Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SKORDALIA DIP WITH CAPERS AND ALMONDS



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, and garlic, and some garlic. My stomach likes for me to tone down the amount of garlic I use in skordalia. You can can use as much or as little as you like. It all depends on personal preference and social engagements. The recipe here is trully delicious (I mean it), and is based on the one found in the cookbook "The Foods of Greece," by Aglaia Kremezi.


Ingredients:

2 cups cubed day-old whole-wheat bread, soaked in water until softened
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained, 1 tablespoon reserved 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 salt and pepper to taste



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 do this in the food processor, or the potato will become 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.

SALT COD FRITTERS (BACALIARO)


I think mom wins. The bacaliaro fritters in the picture above were made by my mother. In the picture below you can see the ones I made.


It was my mother's idea to add some baking powder to the batter, something which made the fritters fluffier and lighter. That made all the difference, and so she won, hands down. After all mom has more experience in the kitchen. Mine didn't taste that bad. They were good. They just didn't have that something extra.

These are mom's, and they have that "something extra."

Anyway, 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 that 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.
Salt cod for sale at the grocer's
In Greece, salt cod is usually fried and served with an accompaniment of skordalia. There are various recipes for skordalia, and I have some posted on this blog. Recently, I made salt cod fritters (for the first time), and I served them with a skordalia made with potatoes, capers and almonds. The whole meal was very enjoyable, very traditional, and thanks to the skordalia, very garlicky!



Not to be outdone, my mother made her version of bacaliaro fritters a few days latter, insisting her recipe was better. Darn if she wasn't right. The recipe included here is mom's.

Ingredients:

1 & 1/2 pounds boneless, dry salted cod
8 ounces of beer
1 cup all-purpose flour
about 2 or 3 cups canola oil, for frying
ground black pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
a dash of paprika (optional)


This was my first time ever making salt cod fritters. They were good, but... if I had flattened them more before frying, they would have cooked more evenly.


Directions:
  • Rinse the excess salt from the cod. Place it in a large bowl, and cover it with cold water by several inches. Soak, refrigerated, for 24 hours, changing the water every 6 to 8 hours. Drain for the last time and pat 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.
  • In a small bowl add the beer and 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 mold the fish into flattened balls about 2 inches in diameter. Carefully slip them 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 (recipe is here).

Tuesday, December 21, 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 into the mix, 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& 1/4 cups oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2& 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup brandy
1& 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
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 two 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.


Here is a picture of melomakarona taken by a professional photographer. They rest on a counter in a Greek bakery, and they are so much more photogenic than mine. They were made by a professional baker, who is also much better at shaping these cookies than I am. Melomakarona should be a perfect, perfect oval. (I found this picture on the inernet at http://vlahatasamis.blogspot.com/ ).

Friday, December 17, 2010

LEEK AND POTATO SOUP with FENNEL


On a recent visit to the vegetable market I found some very nice looking leeks. Nice unwrinkled white stalks with bright green stems, fresh looking, just begging to be sold. So I bought a few, even though they were not on my list, and I figured that I would find something to make with them when I got home. No problem there. Leek and potato soup just happened to be on the December list of recipes to be made for French Fridays with Dorie. I had a project, the leeks had a purpose, and all was right in my kitchen.


I have to tell you that I love leek and potato soup, I make it often and I have a very nice recipe of my own, which by the way is posted here. But, why not I thought, try Dorie Greenspan's recipe, from her cookbook "Around My French Table." Just for comparison.



Dorie's recipe contains the usual ingredients such as onions, garlic, broth, milk, and of course, leeks and potatoes. It's seasoned with thyme and sage, and Dorie recommends to add fennel or spinach to the broth, and to top the soup with croutons, or truffle oil, or grated cheese. Very nice suggestions

I started off by cleaning the leeks well. I cut off the root ends and discarded the rough green leaves. I kept the white and light green parts of the leeks. I Cut them in half lenghwise, and rinsed each half several times under cold running water. This ensured that any soil that had remained between the leaves was washed off. Leeks need a good washing because during farming, in order to keep them white, soil is mounded high up on their stalks. The result of this practice is that dirt seeps down between the leaves. Therefore, leeks always need an extra "rinse cycle."

After my leeks were chopped and ready to use, I heated up some olive oil, into which I sauteed one chopped Spanish onion, the leeks, a quarter of a fennel bulb, and a generous amount of garlic.  Then, I added all the other ingredients: potatoes, lots of thyme, sage and parsley, a hint of chopped spinach, broth, and milk. Once this milky concoction came to a boil, I lowered the heat and the vegetables cooked until they were soft, about 45 minutes. Here's what my soup looked like:  

The next step was to puree the soup.  After that was done, the soup was ready to eat.  Preparing the soup was very easy. Very little labor involved. I boosted the flavor of the original recipe by adding more garlic and herbs.      As for the topping, we had a little bacon loitering about, so I put it to use by cooking it and throwing it in the soup. That was a one time thing though. The best topping for this soup is some grated cheese and a few croutons!

Monday, December 6, 2010

LEEK FRITTERS WITH MEAT (PRASSO-KEFTES)


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!  It's based on one found in the book Sephardic Flavors - Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean, which I recently purchased from Amazon.com


The book is an exploration of Jewish culinary history in the Mediterranean area. Joyce Goldstein, the author, tells the story of how the Sephardic Jews adapted to the cuisines of their new homelands. It's a book full of historical information and unique recipes of the Jews of 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 favorite of the Sephardim, who make them in both vegetarian and meat versions.



For the most part, the Jews of Greece are Sephardim. Sephardim or Sephardic Jews are descendants of Jews 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 Salonika, where they established a thriving community. Its pre-World War II Jewish population numbered 56,000, which made Salonika the largest Sephardic center in the world. Unfortunately, the Sephardim suffered greatly in the Holocaust. Only 2,000 of these Jews survived Auschwitz-Birkenau to return to Salonika. How were those people able to rebuild their lives after having survived such a tragic period of grief and destruction? It must have been a herculean task for each and every one of them to pick up one by one the pieces of their lives and to try to become whole again.



The White Tower in Salonika (formally known as Thessaloniki), near which was located one of the three Jewish quarters of the town.
My family, who are Salonika natives, had developed friendships in the Sephardic community. I remember one gentleman in particular, a bachelor, who was a close friend. He gave us one of his favorite recipes, leek fritters with meat, and we made it for him often, especially around such Jewish holidays as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. We too 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 we unfortunately lost our recipe for leek fritters.  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 to substitute 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
2 cloves garlic, chopped well
2 shallots, chopped well
salt and pepper to taste
all purpose flour for dredging
canola oil for frying
lemon wedges

Directions:
  • Clean the leeks well, cut off the root end and most of the green part. Cut them lenghwise and then crosswise in 1/2 inch pieces. Soak them in water to remove any left over dirt, then drain them. Put them in a pot with salted water to cover, and then simmer until the leeks are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain them very 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 them to paper towels to drain.
  • Arrange them on a platter and serve them with lemon wedges.
  • Left over leek fritters can be reheated in tomato sauce. Also, the bread crumbs and flour listed in the recipe can be substituted by matzoh meal.