Sunday, February 28, 2010

KOULOURAKIA for EASTER

Here is my second recipe for koulourakia. Although I make version #1 anytime, the version here is the one I favor at Easter time. It makes a larger quantity, and I find the flavours better suited to accompany tsoureki and all the other delicacies that abound at Greek Easter time. The dough is crunchy on the outside with a soft, crumbly interior, and the flavour is buttery. The addition of orange flavour is not overwhelming, one just gets a hint of the taste of orange. If you prefer a cookie with a more pronounced butter flavour, leave out the orange. This recipe makes approximately eighty cookies.

Ingredients:

250 grams/9 ounces unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
rind from one orange
1 cup warm lukewarm milk
1-kilo all-purpose flour 
3 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Egg wash, made by beating one egg with two tablespoons of milk. 
Sesame seeds for topping, but that's optional.


Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
  • In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth, then slowly add the sugar. Beat them together until light and fluffy. 
  • Continue to beat adding the eggs one at a time. 
  • Add the vanilla, orange extract and orange rind. 
  • Add the milk and mix. 
  • Change to the dough hook. Combine the baking powder, baking soda and one cup of flour and stir them into the butter mixture. 
  • Slowly add the rest of the flour. The mixture is ready when a dough has formed that doesn't stick to the sides of the bowl. 
  • Take pieces of the dough and form them into spheres of about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Doing this facilitates rolling out the dough into shapes. 
  • Roll each sphere into a rod shape and fold it in half, then twist the two halves together. This is the most popular shape, but there are others you can make: for example you can form an S and then roll in the ends as you see in the picture below.
Make a rod, fold in half, twist. Or, make an S shape and roll in the ends.

  • Place them on the cookie sheets and brush them with egg wash. This is the point where you decide if sesame seeds will decorate the cookies this year. If you lean toward the affirmative, sprinkle the seeds with a light touch. Don't overcoat the cookie with them. 
  • Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. They should have a light golden color. Not too brown.
  • Take out of the oven and let cool slightly. Remove them from the cookie sheets carefully, as koulourakia can be fragile. Stack them in layers inside cookie tins.
  • Koulourakia will keep for up to two months unless you have little mice in your house. I am referring to the two-legged variety of little mice that can open tins and take out handfuls of koulourakia to enjoy with a glass of milk. If you have those little mice, don't count on the cookies lasting as long as two months.
waiting for the cookie tins...

Friday, February 26, 2010

KOURABIEDES with PECANS


Kourabiedes are Greek cookies traditionally made with butter and almonds, then sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are served at weddings, and on holidays, and on any other occasion you want. Any time is a good time for a kourabies (grammatically speaking, kourabies is the singular form of the noun, and kourabiedes is the plural). Deviating a bit from tradition, I present you with a version of kourabiedes made with pecans. Pecans are native to south and central North America, therefore they are not used in traditional Greek cooking. However, good cooks like to experiment, and so pecan kourabiedes were created somewhere I imagine in the the southern USA. The recipe was given to me by my mother, who discovered it during one of her annual winter trips to Florida. Where ever my mother goes, you can bet there are recipe swaps happening. One day recently, mom and I made these together. Here is the recipe:



Ingredients:

1 lb unsalted butter, left to soften at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner's powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour (such as King Arthur - make sure the flour is not high gluten)
3 cups chopped pecans
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 cup Cointreau
more confectioner's powdered sugar, about two cups
Directions:
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • Shift the flour with the baking powder.
  • In your processor, beat the butter. The success of the kourabiedes depends on butter that is well beaten and fluffy. So keep beating, about 6 minutes.
  • Add the sugar and continue beating for a long time. About three weeks.
  • Add the vanilla extract, and keep beating, about another three weeks. Six weeks later...
  • Change to the dough hook and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing for two to three minutes until a soft dough is formed.
  • Add the pecans, and beat for another minute.
  • Form into small round balls as shown in the photograph, and place on baking sheets.

  • Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until pale golden. Let cool for ten minutes.
  • Sprinkle the cookies with the Cointreau. You can use another type of brandy if you like. I chose Cointreau because I like the orange flavor, and because I usually have it on hand. A good way of sprinkling whatever type of spirit you are going to use, is to pour it in a small spray bottle and then go at it.

