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Preview: Greek Food Recipes and Reflections

Greek Food Recipes and Reflections

Traditional regional Greek food recipes along with reflections relating to the customs, facts, and history of Greek cuisine and gastronomy.

Updated: 2017-11-13T23:45:48.440-08:00


Greek Cucumber Salad - Αγγουροσαλάτα


With the summer in full swing here in the northern hemisphere, many of us are seeking relief from stifling temperatures. In some regions new record seasonal highs have been recorded; here in Toronto the past week was a true scorcher. Fortunately, Greek food culture includes recipes that are perfectly suited to beating the heat. A bird's eye view of my Greek cucumber salad, click to enlargeWhen Greeks sit down to a summertime meal, they will invariably include a raw salad of one kind or another. One of the more popular summertime Greek salads in our family is the world famous Aggourosalata (ah-goo-roh-sah-LAH-ta), or, Cucumber Salad. There are a few variations on the theme, but it is a very basic dish and serves as a refreshing course alongside other summertime favourites.The cucumber has been α part of Greek cookery for millennia. It is used in the famous Tzatziki sauce, and can simply be sliced into wedges, salted or not, and consumed without any fuss, much like a melon. Indeed, a little known fact about the cucumber is that it is not a vegetable; it is actually a melon. Ancient Greek melon patches included the long green fruits alongside more recognizable spherical varieties. Today, alas, cucumbers are found among the vegetables in market produce sections, which can cause some confusion regarding their genus. Fortunately, a few of us are familiar with the old ways and can serve to remind others of our forgotten Greek food heritage.For presentation purposes this salad makes an impression, click to enlargeAs refreshing as a cucumber salad can be during the course of the summer, there is yet another means by which this melon can bring relief from the heat. My grandfather taught me the trick, just as his father taught him, and I have now passed it on to my son. The technique requires only a small part of the cucumber and does not involve consuming it. I will reveal this family custom in a separate posting following this one, so stay tuned…Ingredients:1 medium sized cucumber, chilled, washed but not peeled and sliced thinly½ medium sized red onion, sliced thinly2 - 3 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil2 - 3 tablespoons Greek wine vinegar1 tablespoon dried Greek oreganoKalamata olivesSalt and fresh ground black pepper; to taste.Preparation:In a large bowl, combine and toss all the ingredients together. Serve immediately.Serves 4Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

Macedonian Halva (Μακεδονικός Χαλβάς)


For those of you who are fasting for Lent or practicing vegetarian/vegans, this is your lucky day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Irish eyes are smilin'! :) Halva ready for service - Click to enlarge imageOne of the hardest aspects of a fast or strict dietary regimen is avoiding tempting sweets and finding acceptable substitutes for dessert courses. This is especially hard on kids. Confections like this one are popular amongst Greek families during the Lenten period. I simply loved this stuff as a child. Still do!There are probably as many variations on this recipe as there are Greek matrons with culinary opinions. My recipe is quite basic, feel free to add or substitute other elements like pine nuts, sesame seeds, walnuts, or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few drops of orange blossom water or even some lemon rind in the syrup could also be a nice touch.I should mention that not only are there numerous permutations for this recipe, there are also alternative preparation methods involving the oven, for instance. To add to the complexity of the matter, Greeks apply the term halva interchangeably to flour or nut-based (i.e. ground sesame seed or pistachio etc.,) versions of this confection.Thus much have I for you today on the topic of my Macedonian halva recipe. I hope you try it. If you know any Irish folk, give them a hug today. Greece and Ireland have a lot in common these days.Ingredients1 cup coarse semolina1 cup Greek blossom honey (anthomelo, ανθομελο)4 cups of water¼ cup extra virgin olive oil* (vegetable oil may also be used) ¼ cup blanched almonds, chopped¼ cup sultana raisins* (optional, but highly recommended)Ground cinnamonNote: for those of you with a keener sweet tooth, adding a ½ cup or so of sugar to the syrup is an option. I prefer the simple purity of the honey as my sweet tooth has dulled with wisdom... ;-)Preparation:Combine honey and water in a pan, and set to boil as our syrup. When it has boiled, set it to simmer while you prepare the semolina mixture.Heat olive oil in a pot over medium to high heatWhen the oil is hot, add the semolina to the pot and mix it continuously with a wooden spoon to brown the semolina thoroughly; try to keep it from smoking much, keep it moving in the bottom of the pan. About 6 – 8 minutes. Do not burn it. Once the semolina has been browned, use a deep kitchen spoon or ladle and gradually add the still-simmering honey-water mixture to the pot. Be careful, do not add it all at once and keep your hands away from the pot opening.Mix the thickening semolina mixture well and keep adding the syrup until it is fully absorbed then add the almonds and raisins, lower the heat to medium low and continue mixing well for a few more minutes.Spoon the mixture quickly into 2 small 6 inch spring-form jelly/cake moulds which you have pre-greased with olive oil, and then use a spoon to pat the mixture down well and evenly into each mould; take care to ensure a uniform and level finish. Set the moulds to cool. Turn out onto a service plate and sprinkle with cinnamon before enjoying.Total preparation time: 20 minutesDesserts like this one are about getting back to the basics. Did I mention it is cholesterol free? Pánta Kalá! Πάντα Καλά! (Always Be Well)Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

Prasorizo - Leeks and Rice (Πρασόρυζο)


