Recipes from Greece


It seems like I should have eaten a lot of Greek food. It's one of those cuisines that you see all the time and think you understand, but honestly I can really only remember one Greek meal, unless you count Akrotiri. Well, there was also Martin's Moussaka,which I didn't particularly like (eggplant, ew) and at least one piece of baklava, but as far as an actual Greek meal is concerned the only one I can remember is the one I had at a Greek restaurant on Valentine's Day 2000.


Except I can't actually remember the meal. The only thing I can really recall is that Martin had been dragged around an airport by a go-cart just a few hours earlier, had refused to get stitches and was convalescing in the far corner of our table while a Greek belly dancer tried to convince him to give up a dollar. And I think there was cheese.

Yes, I did say "dragged around an airport by a go-cart." Which was actually a Kenny death on Southpark, too. True story.


Anyway flash forward 13 years (yikes!) and now I'm going to try making a Greek meal. But first, of course, a little bit about Greece. You may know it best as the country with all the cool ruins, lovely scenery and suffocating debt crisis. Sadly, that latter part is what's been making the news for the past couple of years, which has made a lot of people forget all the wonderful things about Greece, you know, birthplace of democracy and Western philosophy, motherland of Western history, seat of the Olympics and the place of origin for many major scientific and mathematical principles. Founding member of the United Nations. Little things like that.

Temple of Poseidon (Rear), Sounio, Greece. Photo Credit: nouregef.

Ah and the food. Greek food is on the whole pretty healthy stuff, and is in part the basis for the Mediterranean diet you've probably heard something about. Greek food uses a lot of fresh vegetables, herbs and grains. Wine and olive oil are also important, as well as cheese and yogurt. Wine: healthy. Olive oil: healthy. Cheese: healthy. Yes it is! That's why I eat so much of it, right?

Which brings me to my menu.

Yes, I had to choose something with cheese in it. Of course. But first the main course, a one-pot meal that sounded pretty good:

Chicken Giouvetsi
(from ala Greek)

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, chopped*
  • 1 1/2 cups orzo
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
* A cubanelle pepper is sort of a long, tapered pepper similar to a poblano, except that I've never seen red poblanos. I used a red bell pepper as a substitute.

And for the cheese, I mean the bread:

Tiropsomo (Greek Cheese Bread) (from Authentic Greek Recipes)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup tepid water (more or less)
  • 1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp honey diluted in water
  • 9 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
And the dessert:

Greek Baclava (of course)
(also from Authentic Greek Recipes)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, ground
  • 20 sheets filo pastry
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
For the syrup
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp glucose*
  • 1/2 cup water
* You can get glucose at some craft stores in the candy making aisle. I got mine on Amazon.com.

OK here we go, bread first:

Put everything except the oil, cheese and oregano in your bread machine and press "start." Or:

Dissolve the yeast in a small amount of the water with the honey. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and sprinkle evenly with the salt. Make a well and add the yeast mixture. Mix it a little (you won't get a dough yet) and then let it rest for 15 minutes in the warmest part of your kitchen. Now add the rest of the water. The dough should be smooth and not sticky. Knead for 10 minutes on a floured surface and shape into a ball, then cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Now brush a shallow, 14-inch pizza pan with the oil and add the dough. Flatten with your hand until the dough covers the whole pan. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and then dust with the oregano. Brush the edges with olive oil and then pour the rest of the olive oil over the top of the bread. Let rise for another 30 minutes.

 
Bake at 480 degrees for 30 minutes. That's what the recipe said, anyway. I thought that seemed way too hot so I turned my oven down to about 400. Of course, my oven is possessed by something unholy so don't trust that number. Make sure you watch your bread and take it out when it's a nice golden color.


 
Now for the chicken. Saute the onion and pepper in the oil until tender, then add the orzo and let toast for two or three minutes. Then pour in the stock and tomato puree, seasoning with salt and pepper.

 
Place the chicken in a baking dish. Meanwhile, bring the sauce to a boil, then transfer to the baking dish with the chicken. Bake at 375 degrees or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the chicken is cooked through (45 minutes or so).

Some of the orzo got a little crispy in the oven, the rest overcooked.

And now the grande finale: the baclava. Or as I like to call it, Mostly Butter.

First mix the cinnamon with the crushed walnuts. Set aside.

Now melt the butter. Get out your thawed filo dough (Yes! I used thawed filo instead of making it like a chump. Because the recipe told me I could.) and cut into the right shape to fit your pan (I used an 8x8 pyrex dish). Butter the bottom of the dish and lay down your first sheet of filo. Butter it. Put down the next one and butter it. Now put down another one and butter it, too. Keep going until you've put down 20 squares of dough.

 
Spread the walnut mixture over that top sheet of dough and then put another sheet on top of that. Butter that one too, and each individual additional sheet you put on afterwards (another 20). Now transfer to the fridge for 10 minutes.

Cut the baclava up into shapes (diamond is traditional) making sure you go all the way through to the bottom. Spray the top of the dough with a little bit of water and transfer it to your oven. Bake at 300 degrees for 90 minutes or until you can't stand waiting any more, which may mean your baclava doesn't get cooked all the way.

 
Just before you're ready to take the baclava out of the oven, make the syrup. Just put all three ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let boil for 3 minutes.
Take the baclava out of the oven and while it is still warm pour the syrup over. Now hide the whole pan from your family and eat it in secret.

 
What we thought: Well, the orzo was overcooked. I kind of expected that after 45 minutes in the oven, though. I'm not sure if that's what it was supposed to be like, but Martin was a bit put off by the slimy texture. I thought it was fine, but years of college dining on Rice-A-Roni with orzo prepared me for the experience. The sauce was pretty basic, too, and while it tasted good I didn't really think it was anything special.

Now the bread, well, what's not to like. It was really just a pizza without the red sauce and mozzarella. Delicious, fresh bread topped with tasty, slightly browned feta cheese. You really can't go wrong can you?

As for the baclava, if you don't like baclava I think you might have damaged DNA. This was so delicious I once again had to give it away to friends or risk eating the whole pan myself. When my kids got home the next day they were pretty mad that there wasn't any baclava left. But in my defense, there wouldn't have been any baclava left even if I hadn't given it away, and Mom probably would have been feeling kind of ill.

Next week: Greenland

For printable versions of this week's recipes:



2 comments:

duriart said...

Hi Becki, I like a lot your blog.
I found you looking for recipes from Angola, since then I follow you every week.
I got inspired and I'm doing something similar in Spain: http://viaja-en-mi-cocina.blogspot.com.es Congratulations for your interesting blog!

Becki Robins said...

Hi, thank you! Love that you were inspired and I hope you'll keep reading!

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