All posts tagged: greekcuisine

Bakaliaros Skordalia (Cod & Garlic Dip)

My entire house has smelled like a McDonald’s deep fryer for an entire week. Fried oil has seeped into the carpets and walls, and has stubbornly clung to mine and my family’s clothes. It’s actually been a pleasant change of pace from the typical scent of a wet dog. The culprit behind the oil stench is my mistake of opening up any windows to get some fresh air while frying up a traditional dish. March 25th is a double national holiday of Greece, marking a special day of both religious and political events. It’s a spiritual day dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of the Theotokos, when the Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a child. It’s also a day that marks the start of the War of Greek Independence when the Greeks demanded their independence after living in centuries under the Ottoman Empire. It’s a day of joyous gatherings and celebration. On March 25th, Greeks will fill the streets for parades to celebrate the historic day and blue …

Avgolemono Soup (Egg Lemon Soup)

Greeks have a fix for every ailment. And no, it’s not Windex as seen in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. But if you do have an itch to spray some Windex on something, feel free to aim your spray bottle towards the direction of my windows because half the time I can’t even see out. What Greeks actually use for home remedies and cures are lots of herbs, vegetables, and juices. For example, to fight the common cold, they brew a hot cup of tsai tou vounou (Greek mountain tea). Sprigs of mint are used to prevent an unsettled stomach or used as an aromatherapy for migraine relief. In the frigid winter months, a big bowl of avgolemono soup is a popular cure all. Avgolemono soup is like the Michael Jordan of Greek food—definitely in the starting five of all-star Greek dishes. Lucky for you, it’s not hard to find. You probably know someone who makes this traditional Greek soup, and if not, you can drop in to a nearby Greek restaurant to sample their …

Loukoumades (Greek honey donuts)

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 amazingly strong for someone of her small stature. I clung to her because she reminded me so much of my Papou Saltas, who passed away in 2005. Both were strong, stubborn Saltas.’ And, oh, could Aunt Mary cook! 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 now serves at St. Catherine’s Monastery in  Mount Sinai, Egypt—but that’s another story). At her house …

Tyrokafteri (Spicy cheese dip)

It doesn’t matter where I eat, my eyes always race down the menu for any mention of something spicy. Spicy curry? Yes please, with a side of naan. Buffalo chicken wings? My hands and face will definitely be a hot mess after but I’ll take a basket full of those. Bahn mi sandwich and a bowl of pho? Neither typically packs enough heat for my liking—until a side of jalapenos and hot sauce fix my dilemma. Whatever the menu offers, if it says spicy or has the potential for spice, nine times out of ten I’ll order it. Finding something spicy to eat at a Greek taverna isn’t easy. The decision is pretty much made for you because there are few items on a standard Greek menu that have my kind of kick. One is spetzofai a delicious pepper and sausage dish. Another is TYROKAFTERI (tee-roh-kaf-teh-REE) basically meaning “hot cheese.” And no, it’s not literal hot cheese like the popular saganaki, the pan-seared cheese that is brought to tableside all aflame. This hot cheese makes …

Pete’s Tzatziki

Go to your fridge right now and open it up. Do you have a bowl of TZATZIKI in there? If yes, pat yourself on the back. If you answered no, you are missing one of life’s great go-with-everything dips. Tzatziki (tsa-TZEE-kee) ranks as one of my favorite dips. Also known as “that white stuff,” you’ll find it smothered on gyros (pronounced YEE-rohs, not GY-rohs, please) and is made of thick Greek yogurt, fresh cucumbers and herbs—plus a generous amount of garlic that will sneak up on you whether you (and anyone near you for the next three days) like it or not. As much as I love eating tzatziki, I’m more of a tzatziki eater than maker because my brother, Pete, has dubbed himself the tzatziki king in our family. Pete won’t let anyone else make it. He won’t even let anyone watch him make it. He’s never shared his recipe with anyone until now. I basically had to start a blog and beg him for it with the promise to make him famous to …

