Monday, March 26, 2012

GREEK LENTIL SOUP (Fakés Soupa, Φακές Σούπα)

I have been trying to get around to making Greek lentil soup for a month now. Today was the day.  I added lots of soup vegetables to compliment the lentils. I used parsnip and leeks which are not found in traditional versions of Greek lentil soup, but why not amplify its flavor a bit?  The amount of tomato used depends on the cook.  If you like a really strong lentil flavor, cut down on some of the tomatoes and tomato paste.  If you like tomatoes, use them. The important thing is that anyway it's cooked, lentil soup is always fragrant and tastes oh so good. Lentils are very high in protein, dietary fiber, thiamine and iron.  They are a very healthy food.  Be sure to always soak lentils before cooking.  An hour or maybe two is good.  Soaking not only makes them softer for cooking, but also increases their nutritional potency. 


2 cups green lentils
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, divided, chopped
2 leeks, washed very well, white and light green parts, chopped
4 or 5 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, chopped…I love smashing garlic!
6 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots chopped
2 medium size tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
optional - 1 parsnip, chopped very thinly, or better yet, grated 
4 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons tomato paste, depending on how "red" you want the soup
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (well, I may have used a little more) 
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano  
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or filtered water, plus additional liquid  as needed
optional - vinegar to be served on the side 
optional - some grated Pecorino Romano cheese such as "Locatelli," to top the soup, if you're like me and do not like vinegar 

Lots of vegetables in this soup...  More than you see in the picture...

  • Pick over the lentils to make sure there are no small rocks or other debris mixed in.  Rinse them and place them in a large bowl.  Cover them with water.  Let them sit in the water for about one hour.  Drain and reserve for use in the soup.  You'll notice that as the lentils soak and absorb water they will start to turn greener than they were in their dry state.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large heavy Dutch oven and sauté one of the onions, the leeks, and the garlic for 10 minutes.  (You may think we are using a lot of leeks and onions, but you'll see that they will decrease in volume as they are being  sautéed). Turn off the heat. 
  • Add the other onion, the celery, parsnip, tomatoes, carrots, thyme, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley.  Mix well
  • Add the lentils (drained), and mix well.  
  • Add the 6 cups of stock, the tomato paste, and the bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper, turn on the heat and bring to a boil.  
  • Cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour.  If the heat is on low and you are using a heavy Dutch oven, you don't even need to lift the lid and stir the soup.  Just let it simmer and perfume the house with its beautiful aroma!
  • After an hour check on the soup, give it a good stir and add the oregano. Taste it and season with more salt and pepper if needed. It will probably need to cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.
  • At the end of the cooking time add the rest of the parsley.  You may need to add more stock or some water to bring the soup to the consistency that you prefer.
I served it with toasted olive fougasse bread.  It was bakery bought and  excellent!
  • Serve the lentil soup hot.  Offer some vinegar at the table because it's a tradition to top the soup with vinegar.   In our house there are two camps:  pro lentils with vinegar and anti lentils with vinegar. I belong to the latter camp.  I don't care for vinegar, but I do love cheese, so I top my soup with a little grated Parmesan.  That's not traditional, but... hey, this is my recipe!.  
  • I made a simple salad to go with the lentils:
  • One English cucumber peeled and sliced, half a red onion, and some olives.  Place in a bowl and mix.  I mixed it so well, that the olives can't be seen in the picture!  Trust me, they are in there.
  • Top with feta cheese cut into chunks and season with olive oil, your favorite vinegar (or use lemon juice or a combination of the two), black pepper and oregano.  No salt in this salad, since there is salt in the feta cheese and the olives.  
This was a great Sunday dinner which all of us enjoyed. After dinner we each tasted some spanakopita which my mother and a friend had made earlier.  They prepared homemade phyllo dough, which was spectacular. Thin and crunchy.  I should have taken pictures, why didn't I take pictures?  They made three and a half batches.  The three pitas will be frozen and cooked for Easter, and the small pita was baked and shared between us.  I'm having some spanakopita for breakfast tomorrow, and more lentil soup for dinner.  Lovely!

