Friday, June 25, 2010


Koulouria are a very popular street food all over Greece. They are made in commercial bakeries, and are sold as a morning or mid morning snack. By 1:00 pm or so, vendors are sold out. I guess you can say koulouria are a street food with pedigree, since there is historical evidence that they were sold in the streets of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, as early as 800 to 900 CE. (They are discussed in an army manual of the 9th century. See my entry about them here). If you are far away from Greece and miss the crunchy, sesame taste of koulouria, here is a recipe you can try that will ease your nostalgia.


3 cups bread flour plus more for dusting
1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl and the dough
1 cup sesame seeds (you may need more)
one medium sized bowl filled with water at room temperature

  • Place the yeast, sugar, salt and 1/3 cup of oil in the bowl of your mixer. Add the water and mix everything with a wooden spoon, stirring until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Add one cup of flour, place the dough hook on your mixer and start mixing on low speed. Add the rest of the flour one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Keep mixing until you have a smooth dough. You'll know it's ready if it does not adhere to the sides of the bowl as it's being mixed.
  • Remove the dough to a large bowl that has been greased with vegetable oil. Grease the top of the dough ball with vegetable oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and then cover it with a kitchen towel.
  • Place it in a spot that is free of drafts and let it rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
  • When the dough has doubled in size punch it down, cover it again in the same manner, and let it rise until it's doubled in size once again, about 1 hour.

  • Punch the dough down once more, remove it from the bowl and cut it into chunks about one inch square.
  • Sprinkle a small amount of flour on your working surface, and roll each piece of dough into a strip. Line up the strips and sprinkle flour over them until they are lightly covered.
  • Have the following ready: a bowl filled with water, a clean dish towel, and a flat pan filled with the sesame seeds.
  • Dip each strip of dough into the bowl of water and lightly dry it on the towel. Dry it just enough to remove excess liquid. The dough needs to be somewhat wet.

  • While the strip of dough is still wet, drop it in the pan with the sesame seeds and roll it around until it's coated in seeds.

  • Cover all the strips in sesame seeds.
  • Twist some of the strips into round shapes and pinch the ends together to make rings.  Why should koulouria have a round shape? Look at the picture below:
They are easy to stack and easy to carry and sell.   If you have a  few wooden dowels you're in business.  Merchants have carried them around in this manner for centuries. 
  • Although koulouria are traditionally made into ring shapes, I like to make both strips and rings. Strips take less space on the baking sheets, allowing me to fit more on each sheet and finish the job faster. I've been given written permission by my mother to do this! If your mother objects, and you must be really traditional, make ring shapes only.

  • Place on sheets lined with parchment paper and bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.
  • Koulouria should be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve them warm. They taste best if consumed the same day they are made. Now , unless you are feeding a crowd, you won't be able to eat them all in one day. Store them in an airtight container and enjoy them during the week. They tend to get really crunchy if they are left over, but believe me, they still taste great and can be enjoyed as bread sticks.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


A saganaki is a small two handled frying pan that was traditionally used in Greece to prepare pan seared mezé or apetizers. The saganaki would usually go from oven to table, and it gave its name to various dishes that were prepared in it, the most popular of which seems to have been cheese saganaki, a dish made with fried, bubbly cheese. Another favorite is the one I have made here, garides saganaki, or shrimp saganaki. One doesn't need the special frying pan to make this. Today any oven proof dish will do, and here the ingredients have been increased to serve a larger crowd. The shrimp is quickly sautéd, then it's mixed in a tomato base, topped with feta cheese and heated before it's served. It makes an absolutely delicious appetizer or first course. If you like shrimp and feta cheese, blend them together to make this delicious dish. You will love it!


20 to 25 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped
2 scallions chopped
1 green pepper very finely chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb very finely chopped
3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons dill
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


In a large skillet heat 4 tablespoons of the oil and add the onion, fennel and pepper. Cook stirring until the onion is soft. Add the tomatoes and oregano, season with salt and pepper and cook until they are soft and most of the liquid in the skillet has evaporated. Place the tomato mixture in a bowl and keep warm. Melt the remaining oil and the butter in the same skillet, add the scallions and shrimp, and cook about 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and dill and half of the feta, and cook until the feta is soft, about 2 minutes.