Many of you are likely already familiar with the Greek dish, Spanakorizo (spinach and rice), but how many of you have tried Prasorizo? Leeks have been a part of the Greek pantry for millenia. In ancient Greece, there were leek growing competitions and the largest specimens were awarded as offerings to the gods.Prasorizo - served with a lemon wedgeThe fresh green onions and garlic are excellent complements to the leeks in this dish as they are all part of the genus Allium. This dish is vegan and fast-friendly. However, for those of you who are not (or only partially) fasting, some real Greek Feta cheese also goes well with this dish, whether on the side, or crumbled over top as a finishing touch.An easy and quick Greek recipe that is tasty and seasonal. Ingredients: 3 large leeks sliced into thin discs4 - 6 green onions sliced1 yellow onion, diced1 cup long grain rice½ cup of extra-virgin olive oil¼ cup pine nuts¼ cup of chopped parsley4 garlic cloves, pressed/minced1 heaping tablespoon full of dried Greek oregano2 ½ cups of waterSalt & fresh ground black pepper to taste Heat the olive oil in a pot over a medium heat.Add the leeks and onions to the oil stir well and sauté until soft (cover the pot for 3 -5 minutes).Add the rice and sauté for 2 more minutes mixing well to coat the rice with oil.Add garlic, pine nuts and parsley to the pot, mix and heat through for another minute.Add seasonings and gradually add 2 cups of water in stages, stir/shake pot to thoroughly incorporate.Once all the water has been added and the pot’s contents brought to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pot to simmer for 20 minutes.Periodically uncover the pot and give the contents a stir/shake. At the 5-minute mark, uncover the pot, give the contents a stir and, if necessary, add the remaining ½ cup of water. Cover and finish cooking.When the cooking has elapsed, leaving the pot covered, remove it from the heat and set it aside to stand for 10 minutes.Garnish with sesame seeds and serve with a lemon wedge. Makes 4 servings Total preparation time: 45 minutes. Kali Orexi! Bon Appetit!Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

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 SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyri[...]

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. [...]

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 2009Here 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) 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 Festival32nd annual Des Moines Greek Food FairNew Jersey Greek Fest 2010Pànta Kalà (Always Be Well),Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

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 ImageIngredients:4 sole fillets1 large lemon1/4 cup of capers3 tbsp. of Greek extra virgin olive oil3 tbsp. chopped fresh dill2 tbsp. chopped fresh green onion (or celery leaves, or parsley)1 tsp. dried Greek oreganoSalt and Pepper1. 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 SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

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) beans2 medium sized carrots, sliced into discs2 medium cooking onions, diced2 stalks of celery, sliced thin1 cup tomato sauce (i.e. pommodoro) or 3 finely diced tomatoes.1 medium sized parsnip, quartered and thinly sliced1 tbsp. dried rosemary1 tbsp. dried thyme3 bay leaves¼ cup of olive oil4 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley4 - 6 garlic cloves, whole or halvedSalt and pepper Soak beans overnight in roughly three times their volume of water.Dump beans into a colander and rinse well before use.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.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 SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

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.


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand™
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.(image)

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 watchesMr. 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 meatQ: What are y[...]

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 imageIn 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 imageMany 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 imageNow, 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 beans¼ lb. Cretan Graviera cheese2 - 3 slices extra-thick cut bacon1 medium sized onion1 red bell pepper (diced)1 cup strained tomato pulp/sauce½ cup Olive oil3 garlic clovesA small bunch of Parsley, finely chopped1 tbsp. Boukovo or red pepper (chilli) flakes1 tbsp. dried Greek oreganoSalt & pepperSoak the dried Gigantes beans overnight (use at least a 3:1 ratio of water to beans).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.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.Add the diced onion to the pan with the bacon fat and sauté until soft.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.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 lowe[...]

Kourabiedes (Κουραμπιέδες)


Christmas provides another opportunity for Greeks to celebrate a holiday season with family and friends. Here in North America, we celebrate Christmas much like many others; we decorate trees, exchange gifts, and enjoy festive meals with relatives and close acquaintances. We also remember those who are less fortunate, and we show our gratitude for all we have by providing a helping hand to those who need it most. In the Spirit of the Season, I would like to ask each of my readers to click here for an easy and free way to help people in need via The Hunger Site. It will only take a moment of your time, it will not cost you anything, and you will be helping to ensure somebody somewhere gets a meal they desperately need. Thank you for your kind consideration.Now, on to the fun stuff- a sweet Greek recipe!One of the quintessential Greek holiday cookies is immediately recognizable by its confectionery sugar- dusted coat. Though they may be made in a variety of shapes, Kourabiedes (pronounced “koo-rah-bee-YEH-thess”) are most often fashioned into an S shape or lady finger style biscuit. My own preference is for a round bite-sized type of cookie, and that is how I make them.Kourabiedes are butter cookies traditionally baked for Christmas and Easter festivities, but they keep well when stored, so you can enjoy them with a morning Greek coffee long after both holidays have passed. In some regions of Greece, the Christmas Kourabiedes are adorned with a single whole spice clove embedded in each biscuit. This is done to commemorate the spices which were among the gifts presented by the Biblical Magi to the baby Jesus. As I am a soft touch for quaint sentimental customs, I add the spice cloves to my Kourabiedes at Christmas too.During the Holidays, most Greek homes will have a plate of Kourabiedes on hand to share with guests. Each matron in any Greek household on the planet has a family recipe for these cookies. Nonetheless, there are some universal points of confluence among the variations. One prerequisite for fine Kourabiedes is that they are light and fluffy- airy to the point of being slightly brittle to the touch; and, they must NOT taste of flour. I have tried many Kourabiedes in my time, most were good, some were bad, but they all had a little raw almond in the mix to keep the mastication interesting, as the rest of the cookie should practically melt on your tongue.This recipe is from my mother in law, though I have added a twist or two of my own. (Note: the flour measurement is an approximation based on the resulting “feel” of the dough after its “rubbing”, more on that below.)Ingredients:7 ½ - 8 cups flour, sifted (“Five Roses” All Purpose, if you can find it)1 lb good quality unsalted butter (Gay Lea is excellent)1 lb Crisco® vegetable shortening4 eggs½ cup of well-chopped raw almonds¼ cup mastic liqueur (or brandy)½ teaspoon baking powder½ teaspoon baking sodaRosewaterWhole spice cloves1 ½ cups powdered/confectionery sugarExtra powdered/confectionery sugar for the dustingIn a deep pan, melt the butter together with the Crisco® vegetable shortening, then pour into a mixer bowl and start whisking at a moderately high speed for 10 minutes or so.Add 1 ½ cup of powdered/confectionery sugar to the mixer bowl and continue whisking for another 10 minutes.Add the baking soda and baking powder to the mastic liqueur (or brandy) and mix together thoroughly, then add liqueur to the mixer bowl and continue whisking for another 10 minutes.Separate the egg yolks and whites of 2 of the eggs, then add the yolks to another bowl and add the remaining 2 eggs to that bowl. Combine and add the 4 yolks and 2 egg whites to the mixer bowl; continue mixing at medium-high speed for 30 – 40 minutes. (Save the 2 extra egg whi[...]

