Category Archives: Greek food

Lentil Moussaka

7Leonardo Di Caprio won the Oscar for sleeping in a horse’s carcass. That alone, no matter how truly amazing he was in the movie (I can’t tell you, I haven’t seen it) makes us want to steer clear of meat for at least a few days, even if I have honestly been #teamLeo, ever since the Basketball Diaries, I swear.

We had some potatoes and some eggplants in the fridge, so Mr S and I looked at each other and telepathically decided to make a veggie moussaka.

I have had this book for a while, it is called The Hungry Student Vegetarian Cookbook and have only tried a few recipes, which turned out pretty good. It is a vegetarian book, one of those “Hungry student” things, and, honestly, I didn’t know what to make of it. But my first couple of efforts turned out ok, so I decided to give it another go.

Lentil Moussaka was right in there, so I thought “why not?”

Now, this recipe asks for a lentil moussaka without potatoes. Keeping in mind that recipes are merely suggestions, I tweaked it a bit, and I hope the author won’t mind. Because, honestly, I don’t know why anyone would skip the potatoes.

All the rest was awesome, though, so thumbs up, book!

 

Lentil Moussaka

6

1 large potato, cut in thin slices

For the filling

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves

about 200gr lentils (more, less, I always opt for more) [See Note 1]

2 eggplants, sliced thinly (not paper-thin, let’s not go crazy. Normal) [See Note 2]

Cinnamon

Oregano

One can chopped tomatoes or about 1 – 1 1/2 cup tomato passata

Salt and pepper

For the topping

300gr full-fat greek yogurt

60gr flour

2 egg yolks

Grated cheese of your choice

 

Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius

1

While the oven is preheating (seriously) place the sliced potato in a pan and stick them in there, seasoned with salt and pepper. Leave them there while you’re preparing the rest, making sure you don’t burn them. If you see them start to brown, take them out, we just want them to be nice and tender.

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion. Cook for five minutes, add the garlic and cook a couple of minutes more.

2

Add the eggplant and cook for about 15 minutes, until soft and starting to shrink. When you see that happening, add the tomato, the lentils, the cinnamon and oregano and season it well. Let it bubble.

While it is bubbling, add all the ingredients for the topping save the grated cheese in a bowl and whisk. Be careful because the flour will go everywhere! Do it slowly!

Once everything is done, it is time for the assembly. In a large baking dish, first layer the potatoes.3

Follow that with the lentil – eggplant mixture and then the topping. To make the topping go everywhere, just smooth it with the curved side of a large spoon towards the edge of the dish.

4

Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and put it in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes (depending on your oven).

5

We ate it so hot, I can still feel my tongue as we speak.

I hope you like it. Let me know what you think.

 

Note 1: I am really not used to canned lentils. I don’t get them. If I want lentils, I make them. That’s what I did here. I boiled about 200gr of lentils, a garlic clove and half an onion until they were done, and used that. But if you want to use canned lentils, by all means.

 

Note 2: I sliced the eggplants, but you can also cut them in small squares or rounds, whatever you like. Like I said, recipes are mere suggestions. Just make sure they are cooked.

 

Note 3 (unrelated to cooking): Out of all the gorgeous dresses from last night, Kate Blanchett completely nailed it. That dress on her, oh my, it was like Mother Nature hugged her, blessed her and sent her off to the Oscars. Good job, my lady.

cate-blanchett-oscars-2016-in-hollywood-ca-2-28-2016-2

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Eggplant Loaded Orzo

Eggplant-orzoI made another video yesterday, after my good friend Dana, whose blog, Just a Rez Chick, not only do I highly recommend, but actually believe you already know and follow by now, asked me to cook something with an eggplant.

I would cook Mousaka, but that will have to wait, because it was a workday, it was unexpected, had no meat and will have to come over my fear of frying. That will happen soon, just… you know… not yet…

In time…

Anyway, today being a workday and all, this is what I have time for. I will give you the ingredients and you can watch the How-To on the video.

