Wednesday, 22 December 2010

SKORDALIA DIP WITH CAPERS AND ALMONDS



For Greeks, the garlicky puree called skordalia is a traditional accompaniment to fish. It can also be served as a dip with sliced bread or crudités. There are several ingredients that can form the base of skordalia: walnuts, potatoes, bread, almonds. One ingredient all versions have in common is the addition of garlic, plus garlic, and some garlic. My stomach likes for me to tone down the amount of garlic I use in skordalia. You can use as much or as little as you like: it all depends on personal preference and social engagements. A good rule of thumb is that garlic taste intensifies, therefore a subtle garlic flavour will become more pronounced as the sauce is waiting to be served. Caper and almond skordalia is mostly eaten in the Greek Islands. The version here is truly delicious (I mean it)!!! It's based on one by the wonderful cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi.  


Ingredients:

2 cups cubed day-old whole-wheat bread, soaked in water until softened
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained; reserve one tablespoon of capers for garnish
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds, soaked overnight in water and drained
1 medium potato, boiled, peeled and mashed
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Salt is optional in this recipe

Directions:
  • Squeeze the excess water from the soaked bread and place it in a food processor. Add the garlic and process until it forms a smooth paste. Add the capers and process until smooth. With the motor running, add the olive oil, a little at a time. Add the lemon juice and the almonds and pulse to coarsely chop.
  • Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl and fold in the mashed potato. (Do not add the potato to the food processor: it will turn gluey). Season with pepper and, if necessary, salt to taste. If you like add more lemon juice to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
  • Stir in a few tablespoons of water if the dip is very thick. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of capers.
  • Best served with fish. Skordalia is the standard accompaniment to salt cod fritters which are traditionally eaten during Lent, and in particular on the feast day of the Annunciation (25 March), which typically falls during Lent season. Greeks will wait all year for a dinner of salt cod fritters and skordalia that's to be had on that day! 

SALT COD FRITTERS (BACCALA - BACALIAROS)



Salt cod is cod that has been preserved by a method of drying and salting. In its preserved state the fish can last for a few years. Production of salt cod dates back at least 500 years, to the time Europeans discovered the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Due to abundant nutrients and ideal water temperatures, the Grand Banks were at one time the richest fishing grounds in the world. Today, sadly, the area has been overfished. Salt cod was a vital item of commerce between the New World and the Old. In the Mediterranean, it is a traditional ingredient in the cuisine of most countries.


Easy to find during Lent: salt cod for sale at the grocer. 
In Greece, salt cod is usually fried and served with an accompaniment of skordalia (a garlic dip). In my recipe, baking powder is added to the fish batter, something which makes the fritters fluffier and lighter.

March 25, which most often falls during Lent, is the celebration of the feast of the Annunciation.



      The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci can be seen at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.  

For Greeks, this feast day coincides with Greek Independence Day. That's a big deal, therefore,
the day is celebrated both with church services and with parades


March 25, Independence Day parade, Thessaloniki, Greece

When dinner time rolls around, it's very traditional to serve, among other types of seafood, salt cod and skordalia. There are various recipes for skordalia, and I have some posted on this blog. This last March 25, when I made salt cod fritters, I served them with a skordalia of potatoes, capers, and almonds. The whole meal was very enjoyable, very traditional and thanks to the skordalia, it was garlicky! Here's my version of salt cod fritters:

Ingredients:

1 and 1/2 pounds boneless, dry salted cod

1 cup of beer
1 cup all-purpose flour
about 2 cups oil for frying
1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon baking powder
ground black pepper to taste
a dash of paprika (optional)

Directions:
  • Rinse the excess salt from the cod. Desalinate that baby as much as possible: place it in a large bowl covering it with cold water by several inches. 
  • Soak, refrigerated, for 24 hours, changing the water every four hours. 
  • When the water is drained for the last time pat the salt cod dry with paper towels.
  • Using your hands, shred the salt cod finely and place into a large bowl.
  • Mix the flour with the baking powder and black pepper. Add the paprika if using.
  • Pour the beer into a small bowl and slowly whisk in the flour, whisking until no lumps remain.
  • Stir the flour mixture into the shredded salt cod until well combined. 
  • Add the beaten egg and mix well.
  • Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, working in batches, use a spoon to mould the fish into a flat round shape about two inches in diameter. Flattening the fritters will help them cook more evenly. 
  • Carefully slip the fritters into the oil. Do not overcrowd the pan because the temperature of the oil will drop and the fritters will get soggy.
  • Cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  • Serve warm with caper and almond skordalia click here for that recipe).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

MELOMAKARONA (HONEY CHRISTMAS COOKIES)



Christmas time fills the house with the pleasing aroma of freshly baked cookies. In Greek homes, center stage in the cookie department belongs to melomakarona. They are the quintessential Christmas cookie for Greeks, a concoction flavored with orange, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and honey.