Cretan Dakos, or Koukouvayia (Owl) - Ντάκος


I have returned from my Blog Interruptus with a tale of autumn adventures on the island of Crete, along with a recipe for all those tomatoes in the pantry. Enjoy!Cretan Dakos - Click to Enlarge ImageIn my travels about Greece, I have been to Crete twice. The first time I touched foot on the legendary isle of King Minos, I spent a day there as one leg of an Aegean culture cruise; we visited Knossos and the Herakleion Museum. I was so inspired by my visit to the former that I was left with a burning desire to return someday and see more of that famous isle. As I sailed away that first time from the Cretan shoreline, I half-expected Talos to appear along the coast to see me off...Years later, I landed on Cretan soil again. This time, I spent a couple months exploring the island by foot, motorbike, and boat. It would not be an exaggeration to say that my sojourn there had the character of a sacred pilgrimage, or perhaps it was something akin to an initiatory walkabout or rite of passage. In every way that mattered, I was committed to seeing Crete's wild places and exploring her backcountry, and to learning about her people and their folkways. In short, I was intent on immersing myself into the geist of the place. Yes, my purpose was to commune with the very spirit of Crete herself. With that in mind, I threw myself upon the tender mercies of the Fates.I arrived in Herakleion in mid-September and stayed on Crete till mid-November. The weather was generally good, the tourist season was over, and the seas were at their warmest having been heated by the sun all summer long. During my visit, I camped on shorelines, slept in hostels and hotels, was a guest in private homes, and once, I even spent a frigid night in a desolate shepherd's redoubt on the upper slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). Suffice it to say, I gained an intimate knowledge of Cretan topography; from the island's northern shoreline to its southern beaches and meandering coastlines, I immersed myself in the landscape. I traversed Crete's mountainous backbone on foot, starting from the mythical Idaeon Andron and the Nidha Plateau, and ending up in the great Messara Plain on her southern flank.This course brought me into contact with Crete's people and history in a manner that few tourists get to experience anymore. Best of all, I kept a careful journal of my Cretan travels which allows me to relive most aspects of that trip. I am grateful for the experiences themselves, as well as the opportunity to share them with others.Interestingly enough, I was aided in my efforts to discover the Cretan way of life by an Englishman and his half-Greek wife. If Steve, or Tina Pryor, ever read these words, I want them to know that our meeting remains an inspirational highlight of my life. I thank them for introducing me to Crete, and to their little village of Axos, which lies in the afternoon shadow of Mount Ida (Psilotiris). The two of them welcomed and shepherded me into the bosom of that most ancient land. I shall never forget their generosity.Crete is a universe unto itself. From her bustling port cities on the northern shore, to the timeless isolation of hamlets in out of the way inlets along her southern coast, there is something for everyone on Crete. In a popular Greek song, Nikos Xilouris refers to Crete as "the key to Paradise", and I am convinced that he was correct. Which brings me to another salient point.The Cretans are natural poets. To this day, they maintain a wonderful facility with a syntactical arrangement that forms the basis of Greek folk poetry and verse: decapentesyllabic (fifteen syllable) rhyming couplets. Try saying that ten times fast! In any given situation, a Cretan is able and quite willing to produce a ditty-on-the-spot, if you [...]

The Taste of the Danforth


Every year for the past 16 years, the city of Toronto goes Greek for a weekend. The annual "Taste of the Danforth" street festival is one of our city's premier summer events; and it's all about the food, especially the Greek food. Since its inception, this yearly fete has grown to become North America's largest event of its kind. When all is said and done, over 1 million visitors are expected to attend "The Taste" this year.The most striking aspect of "The Taste" is the sheer size of the crowds. It really is quite a spectacle; day or night, it's a people watcher's delight. In the first photo below, the view is looking east from Chester Avenue along Danforth Avenue, into the heart of Toronto's Greektown. All along the street, people line up to purchase all manner of tasty eats, or they stroll leisurely along one of Toronto's major city roadways. For the three days of "The Taste", Danforth Avenue is closed to vehicles and only pedestrian traffic is allowed. The second photo is a shot of the beer garden in the "Alexander the Great Square", located at the intersection of Logan and Danforth Avenues.Click to Enlarge ImageWhat would a Greek themed street festival be without pork souvlaki? Yiannis, one of my past co-workers, is pictured grilling it up outside the Astoria Restaurant. Or, if you prefer seafood, you can always try a shrimp souvlaki, or some grilled squid tentacles from Avli restaurant, as pictured below.Click to Enlarge ImageI'd wager that my brother's chums, Jimmy and Nick, from Kalyvia restaurant did not sleep a wink as I found them in exactly the same spot, two days running, cooking up chicken and pork souvlaki sticks. And for those of you who like a good gyros, there was plenty to go round and around. ;-)Click to Enlarge ImageOne interesting sight this year was a group of individuals dressed in 5th century BC Greek hoplite outfits. These folks are part of an organization called Hoplologia whose purpose is the re-creation of the past through what they call "experimental archeology". In addition to the food and history, it would not be a Greek festival without some Greek music, courtesy of Yiannis Kapoulas & his band Ena K’ Ena.Click to Enlarge ImageLast but not least, the sweets: loukoumades, baklava, and kataifi... I think this picture says it all.That's it for this year's "Taste". There is no doubt in my mind that this annual event is one of the greatest foodie extravaganzas on the planet. So, if you're in our neck of the woods next year, and you enjoy Greek food, be sure to visit Toronto's original and best street party.Opa!Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

Revani (Ρεβανί)


