Sunday, October 12, 2008

Around the World - Greece

I was so excited to do another tour meal! I have really missed it the last few weeks, all the amazing foods and the friends... Thank you, Jen, for providing all the goodies for me to cook!

Let me tell you, in all the reading I did, I found that Greeks are seriously social, and love their eating experience! Grandmas all the way down to small children crowded around the table. More formal occasions may see putting the food on their own plates, but more often than not you'll find reaching across the table with a spoon or fork, bite at a time. The more noisy, the better, and it is hard to stay serene when everyone is fighting over the last olive!

Some fun facts I found-

-The first cookbook was written in Greece in 330 BC, by a Greek food gourmet, Archestratos.
-The tall, white chefs hat came from Greek Orthodox monks in monasteries. The cooks wore them to distinguish themselves from the other monks, who wore tall, black hats.
-Many vegetarian recipes today can be traced back to foods and recipes that originated in Greece.

Olive oil is the primary fat used in Greek cooking, and most Greeks will consume around 40 pounds per person! Wow! Olive oil plays a leading role in 60 or so folk remedies, the most exotic of which is this:

"A stubborn and rebellious wife, who refused to submit to her husband and go to --- with him, was rubbed with olive oil for seven days. On the eighth day --according to Greek folk tales-- she became sweet tempered and loving, ready to let her husband make ---- to her...” Use your imagination, this is a rated G blog... ;-)

It is also tied to every ritual, both folk and religious, that marks the crucial events in the cycle of life. Priests anoint with olive oil the infants at Christening, and again with olive oil, mixed with wine, the bodies of the deceased are embalmed prior to burial.

Our menu this week was Tsatsiki with pita wedges, Horiatiki (Greek salad), Arni Psito me Patates (roasted lamb and potatoes), and Baklava!

This cucumber-yogurt dip is extremely popular throughout Greece and is almost always included in the appetizer course! Make it, and you'll see why!

2 cups plain yogurt
2 large cucumbers
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put yogurt in a cheesecloth lined sieve over a bowl. Drain several hours or overnight in the refrigerator. I didn't happen to have cheesecloth, so I lined my sieve with coffee filters that I poked some small holes in. It worked great! The draining takes off most of the water, leaving you with a much thicker yogurt, similar to Greek yogurt in consistency.

Peel, seed and coarsely grate the cucumbers. Drain well. For this, I squeezed the grated cucumber over the sieve so the juices came out, let them sit a bit, then did it again. Add garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to cucumbers and mix well. Add drained yogurt and blend. Serve with toast points, crackers, or pita bread.

There wasn't much of this left!

Horiatiki is the traditional Greek salad, no lettuce!

3 tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 green pepper which I didn't have
1 red onion
1/2 pound crumbled feta cheese
6-10 Kalamata olive (or more if you like) we like, so there were lots
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 tsp oregano
salt to taste

Start by cutting the tomato in half and then cut in bite size slices. Cut the cucumber by slicing it across (from one tip to the other) in half and then cutting it along in small pair-pieces of 1/3 inch wide. Cut the red onion in half and then slice it in bite size pieces. Cut the bell pepper in rings, remove the seeds. Place in big salad bowl with Kalamata olives and the crumbled feta cheese. Add the salt and the oregano. Sprinkle with the olive oil. Mix very well with 2 spoons until the salt, the oregano and the olive oil cover all the other ingredients.

I did it layered for the photo, and tossed it after! This was really yummy when we ate it with pieces of pita and the lamb, with the yogurt dip on top! Of course, it was yummy anyway, we were just having fun... :-)

Arni Psito me Patates - Traditional roast lamb with potatoes

1 6-pound leg of lamb, or 4-5 pound boneless lamb roast
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tbsp oregano
4 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
20-30 small potatoes, peeled, or 4-5 big ones in big chunks
2 tbsp tomato paste, diluted in 2 cups hot water

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash leg of lamb. Slit with a sharp knife in various places on both sides of lamb. Insert garlic slices in the slits. Season with salt and pepper and 1/2 tbsp oregano. Brush with olive oil. Place roast in pan and pour lemon juice over lamb. Roast for about 1/2 hour.