A couple of notes:

a) If you do not have Harissa (why don’t you have harissa!!) you can use red chillies, they are equally awesome. Just throw them in there 30 seconds before you add the eggplant.

b) I salted and let the eggplant stand, because it smelled bitter. Don’t judge me, I work with smells. Eggplants are sometimes bitter and letting them stand for 1/2 to 1 hour in salt helps solve that. It also helps them not absorb much oil when you fry them, making them a bit less fattening, so that’s one to think about, right?

c) I added cumin, but you can also use cinnamon, especially if you don’t use harissa.

That’s about it. Hope you enjoy the dish AND the video!

You will need:

1 1/2 cups orzo

1 eggplant

1/2 cup sweet white wine

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

1/2 tsp harissa

Tomato sauce

salt, pepper, cumin

You will do:

PS. To refresh your memory: Fooking = Cooking + Foo Fighters


Gemista – the video

Gemista name

A few months back, I cooked Gemista for this blog. A summery dish, gemista seem to make cameo appearances on our menu over and over and over again, being so fresh and cool and wholesome and, well, awesome (someone watches a lot of “Supernatural” now).

So, one of those many many times that I made them, I decided to shoot one more video and post it, where else? Here!

Now, a few clarifications: I had no spearmint, so I didn’t use any. Many people use many herbs in gemista, and that’s the right thing to do. Herbs give gemista that special fulfilling smell and taste that make them an all time favorite and make us come back to them, again, and again.

Also, remember that you can stuff other vegetables too, like eggplants or zucchini, or those round zucchinis that are so pretty! Whatever you stuff, add its insides to your mix. The more the better!

The only reason I didn’t use the inside of the pepper, is that I’m not a huge fan of peppers. But you can absolutely use it, in fact it is advisable!

Uhm… That’s pretty much it! The rest you can see or read!

Oh, as you can see in the end of the video there, have some feta or greek yoghurt on the side of gemista. It. Is. Heaven. On. Earth!

For your convenience, I will copy the recipe exactly as it was in the other post, here. I’ll leave the comments there, though, just for the fun of it 😉

The video is at the end of the post.

Enjoy!

What you will need

5 large (not huge, but large) bell peppers (I always use green ones, of course you can use other colors, but my grandma always used green ones, and so do I. It is a matter of memory!)

5 large tomatoes (not huge, but absolutely not small ones)

3 onions

1 verrrry full Tb shortgrain rice for each pepper or tomato, plus 3 more (that makes… uhmmmm *calculates* 13 Tb of rice. OK, add 14, 13 is an unlucky number!)

Some tomato passata

oil (I use olive oil for cooking, unless it is for frying)

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (or a little less if you don’t love it, but remember that herbs are the essence of gemista!)

2-3 leaves of fresh spearmint, chopped (or if you absolutely love it, use more, it’s up to you)

salt, pepper

2 potatoes

What you will be doing:

Preheat your oven at 200 degrees Celsius (or higher, depending on your own oven). Now, start with the tomatoes. Cut the tops off, but not all the way, so that you will make a nice pouch with a cap. If it gets cut off, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal! Use a teaspoon and empty the inside of the tomato. Don’t throw it away, we will be using that! Do that with all the tomatoes, place the insides in a food processor and whizz it, until you have a thick tomato paste. Open up the peppers in the same way and clean them from the seeds (which we will not need, throw them away).

Chop up the onions and saute them in some oil. Add some of the tomato paste (keep enough to pour over the pan in the end) and some passata. I don’t use a lot, just to give your stuffing a nice coolness, but, again, it’s up to you. Still, don’t make it too watery. Where were we? Oh, yes. Add some tomato paste and passata and heat it through. Add the rice (1 Tb for each vegetable, plus 3-4), add the herbs, season with salt and pepper and let it boil a little bit – not long, you don’t want to cook it, just a couple of minutes, to allow the tastes to blend.

You are now ready to stuff! Take the pepper – or tomato – in one hand, open it up and stuff it with the rice mixture. I usually don’t fill them all the way to the top, but my mom does. The rice comes out and makes a roasted crust and it is amazing. Why don’t I do it? I’m weird. Sometimes I do. You pick where you will stop, but make sure you are close to the top – we don’t want people to think we are poor and have no rice to stuff our peppers, right?