According to the Greek Orthodox Christian calendar, today is the Metamorphosis (Transfiguration) of the Saviour. The Greek word for "saviour" or "deliverer" is Soter (Σωτήρ), and my Greek name is Sotiris; which makes this my Name Day. In point of fact, my name is an epithet which pre-dates Christianity among the Greeks. The term, Soter, has been used as an epithet for Olympian gods, ancient heroes and liberators, and most recently, as a title for Jesus of Nazareth.A thing of beauty! - Click to Enlarge ImageFor Greeks, Name Days are more important than birthdays. Indeed, it is on one's Name Day that a party in honour of the individual is held, usually at the celebrator's home. Name Days are a time for family and friends, and the day is filled with visits and phone calls from well-wishers. The traditional greeting for someone who is celebrating a Name Day is "Chronia Polla" (Χρόνια Πολλά), which translates as "Many Years"; similar to, though less specific, than the Italian "cent'anni" or "Hundred Years".Among the most popular features of a Name Day celebration are the desserts which are prepared (or bought) for the occasion. Along with copious amounts of Greek food, visitors are always treated to a sweet "for the health" of the honoured individual. The treats are often family specialties which are served up with a glass of water, a coffee, or a shot of liqueur, usually Ouzo or brandy.This year, I prepared one of my own specialties for the occasion, it is called Revani. Revani is essentially a syrup-soaked semolina cake. Traditionally, Revani is a specialty of the city of Veria in the northern Greek province of Macedonia. There are a number of regional variations of this cake throughout Greece. In some Revani, nuts like almonds or walnuts are added, in Veria they add yoghurt to the mix, and I have even run across a Revani with a chocolate centre. My Revani recipe is lighter than many of the other versions, and rather than adding them to the mix, I prefer to garnish it with some chopped blanched almonds and/or candied orange or lemon rind.Allow me to treat you to some Revani in honour of my Name Day. Enjoy!Ingredients:6 eggs2 cups fine semolina1.5 cups of flour1 cup of sugar0.5 cup of unsalted butter0.5 cup of milk3 tsp. baking powder1 tsp. vanilla extractFor the syrup:2 cups of sugar2 cups of water1/2 cup Greek blossom honeyjuice and rind of 1/2 a lemon (or orange)Sift together the semolina, flour, and baking powder.Cream the butter in a mixer until the butter is light and fluffy; usually this takes about half an hour or so, with the mixer set to a medium-high speed.Add sugar to creamed butter and mix well for a few minutes.Add egg yolks to the butter and continue to mix well for several minutes.Whip the egg whites into stiff peaks.Add the flour to the mixing bowl in stages, alternating with either some milk or some of the whipped egg whites; continue until all three are added and mix everything well.Pour the mixture into a 9 x 9 inch square baking pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 for approximately 45 minutes, until the surface is golden brown.Prepare the syrup by adding the 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water, the honey, lemon juice and rind in a saucepan and bring to a boil; allow it to simmer for 10 minutes or so.When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, place it on a trivet, and proceed to pour the syrup overtop of the entire cake using a spoon or ladle. Pour the syrup slowly in order to allow for a complete and uniform suffusion of the cake. Note: save the candied lemon rind and chop it up into small pieces for use as a garnish for slices of the cake.Set the cake aside to cool, preferrably overnight, cut into diamond [...]

Grilled Banana Pepper Salad (Πιπεριές Ψητές με Φέτα)


The summer grilling season ensures a steady supply of grilled vegetables on our table. One of my father's favourite salads during this period is also one of the most notorious in our family.Grilled hot banana peppers - Click to EnlargeI'll never forget the day I first sampled this recipe. You have probably walked by them a thousand times in the vegetable section wherever you shop, and yet, you may never even have given them so much as a second glance. Here is what I often think about whenever I see hot banana peppers in a market:My father proffered a plate and slid a cousin of one the beauties from the photo above on to my dish. He instructed me to roll it up, slip it into a wedge of folded pita, and take a large bite. My mother, meanwhile, warned me not to listen to my father, that the pepper was too hot. But, I was a child, and a wilful one at that, so my mother's warning served as nothing more than the equivalent of a challenge. I did as my father instructed, though, instead of just taking a bite, I shoveled the whole thing into my mouth and started chewing. After all, how hot could it be?Well, friends, the scene that ensued is etched into the very corners of my mind for it quickly developed into a wholly disproportionate series of events. We're talking about a Greek family here... In a nutshell, the script consisted of a mad scramble for water, which, when put to my burning lips, ended up going down the "wrong pipe". This resulted in a spasm of ugly choking, fiery coughing, my father's backslapping, my sister's wailing, the rooster crowing, the cattle lowing, the cymbals crashing, the lightning flashing, the seas heaving, the earth shaking, my mother's scolding, and me, ultimately crying. Ha! Who would have thought such dramatic moments could follow the simple act of consuming a humble pepper with a bit o' cheese and stuff?But, do you think such an episode served to dissuade me from ever eating hot banana peppers again? Sister, it didn't even leave a scar. Also, it provided some valuable insights regarding the tragic hilarity of family politics. I am definitely a better and stronger person for it. Life in a Greek family has its spicy moments.I have a few things to say regarding prep for this dish. First, don't bite your fingernails, you'll need them to quickly and effectively peel the peppers. Second, peel the peppers when they are hot and keep your finger tips moist. Third, handle the peppers gently so as not to tear them, and try to peel away large sections of the charred skin. Lastly, a little bit of real Greek feta cheese goes a long way. I used no more than the equivalent of three tablespoons of it, crumbled over top of the peppers in the photo above.If you wish to tone down the heat a bit, carefully slit the grilled peppers open and remove some or all of the seeds. Banana peppers come in a variety of heat intensities, so proceed at your own risk. As far as Greek food recipes go, this one's about as easy as they come. Add a little heat to your summer sizzle.Ingredients:hot banana peppers (a.k.a. Hungarian or wax peppers)real Greek Feta cheeseGreek extra-virgin olive oildried Greek oreganoGreek wine vinegarNOTE: Yes, I use Greek products as much as possible as I deem them to be superior quality, especially the cheese, here's why. Grill peppers until charred and peel.Spread peppers flat on a serving dish and add crumbled Feta cheese over top of the peppers.Drizzle a little olive oil and a some wine vinegar over everything.Finish with a sprinkle of oregano and serve. I usually serve this alongside grilled chicken or pork.Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit!)Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek[...]