While lamb is browning, combine salt, tomato paste and water and pour over potatoes. Add to roasting pan, sprinkle with remaining oregano. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Roast for 1/1 2 hours, turning and basting the potatoes occasionally. Remove to a hot serving platter, slice and serve meat surrounded by potatoes.

I used a 4.5 lb boneless roast, and it browned in the half hour. The rest of the cooking time was about 2 hours, to get it to 160. Then I let it rest, covered with foil, for 15-25 minutes before slicing.

Mark, the self-proclaimed lamb hater, liked this! I had three slices left, I sliced them thin but we had 13 people over for dinner! Hey, it's a Greek meal, large groups are a must! This has turned into a huge dinner group, which is awesome. The more people I cook for, the more "YUM"'s I get! :-) Serve it with the pan juices drizzled over your slices for an even more amazing flavor.

Baklava, the most famous Greek desert. Also, the most intricate thing I have probably ever made! It is delicious enough to require making again, but takes enough work with just one person that it will be a once a year thing. I highly recommend one person to work the phyllo, and one to do the butter and nut mixture. What would have taken an hour, took half that. Told you it was intricate work!

1 pound (4 cups) blanched almonds or walnuts or a combination of both, finely chopped
3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 pound phyllo pastry
3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter, melted, for brushing phyllo

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine nuts, sugar, and cinnamon. Keeping unused sheets covered with plastic wrap, place 8 sheets of phyllo pastry, one at a time, in the bottom of a 9x13 pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter. These dry out seriously fast, which is why you keep them covered, and why it is so much quicker with two! Sprinkle top sheet generously with 1/4 cup nut mixture. Cover with 2 buttered phyllo sheets. Sprinkle 1/4 cup nut mixture. Continue adding buttered phyllo sheets, sprinkling every second sheet with the nut mixture, until all the nut mixture is used. Place remaining phyllo sheets on top, buttering each sheet. Guess what, there were 40 sheets of Phyllo. This sounds quick, but takes a good while.

Cut Baklava into small diamond-shaped pieces with a sharp knife. We were tired enough of this desert at this point that we just did squares... Place a pan of water on the lowest shelf of the oven. Place Baklava on middle shelf about the water and bake for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, or until golden, making sure the water pan is always full.

While Baklava is baking, prepare the syrup.

2 cups water
3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 2-inch strip lemon rind
3/4 cup honey

Combine all ingredients except honey. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add honey and simmer 5 minutes more. Remove lemon peel and cool. Remove Baklava from oven and pour cool syrup over hot pastry.

Crisp, but chewy. Light, but heavy. Fattening, but who cares. Calling my name right now! Last night I was swearing I would never make it again, because of all the work involved, but I'm thinking that it would be a crime not to! Maybe at Christmas. Or Easter?

3 Tasty Tidbits:

Stephanie said...

Oh wow, that all looks sooooo good! Especially the baklava - one of Jeff's coworkers recently brought some baklava she had made to work, and Jeff brought some home for me to try. That was the first time I ever tried baklava. It was fantastic! I don't know how likely I am to ever make it myself, at least not for a very long while. But if you do make this for Christmas, please let me know and we can come over and help you eat it, please??? :-)

Michele said...

Greek food is my favorite. I make it quite often. I'm not a big fan of lamb, but your Arni Psito me Patates looks absolutely wonderful. I may just have to rethink my aversion to lamb just because of this recipe. Your entire meal looks to die for. I agree that baklava is a lot of work, but it's worth every minute of prep time.

Lisa said...

You're amazing! I'd say you have one happy husband! I was in Greece a couple of years ago, in Kefalonia, and I was sooo disappointed by the restaurants that we tried, everything was awful, all my greek favorites, moussaka, stuffed vines etc... even the baklava, were just awful tasteless slop. I was devastated! A friend who used to live in Athens assured me it was most likely just the area we were in though so I might give it another chance soon!