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Posts tagged ‘Greek’

the story of the Scarlet Egg

It is told, that in a time long ago, among the rock-strewn hills of Greece, a young woman was seen walking to market, carrying a basket of eggs she’d collected. The hems of her skirts were dusty. Her shoulders were stooped, her step was slow and heavy. Her face bore a great sadness. A group of men passing by stopped to ask, with concern, “Why so sad, lady?”

“Have you not heard?” she answered, surprised at their ignorance. “Christ our Lord has died and been buried!”

“Have YOU not heard?!” they asked, amazed.”Christ was buried, but He has risen!”

“Risen? from death? This can’t be! If you speak the truth, may these eggs I carry turn red!”  And before her very eyes, they did. Her basket of pearl white eggs had suddenly turned brilliant scarlet. And she, now believing the news she’d been given, exclaimed, “He has risen!  Indeed, He has risen!”  And she ran home to tell the news.

“Χριστοσ Ανεστο!”  (Christos anesti!)

Our father grew up, and married our mother, in the Greek Orthodox Church. Up until the time they married, Easter at our house was overseen by the big Bunny, who, along with whichever of his assistants he called upon, hid the eggs and filled our baskets with jelly beans, chocolates and crayons. We loved it – of course. But when our Dad entered our lives, carrying with him his wonderful Greek traditions and the stories to explain them, suddenly, Easter had a meaning. In Greek culture, traditions around Easter are especially rich.  As our Yaya would say to Mom, “Is not so big Jesus was born, Ruth. Is big He rose!” Of all the Saints’ Days and all the other religious holidays they celebrate, without question, Easter is supreme. There’s no holiday more festive, more family-oriented, nor is there one in which the people feast as long, as much and as happily as they do on Greek Easter.

Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church frequently falls on a date different than the one on most calendars, so our family celebrated twice!

Only some of the traditions made their way into our lives, but those traditions have stuck, now into the fourth generation since Yaya.  And the Scarlet Egg from the story plays a starring role.

First, let me begin by saying, it’s no small feat to turn a white egg scarlet. You may get a lovely shade of bright pink, but honestly, are we impressed? In a photo below, you’ll see the packet of dye I used this year. I picked it up at the local Greek deli (Foti’s in Portland) where our Dad used to buy the feta and olive oil, and where my brother and I sometimes have lunch. When I left the shop with the packet of dye in hand, the owner wished me good luck! And I knew what he meant. As important as it is that the eggs be red, the real challenge is yet to come!

 

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a pizza-sorta

kinda Greek-a.

It all begins with our blogging buddy Chicago John’s Spianata. (He’s no stranger to many of you. But if somehow life has passed you by and you’ve never visited his warm Italian home kitchen, come in out of the cold, take off your coat, pull up a chair, smell what’s steaming on the stove and get ready for something like love at first sight.)

For the Spianata dough…if you follow the link above, it’ll take you right there, and John’s background on a dish is always nearly as savory and delightful as the dish itself. But I’ll also provide the recipe here so you don’t have to continually flip back and forth. It’s much like a focaccia, thick, dimpled, moist, pungently olivey. It develops its flavor slowly, with the yeasty “sponge” left overnight, and the dough finished the following day. The way I chose to make this dish is to bake the herb-scattered dough in a hot oven, adding the toppings when it comes out, still steamy hot – the sweet caramelized onions, the roasted small tomatoes, the leaves of baby spinach, the Kalamata olives, the shavings of Feta, and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. Drizzled with a bit (more) olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic – it’s sweet and savory and devastatingly delicious! 

The Dough

For the sponge

  • 1 cup flour (5 ounces)
  • 1 cup warm water (approx. 110°F)
  • 1 tsp active yeast

For the finished dough

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour (10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoons dried mint
  •  ½ teaspoon dried oregano

Pour water into a small-medium bowl and add the yeast; allow yeast to dissolve and for a bubbles to begin forming on the surface.  Add the flour to make the sponge, mix well, cover, and set aside at room temperature. The sponge should be allowed to rise for at least 8 hours but no more than 20. 12 to 16 hours is usually best. When you ‘re ready to proceed, the sponge’s surface should be mottled with bubbles and it should have a strong yeast scent. (yum!)