Food Philosophy: Geeks & Greek Gastronomy


From time to time I get to chat with some pretty extraordinary foodies who are just as enthusiastic about food related matters as I am. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Jennifer Iannolo & Chef Mark Tafoya of the Culinary Media Network when they visited Toronto on a foodie media junket. Now, I had been following their work for some time prior to actually meeting them, and let me just say that we became immediate and fast friends in person as well. I cannot wait till I see the two of them again. I want to wish them every success with their newly published cookbook. Both Jennifer and Mark are very special people; they truly live their passion about food and we are fortunate to be able to share it with them. Thanks to them both for being who -and doing what- they are.Jennifer, myself, and Mark by the water in Toronto, April 5, 2009A couple weeks back, Jennifer and I had a chat over Skype which turned into an informal interview of sorts. We discussed practically everything under the sun, but more specifically, we touched on matters that relate to the topic of Greek food and Greek gastronomy more generally. Both of us being GEEKS about food matters, we meandered back and forth through times, places, people, animals and products; and what resulted is, if nothing else, an interesting window on a conversation between two people (both students of Philosophy) who are literally crazy about food. Jennifer has posted the first part of our conversation on her web site, with another part to follow shortly. I hope you enjoy the talk as much as we enjoyed having it.Here is the link to the post and audio file on Jennifer's web site: Food Philosophy You can listen to the show online or you can download it to your iPod through iTunes.Amiably,Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

Greek Food Feature: Feta Cheese (Φέτα)


This is the first posting in a new series of spotlight articles on Greek food products and ingredients which I will be presenting on this blog.A slab of Feta served up in classic Greek fashion - Click to EnlargeMy grandmother used to make her own cheeses. When I was a child, I used to love watching the woman set herself on a small wooden stool for the milking of the sheep and goats. She would call for me to bring the collection pails and I would run to fetch them. As she milked the swollen teats of the ewes and does, I would offer to help, but she always refused saying that the animals required practised, familiar hands. So, I had to content myself with helping her by swapping the buckets when she instructed. She always made sure to leave some milk for the sucklings; and there was always a cup of warm milk set aside for me, before she thickened the rest and drained off the whey from the curds for cheese-making.Although she used rudimentary equipment i.e., wicker baskets, muslin cloths, wooden moulds, and an ancient wooden barrel, the cheeses my grandmother obtained were always surpassingly excellent. She often made Myzithra, which is a whey cheese made from sheep and goat milks. Yiayia (Greek for grandma) also made a phenomenal sheep's milk Feta cheese that was so creamy and rich it coated the palate and throat as you swallowed. To this day, I salivate when I think of her cheeses. Pasteurization was not part of her cheese-making process which meant her cheeses were of such character and flavour that they remain an unparalleled gastronomic experience for me to this day.When she reached her nineties and could no longer tend the animals, my grandmother reluctantly slaughtered or sold the remainder of her flock and put aside her milking implements for the last time. It was not an easy thing for her to do; she resisted, but the family was insistent as she was starting to have age-related health issues. She reluctantly acquiesced. It was decided that she would spend the winters in Athens, living with my aunt. I happened to be working in Glyfada (a posh seaside Athens suburb) that winter and I was staying with my aunt as well, so I did my best to help Yiayia with the transition.I remember taking her shopping with me one morning. A new supermarket had opened just down the street and we went to pick up a few things. One of the items I had on my list for purchase was Feta cheese. When we got to the cheese counter and placed the order, my grandmother asked the clerk to give her a sampling of the Feta I had selected. He provided us both with a small piece of the cheese. I popped the sample into my mouth and turned to look at my grandmother. I found her sniffing at her piece, as if it were some kind of foreign substance she was trying to identify by its scent. She made a face and then gingerly placed the cheese on her tongue and closed her mouth. She grimaced, turned to the clerk and began shaking a wizened finger at him, demanding to know what it was that he was trying to sell us. The man assured her that it was Feta cheese, and I nodded in agreement, feeling somewhat embarrassed by Yiayia's outburst. She snorted at both of us, and said in a matter-of-fact tone: "Any shepherd knows how to make Feta! I don't know what this is, but it's not Feta!" Both the clerk and I tried to explain to her that the milk for store-bought Feta was pasteurised according to government "health" regulations, but she refused to accept our explanations. After all, she was 90 years old and had been making and eating unpasteurised cheeses all her life! She kept on about it long after we had left the sup[...]

Grilled Biftekia Stuffed with Cheese (Μπιφτέκια Γεμιστά)


As the season for outdoor grilling is upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, I decided to post one of my favourite Greek grill recipes. I know you are going to enjoy this one.A grilled Bifteki stuffed with Kefalograviera cheese, served with some mushroom rice – Click to EnlargeGreeks have a reputation for grilling. From the hecatombs of the Greek host encamped on the shore before Troy in Homer’s Iliad, to the family-run diners of New York City, the association between Greeks and grilling is the stuff of culinary legend and lore. Indeed, if we were to believe some people, we might expect upon visiting Greece to find a charcoal grill set up every 50 square metres or so; with a smiling, apron-wearing and mustachioed Greek man sending smoke signals up into the Mediterranean sky. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, Greeks enjoy grilled foods, but rarely do they prepare them at home; it is simply not part of the everyday food culture, most of our home-cooked meals come from the stovetop. This is not due to the high cost of barbecues, but rather, when they are meeting or entertaining friends, Greeks prefer to go out on the town for some grilled viands.Although there are plenty of establishments serving up grilled and spit-roasted foods throughout Greece, we do not generally consume as much meat as the rest of our European cousins. Meat, for Greeks, usually means lamb, goat, pork, chicken and sometimes veal. In point of fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a steakhouse after the North American model in Greece. There are some, but steaks and ribs are not what Greeks think of when it comes to grilling. There is precious little space for domestic cattle grazing in Greece. What beef they do import is cut differently than is customary in North America. So, looking for a T-bone steak in a Greek butcher shop is likely to end in disappointment.If you do happen to find steak on a menu in Greece, and you actually order it, don’t be surprised if it arrives well cooked when you ordered it medium rare. Greeks, like Jews, have an aversion to blood in cooked meats, so they cook meat in one of two ways: well done or well-done. Any Greek who tells you they have a penchant for blood in their meat, likely picked up the preference outside of Greece.Now, Greeks grill everything from fish, to meats and vegetables. Souvlaki, especially pork souvlaki, is the most popular grilled item in Greece. It usually consists of small chunks of pork butt/shoulder on bamboo skewers (kalamakia), and is served up drizzled or brushed with ladolemono (lemon, olive oil, oregano) sauce, and only rarely with tzatziki unless it is in a pita sandwich.Along with souvlaki and assorted sausages, another popular item that you will find on the menu of every proper Greek taverna (a restaurant that serves only Greek food) is “bifteki”, which is the singular form of the plural biftekia. Biftekia are essentially minced meat patties, something akin to burgers but thicker, and without the bun and condiments of the familiar American sandwich. Biftekia may be made with minced lamb or veal, or a combination of the two. The primary difference between biftekia and burgers lies in the herbs which impart their flavours to the former. The use of oregano and thyme, along with fresh parsley and grated onion, sets biftekia apart from the rather bland meat patties which are their popular counterparts in North America.Now, for a taverna story...In July and August 2007 my wife and I travelled through northern Greece and spent a few days in Thessaloniki. We wandered afoot throughout th[...]

