallatouri" (yogurt with cucumbers, garlic and mint), "melitzanosalata" (aubergines with spices), "tashi" dip (crushed sesame seeds - tahini paste, garlic, lemons and olive oil), "hummus" (made from yellow peas with olive oil and parsley), "Pourgouri Pilafi" (Bulghur - Cracked Wheat Pilaf Prepared from hulled wheat), "Cyprus salad" (a mix of fresh tomatoes, lettuce, coriander leaves, rocket leaves, cabbage, cucumbers, onions and black olives). "Koupes" (cigar shaped wheat cases with meat filling), "Halloumi Cheese Ravioli", "Karaoloi yahni" (snails in tomato sauce), "Tavas"( meat with onions, vegetables and spices, cooked and served in a clay pot), "Afelia" (small pieces of pork cooked in red wine and crushed coriander seeds). "Kleftiko" (lamb baked in a clay oven). "Koupepia" (rice cooked with onions, tomatoes and herbs, then wrapped in vine leaves).
'Koupes', fried bulgur pockets stuffed with minced meat
Q: What are your favourite Cypriot recipes (i.e. appetizer, main course, dessert) and do you cook them?

A: Difficult question... Almost all Cypriot recipes are among my favourites. If I am forced to narrow down my choices, they would be as follows. For an appetizer I would prefer to eat Halloumi cheese grilled over a charcoal fire and when at home my mom prepares these Halloumi toasted pita bread sandwiches . As a main course, I would choose barbequed Pork Souvlaki Kebabs and Sheftalia (minced pork in caul fat) served in envelope shaped pita bread. Also, "Moujendra" - lentils and rice (mixed) with fried onions (a must!!!), "Souvla" (large chunks of lamb, flavoured with fresh herbs, threaded onto a spit and grilled over charcoal), and "Ofton Kleftiko" (Lamb in the oven): this dish got its name from the word kleftis (robber), and they say that in the past mountain men would cook their stolen meat in sealed underground ovens. For dessert, "Lokmades" - Cinnamon and Honey Fritters, and "Daktyla" (Almond filled finger shaped pastries).
A platter of almond filled Daktyla or 'fingers', with Lokmades in the background
Q: What are some characteristically Cypriot ingredients and flavourings? Are there any specialty products that are uniquely Cypriot in origin?

A: The main ingredients used in Cypriot cuisine are lamb, chicken, fish, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, cheese and of course different spices: coriander seeds, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, pepper, caraway, parsley and garlic. Halloumi cheese originates from Cyprus. It is often served as a starter, grilled or fried (in slices as part of a cooked breakfast), in salads, and stuffed inside ravioli.

Q: Tell us about some noteworthy grape varietals which are unique to Cyprus and are used in wine/spirit production?

A:
Wine has been produced on Cyprus for thousands of years – there’s proof of Cypriot winemaking dating back to 2000BC. It is believed that Cyprus was one of the first countries to cultivate the vine and lay out vineyards. One of the best known and oldest wines is "Commandaria", a sweet dessert port-like wine made from the grape varieties Xynisteri and Mavro. One of the legends says that Richard the Lion Heart conquered the island especially for "Commandaria" and proclaimed it "the wine of kings and the king of wines." It is also used for Holy Communion in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Q: Do you have any anecdotes relating to Cypriot cuisine or food customs which stand out in your mind?

A:
Cypriots eat a lot, especially during Christmas and Easter. I remember there was a year that over 1000 people visited the hospital emergency department suffering from stomach complaints caused by overeating. It’s now a national pastime exacerbated over any holiday period, and especially at Easter.
I’d like to thank the Consul General for taking the time to answer my questions. As mentioned, he was also kind enough to provide a recipe for Koupepia, which are a Cypriot version of stuffed vine leaves (Dolmades). I reproduce the recipe just as he provided it:

Koupepia, a Cypriot version of stuffed vine leaves (Dolmades)

Ingredients:

½kg (1lb.) of fresh vine leaves. (See note on vine leaves*).
½kg (1lb.) of fresh minced beef or pork, a mixture of both also works very well.
½ cup or 90g long grain white rice (this is a matter of preference, some people prefer more rice some less)
Some Dried mint about ½ - 1 tablespoon
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes (fresh are better if you can get them)
1 tablespoon tomato puree
Juice of ½ lemon
Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of ground cinnamon (not too much of this)

Preparing the vine leaves:

If you are using fresh vine leaves, wash them and place in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover, leave to stand until they change colour then remove them from the water. Allow to cool before using. If you are using packed vine leaves just wash them to remove the brine. For frozen vine leaves allow to defrost normally or just defrost in cold water.

Preparing the filling:

Fry the onion in a little olive oil, till golden, add the tomato and fry till reduced to a sauce, allow to cool. Put the mince into a bowl and add the rice, dried mint and seasoning. Add the sauce and lemon juice. Mix together till everything is evenly distributed.

Filling the Koupepia:

Take a vine leaf and place with the top side (shiny) facing downwards and the inside (veined) facing upwards. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture on the leaf near the stem part of the leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf inwards and the bottom part up, then roll up tightly into a cylindrical shape (make sure there is not too much mixture in the leaf, this comes with trial and error). Continue to do this until all the mixture has been used up. Place the rolled vine leaves in a large saucepan making sure to pack tightly. It's best to start on the outside edges of the saucepan and work in. Once the koupepia are in the saucepan, cover them with a plate (the plate should be big enough to hold them all in place so that they do not escape when boiling). Add water to the saucepan to come up just above the plate. Put saucepan on to boil and once it has started to boil, bring down to simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Koupepia can be served hot or cold, and garnished with some fresh lemon wedges. They are also lovely served with a salad. The best salad to serve them with is Glistiria which is another name for purslane (which is something like a sweet watercress). Glistiria is added to tomato and cucumber with some dried mint, oil and vinegar. The mint in the salad really compliments the koupepia.