There is some evidence that a version of these cookies originated in antiquity. Melomakarona are also called phoenikia, and the latter word suggests that they probably originated with the Phoenicians, a seafaring people who lived in regions of Asia Minor and were antiquity's best known traders.

Etymologically, melomakarona is comprised of the words meli + makaroni. Meli means honey in Greek, which fits, since the cookies are dipped in honey. Makaroni or macaroni, is a word of Greek-Latin origin, whose root means a doughy substance, or a substance which is kneaded or macerated. Therefore, in its most basic form the word melomakarona means a piece of dough which is dipped in honey.* It's amazing to think what a long history these cookies have, and how they evolved into the present day holiday treats.

I made a batch of melomakarona the other day, with a recipe I found in the cookbook "The Foods of Greece," written by Aglaia Kremezi. It's a recipe with a good crunch and a good flavor. It's made with vegetable oil, semolina and flour. (Semolina can be found in specialty shops, and it's also sold as "farina" cereal in most supermarkets). Spices and citrus flavors are added, and after the cookies are baked, they are dipped in a honey syrup. I like the taste of these melomakarona, and I recommend this version wholeheartedly.




Ingredients: 
(makes about 50 cookies)

1 and 1/4 cups oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup brandy
1 and 1/2 cups semolina
Grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1cup honey (or a vegan substitute)
2 cups water
1 large piece of orange peel
1 large piece of lemon peel
1 stick of cinnamon

For the topping:

1 cup of coarsely ground walnuts mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cloves.


Directions:
  • In a mixer beat the olive oil with the sugar. Add the orange juice.
  • In a separate bowl mix 2 cups of flour with the baking powder and then add it to the oil and orange mixture.
  • Beat while adding the brandy, semolina, orange and lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon.
  • Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead gently, adding more flour as needed, to obtain a soft and elastic dough.
  • Let stand for 30 minutes covered with plastic wrap.
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Take tablespoonfuls of dough and shape them into oval cookies about 2 & 1/2 inches long. Press them on the top with the back of a fork to mark them with horizontal lines. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes. Place on a rack and let cool.

To make the honey syrup:

  • In a saucepan mix the sugar, honey, and water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the orange peel, lemon peel, and the cinnamon stick and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat.
To finish the cookies:

  • Place 2 or 3 cookies in a large slotted spoon and dip them in the syrup. Don't let them soak for too long. They should absorb some syrup yet still remain crunchy.
  • Place them on a serving dish and sprinkle the walnut topping over them.
  • Let cool before serving. The melomakarona should keep for about three weeks.


*Source:
http://www.24grammata.com/?p=6966
with a section written in Greek, and a section in English borrowed from "An Etymology Dictionary of the English Language, by Walter W. Skeat, 1893."
Below is the English entry:
MACARONI, MACCARONI, a paste made of wheat flour. (Ital.,—L.?) ‘He doth learn to make strange sauces, to eat anchovies, maccaroni, bovoli, fagioli, and caviare;’ Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, A. ii (Mercury). ‘Macaroni, gobbets or lumps of boyled paste,’ &c.; Minsheu, ed. 1627.—O. Ital. maccaroni, ‘a kinde of paste meate boiled in broth, and drest with butter, cheese, and spice;’ Florio. The mod. Ital. spelling is maccheroni, properly the plural of maccherone, used in the sense of a ‘macarone’ biscuit. β. Of somewhat doubtful origin; but prob. to be connected with Gk. μακαρία, a word used by Hesychius to denote βρῶμα ἐκ ζωμοῦ καὶ ἀλφίτων, a mess of broth and pearl-barley, a kind of porridge. This word is derived by Curtius (i. 405) from Gk. μάσσειν, to knead, of which the base is μακ-; cf. Gk. μᾶζα, dough, Russ. muka, flour, meal. γ. Similarly the Ital. macaroni is prob. from O. Ital. maccare, ‘to bruise, to batter, to pester;’ Florio. And, again, the Ital. maccare is from a Lat. base mac-, to knead, preserved in the deriv. macerare, to macerate, reduce to pulp. See Macerate. δ. Thus the orig. sense seems to have been ‘pulp;’ hence anything of a pulpy or pasty nature. Der. Macaron-ic, from F. macaronique, ‘a macaronick, a confused heap or huddle of many severall things’ (Cot.), so named from macaroni, which was orig. a mixed mess, as described by Florio above. The name macaroni, according to Haydn, Dict. of Dates, was given to a poem by Theophilo Folengo (otherwise Merlinus Coccaius) in 1509; macaronic poetry is a kind of jumble, often written in a mixture of languages.