Arrange them in your pan and if you have any rice mixture left, don’t be afraid to put it around the peppers. Cut the potatoes in thick sticks and place them between peppers/tomatoes. Pour the tomato paste over your gemista, pour some oil over them (in the old days, when we didn’t care about calories – or money! – we used to use a lot of oil to «bathe» the gemista. This is not important. Use some oil, but don’t overdo it. Half a ladle is more than enough), and place them in the oven.

Believe it or not, you are done! That wasn’t so hard, was it! Bake them for about an hour. They are ready when they are nice and wrinkled and have developed a slight black burn on top. This is why I always put the caps on top, so that I won’t «lose» any of the vegetable to the burn!

Enjoy them with some feta and fresh hot bread. And of course with the ones you love. Food is only meant to be enjoyed that way!


Tsoureki

IMG_7877It is the Holy Week in Greece and there’s a different food-related tradition almost every day. But I am not here today to talk to you about these. I am here to talk to you about Tsoureki.

Tsoureki is a brioche-type bread we eat a lot in Greece. It is a favorite for breakfast, with your coffee, soaked in milk for dinner, or smeared with Nutella, jams, with feta, butter, oh wow, I can’t think of anything that doesn’t go perfectly with tsoureki.

The sad thing is that it is pretty fattening – and hard on your stomach, if you’re as sensitive as I am. But once you’ve tried it, you can’t go back.

Good tsoureki is difficult to achieve, and store-bought quality is almost impossible. I swear I don’t know WHAT they do, but home-made tsoureki is always different. The great part of this is that, it’s ok. Every type of tsoureki has a certain magic to it and, believe me, it works!

Every year, Greeks make tsoureki during the Holy Week and the kids bring it to their godparents, in order to get their presents (usually clothes) and their candles for Resurrection night. One of the things that brings the most memories is the very distinctive smell of tsoureki everywhere, in our homes, out on the streets, inside cars (it can get EVERYWHERE!) during Holy Week. It always takes me to my happy place.

This year my nephew visited and myself and my mom made tsoureki at my place for the first time. Let me tell you, though, trying to start a memory bank for a 3-year-old that really really REALLY wants a garbage truck for Easter is not an easy thing! 😀

At least the tsoureki turned out great!

Disclaimer: Although I will post photos of our tsoureki, I will also post photos of a store-bought tsoureki, so that you will recognize them when you visit Greece. That is because, well, let’s face it, me and my mom? We are not really what you’d call “tsoureki artists”! Oh, and we completely forgot to add sesame or shaved almonds on top before baking them, do that, it gives it a different look (it doesn’t change the taste much, though).

Usually, we don’t say “I’m making tsoureki”, but “making tsourekia” (that’s the plural of the word). It is almost a whole-day process and involves making a massive amount of tsourekia, that will probably go uneaten by the end of the holidays – there’s only so much tsoureki one can eat, no matter how good or honest their intentions, right? The traditional recipes yield maybe 10 loafs each and require about 10 eggs or something. We all know by now that I am allergic to eggs, so my good mom tried to minimize the damage and adjusted the recipe to our needs. The recipe that follows yields about 3 tsourekia (that’s how many we got, anyway) and uses only 3 eggs, which was good because I didn’t have to handle too many of them and didn’t have a reaction (haven’t had one yet, at least!).

One more thing: we used the oven baking sheet and a round baking dish for our tsourekia, because we didn’t have the appropriate utensils. If you have anything like the photos that follow, use it. If not, remember it is perfectly ok to put your tsourekia on a baking sheet, just remember to leave space between them, because they do spread!

forma forma2

 

So, here’s what you’ll need:

60 gr. fresh yeast (by “fresh” I mean “not dry” –keep it cold so it can crumble)

2 Tb sugar (or 40 gr)

80 gr warm water

1 kg flour (if you can find tsoureki-specific flour, that would be great, but common flour will do just fine) plus more if you need some

3 eggs

350 ml full-fat milk

250 gr. butter

300 gr. sugar

Some mastic

1 tsp ground mahlab (mahlep? We call it “mahlepi” in Greece)

1 tsp cardamom

1 more egg

About 1 Tb olive oil

Some butter for the baking sheets

 

Here’s what you need to do:

First things first: Heat your oven to 50 degrees Celsius. When it is heated, turn it off and keep the door shut. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the 2 Tb of sugar, cover with some cling film and put it in the oven. Cute little trick to activate the yeast, yay!

