The basic seasonings of Greek cooking are oregano, cinnamon, lemon, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. And olive oil--lots and lots of olive oil. With these they treat lamb, chicken, fish, pasta, rice, and potatoes in distinctly Greek ways. Although we kidded about Greece having only eight dishes -- moussaka, souvlaki, spanokopita, taramosalata, Greek salad, calamari, and roasted lamb or chicken, and baklava--I picked up enough recipes to write a small cookbook. Here are a few.
Our first night with our friends George and Jean Vlastos at their family olive farm in the Amari Valley of Crete we had special Greek spaghetti. The sauce was chock full of onions, garlic, green peppers, tomatoes, ground meat, grated cheese and olive oil. Its light base is made with tomatoes--crushed, chopped and in a paste. It is flavored with basil, and oregano--and George says to add lots of cinnamon. (Another tip they shared is to take the green center out of the garlic before using it to avoid bitterness.)
2. AVGOLEMONO SOUP
Jean was kind enough to share her favorite recipe for "Avgolemono Soupa"
3. BOILED CHICKEN
(you can use the stock for Avgolemono soup)
1 large chicken (2 to 2.5 kilos)
3-4 potatoes, halved
2 medium onions, whole
2 carrots scraped and sliced
salt & pepper
1 stalk celery
2 - 3 stalks of parsley
a few whole peppercorns
1 stick cinnamon (2.5 cm)
|4. TZATZIKI SAUCE
1 large cucumber, grated or diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 C yogurt
Optional: 2 tbs. oil and 1 tbs. vinegar
mint, chopped for garnish
This sauce can also be used as a dip for bread or dressing for green salad
5. GREEK LENTIL SOUP
All good things are made with olive oil!
1/4 C olive oil (more or less)
2 cubes bullion
1 can tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
3 -5 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
Boil (presoak/parboil) lentils w/spoonful of vinegar; drain
Put oil in pan and put all spices, onion and garlic in pan; add tomato, tomato paste, then lentils last--sauté. Add water and bullion and simmer until lentils are tender.
60 to 70 "diamonds"
There are many individual variations to baklava -- using honey, cognac, lemon peel and juice, cinnamon, cloves--and all are characteristic of Greek baklava. This version uses everything but the cognac. My friend Jane Kallionakis says that this is the best recipe she had found in her 20 or so years in Greece.
5 1/2 C granulated sugar
2 1/2 C water
2 T honey (optional --but Jane says put it in, and more!)
rind of 1 lemon
1 stick cinnamon
3 to 4 whole cloves
1 1/4 lb. English walnuts and blanched almonds, med. -- finely chopped
2 t ground cinnamon
1 scant t ground cloves
1 1/2 lbs. commercial filo pastry
1 lb. sweet butter, melted and clarified
combine 3 C sugar, water, honey, lemon rind and whole spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, then remove the lemon peel, spices and cool.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the nuts, remaining 1/2 C sugar and ground spices and set aside. Use a 11 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 3 inch pan). Keep 8 sheets for top and bottom, then follow instructions on package for handling, brushing each sheet with warm butter. Every 3 sheets, scoop a handful of the nuts and sprinkle evenly over the top of the filo.
Using a sharp, long knife, score the baklava from top to bottom in diamond shapes for the size you want. Heat the remaining butter and pour over the top. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 1/4 hours until golden in color and flaky. Remove pan from oven and pour cooled syrup over top -- cool in pan.
Rule: pour cool syrup over warm baklava or hot syrup over cool baklava for maximum flakiness.