Monday, 6 December 2010

SEPHARDIC LEEK FRITTERS WITH MEAT (PRASSO-KEFTES / KUFTE de PRASSA)



Keftes in Greek means meat patty, and prasso-keftes is a meat patty into which leeks have been incorporated. The recipe I am using here makes a crunchy and juicy leek fritter, let me tell you! DELECTABLE!!! It's found in the book Sephardic Flavors - Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean.


The book is an exploration of Jewish culinary history in the Mediterranean region. Joyce Goldstein, the author, discusses how Sephardic Jews, who left Spain in the fifteenth century CE, adapted to the cuisines of their new homelands. There are Jewish recipes from Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and Greece. Myself being Greek, I focused mostly on the Greek recipes, and particularly on the one for leek fritters. These delectable meatballs are a favourite of the Sephardim, who make them in both vegetarian and meat versions.





The Jews of Greece are Sephardim, descendants of those who were forced out of Spain in 1492, as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. The word “Sephardim” is derived from "Sepharad," the Hebrew word for Spain. After 1492, a large number of Sephardim found refuge in the Greek city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), where they established a thriving community. Its pre-World War II population numbered approximately 56,000, making Thessaloniki the largest Sephardic centre in the world. Unfortunately, the Thessaloniki Sephardim suffered greatly in the Holocaust. From fifty-six thousand souls, only an approximate two thousand survived Auschwitz-Birkenau to return home. How were they able to rebuild their lives after so much suffering? It was an immense and continual struggle for each of them to pick up one by one the pieces of their lives and attempt to become whole.



My family, who are Thessaloniki natives, had developed friendships in the Sephardic community. One gentleman who was a close friend gave us one of his favourite recipes, leek fritters with meat, and we made it for him often. We too also loved those leek fritters! I remember them sitting on the kitchen counter, freshly cooked and aromatic. "Don't touch," my mother would say to me.  I had to wait my turn. Adults got served first, then children. I kept counting them as they were being plated, wondering how many would be left for me. 



Through the years that recipe for leek fritters was lost. Weren't we lucky to find this delectable version nestled among the pages of the cookbook "Sephardic Flavors?"

How to make leek fritters with meat:





Ingredients:

3 pounds leeks
3/4 pound ground beef
3 slices rustic bread, crusts removed, soaked in water, and squeezed dry. (The recipe allows substituting 2 mashed potatoes for the bread. I tried this, but to me, the fritters taste better with the bread)
2 eggs separated
3 tablespoons walnuts, ground up well in a food processor
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped well
2 shallots, chopped well
salt and pepper to taste
all-purpose flour for dredging
vegetable oil for frying
lemon wedges



Directions:
  • Clean the leeks well! Cut off the root end and most of the green part. Slice them lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Soak them in water to remove any leftover dirt, then drain them. 
  • Place them in a pot with salted water to cover, and simmer until the leeks are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain well.
  • In a bowl combine the leeks, ground beef, bread, egg yolks, walnuts, parsley, garlic and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and knead until the mixture holds together well.
  • Form them into balls about 2 inches in diameter, and then flatten them a bit.
  • Pour canola oil to a depth of 1 inch into a medium saucepan and heat the oil.
  • Meanwhile spread some flour on a plate, and in a bowl beat the egg whites until they get frothy (not stiff).
  • When the oil is hot, dip the meatballs in the flour and then in the egg whites. Add them to the oil in batches and fry them until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the fritters to paper towels and allow to drain.
  • Arrange on a platter and serve with lemon wedges.
  • Left Leftover fritters can be reheated in tomato sauce. Also, the bread crumbs and flour listed in the recipe can be substituted by matzoh meal.