IMG_7864

While this is in the oven, put the butter in a small pan and melt it, along with the sugar. Do not boil it or any of this, actually do not boil anything while making tsoureki – we don’t want that. While the sugar and the butter are sloooowly melting, put the milk in another small pot and heat that too (not too much, like I said, just heat it through) and place the flour, the mastic, the mahlab and the cardamom in a large bowl.

IMG_7865

When everything is heated and melted, make a small well in the middle of the flour and pour your liquids in there, including the yeast – which must be foaming by now.

Mix everything together with your hands and work the dough with your hands for a few minutes. What you have there is a very very sticky dough. You don’t need to work it much, just until it is all in one piece and soft. The dough needs to be a little sticky. If you feel that there’s something wrong with it, that it is waaaaaaay too sticky or runny, add some more flour. Really, trust yourselves as cooks – and if you do something wrong, really, who’s going to know? 😉

IMG_7866 IMG_7868 IMG_7869

Transfer the dough in a pretty large bowl (I used a large pot), cover it with cling film and leave it in a warm place for about 2 hours, until it triples in size (we heated the oven – 50 degrees – once again and put it in there).

When it has tripled in size, empty the dough on a floured surface and divide it in two or three parts, depending on how many tsourekia you want. We had three. At this point you can weave the tsourekia or shape them if you want. My mom and I made braids: three long dough strips, you join them at the top and braid them, like hair. Use your imagination, but remember that tsourekia are always meant to be braided! In Greece, we also place a (red) dyed egg on top of the braid, or at the center, if you braid it and put it in a circular pan. Be warned, it will rise in the oven, much like a cake!

IMG_7871

Didn’t use parchment paper for this one – the third – because we were out. It didn’t matter one bit. It did grow a lot in the oven, though! A. Lot!

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees Celsius (the fan function). Butter the sheets and cover them with parchment paper. Place the tsourekia on the sheets and leave them there, for another ten minutes, to rise even more. Remember to leave some space between them. If they don’t all fit on the sheets, well… batches! 😀

IMG_7872

This is how we left ours to rise. That there is the oven door, open. There’s heat coming out, but the oven is not on, just hot.

Once the oven is heated and the tsourekia well risen, mix the egg and the oil, brush your tsourekia, and put them in the oven for 40 minutes. At the bottom of your oven place a small tray or pan filled with water. That is supposed to make your tsourekia shiny.

IMG_7874

Down there, in the darkness, you can see the water – thingy.

What you are looking for is a dark brown – black at places color. Before you take them out, stick a knife at the center of the tsoureki, to make sure it’s done.

IMG_7876

This is the tsoureki that was up there, it expanded and rose so much that the baking sheet could not contain it! It even incorporated a small cookie we had placed on the side, made from what was left of the dough, you can see it there, on the bottom left.

After you take them out, let them cool a little and them turn them on their head, on a different tray or plate, so that the bottoms don’t get soggy.

Enjoy them a million different ways! And happy Easter all!

    

tsoureki1

This is what a store bought tsoureki looks like. It looks better, but the taste is pretty much the same!

IMG_7873

This is my table after working the dough on it. I had to use a wooden spatula to clean it!

 


Stuffed peppers and tomatoes a.k.a. Gemista

Gemistes piperies Every Greek food blogger has written their own stuffed peppers recipe, at least once. And each and every one of those recipes is different. That’s because stuffed peppers, a.k.a. gemistes piperies, gemista for short (which means «stuffed» in greek) is one of the most traditional foods you will eat in Greece. Every family makes them, it is one of the most beloved dishes, especially during the summer, and knowing how to make them is a sign of a good «noikokira» (house keeper).

Along with pasticcio, gemista is the food always prefered by advertisers who want to play on the stereotype of the notoriously-clinging-to-their-mothers Greek men, in order to profit from the family-oriented Greek home and establish a sense of security.

