All posts tagged: nutrition

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 …

Yiayia’s Orzo (Kritharaki)

Nothing brings a smile to my face quite like seeing my Yiayia Saltas walk up the driveway carrying a pot of orzo. She makes me a batch nearly every month. She makes it for me when my parents go out of town, when I’m sick, or just because it’s a Tuesday. And when I say she makes it for me, she technically brings it over for my entire family but I’m always the one who hoards the pot and gobbles it down the fastest. It’s that good. I’ve eaten YIAYIA’S ORZO so many times that I never bothered to learn how to make it. I always figured she would make it for me. Then, after going without orzo longer than usual, I left her a voicemail to say I was craving a batch. She immediately texted—yes, my super hip and tech-savvy 91-year-old yiayia texted me back— “Let’s make it together, it’s time you learned on your own.” So, we made orzo together, and now you are one lucky duck reader and cook. Yiayia’s orzo is …

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 …

Make Your Own Cheese

Everything tastes better in Greece. Maybe it’s because when I’m there I can take the time to sit back, sip some Greek coffee and savor the food. Or maybe it is because the tomatoes truly are juicier, the fish is always fresher, and all the pites (pies) are locally baked. Whatever it is, whenever I return to the States it seems my taste buds go dormant until my next visit. I miss the tastes of Greece. Most of all, I miss all the varieties of fresh cheese. Cherished throughout Greece, cheese makes an appearance at nearly every meal: cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, served as mezes, plain or with olives, fried, or baked in pies. While feta has already won over the culinary world, many Greek regional cheeses have yet to be championed. Set your sights (and your taste buds) on Graviera, Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Kefalograviera and halloumi—all are versatile cheeses for nearly any occasion. Then there’s ANTHOTYROS, a soft Greek cheese that’s similar to ricotta cheese and often associated with the island of Crete. …

Tsai Tou Vounou (Greek Mountain Tea)

While most people associate the act of tea drinking as sophisticated and paired with crumpets, I link it with being sick. In my family, it just takes one sniffle or a lousy cough for a pot of tea to begin brewing. Thankfully I was rarely the sick one but I definitely mastered the art of fake coughing to get myself a cup of tea here and there. We drink TSAI TOU VOUNOU (Greek mountain tea) in our home. Tsai tou vounou comes from the Sideritis plant that grows high in Greece’s rocky mountains. Sideritis (ironwort) comes from the Greek word σίδηρος (sithiros) which translates to “he who is made of or has iron.” Fun fact: my great grandmother was a Pappasideris. I heard she had an iron will. Tsai tou vounou, also referred to as Shepheard’s tea, offers deep health benefits that have been enjoyed throughout Greece for thousands of years. I get my Greek mountain tea from Crete, where it is called malotira. Named by the Venetians in Crete, it translates to “drive out …

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 …

Karpouzi Salata (Watermelon Salad)

If you’ve been looking for a quick, refreshing salad that is perfect on any summery day of the week, then look no further than KARPOUZI SALATA (watermelon salad). You may already have tried this popular summer dish at a picnic. Or maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram and felt dizzy just looking at the juicy karpouzi (kar-POU-zee) mixed with salty feta cheese only to notice that your phone is dripping in drool. My best guess is that if you haven’t heard of karpouzi salata you’re wondering how feta ever made it into the same bowl as watermelon. Talk about the odd couple. I wondered the same thing for many years. To be honest, I used to run faster from karpouzi and feta than I did from my yiayia’s koutala (her wooden spanking spoon). Feta was supposed to be eaten with olives, or topped on Greek salads, or stuffed in phyllo pies. Karpouzi was the mouth-watering fruit served to you after a picnic. The word is shouted along with peponia (melon) by local vendors in markets …

Rizogalo

My mom knows rizogalo is the key to my heart. Her yiayia (grandma) dished it to warm the bellies of her grandkids. Her mother did likewise. Then it was my mom’s turn to keep the rizogalo tradition as an after dinner treat the same way her yiayia did. Blending her yiayias recipe with local author Ellen Furgis’ recipe and countless different batches later, my mom reached rizogalo perfection. Now she serves her version of rizogalo to me and my brothers—and of course all of our hungry friends who can’t get enough of Mama Saltas’ rizogalo. Rizogalo is not only my favorite dessert but is also my favorite thing my mom makes, period. It always brings me back home. And I live at home. Yes, I’m one of those Greek kids who can’t seem to leave the nest. And why would I want to leave? I get daily lifetime lessons from my dad, my brothers constantly keep me laughing, and I get special homemade batches of rizogalo from my mom. I’ve got it made. As long as …