To the sponge, add the flour¼ cup of the olive oil and the salt. Knead dough for 5 to 7 minutes. The consistency of the dough should be neither sticky nor dry…the “test” I use is to grab hold of the dough with an open hand, hold it firmly for a few seconds…if when you remove your hand the dough almost wants to cling to it but releases without actually sticking, it’s about perfect. If not this, then add water by the drop-ful or flour by the teaspoonful.  It’s been kneaded enough when the dough is soft and supple, smooth and elastic, and when you press it with a knuckle the dough springs right back at you.) 

Place the finished dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow it to rise until doubled – depending on the warmth of your kitchen and a couple other factors, this will take from 1 to 2 hours.  While the dough is rising, prepare all the other ingredients, for which you’ll find instructions below.

Punch the dough down, turn it out onto a floured work surface and cover with a towel. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes. This rest relaxes the dough, making it more pliable.

Pour the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil into a 9 x 12-inch pan, covering the entire bottom of the pan.

After the resting period, place dough onto the pan and, using your fingers, begin stretching it to fit the pan. When it covers about 2/3 of the pan, flip the dough over and continue stretching until the entire pan is covered and there’s enough dough to create a ridge around the pan’s edge. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.  20 Minutes before it’s ready, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoons dried mint and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Place it in the preheated oven on the middle rack and back for about 25 minutes. It should be lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top immediately with the toppings in the following order.

The Toppings

Baby Spinach Leaves

Caramelized Onions

Roasted Tomatoes

Kalamata Olives (allow to come to room temp. or gently heated)

Feta Cheese (thinly sliced or crumbled)

a small handful of whole parsley leaves

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

A drizzle more Olive Oil

You’ll want approximately  1 cup each of the spinach leaves, olives, and feta. Instructions for the caramelized onions and tomatoes follow.

“Sun”-dried or Roasted Tomatoes

  • ½ pound to 1 full pound cherry tomatoes (1 pound will leave you quite a few extra to use as you like. They’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week.)
  • coarse sea salt
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon (or more) dried mint leaves
  • olive oil (about 2 teaspoons per pound tomatoes)
  • balsamic vinegar (about 2 teaspoons for 1 pound tomatoes)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mint. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic over top.

Bake until edges have begun to brown and juices have started to caramelize beneath them. (About 30 to 40 minutes.)

Caramelized Onions (& Garlic)

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 (or 2) cloves garlic, minced

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Greek baked chicken with orzo

In several previous posts, I’ve written of our Dad. (If you haven’t yet seen it, you may want to read: Orange Flowers. ) His influence  on me (on us all) was enormous, though he didn’t even come to be my dad until I was already a gawky ten-year-old girl. His tender love forever changed me. We lost him a few years back, but his birthday’s coming very soon. I’m posting this recipe now – it’s one I think our Greek Pop would have loved.  I’m thinking primarily of my family when I say this, but if anyone out there would like to prepare this on November 2nd, I’d like to think there will be at least one more smile than the ones you see around your own table.

Efharisto!

This chicken dish is a common Sunday one-pot meal on the Greek islands, where chickens are raised primarily for their eggs. Therefore, it’s considered special – besides that, it’s absolutely wonderful!

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Baked Chicken with Orzo – Kotopoulo Youvetsi

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 4-pound free-range chicken, cut into 6 pieces (or the equivalent weight in pieces you choose)
  • 1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or a pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups grated ripe tomatoes or canned diced tomatoes with their juice
  • Salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
  • 1 pound orzo (you substitute elbow macaroni) – cooked in plenty of boiling salted water for only 2 minutes, then drained
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1½ cup coarsely grated hard myzithra, pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the chicken parts in batches until brown on all sides. Set aside.

Add the onion to the pot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, oregano, pepper or pepper flakes and tomatoes. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and return to the Dutch oven. Add about 1/2 cup of stock, or enough to come about two-thirds of the way up the chicken.  (You want to be sure that the breast meat is sunk quite deeply into the sauce, so just the very top of it sticks above. That will help prevent it from drying out.)  Bring to a boil, cover and transfer to the now-hot oven.

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Greek Salad with Farro

This refreshing salad, with its bright, fresh herbs, crisp cucumber and sweet red bell pepper, its chewy farro, and bits of salty feta,  tastes like summer! It can be the central part of a vegetarian meal, or a side dish for roasted or grilled chicken, or grilled salmon.