Grandma's Pligouri (Πλιγούρι της Γιαγιάς)


Whenever I make this dish, I am reminded of my Yiayia (Grandmother, in Greek). As today is Mother’s Day, I wish to dedicate this posting to all our Greek food foremothers. Where would we be without them?A vegetarian Greek food recipe courtesy of my Grandma - Click to EnlargeMy paternal grandmother was a remarkable woman. She was mother to seven children and maintained a country household complete with chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, donkeys and a mule. She died just over a decade ago; yet, her memory continues to manifest her ongoing presence in my family’s daily experiences in some form or another. In many ways, this posting is my Grandmother’s eulogy, the one I was not present to deliver when she left us.While my grandfather (already mentioned) worked and irrigated our family’s fields and olive plots, Grandma multitasked about the hearth and home. She swept the house and yard, made the cheese, baked the bread, and prepared the daily meals. She did so without complaint and without ever considering her role as demeaning or beneath her in any way. Indeed, quite the opposite, she viewed her life as dignified and fulfilling, and she woke each morning with an unwavering sense of purpose and a true zest for clean country living.My Grandmother in her kitchen garden at 91 years of age – Click to EnlargeYiayia’s kitchen garden included everything from tomatoes, zucchini plants and beanstalks, to wild greens like amaranth; and herbs such as mint, rosemary and laurel. The exterior of the house itself, along with the courtyard and verandas, were shaded by a network of trellised grape vines which produced enormous clusters of reddish-skin grapes in their season. A trio of olive trees, a small grazing field, a circular stone threshing floor, stables, pens, and a large chicken coop completed the property which was my Yiayia’s domain. She ruled it all with an effortless economy of activity which remains fixed in my memories of the woman. In point of fact, my grandmother was the cement which held my father’s family together. My grandfather adored her and deferred to her judgment in most things.With sheep, goats, and donkey grazing in the background, my grandparents pose with my sister and myself in the shade of an oak tree – Click to EnlargeIn addition to tending the house, raising the children, grazing the animals, and handling the household finances, Yiayia would rise well before dawn on Friday mornings and trek 23 kilometres to Megalopolis, where she would sell excess produce and trade for other goods in the weekly agora (market). Upon conclusion of the day’s business in the city, she would return again by foot to the village (until a regular bus service was instituted); arriving just before nightfall to resume her role of materfamilias. Not surprisingly, both my grandparents were the very definition of the phrase ‘hale and hearty’, and both lived well into their nineties, active and sharp-witted right to the end. Their lifestyle and diet had everything to do with their lengthy and vigorous lives.One of the ingredients which figured prominently in my Grandmother’s pantry was pligouri (known as “bulgur” in English). Pligouri [pronounced “plee-WOO-ree”] has been a staple of Greek food for millennia. On the island of Crete, it is still called by its ancient name hóndros, and on some islands in the eastern Aegean Sea it is known as koptó. Pligouri consists of whole wheat kernels that have been parboiled, dried, and crushed. It comes in three textures: fine, medium, or coarse. Served on its own[...]

Greek Easter Lamb Roast 2009


From the most ancient times, the preparation and roasting of entire lambs has remained a trademark Greek food specialty. On Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, Greece is blanketed from the mainland to the islands in a cloud of aromatic roasting smoke rising from the myriad of slowly turning spitted lambs. Out here in the Diaspora too, the tradition continues to be passed on to successive generations from father to son, just as it always has been.The cooked rear haunch and lamb saddle (loin) of our family’s 2009 Easter lamb - Click to EnlargeAs far back as I can remember, there has never been an Easter Sunday celebration in my family that did not include a whole spitted lamb roasting slowly over charcoal. When it comes to Greek food, the spitted lamb roast is the main event. As the Eastertide is a time for family, I thought I might reflect on my own as I make my report on this year’s Paschal celebration. I always get sentimental round this time of year. There must be something in the spring air which stirs memories that run deep in the marrow. As this year was also my son’s first Easter, the occasion had an added element of significance for myself and our family.My brother-in law, Kosta, my aunt Dina, my son, Ilias, and my wife Sophia, look on as my father (off-camera) carves lamb meat off the spit - Click to EnlargeMy paternal grandfather was a larger than life figure for me as a child. He was something of a cross between Zorba the Greek and a Hellenic Paul Bunyan; an intense mustachioed man who was a legend in the village for his stature and strength. (As an aside, the word mustache derives from the Doric Greek mystax "upper lip, mustache," which is related to mastax "jaws, mouth," or literally "that with which one chews," and is related in turn to mastic - mastiha in Greek, from which we get the English word masticate.) My grandfather was a devoted family man who sired four sons and three daughters. He lived well into his nineties, ninety-four I believe; and even just prior to his death, his hand-grip remained as tight as an iron vise. As though it were yesterday, I remember the first time I watched him slaughter a spring lamb.My grandfather (left) and my father (right) dressing the spring lamb in 1978 - Click to EnlargeIt was a solemn affair, and mercifully quick. My father assisted him, and I stood above them on the veranda overlooking the courtyard of our home in the village and watched the entire proceeding. I was 10 years old.The flagstone paved courtyard had a drainage channel about a hand span in width that ran through the centre of its length and emptied into the kitchen garden. At the point where this gutter passed near to the well, my father laid the lamb down on its side and pinned its hind and forequarters in place. My grandfather lifted the animal’s head and drew the sharp blade across its neck in one quick and deliberate motion. The lamb was bleating loudly when the blade cleaved its windpipe and the sound ended in an abrupt gurgling as the blood sprang from its neck and gushed right into the channel; in diminishing pulses it drained quickly along the slight incline down into the garden. My father lifted the animal’s hindquarters and when the bright crimson stream had ebbed away, he trussed its hind legs and hung it from a hook for dressing. My grandfather washed away the remaining stream of blood in the runnel with a bucketful of water, and then he set himself to the task of skinning, emboweling, and butchering the lamb.It is a scene that is as vivid in my memory[...]