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

DOLMADES (dol-MAH-thes) are bite sized finger foods wrapped with grape or cabbage leaves and stuffed with all the goods—rice, meat, and plenty of herbs. Versatility makes dolmades just plain wonderful to keep in your kitchen repertoire. You can top them with a tomato sauce or avgolemono sauce (egg-lemon sauce), serve them plain with a generous amount of lemon on top, or even pinwheel them alongside tzatziki. I love to vary the fillings as well, creating meatless dolmades or stuffing them with whatever herbs and seasonings call my name that day. As appetizing as they look, these little taste masterpieces can be intimidating to make. Take heart and take your time, because no one wants to be bested by a food roll. Having said that, the intimidation begins with the rolling. Hand rolling comes with the territory, and 20 minutes in you’ll wonder how many more dolmades you have to roll before you can finally dig in. I assure you, the end result is worth every frustration. You’ll even discover making dolmades is actually quite simple once you …

Shrimp Saganaki

Here’s one dish I don’t get enough of (and wish I did)—shrimp saganaki. I don’t make it very often since discovering my older brother, Pete, is allergic to shrimp and other shellfish. I will not be the one to send him into anaphylactic shock. I care for my brother’s well-being and I’m somewhat upset with him and his allergies. I want my shrimp! If you’ve ever tried shrimp saganaki, you’d understand. “Saganaki” refers to a variety of Greek dishes cooked in a particular, small, usually round, frying pan. Most of us are familiar with cheese saganaki, a dish that is set aflame and is put out by a splash of ouzo and a loud shout of “OPA!” (The flaming cheese saganaki was invented in Chicago’s Greek Town, no less—not Greece). There’s also a saganaki made with mid-size anchovies or smelts, wine, and fresh herbs. Despite my dad’s best efforts, I’m not an anchovy fan so I stay far away from that dish. When my shrimp allergic brother isn’t over for dinner, I make shrimp saganaki. …

Yiayia’s Lamb Stew

Growing up, a winter snowfall meant braving the weather to make snow angels, build snow forts, and endure intense snowball fights with my brothers. But now, when the temperature drops lower than 40 degrees and the weatherman even mentions an approaching snowstorm, all I want to do is bundle up indoors with blankets and put something warm in my belly. My yiayia’s lamb stew always does the trick. My yiayia is probably a lot like yours. They love with their whole hearts, constantly nag us to get married, and would never let us leave their house hungry or empty handed. Yiayia Saltas makes me an egg sandwich whenever I visit, sends me home with a large bowl of orzo, brings spanakopita to all of our family parties, and still has time to play bingo twice a week while hitting “like” on all of my Facebook posts. My yiayia seems to be cooking all year round but it’s her winter dishes that keep me warm and stir my deepest memories. Her lamb stew, so hearty and healthy that it’s perfect on a cold winter day, ranks …

Dakos (Cretan Rusk)

Of all the different regional foods I’ve tried along my travels in Greece, Cretan cuisine is by far my favorite. From the most rural villages to cities like Chania, you’ll find dishes layered with fresh herbs, cheese, vegetables, and plenty of olive oil—these key ingredients create simple but flavorful dishes. One of the best representations of the Cretan cuisine is dakos, a traditional meze (appetizer) that I could eat daily and never get tired of. Similar to Italian bruschetta, dakos is made with a twice-baked bread rusk that is hard as nails, meaning before serving you must reconstitute with water or olive oil to soften it. In Crete, rusks are most often barley based, but wheat or rye based is also common. It’s the toppings that make the dish so memorable. For Cretan dakos, the rusks are topped with juicy tomatoes (preferably fresh from the vine), plenty of cheese (Cretan mizithra, feta or other soft cheese) and garnished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and oregano. Complete the dakos with a Kalamata olive …

Nitsa’s Peas

Until 3 days ago, the last time I scarfed down a bowl of peas was when I was in diapers. For some reason mothers think babies like peas. Even then I’m sure I raised my tiny harmless fists in protest of peas, even as spoonful after spoonful of them flew in circles over my head as my mother played “here comes the airplane.” I suppose you can make anything taste good so long as it’s masked as an airplane. I probably would’ve eaten dirt if my mom said it was a 737. Or maybe as a baby I mistook dirt for peas and have since been traumatized—who knows? Bottom line is that peas have always been my number one enemy. But strangely, I have always given peas a second, third and umpteenth chance in and out of their pods, mixed in a stew or tossed in a fresh salad, roasted with other vegetables or complimenting a main dish. I thought I had tried and hated peas in every possible form and flavor and had nearly …