I am linking this post to Souper Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen. Every Sunday, Deb, from “Kahakai Kitchen” has a round up of contributed posts featuring recipes of soup, salad or sandwiches.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


This fruit salad which I served as dessert was a big hit at my house!  If you're looking for a quick dessert, this is it: fresh, healthy, sweet, delicious! Everyone had seconds.  There was only a small portion left, and it got polished off the next day for breakfast.  Here's how to make Tropical Fruit Salad:


1 pineapple, peeled, cored and sliced into chunks
1 mango, peeled and sliced into chunks
1/4 cantaloupe, peeled and sliced into chunks
3 kiwis, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 pound of strawberries, hulled and cut in half if they are too large
2 bananas, sliced
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons honey, or use a vegan substitute
1/2 cup sweetened coconut,
1/2 cup dates, pitted and cut in pieces


  • In a large bowl combine all the pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe.  This is the base. 
  • Mix the strawberries and kiwis and add on top of the base.  
  • Cover and refrigerate the bowl if you want to make the fruit salad ahead of time for company.  
  • Right before serving, slice the bananas and add. You want to add the bananas at the last minute, otherwise they will become mushy and start to get discolored.  
  • Carefully fold in the dates, lemon juice, honey, and coconut.  
  • Guess what?  That's it!  You're done!  Serve and enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I've read a considerable amount about Sri Lankan cooking and Sri Lankan ingredients. I feel comfortable enough to call this recipe my own, although I borrowed ideas from about a dozen sources. However, the final combinations are mine, and I am so happy I was able to do this. I loved the way it tasted. The key here is not to overcook the vegetables. 

When having dinner, Sri Lankans set the table with a variety of dishes that range from mild to really spicy. Usually, vegetable curries are mild but they do provide an another type of heat; the combination of spices tends to raise the body's metabolism. Vegetable and Cashew Curry is a nice accompaniment to Aromatic Sri Lankan Rice. Or vice versa. 


3 tablespoons avocado oil
5 curry leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped well
1/8 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 cup water or vegetable broth

1/3 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup cashew nuts
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

2 carrots, cut up
1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets 
1 cup of frozen peas (or fresh peas if available)

1 red onion, chopped

Sri Lankan Garam Masala; What follows is a basic combination. Sri Lankan Garam Masala is not roasted so it can be prepared on the spot, no need to make it way ahead of time (unless you want to): 
1 stick of cinnamon, cut into about 4 pieces, a few ground up black peppercorns, 1 ground up clove, 1 ground cardamon pod

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped, or use Italian parsley (sorry) if you are (as I am) allergic to cilantro (for life). 
Juice of one lime
Rind from one lime

  • In a medium saucepan add about one tablespoon oil and saute the curry leaves, garlic and mustard seeds. Sauté until the mustard seeds begin to pop.  
  • Add the water or vegetable broth, coconut milk, turmeric, and cashews. Mix and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes until the cashews are soft. 
  • Add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook until it starts to soften. Last, but not least, add the peas; they will not require a long cooking time.
  • Don't overcook the vegetables. Remove from the heat.  
  • Meanwhile, as the vegetables are cooking, get a large saucepan and add the rest of the oil to it. Place it over a medium-high heat, and when the oil gets hot add the onions. Sauté, mixing occasionally, until the onions are soft.
  • Add some all or all of the Sri Lankan Garam Masala.  
  • Add the cauliflower mixture and shake to combine. 
  • Add the cilantro (or parsley), lime rind and lime juice, and fold gently. 
  • Ready!!!

Monday, March 19, 2012


This Sri Lankan Aromatic Rice is one of the best rice dishes I have ever made or tasted! Highly recommended! It is truly fragrant, and truly delicious. The stars of the dish are, I think, the coconut milk and the curry leaves. These two ingredients are also the stars of Sri Lankan cuisine. They are used in most dishes and contribute excellent flavours.

 A curry tree with its beautiful leaves.  The area around these trees must be really fragrant!  Will I ever visit? (picture from Wikipedia).

Curry leaves should not be confused with curry powder. Curry leaves grow on curry trees and are used as an ingredient in curries. Their flavour is unique and citrusy, a little bit reminiscent of limes. Some people say one can substitute bay leaves for them, but I don't think the tastes are even close.  

Curry leaves are available in Indian markets. Since I live in one of Philadelphia's western suburbs, I visit the nearby township of Upper Darby and buy my curry leaves at a very nice shop called "Indian Super Market and Grocery." It's located on Market Street, near the 69th Street Terminal. 