Chocolate Tsoureki (Τσουρέκι Σοκολατένιο)


In August 2007, my wife and I visited the northern Greek province of Macedonia. We stayed for several days in Thessaloniki where we admired and sampled the sights and tastes of the beautiful port city. This recipe was inspired by that visit.My Chocolate Tsoureki - Click to Enlarge ImageTsoureki is essentially a Greek brioche style of sweet bread. The flavours of this bread consist of a hint of orange combined with mahlepi and a subtle essence of mastic (mastiha). It is usually made at Easter and is a universal element in the celebration of this most important holiday of the Greek calendar. Such braided breads are an ancient tradition among Greeks.The inspiration for this variation on the traditional tsoureki came from the storefront window of one of Thessaloniki’s best known bakeries, Τερκενλης (Terkenlis), which has been serving up its famous pastries since 1948. Today, Patisserie Terkenlis has several locations, mostly in Thessaloniki, with two shops in Athens, one of which is located at the Eleutherios Venizelos Airport (Greece’s main international airport).The Terkenlis window display in Thessaloniki, my inspiration - Click to EnlargeI used my Tsoureki: the Bread that Swallows its Tail recipe which I posted last year to make the traditional loaves. I usually bake three tsourekia (plural), one of which we keep and the other two go to our godchildren. Now, whereas the Terkenlis version of chocolate covered tsoureki includes a chocolatey filling, I avoided it altogether. This morning, after the other two loaves had been delivered to our godchildren, I applied the Terkenlis touch to our remaining loaf, blanketing it with chocolate and a sprinkling of slivered blanched almonds.The two tsoureki loaves which went to our godchildren - Click to EnlargeThe recipe for the chocolate covering could not be easier. I used 2 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips and two tablespoons of vegetable shortening (Crisco, in this case). I melted the chocolate combined with the shortening in a double boiler pan, mixed it well until smooth, and proceeded to pour the covering over the entire tsoureki loaf, starting with a thick layer along its centre; and then doubling back over its length until it was fully covered. I used an icing spatula to spread it over any bare spots. Next, I blanched a small handful of almonds, slivered them and sprinkled them overtop. The result was quite impressive, and a good likeness to the tsourekia we had seen in the window of Terkenlis.Once more in all its glory - Click to EnlargeWith that, I would like to wish all those who are celebrating Greek Easter this Sunday a Kalo Paskha / Καλό Πάσχα (Happy Easter)! May the sun shine for Sunday’s spitted lamb roasts, wherever you may live, in Greece or in the Greek Diaspora. For those of you who have Greeks living in your neighbourhood, the likelihood that the scent of roasted lamb will waft your way on Sunday will make for an excellent opportunity to get to know your neighbours better, and to sample some excellent Greek food. Trust me; they will not turn you away should you decide to pay them a visit.I will leave you with a description of the Easter celebration among the Greek Evzones in the 1930s by an American writer present at the time:I shall never forget my visit one morning to the Evzone barracks at the edge of the royal gardens. In truly Homeric manner great numbers of lamb carcasses were being roasted over pits where the embers of pine branches glowed and sputtered as the scorch[...]

REWARD: $100 Mastic Shrimp Saganaki Bounty


Have you not noticed how often they became silent when you approached them, and how their strength left them like smoke from a dying fire?-excerpted from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich NietzscheMy Mastic Shrimp Saganaki recipe - Click to Enlarge ImageDear Friends & Foes,My apologies in advance for what you are about to read. As my longtime readers can attest, this is an atypical posting for me, but one that I feel is necessary after many repeated provocations by a certain individual and his cronies, whom I have collectively and affectionately dubbed as the "CoD" (Confederacy of Dunces). This will be my one and only statement on the matter, so I thank you to please indulge and humour me just this once.A blowhard and a freeloading mama's boy has publicly insinuated that I fraudulently claimed to have created the unique combination of my Mastic Shrimp Saganaki recipe. As I do not normally engage in mean-spirited and petty arguments, I will allow you, my readers to form your own conclusion as to the veracity of my/his claim.To sweeten things up somewhat, I am offering a bounty of $100 to anyone who can find a recipe for Mastic shrimp in a tomato sauce, similar to or exactly like my own, that was verifiably published before mine (in Greek or in English). It saddens me to have to waste precious life moments on the fatuous charge made by a scoundrel, but the Internet is full of people who say whatever they like, and who think they can get away without ever being called to account. Now, IF (and that’s a big IF) I unwittingly represented the combination of shrimp, mastic, and tomato sauce as my own creation when it was not, then I will be happy to recant my claim and pay out the $100 to anyone who can prove such is the case.Now, who said Greek food wasn’t interesting?:-)Kali Orexi! (Bon Appétit),Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.This blog is intended for personal non-commercial use only. Please respect my work and recipes; also respect my copyrights and intellectual property rights and do not copy without permission. Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved. [...]