Farro is one of those ancient grains making a “come-back,”  showing up on modern grocery shelves. It has a nutty flavor and a pleasingly chewy texture, similar to barley and whole wheat berries (which you could substitute in this recipe if you can’t find farro.) Like many other ancient grains, it’s nutrient-rich.

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 cup farro, rinsed
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (see NOTE)
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored & seeded, cut in medium dice
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill or parsley (I prefer the dill)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup crumbled or diced feta cheese
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes

NOTE: I prefer the long English cucumbers – if you use these, it’s unnecessary to remove the seeds

Red Wine Vinaigrette

  • 3 Tbl. red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Place rinsed farro in a large saucepan and cover with 2 quarts of salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 to 35 minutes. (Farro will have a similar texture to barley when cooked.) Drain it well and set aside to cool completely.

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Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce

It’s pitiful to beg, I know, but I’m coming dangerously close to it.  Just look over the recipe below, imagining the pairing of these ingredients, and you’ll want to try this soup. (OK, I want you to, but let’s not quibble.) This is one of those comfort foods, and – I’m fully convinced – a cure for what ails. It’s somehow “creamy” with no cream (thanks to the arborio rice.) It’s full of flavor, while still being gentle and so easy to eat. It’s aromatic (thanks to the generous amount of dill and the perfume of the lemon.) It’s a soup equally good in summer as in winter, so Spring would be the perfect time to prove it to yourself! Take the challenge – try this soup – you will not be disappointed! It’s positively kissable.

At the start of “Citrus Month,”  I promised you a soup from Yaya and Papou’s homeland. This is the one. In Greece, until fairly recently, chickens were considered a great delicacy. Except on important feast days, chicken dishes would have been reserved for children and the sick.  This chicken and rice soup, with an egg and lemon “sauce” stirred in at the last moment, was served as a much-loved, one-pot meal at Christmas.  Nowadays, I’d venture to say you can find this on any Greek restaurant menu – but please let me know if you’ve ever tried one better.

The secret to any good soup is in the stock, and this one is no different. If you’re pressed for time, you could use a pre-roasted chicken and a high-quality, store-bought (or previously prepared homemade) chicken stock – but the gentle, two-hour-long cooking of a whole chicken imparts the most delicate, silken of flavors to this broth. If you need to take the short-cut, about 2-1/2 quarts or so of good stock should prove about right, and the meat from about one-half of the chicken. (In either case, please use a free-range, organically fed bird.)

Chicken Soup with Egg-Lemon Sauce (Kotopoulo Soupa, Avgolemono)

(makes 4 to 6 main-course servings – or  6 to 8 for first-course)

  • one 3-to-4-pound free-range chicken, quartered, plus 2 pounds chicken backs, necks and/or wings
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and quartered
  • 2 bay leaves (if your bay leaves are more than a year old, toss them and start new)
  • 10 – 12 peppercorns
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2/3 cup of medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-6 Tbl. freshly-sueezed lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To greatly reduce the fat content of the resulting broth, and how much skimming is required, I like to start by first removing the skin and all visible fat from the quartered chicken. Remove the fat from the backs of the chicken as well. Place the chicken parts in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce the heat to low and add the onion, carrots, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Cover and simmer for two hours, adding a little more water if needed, until the chicken begins to fall from the bones.

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Lenten Orange Cinnamon Cookies – Kourabiethes

Countless recipes for rich little cookies like these exist, and most cultures have their versions. Most of them are little round balls rolled in powdered sugar, but these take the shape of a crescent. Because it’s that time leading up to Easter, I thought I’d share with you the version that Greeks might be eating during this Lenten season. (Another version that I’ll maybe share with you later includes eggs, butter and Ouzo!) This one calls for margarine, though I always use butter in cookies. The addition of olive oil and orange juice, as well as almond extract, make these distinctly different and delicious.

Kourabiethes

(makes about 40 cookies)

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup butter (or margarine, but not lower fat versions!)
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup almonds, blanched, lightly toasted and chopped
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 to 4 cups flour
  • ground cinnamon
  • powdered sugar for tops

Whip the olive oil, butter, and sugar with a stand mixer fitted with a wire attachment set on high speed for 3 minutes.

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