Seeking raw simplicity… & rediscovering the Greek salad

Today, two little things made me feel true joy and
happiness, as if I could feel my whole being smiling: Pablo, bare feet, ate
grapes from a grapevine, and drank from a natural fresh water spring. And this, of all places, happened in Greece, a place with which I have a difficult family history. Yet could
happiness be that simple? Certainly seems naive from the outside.  But my theory is that if the enjoyment of
simple things (one could also call them pure, or authentic things) is encoded
in our brain somewhere, even from very early childhood, or perhaps especially from very early childhood, it
remains an enjoyment we will be able to experience later in life. Or come back
to, if we steer away from it. I guess the same theory goes with getting baby to
taste simple / pure flavors when young, a simple single vegetable puree for
example. Hopefully simplicity and purity of flavor, and of experience, remain
in the brain as the reference, the
standard of authenticity other things in our life get judged by.

Speaking of simplicity, let me rewind a few days back. Here
we are, sitting by the port of the island of Tinos, fresh (or not so fresh) of a
four hour ride from Athensport of Rafina.
I am so happy to be here. My sister has organized everything and it’s wonderful
to be led in complete trust and open-mindedness. I am ready to eat anything
she’ll order, sleep anywhere she chooses, see anything she recommends. It’s
going to be a wonderfully rich experience no matter what. We sit under
grapevines. As Pablo discovers life without the high chair, he can walk around
the table and be fed, as he checks in near my plate. I let it go, I’m too eager
to savor the moment. The waiter brings the much anticipated Greek salad…
Tomatoes, cucumber, pale green bell peppers, small red onions that look like
shallots, black olives, a thick slice of Feta cheese sprinkled with dried oregano,
with freshly pickled capers on top, and lots and lots of olive oil.  Along comes a loaf of thick Greek country
bread.

At home, we eat a “Greek salad” almost everyday, especially
in heirloom tomato season. I love Feta cheese. We basically throw together
tomatoes, cucumber, feta (I do get the blocks of sheep’s cheese feta), basil or
oregano if we bother to go pick it in the backyard, and (Greek) olive oil. But
it really pales in comparison with the authentic Greek salad we have enjoyed
here.

Like the white walls and blue shutters bursting out of the
arid landscape all over the Greek isles, every bite of this salad is a burst of
flavor. The Feta is strong and salty, the onions even seem crunchier, the
cucumber, juicier. The olive oil actually tastes of olives, and the capers… oh
the capers, they’re the sleepers. So strong in flavor, but complementing
perfectly the feta and tomatoes, they’re the perfect substitute for vinegar in this salad. I can honestly say I don’t intend to ever buy
capers in a jar in an American supermarket again. If only I can find a way to
grow the plant and pickle them myself. They’re that good… This salad is the
perfect combination of flavors and textures. Crunchy cucumber, peppers and
onions (but in different ways), soft tomatoes, crumbly feta. Salty, tart,
tangy, watery, sweet… You taste the sea, the sun, the salt in the air, the
wind, the heat. In short, you taste Greece.

Traditional Greek Salad

Age for babies: I started giving tomatoes and Feta to Pablo as finger foods between 8 and 10 months, raw cucumber and bell peppers a bit later, about 12 months, because they’re harder to chew.

Serves 4-6

5 large ripe tomatoes, quartered

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced

2 small Greek onions, or shallots, sliced

3 green or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeds removed, and sliced

12 black kalamata olives

Freshly pickled capers (see if you can find them in a specialty grocery store or Greek shop, they’re worth it!)

1 thick slice of sheep’s milk Feta cheese

Fragrant dried oregano, or fresh oregano

Salt & pepper

Greek olive oil

Toss all the vegetables in a large salad bowl. Sprinkle some dried oregano on top of the slice of Feta and place on top of the salad.

Pour a fair amount of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Greek “paparra” tradition: Dip some country bread in the sauce directly in the bowl, it’s the best!

Tasty Tyropita (Cheese puffs)


Tyropita are delicious Greek pastries made with feta or ricotta cheese (or a combination of both) wrapped in layers of buttered phyllo. Tyropita are great as a snack or as a side dish for lunch or dinner, although in Greece they are usually eaten as a breakfast food. What I love about tyropita is that you can make a large batch and then freeze them. Take some out of the freezer about 40 minutes before dinner, pop them in the oven, and you’ll have a wonderful side dish for the family meal.

Here is Eva’s recipe for tyropitakia. She uses both feta and ricotta cheese, but if you like it a little more salty use only feta cheese. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • Half a pound of feta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 500 grams of ricotta cheese
  • Half a pound of butter (or you can use margarine)
  • 3 eggs
  • A quarter tsp of black pepper
  • Parsley (optional)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix the feta, ricotta, eggs, and black pepper with your hands.

Remove the phyllo from the package, carefully unwrap it, and lay it flat on your counter. Place a slightly damp cloth over the phyllo to prevent it from drying out.

Place your butter in a small bowl and it microwave until softened. Get out a brush and butter a large pan.

Cut the phyllo into 3 or 4 long strips. Take out one pile of strips and cover the rest of the phyllo with your cloth.