  • Spread 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar on a large plate. Roll each cookie in the sugar, and place on a rack to cool. Do this with all the cookies, adding more sugar to the plate as necessary. Sift additional sugar on top of the cookies and let rest for 3 to 4 hours. Carefully pack the cookies in cookie boxes, spreading a piece of waxed paper between each layer. They should keep for about two months.

Monday, February 22, 2010

TARAMOSALATA with POTATOES

Sometimes taramosalata is made with potatoes. They replace bread, which is the more common ingredient used to dilute tarama. I don't know if this is a regional preference or just a recipe variation. Since tarama is often eaten during Lent, when there are many fasting restrictions, potatoes might have been added to make a more filling salad.
I have a particular fondness for this recipe, and it's slowly becoming my go to recipe for tarama.  It's lemony, with a mild tarama flavor, but if you like it stronger, you can add a little more tarama.  The taste of the potatoes is subtle, and it adds a little more complexity to the salad than bread does.  
Tarama made with potatoes reminds me of the following story, which my mother loves to tell: Once, when my parents were newly married, my mother made taramosalata with potatoes instead of bread. It was around Easter time, and relatives were coming for dinner. She was going to offer taramosalata made with potatoes as an appetizer. When my father tasted it, he hit the roof. He started yelling at her: "What have you done? Why did you put potatoes in the tarama? They'll be laughing at us!" He had never heard of that version of the recipe and he was very upset. His antics ruined my mother's confidence in the quality of the dishes she had prepared. Neither one of my parents was happy to see the company arrive. As it turned out the taramosalata was eaten with pleasure, and the guests complimented her cooking! I don't know what exactly, if anything, that little incident taught my father.  I know he kept his hot-temper, but I don't remember him criticizing my mother's cooking.
This tarama is based on a recipe I came across years ago, when it was published in the New York Times.  A great newspaper!!!


Ingredients:



  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1/4 of an onion, chopped
  • 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and chopped
  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, ground up
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) tarama
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:
  • Have ready your food processor fitted with its blade. Mix the onion, potatoes and almonds until they are finely incorporated and the mixture looks smooth.
Potatoes, almonds and tarama.  I didn't have a scale so I guessed as to how much a pound of potatoes was.  As it turned out, I used a little too much, but it wasn't a problem taste-wise.  
  • Add the tarama and keep mixing until it's blended.
  • Add the lemon juice, and mix.

  • While the processor is working add the vegetable oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the olive oil slowly, mixing constantly. Stop when the salad has the consistency of mayonnaise or of a mouse.
 The tarama straight out of the food processor.  As you can see it's thick and fluffy, with a mayonnaise-like texture.
  • Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
  • This should make about four cups, plenty for leftovers or to send home with guests.



What is Tarama?

What we purchase as bottled tarama is the salted and cured roe (or caviar) of carp fish. What is roe? That’s the ripe ovary and the masses of fish eggs it contains. Carp roe (or hard roe), is aged for about a year before it’s ready to be sold as tarama. Tarama is not eatable plain, and should be turned into taramosalata before eating. Taramosalata is made by adding bread, lemon juice and oil to a portion of tarama. The mixture should have a light orange color. The more it is diluted with bread and oil (or potatoes as is the case in the recipe here), the lighter its color becomes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

MUSSELS WITH RICE (for Clean Monday)

If it's mussels and rice for dinner, it must be Clean Monday. Why? Because Lent is here! For Greeks the first day of Lent is called Clean Monday. It's a day of fasting after a long weekend of celebrating carnival. Clean Monday begins the forty days of fasting and repentance that lead to Easter Sunday. In Greece it's a public holiday. Clean Monday is a day of personal reflection and a day of forgiveness and of cleansing one's conscience. It ushers in "Clean Week," when it's customary to go to confession and clean the house, sort of a spring cleaning of the soul and its surroundings. Since Clean Monday is a holiday, people plan outdoor excursions. Paper kites are flown as a way of celebrating the coming of spring. Food is of the fasting type. Meat, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Fish that contain bones are not allowed. Shellfish are consumed, as well as a type of unleavened flat bread called a lagana. A popular dish to have for dinner is mussels and rice. It's really delicious. Mussels and their broth are incorporated into the making of a rice pilaf. Yum! Here's how it's made:Ingredients:
2 ½ pounds of live, fresh, good mussels
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 sweet pepper, chopped
½ cup chopped scallions
2 cups long grain rice
salt and pepper
½ cup chopped parsley
Sliced lemons (optional)