Mix all the ingredients together and place them in an oven proof serving dish. Sprinkle the rest of the feta cheese and all of the Parmesan cheese on top, then place in a pre-heated 425° F oven and heat until the Parmesan starts to melt and brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve as an appetizer accompanied with bread to mop up the sauce.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


My mother learned to make this dish soon after we arrived in the US, and she would serve it to us often. It was from a serving of chicken with peppers and mushrooms that I had my first reluctant try of mushrooms, and realized they weren't all that bad. Not long ago, I found out that this recipe is really a version of chicken cacciatore, but it's hard not to refer to it as I always have: chicken with peppers and mushrooms. I like to make it with skinless, boneless chicken. Sometimes I use chicken breast or chicken tenderloins, but as I prefer dark meat, chicken thighs are my favorite to use here. Before cooking the chicken, I like to marinate it so that its flavor is enhanced. Summertime, when peppers are plentiful, is the perfect time to prepare this dish. It can be made with green peppers, or for a more colorful presentation, green, red and yellow peppers can be used. When the dish has finished cooking, the flavor of the peppers, chicken, thyme, and oregano blend together very nicely. We have served this dish accompanied by noodles, with some of the sauce poured over, but usually we eat it with no accompaniment other than a softly toasted slice of bread.

This is certainly a colorful dish!
  • 14 pieces of boned & skinned chicken: you can use tenderloins, thighs, or a combination of both.
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 1 large yellow pepper, diced
  • 1 large green pepper diced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 fresh medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
  • one package of noodles, cooked according to package directions (optional)
  • For the marinade:
    salt & pepper and dried oregano
    1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
    juice of half a lemon
    2 or 3 tablespoons of canola oil
    1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
    a few dashes of soy sauce

  1. Rub the chicken with the marinade ingredients and place it in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least two hours, or you can marinate it overnight. Bring the chicken to room temperature before cooking.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium- high heat. Brown the chicken on all sides, remove it to a bowl and set it aside.
  3. In the same Dutch oven heat the rest of the oil, add the the onions, peppers, oregano and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes until the peppers have softened.

  4. Add the mushrooms, stirring, and cook until they are soft. As you are stirring, the pan will deglaze.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes, the thyme, salt and pepper to season, and 1 cup of chicken broth. (It's unusual, but if all the liquid evaporates before the chicken has finished cooking, you will need to add some more broth).

  6. Add the reserved chicken and simmer until it's tender and the liquid is almost gone, about 40 minutes. You want this dish to be juicy, saucy, not dry.

  7. Serve the chicken accompanied by noodles if desired. Spoon the sauce over, and garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Monday, June 14, 2010


The Daring Cooks June, 2010 Challenge: Pâté

The June challege for "Daring Cooks" is pâté! This month's challenge is hosted by Valerie, from The Chocolate Bunny, and Evelyne, from Cheap Ethnic Eatz. We had the option of choosing from three versions of pâtés: a traditional one made from liver (not for me), a seafood one which sounds great, and a vegetable pâté which is the one that I chose to make, because, frankly, it was the easiest one to prepare.  I found out after tasting it that this vegetable pâté makes a great and healthy appetizer! It calls for fresh summery vegetables, feta cheese, and pesto. Definitely a recipe worth a try!  
In addition, I made some bread which I sliced up and served as an accompaniment.  

Tricolor vegetable pâté (based on Bon Apetit, 10/1993)


  • White bean layer:
1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained thoroughly
1 small jar artichokes, rinsed
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil 
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup onion, well chopped
salt and pepper to taste
  • Red Pepper Layer:

1  7-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers packed in olive oil, drained, chopped
a few sun dried tomatoes, chopped
salt, pepper and oregano to taste3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese 
  • Pesto Layer:
2 garlic cloves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 of a cup ricotta cheese 

  • Fresh herb sprigs for decoration, Bread slices


Line a 8 1/2x4 1/2-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, overlapping sides. (you can also line with parchment paper)

  • For the Bean Layer:Place the beans in the food processor. Add lemon juice, artichokes, olive oil, oregano, onions and garlic and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread bean mixture evenly on bottom of the prepared loaf pan.  Don't judge by my picture.  I found out after I unmolded the pâté that the bean layer needed to be pressed down really well!