Let me digress for a minute: Below I have some pictures of historical 69th Street!

That's a newer pedestrian walkway bridge at 69th street, and behind it is the McClatchy building, built in 1926. This building is the cornerstone to a large open shopping area built around the same time; It was the first shopping area of its kind in the US.

A very fine example of art deco architecture: another view of the McClatchy building.  

The 69th street terminal when it was first constructed in 1908.  It was known as the gateway to Philadelphia's western suburbs, which saw a great surge in development after the terminal was built.  The Philadelphia El, or Elevated Railway, the interurbans, trolleys and streetcars all passed by here. The nearby shopping area was a convenient stop for those passengers changing trains. Today most all trolley routes are gone. Only two remain: 69th Street to Media, Pa, and 69th Street to Norristown, PA. The El also remains. Buses are abundant. The facade of the Terminal looks the same but the interior has been renovated. The trolley tracks seen in the foreground have been removed. 

If you don't live near an area where you can find an Indian supermarket, do an internet search. I found a nice site with very reasonable prices that will ship spices and curry leaves from Hawaii. 


2 cups white basmati rice
10 curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick, cut in half
5 cloves
1 onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
4 tablespoons avocado oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup of coconut milk
5 cups water 

a few cashews and some peas for decoration


Tear up some of the curry leaves. During cooking this will readily release their oils, allowing them to better perfume the rice. 

Place the rice in a strainer and wash it well. Allow it to drain for about 20 minutes so that it can dry. While the rice is draining prepare the mise en place. 

In a large pot heat the oil and add the curry leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves. Cook for about a minute until fragrant.

Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes. 

Add the rice, turmeric and cardamom.

Sauté for about 3-4 minutes until the rice turns opaque in colour. Stir frequently so that it does not burn but rather has a chance to become toasted. 

Add the water and coconut milk, bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat to simmer.

Cook until the liquid evaporates and the rice is soft. 

Near the end of cooking I added a few cashews, and later I added just a few peas 
for decoration.

You may need to adjust the amount of liquid that used. It all depends on the rice, I suppose. Taste it and make sure it's soft. You don't want a crunchy rice, so if it's still crunchy keep adding liquid. Also, make sure your heat is on medium. Not too high, not too low.

When done, fish out the cinnamon stick pieces and the cloves if you can find them. Or, you may decide to leave them in and to eat your way around them, because they look kind of pretty and decorative in the rice. 

This rice will serve about six hungry people. You can serve it just as is, or garnish it further with some cashew nuts, sautéed onions, and peas. In my case, I chose to serve it with a Vegetable and Cashew Curry.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


This is my contribution to Novel Food, a quarterly literary/culinary event hosted by Simone from Briciole.  We prepare a dish of our choosing that has a connection to a published literary work, and then we publish a post about it.  Show the food, talk about what we have read.  Simple as that.  Well, I went outside of my comfort zone this time.  No, not where the reading was concerned.  I read Michael Ondaatje’s beautiful novel “The Cat’s Table,” a subtly powerful work conveyed in language that reached into the core of me and will remain there from now on.  
Michael Ondaatje 
The author, made famous when he published “The English Patient,” is a native of Sri Lanka.  So I thought I would try to cook a few dishes that are eaten in Sri Lanka.  Never tasted nor cooked the stuff before.  I went on a culinary adventure, outside my comfort zone, and I am glad I did.  I learned quite a bit about southern Indian cuisine and cooking ingredients.