Take one strip of phyllo and lightly butter it. Add another layer of phyllo and butter that too. Now drop a spoonful of the cheese mixture at the bottom of the long strip. Fold the phyllo in triangles.

Once you have finished folding each piece, butter it and place it on the pan.

Repeat until you have finished with the cheese mixture and the phyllo.

Once you are finished place the pan in the oven for about an hour (at 325 degrees)

And viola! You have delicious tyropitakia for you and your family.

Delicious Dolmathes (Stuffed Grapevine Leaves)

Dolmathes, also known as stuffed grapevine leaves, are a Greek specialty. There are many different variations of this dish, depending on the region of Greece. Some prepare it with an avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce, others prefer a tomato sauce. Some Greeks cook the dolmathes in a pan in the oven, while others prefer to cook the dolmathes on the stovetop. In this recipe Eva shows us her unique way of preparing this classic Greek dish.

For the Dolmathes:

  • ½ pound of ground beef
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • ¼ cup of chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup of chopped mint
  • 1/3 cup of chopped dill or anise
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • ½ cup of washed and strained uncooked rice
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp of black pepper
  • 20-30 grapevine leaves

For the lemon sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • Juice of half a lemon

To begin you need to blanch your grapevine leaves. Some grocery stores sell jars of preserved grapevine leaves, but if you are using fresh leaves you need to blanch them by placing them in a pot of boiling water for about 2-3 minutes then rise with cold water and pat dry.

In a large bowl mix together the ground beef, onion, parsley, mint, anise, egg, olive oil, lemon juice, rice, and salt and pepper.

Once you have mixed these ingredients well you may begin rolling your dolmathes. Place your grapevine leaves face down (smooth side down) on your countertop. Place a ½ teaspoon of mixture at the top of the leaf and roll the leaf by folding in the sides and rolling downwards. Roll the leaves tightly. Repeat until all the mixture has been used up. After you have finished rolling all of the dolmathes, pour about 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a medium size pot and place your dolmathes (with the seam side down) in the pot. Put the pot on medium heat and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.

In another small pot, bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. After the water has come to a boil pour it over your dolmathes. Place a small heat-proof plate over your dolmathes and close the lid. Turn the heat down to a light-to-medium heat and let it cook for about 45 minutes. Once it has cooked, remove the dolmathes from the pot and place on a serving plate. Be sure to keep any remaining juice to make the sauce.

To prepare the lemon sauce, mix 1 tablespoon of flour with half a cup of water. Add the juice of half a lemon to the leftover dolmathes juice. Add the flour mixture to this and whisk the mixture well. Let it come to a boil for 1-2 minutes until it thickens. Strain the mixture as you pour it over the dolmathes. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve!

Eva’s Classic Greek Tzatziki Sauce

Tzatziki is a popular Greek sauce that is often used as a dip with pita bread or enjoyed with various types of meat dishes such as souvlaki and gyros. It is best made with yogurt, but if you prefer not to use yogurt you may substitute it for sour cream. Keep in mind that the yogurt needs to strain for about 8 to 10 hours, so it’s best to begin the preparation the day before you plan to serve it. Some tzatziki recipes call for a bit of chopped dill or mint, but in this video Eva shows us how to prepare her version of this delicious sauce.

1 tub of plain yogurt
2 cloves of garlic crushed
Half a cucumber
1 tablespoon of olive oil
a pinch of salt (or to your taste)
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

To begin you need to strain the yogurt. Place a cheese cloth or a few sturdy paper towels on a strainer and place the strainer in a bowl. Scope out the yogurt into the strainer and allow the water to strain for at least 8 to 10 hours in the fridge. Once the yogurt has been strained, discard the excess water and place the yogurt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the crushed garlic to the yogurt. Peel the cucumber, slice it in half, remove the seeds, and shred the cucumber using a cheese grater. Squeeze out any excess water from the cucumber and add it the yogurt mixture. Add the olive oil, salt, and fresh lemon juice. Stir the mixture well. Garnish with an olive or a slice of lemon.

Enjoy!

Delicious Mediterranean Calamari – Fried Squid

Calamari is a surprisingly easy meal to prepare. In this video Eva shows us how to properly clean and cook the squid. Calamari is wonderful as an entree or as side dish and is amazing with home-made tzatziki. Be sure to fry the squid right before you serve the meal, as it best eaten immediately.

1 box of frozen squid
Enough flour to dip the squid
Vegetable oil for frying
Fresh lemon
Pinch of salt and pepper

Allow the squid to defrost. Clean and cut the squid into small pieces or rings. Cut off the tentacles and body, and be sure to discard the backbone, ink sac, sand sac, and innards. Wash squid thoroughly and place on a strainer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the fridge for a few minutes. Dip the squid in flour and shake off excess. Heat a large frying pan with vegetable oil. Fry the squid in small batches and cook until golden, turning over. Place calamari on a paper-towel lined plate. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice and serve with tzatziki sauce.

Next time on Thursday for Dinner: Spanakorizo (Spinach & Rice)

This entry was posted in Appetizer, Entree, Eva, Fried, Greek, Lemon, Seafood.