Before going in the food processor, the pepper layer got a sprinkling of salt, pepper and oregano
  • For the Red Pepper Layer:
    Combine feta, peppers, sun dried tomatoes, salt, pepper and some oregano in the food processor, and blend until smooth. Spread the pepper mixture evenly over the bean layer in the prepared dish.

  • For the Pesto Layer:Mince garlic in processor. Add basil, parsley and pine nuts and mince. With machine running, gradually add oil through the feed tube and process until smooth. Mix in the cheeses. Spread the pesto evenly over the red pepper layer.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold, place pâté in the freezer for about half an hour until it becomes hard. Remove it from the freezer and invert it onto a serving platter. Peel off plastic wrap from the pâté. Garnish with herb sprigs, and accompany with bread slices.

...and here is a picture of some freshly baked bread made to                     accompany the pâté! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010


This recipe for tomato jam has a rich tomato taste with a hint of sweetness, and when you first taste it, it makes you never want to use ketchup again. It's a low fat, low calorie, low cholesterol treat to use as a topping for grilled foods. In the summer, when tomatoes are plentiful, I like to make it with fresh tomatoes rather than canned. I use 14 to 16 tomatoes, peeled, chopped and seeded. Since fresh tomatoes contain more liquid, cooking time needs to be increased to about 40 minutes. The jam should have a thick texture. Tomato jam is a great topping for burgers, potatoes and just about any grilled meat. This recipe makes about two cups, but if you want less jam, the recipe can be easily cut in half.


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes in their juice
2 & 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  • Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is very soft and translucent, stirring often, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes with their juice, the sugar, thyme, salt, and black pepper. Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated. This should take about 25 minutes.
  • Cool and refrigerate.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


The coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini was a native of Florence, Italy, and a beloved international presence on the operatic stage of the early twentieth century. One of her favorite cities was San Fransisco, where she could often be heard singing. The dish chicken Tetrazzini was created in her honor by a San Fransisco chef. Chicken, pasta, cream sauce, mushrooms! Delicious morsels that glide from the plate onto the fork just as effortlessly as notes would glide from Tetrazzini's throat and surround her enchanted audience with their richness.  Below I have included her rendition of Rosina's aria 'Una Voce Poco Fa' from Rossini's 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia'. This recording was made in 1911. I hope you enjoy it. My recipe for chicken Tetrazzini follows.


1 chicken
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion studded with 4 cloves
1 large onion, finely chopped 
3 stalks celery with leaves, roughly chopped 
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Tabasco sauce
4 tablespoons flour
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 package penne, 8oz
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup of a nice dry white wine
2 cups half and half at room temperature
2 cups hot chicken broth
8 ounces frozen baby peas
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves 

3 tablespoons riccotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs
sliced almonds


  • In a kettle place the chicken, onion with cloves, celery, 1 teaspoon salt, bay leaf and carrot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the chicken is tender. 
  • Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool. Remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Reserve the meat, and place in a large bowl. Strain two cups of the chicken broth and reserve it, making sure it stays hot.
  • Preheat the oven to 400° F.
  • Grease a 13” x 9” x 2” baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter.
  • Heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium-high heat until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and the mushrooms become pale golden, about 8 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the peas and stir until they are well incorporated. If using wine add it and simmer until it evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mushroom mixture into the bowl with the chicken.
  • Melt 4 tablespoons butter in the same pan over medium-low heat. Add 4 tablespoons flour and whisk until blended. Whisk in the reserved 2 cups hot broth, 2 cups half and half, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Increase the heat slightly. Simmer, whisking until the sauce thickens.  Turn off the heat add the ricotta cheese and mix well.

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until it is al dente. Drain. Add the pasta, sauce and parsley to the chicken mixture. Toss until the sauce coats the pasta and the mixture is well blended.

  • Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Stir the Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs and almonds in a bowl to blend. Sprinkle the mixture over the pasta. Bake, uncovered, until it's golden brown on top and the sauce bubbles, about 20 minutes.


Koulouria for sale. Grab them while they are stilll hot. The sign in red Greek letters says "crunchy!"
"Greek Girl from Queens," who is a reader of this blog, posted a comment asking if there is a difference between koulouria and koulourakia. There is some difference, and I decided to write about what I know here.