Mastic Shrimp Saganaki (Γαρίδες Σαγανάκι με Μαστίχα)


This is one of my Greek food signature dishes. I created this recipe for my wife and it is now her favourite shrimp dish. For those of you who are unfamiliar with mastic resin, have a look at my previous post about this extraordinary spice.My Mastic Shrimps served over of a bed of rice - Click to Enlarge ImageHere in North America, the term saganaki often refers to a Greek fried cheese that is set alight to resounding shouts of “Opa!” In truth, the word saganaki refers to a single-serving frying pan with two handles. In Greece, a saganaki can be a fried cheese, or it can be a shrimp saganaki and/or a mussels saganaki, both of which are usually tomato sauce based dishes and typically include Feta cheese. If this is confusing, no worries, it’s all Greek food to me too!Shrimps in the pan and ready for turning - Click to Enlarge ImageThis particular version of my dish does not include the Feta cheese as it is meant to be a fast-friendly recipe. Easter is just around the corner and many Greeks observe the Lenten fast during this period which means dairy is a no-no. If you are not fasting, feel free to add the Feta cheese as mentioned below. You can also halve the quantities of ingredients as listed for a single serving portion. In addition, if you happen to have some good olive bread on hand, it makes for an excellent complement which allows you to mop up every last bit of this unbelievably tasty sauce.Ingredients:20 - 24 large raw shrimp, shelled with tails on2 cups strained tomato puree/sauce2 medium sized onions, diced4 garlic cloves, pressed or grated1 roasted red pepper, diced2 tablespoons masticha liqueur¼ - ½ teaspoon ground mastic resin½ cup Greek extra virgin olive oilSalt & pepperSauté diced onions in olive oil over a medium heat until soft and translucent (3 - 5 minutes).Add garlic to the pan and stir it in well for about 30 seconds. Then, add the tomato puree/sauce to the pan, along with the diced roasted red pepper and a half cup of water, then the salt and pepper to taste and stir it well to mix. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat only slightly and allow the sauce to simmer well for 8 minutes; do not cover the pan.Add the masticha liqueur along with the ground mastic resin to the sauce and stir well to incorporate. Continue to simmer the sauce for another 2 minutes, stirring the sauce a couple more times.Quickly add the shrimp to the pan and make sure to give the pan a couple shakes to settle the shrimp well into the sauce. Cook for two minutes. Then, using a pair of tongs or a fork, quickly turn all the shrimp over and cook for another minute or so, then remove the pan from the heat for serving.I often serve this recipe over a bed of rice and garnished with some sesame seeds. as depicted in the photo above. It is equally good with pasta, especially spaghetti or linguini noodles. Or, you can simply eat it on its own with some olive bread as already mentioned. Also, if you are not able to find the mastic liqueur, simply add another teaspoon of the mastic resin to the sauce when cooking. Lastly, a cup of crumbled Feta cheese can optionally be added to the pan just before you remove it from the heat for serving.If you are interested in obtaining high-quality pure mastic resin or any other mastic products, drop me an email: greekgourmand[at]gmail.comKali Orexi! (Bon Appétit),Sam SotiropoulosGreek Gourmand™http://www.greekgourmand.comGreek Food Recipes and ReflectionsCopyright © 2008[...]

Mastic - Mastiha (Μαστίχα)


From time to time, I like to mix a reflection or two in among my Greek food recipes. Today’s topic is one that really tickles my fancy. As far as spices go, there is surely none more unique or rarer than the mastic resin from the Greek island of Chios, reputed birthplace of the poet Homer. Pure mastic resin "tears" - Click to Enlarge Image.Mastic (or ‘masticha’ as we say in Greek, pronounced “mahs-TEE-ha”) is a resin produced by an evergreen shrub, Pistacia lentiscus, which is related to the pistachio tree. The word 'mastic' is derived from the ancient Greek verb ‘mastikhein’ which means “to chew”. The English word “masticate” (to chew) is derived from this root as well. While the mastic shrub, also known as skhinos in Greek or lentisk in English, does grow elsewhere in the Mediterranean region, the mastic spice resin is only produced in the plots of the Mastic-Villages or Mastichochoria (Μαστιχοχώρια) in the southern end of Chios. It is believed that undersea volcanoes in this area of the Aegean Sea affect the local climate and account for the unique “crying” of the lentisk trees on Chios, from which the mastic “tears” are harvested. It should be noted that the Chian mastic trees also grow in a red soil that is peculiar to the island and is also thought to be the result of volcanic activity. Mastic production has been the primary concern and monopoly of the Mastichochoria for at least 2,400 years and likely much longer. One 17th Century chronicler had this to say about the Mastic harvest on Chios: There are above 30 Villages upon the Island, which are inhabited, most by Greeks; those who belong to the Mastick villages, to the South-ward have their hair long. The time for gathering the Mastick is in August and September. The Customer goes out to the Village where they receive him with musick, and feasting. What Mastick is gathered is all delivered to the Customer, for the Grand Signiors use, and he soon dispatches it up to Constantinople to serve in the Seraglio for several uses. What remains of the Grand Signiors store, the Customer sells to merchants. It is very dangerous for the inhabitants to keep any Mastick by them...When any company of women meet in Turkey, some Mastick is brought them on a server, and each taking a little, they are chewing and spitting most of the time. It is comical to see the old women roale it about their gumms; the effect which they find by it are that it carries away the flegme, cleanses and prevents the aking of the teeth; and causes a sweet breath.Mastic resin is the original chewing gum. Recently, I watched an episode of The Hour, with host George Stroumboulopoulos, in which it was stated that chewing gum was invented in Mexico. Nothing could be further from the truth. The earliest mention of mastic resin used for chewing is found in a fragment of an ancient Greek Comedy dating back to the 5th Century B.C. The ancient Greeks chewed mastic for fresh breath and to clean their teeth, a practice that was picked up by the Romans and Byzantine Greeks, along with later medieval Europeans including the Venetians, Genoese, and the Ottoman Turks in their turn. Mastic was also reputed to have a salutary effect on gum disease, stomach distempers and other gastrointestinal ailments, and was thus considered a medicine by ancient medical practitioners; evidence for this can be found in the writings of Hippocrates, Dios[...]