Directions:
  1. Under cold running water wash and scrub the mussels really well. As you are washing them pull off their beards. If you find any mussels that have broken shells or that do not shut when you tap them, discard them.
  2. Place the mussels in a pot and pour water over them to cover. Cover the pot and cook over high heat for about five to eight minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard any mussels that have not opened while cooking. Remove most of the mussels from their shells and discard the shells. Leave some mussels in their shells to use for decorating the dish.
  4. Line a strainer with a coffee filter and carefully strain the cooking liquid into a large measuring cup. When done, add enough water to the cup to make three and a half cups. Discard the coffee filter which should have caught any sand that was still left in the liquid.
  5. Heat the three and a half cups of liquid in the microwave. You want it hot but not boiling. Set it aside while preparing the rice.
  6. Heat about half of the oil in a large pan. Add the onions, sweet pepper and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.
  7. Add the rice and cook stirring for about two minutes. Pour the liquid and the rest of the oil over the rice and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is soft and the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Stir in the parsley and scallions, then fold in the mussel meat and the mussels in their shells.
  9. Turn off the heat. Cover the pan with two paper towels and place the lid on top of the towels. Leave the pan on the stove for 5 to 10 minutes. This will make the rice fluffier. Discard the towels and serve. Offer lemon slices, as some people might want to squeeze lemon juice on their mussels.

TARAMOSALATA DIP or TARAMA SALAD

Here is recipe #2 for tarama. It comes courtesy of my mother's friend Litsa, who makes it often when she entertains. This recipe is diluted with a larger quantity of oil and bread, making it ideal to serve as a dip. It can be accompanied with crackers, toast, or sliced vegetables such as celery and cucumbers. Taramosalata can be served any time, but it's a favorite recipe to have during Lent.

Ingredients:
  1. 3 tablespoons tarama
  2. 2 cups canola oil or similar vegetable oil (not olive oil)
  3. 10 slices white bread, crusts removed
  4. 1/4 cup lemon juice

    Directions:
  • Immerse the bread in a bowl of cold water. When it is soaked, remove it and squeeze the bread thoroughly to get rid of excess water.
  • Place the tarama in the bowl of a food processor. Add the oil and start to blend. Continue blending until the tarama and oil are well mixed.
  • Add the bread, a bit at a time, while blending all the while. You will see that the tarama will begin to thicken.
  • Keep blending while adding the lemon juice. All the ingredients should be well incorporated. The tarama will be ready when it has the consistency of thick mayonnaise.

You can make your own toast rounds to serve as an accompaniment for tarama:
Ingredients:
  • 1 loaf French bread, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, parsley and butter. Brush this mixture onto each slice of the French bread.
  3. Place the bread slices on a pan and bake for 10 minutes. They should appear crisp and golden brown when ready.




What is Tarama?

Bottled tarama purchased from the supermarket
What we purchase as bottled tarama is the salted and cured roe of carp fish. What is roe? That’s the ripe ovary which contains masses of fish eggs. Carp roe (or hard roe), is aged for about a year before it’s ready to be sold as tarama. Tarama is not eatable plain, and should be turned into taramosalata before eating. Taramosalata is made by adding bread, lemon juice and oil to a portion of tarama. The mixture should have a light orange color. The more it is diluted with bread and oil, the lighter its color becomes.

PRASORIZO (Leeks with Rice)

The noble leek, a cousin to the lowbrow onion and to the even more common garlic, is native to the Middle East. Its cultivation and consumption spread to Europe courtesy of the Romans. It must have been the Romans who introduced the leek to the Welsh, and the rest was history. The leek became the national emblem of Wales. Could there be a greater honor for a vegetable? Consider that Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, was an inveterate eater of leeks. Do not laugh dear reader. Instead, eat some leeks. For as Shakespeare wrote in Henry V, "if you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek...it is good for your green wound and your ploody coxcomb."*
Pitifully, the Greeks, of which I am one, have not honored the leek to the extent that the Welsh have. However, Greeks have found delightful ways in which to cook leeks. Leeks are plentiful in winter. They are tolerant of cold weather and can be harvested even when temperatures drop near 0° C. So the winter months find us Greeks using leeks in lots of recipes. One of the simplest to make is prasorizo, which means leeks and rice. Believe me, it's delicious!




Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs leeks
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Clean and prepare the leeks for cooking. Cut off the root end and discard the rough green leaves. Save the white and light green part of the leek. Cut it in half lenghwise, and rinse each half several times under cold running water. This method ensures that the soil and sand that has remained between the leaves is washed off. Drain and cut the leeks into one inch pieces.



In a heavy pot heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and garlic. Cook about five minutes, stirring, until the onions are translucent.



Add the leeks and stir well, saute for about two minutes, add the chicken broth, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 35 minutes. The leeks should be covered with liquid during cooking. If necessary add more chicken broth, or add water if you prefer. After about 35 minutes, stir in the rice, parsley, dill, and lemon juice.



Cook for about 30 minutes more, until the rice is done and the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve while still hot, and offer lemon wedges for those who wish to use more lemon juice. Better yet, you can garnish each plate of prasoriso with lemon slices.

*Note: "good for your... ploody coxcomb," meaning: ploody = mispronunciation of bloody, and coxcomb = a type of hat: therefore, "good for your... bloody hat," referring to the Welsh custom of pinning a leek on hats to celebrate St. David's Day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

TARAMA SALAD (Taramosalata)



I was young and just learning the ropes around the kitchen. A holiday was coming, and we were to have a big gathering for dinner. I wanted to have something special to accompany our meal so I decided to make a taramosalata, my first effort at making the famous Greek appetizer. This was many, many years ago, when Greek cookbooks were difficult to find at the bookstore, and when no one had even heard of the Internet. Can you imagine such a time? Anyway, I knew that Craig Claiborne had a recipe for tarama in his tome "The New York Times Cook Book." I followed his recipe and the results were wonderful. To my mind this was and is the quintessential recipe for tarama. It's tangy, the olive oil gives it a great aroma, and the taste is as close to perfect as you can get. It reminds me of the tarama we order during Greek summer vacations, when we descend ravenous at seaside Greek tavernas after a day of sun and sand and swimming. Here is Craig's recipe, with only one alteration by me: I've added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice.




Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons bottled tarama (carp roe)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 slices white bread, crusts trimmed
  • ¾ cup olive oil or equal portions of olive and salad oil
  • ¼ of an onion, finely grated
  • 2 scallions, mostly white parts, well chopped 
Directions:

  • Place the tarama and the lemon juice in the food processor and blend until thoroughly mixed.
  • Meanwhile, soak the bread slices in cold water, not for very long, about half a minute. Remove them and squeeze the bread thoroughly.
  • Break the bread into the mixture. Mix until thoroughly blended.
  • Add the oil gradually. Keep blending until all the oil is incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of thick mayonnaise. 
  • Stir in the grated onion and scallions.
  • Place on a serving dish and decorate with Kalamata olives  and a few Salonika peppers (these peppers are very similar to pepperoncini). A nice accompaniment would be some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers.  Serve as an appetizer with toast or pita bread.

Bottled tarama purchased at the supermarket
What we purchase as bottled tarama is the salted and cured roe of carp fish. What is roe? That’s the ripe ovary which contains masses of fish eggs. Carp roe (or hard roe), is aged for about a year before it’s ready to be sold as tarama. Tarama is not eatable plain, and should be turned into taramosalata before eating. Taramosalata is made by adding bread, lemon juice and oil to a portion of tarama. The mixture should have a light orange color. The more it is diluted with bread and oil, the lighter its color becomes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SPANAKOPITA


Spanakopita is a savory pie, well known to Greeks and non-Greeks alike. It's made with spinach, scallions, aromatic parsley and dill, and a generous amount of the ubiquitous feta cheese. These ingredients are mixed together and are spread between layers of phyllo dough. The spanakopita is then baked, and it can be eaten hot or cold. Store it in the refrigerator for one or two days, three if you must, but keep in mind that phyllo tends to get soggy, so its storage life should be short. In most homes, this happens by default, since no one can resist sneaking to the fridge for one more pieces of spanakopita.
Before we go ahead with the recipe, some words about phyllo dough. Phyllo (фύλλο), means leaf in Greek. That describes this dough perfectly: several fragile sheets packaged together, resembling thin, transparent leaves.
  • There are two types of phyllo: store bought and homemade.
  • The homemade type is not difficult to make. If one can bake bread, one can become accomplished at making phyllo. It takes a bit of practice and a bit of patience, but the result is worth it. Homemade has a better flavor than store bought, and it has a denser, thicker texture, which is more desirable for savory pies.
  • The commercial variety is also very good, and very, very convenient, thus widely used. It is sold in one pound packages and is available in different thicknesses.
  • Phyllo sheets measure 18" x 14" but can be cut with kitchen shears as required to fit the recipe or pan. Phyllo can be bought fresh or frozen. Either variety is good, but make sure that you check the expiration date.
Phyllo can be cut with kitchen shears to fit the pan.
  • The thin variety of phyllo, usually labeled #4, is meant to be used for pastries such as baklava. Each 1 pound box contains approximately 24 sheets.
  • The thicker variety sometimes referred to as "country phyllo" contains about eight sheets per 1 pound box, and is more suited for savory, cheese, and vegetable filled pies.