Koulouria (koulouria is plural, koulouri is the singular tense), are somewhat large, bread - like wreaths or rings, smothered in sesame seeds and sold as street food. They are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, sesame - doughy tasting, and a great treat to eat. They are carbohydrate rich and low in fat, and make a very satisfying snack. Greeks eat a very light breakfast, so a crunchy koulouri holds them over until the mid-day meal. Koulouria are generally mass produced by specialized bakeries, but there are recipes for home cooks. (Find my recipe for koulouria here). Bakeries that make koulouria work at night, so that their product can be ready early in the morning for the waiting vendors, who will then sell them as snack food. Vendors cluster around markets and crossroads. Some have stationary street stands, others are mobile, moving according to demand. Most vendors are sold out by noon or 1:00 pm. Koulouria go fast. When I was a kid, attending elementary school in Thessaloniki, I used to consider myself lucky if I had the necessary sum of one drachma to buy a koulouri during recess. Sometimes, if our school vendor was in a good mood, she would pour into our cupped palms the sesame seeds that would be left on the bottom of the trays once the koulouria were sold out. A fist full of roasted sesame seeds can make a kid very happy.

There are always leftover sesame seeds at the bottom of the tray

Etymologically speaking, the word koulouri derives from antiquity. In ancient Greece, the word kollyrio* described a small round shaped bread made of barley flour. Later on, during Byzantine times, kollyrio evolved into the word kollykio, and that word evolved into the modern day word koulouri. All three mean the same thing: a small roundish bread. (Hold on. We're not done: In some regions it’s also known as semiti, a term that derives from the Greek word semigdali (semolina to us).  Semigdali or semolina is nothing else but hard or durum wheat, the type of wheat used in bread flour).  Koulouria were a popular street food in Constantinople, both during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Waves of Greek refugees from Constantinople and Asia Minor reintroduced the koulouri to the Greek mainland during the early part of the 20th century. A large number of these refugees settled in and around the city of Thessaloniki, located in northern Greece. Soon, koulouria made by refugees could be found all over the city, a reason they are sometimes refered to as "koulouria Thessalonikis." Their popularity continues to this day.

Here is a personal observation: Look at the picture of koulouria at the top of this paragraph. Do you see the part where the dough has been linked to form a ring? It's clearly visible, it forms an indentation in the koulouri. That is the most delicious part to eat. Since it's been pressed down, it's crunchier, denser, thinner. I has a taste all its own. As a kid I used to save this "link" for last, and sometimes I would hide it in my pocket to eat as a special treat later on. Eating that little bite was a great if brief pleasure. There were two types of kids: those who loved the link and those who didn't. The links were a commodity to be traded in our playground at school. Sometimes you could wind up with two or three of them in your pocket. That was heaven!

*The word kollyrio is the etymological root for the word “collyrium,” which is used in the field of ophthalmology. A collyrium was an ancient medicinal preparation: a piece of soft bread was soaked in a remedy and used as an eye compress. Today, a collyrium is a lotion or liquid wash used as a cleanser for the eyes, particularly in diseases of the eye.

Koulourakia (which really means small koulouria), are small, buttery, desert type cookies. Today they can be eaten at any time, but historically they were made during holidays and times of celebration. Koulourakia can have various shapes such as twists, circles, serpentines, you name it. This depends on the region where they are made and the preference/stamina of the person making them. The basic recipe has flour, some sugar, and lots of butter. The texture is crumbly, crunchy but not hard, and the taste is buttery with hints of the flavorings used. There are several flavorings to choose from: orange, lemon, brandy, ouzo, etc. Koulourakia are brushed with eggwash before baking and it's traditional but not necessary to top each one with a few sesame seeds. When koulourakia contain spirits, they are called koulourakia methysmena, which means drunk koulourakia. In some regions of Greece, probably for dietary reasons, spirits are not used for flavoring. Anise can be substituted, to give the hint of the ouzo taste. Ouzo after all, the famous and omnipresent Greek apéritif, is flavored with anise. You can find one of my recipes for koulourakia at this link: 

Buttery koulourakia to have with your tea or coffee...
Note: some of the information on street food and on the etymological origins of the word "koulouri," is taken from the book "Street Foods, World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, Volume 86" edited by Artemis P. Simopoulos & Ramesh V. Bhat