“The Cat’s Table” is about an 11-year-old boy, “green as he could be about the world,” who takes an indelible sea voyage in the early 1950s.  If the captain's table is the place to sit on a sea voyage, then Ondaatje's cat's table is just the opposite: one of the least privileged dining assignments aboard the cruise ship Oronsay.  The table is populated by an assortment of eccentric characters, and the invisibility that the cat's table bestows upon them allows them to behave more or less as they wish. The ship is sailing from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to England, a twenty one day journey by way of the Suez Canal. Among the nine passengers at the cat's table sit three dissimilar boys sailing toward a reunion with parents they have not seen in years.  The young "Mynah" or Michael, is the narrator, Cassius, is a seemingly tough guy, and Ramadhin, is a frail and thoughtful type.  The three become fast friends and join together to form a feral group that becomes the terror of the ship. They seem to be everywhere; they can be found having breakfast in a lifeboat or wandering around the furnace rooms.  Somehow they know everything that goes on in the ship, and they slip in and out of adventures and dangerous situations.  They snoop, they eavesdrop, and whatever they cannot understand because they are young they store in their imagination and allow it to come to fruition there.  What they see and learn on the Oronsay shapes their adult lives. The Cat's table is a novel of painful journeys and passages:  Away from childhood into an adult world, and away from home into a strange country.  Highly recommended!
I made three dishes to celebrate this wonderful novel, and they are as follows:

All these recipes appear in separate posts.  Just follow the links!

Friday, March 16, 2012


Do you like green eggs and ham?  If you do, I have the perfect green egg salad for you.  It turns green when avocado is mixed in the recipe. I started eating avocados after I had gastric bypass surgery.  Their texture is smooth and they are easy on the stomach, so they have become good friends of mine. Almost two months after surgery I still have avocado about twice per week.  The other day I mixed half an avocado with an egg and a little light mayonnaise.  It tasted pretty good, so I got the idea of combining the ingredients to make a salad.  Below you'll find the recipe I came up with.  I ate an avocado and egg salad sandwich for dinner, plus I had leftovers!  While I was eating, I pulled off the top layer of bread because I could tell I was becoming full.  I ate about 3/4 of the sandwich.  My dogs, 2 bichons named Linus and Kelly, were kind enough to scarf up what I couldn't eat.  Aren't they darlings?  
Now you might say that the salad looks like guacamole, but it doesn't taste like it.  It has it's own unique taste.  Mild.  There is no garlic, there are no spices.  Also, because of the eggs, the salad is high in protein. Post gastric bypass patients must have a high protein intake.  This salad fits the bill!  Other types of protein I eat are chicken, fish, turkey, and legumes.  So far I can't tolerate red meat.  I tried it once, a month post surgery, and I felt as though I had swallowed a pound of led.  Relief came when I became nauseous and threw up. That's the dumping syndrome.  However, my green egg and avocado salad is tasty, mild, and can be had as a sandwich or it can be scooped on a bed of lettuce leaves and enjoyed that way.  There's enough to make 4 sandwiches.

Nutrition: Avocados are very high in potassium, vitamin E and fiber.  Studies show they can lower blood cholesterol in both LDL and triglyceride levels.  Currently, avocados are under research for potential anti-cancer activity. 

3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs 
about 2 tablespoons light mayonnaise 
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard 
2 tablespoons lemon juice 
1 stalk celery, chopped 
2 scallions, chopped, white and lite green parts only
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and chopped 
1 ripe avocado, chopped 
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon dill, chopped
salt and pepper to taste 
Romaine lettuce and tomato slices 
Whole wheat bread slices, which are my favorite, or use your own favorite, toasted if you like 

In a large bowl mash the eggs and fold in the avocado, celery, scallion, dill and parsley. 
Stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. 
Toast the bread slices and then top half of them with egg/avocado salad. 

Add the lettuce and tomato and top with the rest of the bread.  That's it!  Enjoy it!!!

I am linking this post to Souper Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen.
Every Sunday, Deb, from "Kahakai Kitchen"  has a round up of contributed posts featuring recipes of soup, salad or sandwiches.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

EGGPLANT TURNOVERS – Bourekas de berengena or Borekitas de meredjena

Before we get on with the recipe, why not enjoy a special treat? Keep reading my darlings...
Today is March 15. Which means that...
It's the IDES OF MARCH today!!!
Let's take a few minutes to commemorate this very important day! First, we'll read a few lines from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," and then we'll listen to a lovely song.

Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Beware the ides of March.

What man is that?

A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March."

Yes, it's the ides of March, today!  A day made famous by the "bard of Stratford-upon-Avon."  Why not spend the day brushing up on your Shakespeare?  "Start quoting him now! Brush up your Shakespeare, and they'll all kow-tow! Forsooth!!!"

And now, for the cooking part of today's post:

I am a native of Thessaloniki Greece, as some of you who read this blog may know.  That’s why I was interested in this recipe for eggplant turnovers or bourekas.  They are a specialty of the Sephardic community of Thessaloniki, and anything Thessaloniki related intrigues me!  

