Mary Saltas Mannos was just 76 years old when I was born. She’s my papou Pete Saltas’ older sister, making her my great aunt. My papou had seven siblings and Aunt Mary was the first Saltas born in the United States, in 1915. Whenever I visited Aunt Mary, she would welcome me on her front porch with her arms extended and a beaming smile, shouting a high pitched “ELENI!!” pulling me in for a pinch of the cheeks and a bear hug miraculously strong for someone of her small stature. I clung to her because she reminded me so much of my papou, who had passed away in 2005. Both were strong, stubborn Saltas.’ And, oh, could Aunt Mary cook for the masses!
Mary turned 103 on February 24, 2018. Until her 100th birthday she remained as healthy as she was 80 years ago, and lived pretty much independently in her home with her son, Father Makarios, a Greek Orthodox monk (who had lived for over a decade at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt—but that’s another story). At her house on her 100th birthday, she was the one serving people coffee and treats for her centenarian celebration. She was the one making sure everyone else had a seat. It’s no wonder I have always wanted to be so much like her. And emulation has its blessings.
About eight years ago, when Aunt Mary was only 95, I asked her to teach me how to make LOUKOUMADES. These amazing, challenging, devastatingly delicious donuts launched me into this past decade of food discovery. And blogging. And cooking every chance I get. And meeting all of you.
Loukoumades are the stickiest of all the Greek desserts. Soaked in honey, they’re golden and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and can be topped with cinnamon, chopped walnuts, sesame seeds, or drizzled with even more honey or melted chocolate. Eating loukoumades demands sticky hands. Making them can be tricky—donuts require time and a really good teacher.
Aunt Mary was the best. Every New Year’s Eve, she invited the family to her house to make loukoumades. All of my dad’s cousins talk about these huge Saltas family gatherings at her home, centered on making and eating loukoumades, sometimes called katsoubles in her home, as they called them in her family’s village of Megara, Greece. Her holiday donuts became a wonderful tradition, bringing in the new year smelling like fried dough, surrounded by family.
You may notice at Greek festivals and functions that a large machine pumps out mass amounts of dough balls into an even larger pot of oil. I was taught to make loukoumades the Aunt Mary method, by the use of my two hands. On the day of our cooking lesson, Aunt Mary showed me to place my hand into the batter, grab ahold of some of the sticky mixture in my palm and squeeze tightly. Out came dough in between my thumb and index finger. Then, holding a teaspoon in my clean hand, I scooped the dough into the spoon and immediately dropped it into the hot oil. I’ve seen other cooks round the dough with two spoons or with an ice cream scooper, but I prefer this method. If I told you it’s easy, I’d be lying. But this method becomes easy once you get the hang of it. My Aunt Mary put me to shame—she could pump out dough balls five times faster than I. Emulation, that’s where it’s at. I know I’ll get there. I just need to throw more loukoumades parties. And throw them, I will.
Mary Saltas Mannos passed away on April 12, 2018. Now I have officially taken over for her. I serve loukoumades to my family on New Year’s Eve. Father Makarios comes and helps me, too, like he always did with Aunt Mary. Having his helpful hands to turn the frying dough balls while I scoop the dough makes the process so much easier. Loukoumades are best made by two. Find yourself a cooking partner and join a fine Greek tradition.
Dedicated to Mary Saltas Mannos, who passed away on April 12, 2018. May her memory be eternal.
- 1 package active yeast (or 1 ½ to make rise faster)
- 1 ½ cup warm water
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 to 4 cups all purpose flour
- vegetable or canola oil for frying
- 2 cups of honey
- ½ cup of water
- ground cinnamon
- sesame seeds or chopped walnuts (optional)
- Dissolve yeast and salt in lukewarm water. Make sure the yeast becomes bubbly or creates foam.
- Place flour and sugar in large mixing bowl and pour in the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of warm water and mix ingredients with wire whisk until smooth. Dough should be loose and sticky, not stiff or firm. If dough is too stiff, add a bit more water.
- Cover bowl with plastic wrap and dishtowel and place the bowl in a warm place and allow to rise and double in size (1-2 hours). Look for bubbles to appear on the rising dough, this indicates that the dough is ready to be fried.
- Prepare: You need 1 large slotted metal serving spoon for removing cooked dough from oil, a small drinking glass filled with vegetable oil, a tablespoon or small spoon, and a large flat dish covered with paper towels to absorb oil from fried dough.
- Fill medium sized pot a quarter of the way with vegetable oil and heat to 355-365 degrees. Keep a thermometer in the pan to keep the temperature right. Adjust the heat as you go if it goes below or above that temperature.
- When the oil reaches proper temperature, place hand in dough mixture and bring out a fistful of dough and squeeze. The dough will come through thumb and index finger. Dip spoon in glass containing the vegetable oil and scoop the dough and drop into the hot oil. Do this until there are 8-10 balls frying in the hot oil. Be sure to not overcrowd.
- Use a slotted spoon to turn and cook evenly. When balls are golden brown, remove them from hot oil with slotted spoon and place on dish with paper towels to drain off the excess oil. Repeat this process until all dough is used up.
- To make the honey syrup, heat honey and water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir at low temperature until just warm.
- To serve, put the dough balls on a platter, drizzle with honey syrup, and dust with cinnamon. You can also sprinkle with sesame seeds or walnuts if desired.
- Serve warm to waiting guests and enjoy!