*Note on vine leaves: If you cannot find vine leaves for this recipe, Swiss chard leaves work very well, just wash and blanch them and use in the same way as vine leaves. If you are lucky enough to find fresh vine leaves, all the better, otherwise you can use preserved vine leaves, they come in brine or in vacuum packed bottles. If you have fresh vine leaves and you want to preserve them, the easiest way is to just blanch them, allow them to cool then pack the required amount in cling film or cellophane. Some people just pack them fresh without blanching them. Both methods work. If you find you have vine leaves left over after making the koupepia just wrap them in cling film and freeze them, they are OK to re-freeze. Finally, with fresh vine leaves you need to remove the stalks before filling.

---
Once more, I wish to thank Mr. Avgoustides, Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus, for his invitation, the interview, and his recipe for Koupepia.


Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit!),

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

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gigantes Beans with Bacon & Cretan Graviera Cheese (Γίγαντες με Μπέικον και Γραβιέρα)

Now that the first week of the New Year 2010 has come and gone, we have another fifty-one to look forward to, and I wish all of my readers the Very Best for the rest of 2010! I want to thank those of you who sent along your kind words and wishes over the Holiday period. Our family celebrated with a traditional cutting of the Vasilopita and a New Year’s Day late lunch at my in-laws’ home. It was a day filled with family, great Greek food, fun, and custom; we look forward to many more days filled with the same.

A serving of my Gigantes with bacon and Cretan Graviera cheese - Click to enlarge image

In the spirit of ushering in a New Year with something novel, I offer my own spin on one of the classic dishes of Greek cookery: a baked bean dish that we call “Gigantes” (pronounced ‘YEE-ghan-dess’) after the name of the extra large runner beans that are its main ingredient. Five varieties of Gigantes beans have been registered as PDO/ PGI produce within the European Union by the Greek government. Gigantes beans are cultivated primarily in the area of Lake Prespa, in the north-western part of the Greek region of Macedonia, but they are universally enjoyed throughout Greece.

Dried Gigantes beans - Click to enlarge image

Many of the local dishes in the northern Florina prefecture include variations on a red pepper theme. In particular, the spicy red “Florina pepper” (a cultivar of the species Capsicum anum) is used widely in regional specialties. This variety of pepper is peculiar to the area, and is much sought after in Greece and throughout the Balkans for its distinctive flavour and heat. Florina peppers are enjoyed in several ways; they are pickled (toursi in Greek), sliced raw into salads, as well as dried and crushed into red pepper flakes known as “boukovo”. Within Greece, the use of these peppers (and/or the boukovo flakes) in a baked Gigantes dish is unique to this locality.

Baked to perfection! - Click to enlarge image

Now, I have long enjoyed southern Greek versions of baked Gigantes, but when I was first introduced to the spicy northern variation I was immediately hooked. I have a thing for spicy dishes, especially during the winter months here in Canada. Thus, I thought it might be fitting to share my own seasonal spicy and savoury variation on the classic baked Gigantes theme. In addition to the boukovo, I added two unconventional ingredients to my recipe: thick-cut bacon and mild-flavoured Cretan Graviera cheese. The result was simply mouth-watering and I hope you will give this Greek comfort food recipe a try.

Ingredients:

½ lb. dried Gigantes beans
¼ lb. Cretan Graviera cheese
2 - 3 slices extra-thick cut bacon
1 medium sized onion
1 red bell pepper (diced)
1 cup strained tomato pulp/sauce
½ cup Olive oil
3 garlic cloves
A small bunch of Parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp. Boukovo or red pepper (chilli) flakes
1 tbsp. dried Greek oregano
Salt & pepper

  1. Soak the dried Gigantes beans overnight (use at least a 3:1 ratio of water to beans).
  2. Rinse and add rehydrated beans to a generous pot of boiling water and cook for 45 minutes over a medium heat, until the beans are soft. Using a large spoon, periodically skim away any surface foam that may develop.
  3. In a large sized skillet/pan, fry off the bacon until cooked but not completely crisped, then remove the bacon from pan but retain the fat. Cut the bacon into thin strips and set aside.
  4. Add the diced onion to the pan with the bacon fat and sauté until soft.
  5. Press and add garlic to the pan along with two tablespoonfuls of olive oil; stir for a few turns and then add the diced red pepper for several turns/tosses. Season with oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Stir in the tomato sauce along with 1 cup of water and half the bacon strips along with the chopped parsley and boukovo, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C and place an earthenware/stoneware/clay baking vessel in the oven to warm. (I prefer to use a Pampered Chef ® square stoneware baking dish).
  8. When the beans are cooked (i.e. soft), drain them and add them to the pan with the sauce to combine.
  9. Take the heated vessel out of the oven, add the beans to it, pour the remaining olive oil over top and return to oven. Bake for 35 minutes.
  10. Remove baking vessel from oven; add cubed cheese and bacon strips over top of the beans and bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
Serve immediately along with some chewy sourdough village-style bread.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: If you like Gigantes beans, you may also enjoy my Pan-Fried Gigantes recipe.


Pànta Kalà (Always Be Well),

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