Recently I was doing a Greek web search for appetizer recipes, and I came upon a post which announced the publication of a Sephardic cook book (written in Greek), titled “Tastes from Sephardic Thessaloniki, Recipes of the Jews of Thessaloniki,” by Nina Benroubi, published in 2002.  The author shared this bourekas recipe, which includes eggplant, a vegetable that she characterized as the “star” of Sephardic cooking. 

There was other information in the post as well, and I’ve translated some of it so that I can include it here.  The Sephardic Jews moved to Thessaloniki in the 15th century, after they were expelled from the Iberian peninsula.  With them they brought a plethora of knowledge that had up to then eluded Ottoman held lands, such as was Greece.  (The Ottoman Turks were never interested in intellectual pursuits, and under their authoritarian rule progress was stifled. This led to the exodus of learned Greeks, who fled westward and were responsible for the flowering of the Renaissance).  The Jews brought with them to Greece knowledge in textile making, printing, medicine, and map making among other things. Soon they breathed new life into the city of Thessaloniki. The Sephardic community developed to such a degree that Thessaloniki was referred to as “Madre de Israel.” The Jews flourished there until World War II and the German occupation, when sadly, 96.5% of them perished. 

Here are some characteristics of Sephardic cuisine: a limited use of spices, a total absence of garlic, a coating of ingredients with egg before frying, and preparation of dough in hot water and oil.  It’s a Mediterranean cuisine, with Greek, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and Ottoman influences (the word bourekas has its roots in the Ottoman language, where it means pastries). All these facts combine to provide one of the more interesting chapters in gastronomic history.

I made the dough as per instructions, by adding the flour in hot water and oil. The final result was fantastic.  The dough was supple and smooth and soft. Lovely!  It didn't disappoint after it was cooked.  A great tasting dough, that can be used with many different fillings. Below I include the recipe for these bourekas. In English.  Translated and cooked to perfection.  By the way, in Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews, the name of this recipe is Borekitas de meredjéna.  

For the dough:
½ cup canola oil
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup water
3 to 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 ounces Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 egg yolk beaten with a small quantity of water, to use as eggwash
Sesame seeds for topping
  • Place a medium pot over low heat and add the oil, water and butter.  Leave on the heat, mixing occasionally until the ingredients are warm and the butter has melted.  Mix in the sugar and salt.
  • Turn off the heat and gradually stir in one cup of the flour.  Mix in the yogurt and then gradually add the rest of the flour to make a soft, slightly greasy dough. Mix only until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.  Do not over-mix. Gather the dough into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap.  Initially I used a fork for mixing, and then, as more flour was added, I let my hands take over.
  • Let the dough rest while preparing the filling.

Make the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggplants
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
¾ cups feta cheese
¼ cup ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
about a tablespoon of breadcrumbs(optional)

  • Place the eggplants on a sheet pan and roast them at 400°F for 30-40 minutes, or until their flesh is soft.  Cut them open and scrape out the flesh, then place it in a colander.  Squeeze the eggplant flesh with your hands to press out as much excess liquid as possible.
  • Chop the eggplant into small pieces and put it into a bowl. 
  • Sauté the onions in the olive oil until they are very soft.  Add them to the eggplant, leaving behind any oil that has not cooked off.  Add the parsley, the salt and pepper, and mix.
  • Add the cheeses and the egg.  Mix everything really well.
  • If the filling is too moist, mix in a few breadcrumbs so that they can absorb the moisture.
 To assemble:
  • Tear small pieces from the dough and roll them into balls, each the size of a walnut. Roll each ball into a circular shape 3 inches in diameter. No need to use flour when rolling out the dough.    
  • Place a tablespoon of filling at one end of each circle. 
  • Then fold the other end over.  Press down the edges and decorate them with a fork.

    • Place the bourekas one inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Prick them with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking. 
    •  Brush them with eggwash and sprinkle some sesame seeds over them.  Bake at 375° F for 30–35 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
    • Serve hot or at room temperatureAlternately, you can make the bourekas ahead of time.  Once they have gone on the baking sheets you can cover them with plastic wrap and freeze them, taking them out and baking them a day or two later.