As a food that is being cooked in every nook and cranny of the country, the recipes for it are innumerable. It is said that every family that has ever lived in Greece and abroad have their own gemista recipe, and we all believe that ours is the “real” one. The truth is that there are no huge differences between recipes – only small details added to the dish by a grandmother or an aunt and passed on.

That said, there are different ways of making gemista, but they are explicitly stated beforehand. For example, there are gemista stuffed with meat and gemista stuffed only with rice. These last ones are more summer-y and more refreshing – and have fewer calories, if that interests you. These are the ones I always prefer to make. Also, even though we call them stuffed peppers, we almost always refer to stuffed peppers and tomatoes (gemistes piperies and ntomates).

The idea to give you my family’s recipe came after a dish I saw at Flora’s Table. This recipe has been prepared this way by myself, my sister, my mother and her sister, my grandmother and her sisters. My grandfather’s sisters actually had a different recipe. I think they grated some eggplant in the stuffing. There are as many recipes as there are families, but the basis is always the same.

So, let’s see what you will need:

5 large (not huge, but large) bell peppers (I always use green ones, of course you can use other colors, but my grandma always used green ones, and so do I. It is a matter of memory!)

5 large tomatoes (not huge, but absolutely not small ones)

3 onions

1 verrrry full Tb shortgrain rice for each pepper or tomato, plus 3 more (that makes… uhmmmm *calculates* 13 Tb of rice. OK, add 14, 13 is an unlucky number!)

Some tomato passata

oil (I use olive oil for cooking, unless it is for frying)

1 bunch of fresh parsley, chopped (or a little less if you don’t love it, but remember that herbs are the essence of gemista!)

2-3 leaves of fresh spearmint, chopped (or if you absolutely love it, use more, it’s up to you)

salt, pepper

2 potatoes

Gemistes ntomates

I always pick the tomatoes – oh, and these were laid on their caps in the pan. This is what they will look like, once ready!

What you will be doing:

Preheat your oven at 200 degrees Celsius (or higher, depending on your own oven). Now, start with the tomatoes. Cut the tops off, but not all the way, so that you will make a nice pouch with a cap. If it gets cut off, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal! Use a teaspoon and empty the inside of the tomato. Don’t throw it away, we will be using that! Do that with all the tomatoes, place the insides in a food processor and whizz it, until you have a thick tomato paste. Open up the peppers in the same way and clean them from the seeds (which we will not need, throw them away).

Chop up the onions and saute them in some oil. Add some of the tomato paste (keep enough to pour over the pan in the end) and some passata. I don’t use a lot, just to give your stuffing a nice coolness, but, again, it’s up to you. Still, don’t make it too watery. Where were we? Oh, yes. Add some tomato paste and passata and heat it through. Add the rice (1 Tb for each vegetable, plus 3-4), add the herbs, season with salt and pepper and let it boil a little bit – not long, you don’t want to cook it, just a couple of minutes, to allow the tastes to blend.

You are now ready to stuff! Take the pepper – or tomato – in one hand, open it up and stuff it with the rice mixture. I usually don’t fill them all the way to the top, but my mom does. The rice comes out and makes a roasted crust and it is amazing. Why don’t I do it? I’m weird. Sometimes I do. You pick where you will stop, but make sure you are close to the top – we don’t want people to think we are poor and have no rice to stuff our peppers, right?

Arrange them in your pan and if you have any rice mixture left, don’t be afraid to put it around the peppers. Cut the potatoes in thick sticks and place them between peppers/tomatoes. Pour the tomato paste over your gemista, pour some oil over them (in the old days, when we didn’t care about calories – or money! – we used to use a lot of oil to «bathe» the gemista. This is not important. Use some oil, but don’t overdo it. Half a ladle is more than enough), and place them in the oven.

Believe it or not, you are done! That wasn’t so hard, was it! Bake them for about an hour. They are ready when they are nice and wrinkled and have developed a slight black burn on top. This is why I always put the caps on top, so that I won’t «lose» any of the vegetable to the burn!

Enjoy them with some feta and fresh hot bread. And of course with the ones you love. Food is only meant to be enjoyed that way!


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