  • If you're going to make baklava, use the #4 phyllo. If you're making spanakopita, do yourself a favor and look for the thicker variety. If your supermarket does not carry thick phyllo, visit a Greek or Middle Eastern market. There will be plenty of it there. (If in a pinch, the thinner variety can be used. Layer 8 sheets on the bottom, 4 in the middle, six on top, and don't forget to brush each sheet with oil).
  • As you are working with phyllo, keep it covered with a clean kitchen towel to keep it moist. It dries out very quickly and then becomes brittle, thus unusable. Remove one sheet at a time and cover the remainder.
  • Do not worry if you tear a piece of phyllo by mistake. You can patch pieces together to use in the middle layer of your pastry or pie. This will not show in the final product.
    Here is a torn piece of phyllo that will be patched with another piece to make a complete layer. Next step will be to oil the top and then layer more phyllo over it.
  • No matter what thickness or shape you are using, each piece of phyllo must be brushed with oil or butter as it is layered. This keeps the sheets separated, giving you a fluffy, airy, baked product. (Sometimes cooking spray oil is used, however, this method is not one with which I am accustomed).


Ingredients:


  1. 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well.
  2. 1/4 cup of olive oil
  3. 3/4 cup of finely chopped fresh dill
  4. 1 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley
  5. 1 red onion, chopped
  6. 5 scallions, chopped
  7. 2 shallots, chopped
  8. 1 leek, well rinsed and chopped, white and light green parts
  9. 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  10. 3/4 pound of feta cheese
  11. 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  12. 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, divided
  13. 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  14. 1 egg
  15. 2 teaspoons salt
  16. 1 teaspoon pepper
  17. 1 pound package of thick phyllo pastry sheets (# 10), defrosted as per package directions if purchased frozen.
  18. 1/2 cup oil, combination of olive and canola, to brush pan and phyllo. You will also need a pastry brush to do the job.

Directions:


  • In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, sauté the leeks, shallots, scallions and garlic until they soften, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon.
  • Add the dill, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the spinach, stir and cook about ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Transfer to a colander and set aside to drain for at least 3-4 hours (or overnight, covered, in the refrigerator).
  • Bring the packaged phyllo dough to room temperature.
  • Remove the spinach mixture from the colander and place in a bowl.
  • Beat the egg with a fork and add to the spinach mixture. Toss well to combine.

  • Rinse the feta under cold water and break it into small pieces using a fork. Add to spinach and egg mixture. Add the ricotta cheese and two tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese. Toss well to distribute evenly.

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom and sides of a deep baking pan lightly with oil (the pan can be round, square, or rectangular).
  • Layer 3 of the phyllo sheets on the bottom, brushing each sheet with the olive oil.


  • Spoon half the spinach mixture on top of the sheets and spread evenly. Sprinkle a few breadcrumbs over the spinach. These will absorb any excess water left in the spinach.

  • Layer one phyllo leaf on top of the breadcrumbs. Brush it with oil and then sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese over it. Layer another phyllo leaf on top of that, and again brush with oil.


  • Spoon the rest of the spinach mixture on top, and spread evenly. Again sprinkle some bread crumbs over the spinach.
  • Layer the remaining phyllo sheets on top, again brushing each sheet with oil. Overlapping phyllo can be trimmed with kitchen shears and folded in.


  • Brush the top of the spanakopita lightly and evenly with oil and sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Score into serving-size squares, cutting through to the bottom. Sprinkling the top with cheese is optional, but you must brush with oil!


  • Bake in the center of the oven at 350°F for 45 minutes or until golden brown. When done, remove from the oven and allow to cool 20 minutes before serving.