Saturday, November 20, 2010

Greek Salad

In Greece when you order a Horiatiki (=vilage) salad, more popular abroad as Greek salad, you always know what you are gonna get. It could be bigger or smaller, better or worse but it is always the same salad, consisting of the same ingredients. Funny thing, while living abroad I met many non-Greek people who have absolutely different thing in mind when they talk about Greek salad. Some people use lettuce in it, some dice the tomatoes, I've even heard about using a watermelon in it! I was really curious to see what other versions there are, so I googled it and I figured out many combinations that were at least weird.

So I decided to post a recipe of the original Greek salad, the one that you will get in one of those nice tavernas next to the see. The only tricky thing about it is to find good, tasty tomatoes, the ones that smell like your grandma's garden! Apart from that it's only chopping and mixing and that's it. You could use more or less any amounts of the listed ingredients you like. Here I will post the amounts that I prefer, which create a balanced combination. So, here we go.


2 large, ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber about 20cm long
1 medium onion, cut in half rings
feta cheese, as much as you like (I use about 100 gr for this amounts of vegetables, but I like lots of feta in the salad)
10-12 olives (I like green olives, other people use, black or kalamata or even ksidates (=marinated in vinegar), they all work great!)
1/2 tbsp dry oregano
5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp wine vinegar (optional)
salt to taste

1. Cut each tomato in 6-8 pieces and put them in a large bowl. Never dice them, and don't try to make the pieces small. This way all the juice will remain in the tomato, instead of the bowl.
2. Cut the cucumbers into half-circle pieces, again not too thin. Add them to the tomatoes.
3. Add the onion and olives and place some pieces of feta cheese on top.
4. Prepare the dressing: mix together the oil, oregano, salt and vinegar (if using) and pour over the salad. Alternatively, you could just add the dressing ingredients to the salad directly and then mix everything in the bowl. Ready to enjoy!

Now, one of the most important parts, how to eat it! You would think this is easy, but... Most of the non-Mediterranean people would simply transfer some of the salad from the common bowl to their own plate or maybe even use a separate salad plate. Wrong! In Greece we like sharing our food, whatever it is. When going out with friends we almost never order separate dishes, rather mixed plates for the table and then everybody bites from this and that, trying everything. I guess this is one of many ways that we have to bring people closer. Same goes to the salads. You will see in Greek restaurants people poking pieces of tomato and cucumber in the same bowl and at the end dipping pieces of fresh bread into the juices mixed with olive oil left in the bowl. I know that this might seem gross for many people but this is the way we enjoy our food. You should absolutely try it this way! Otherwise, it's not a Greek salad anymore! ;)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Soutzoukakia Smirneika - Traditional Smirnean Meatballs

Smirni, aka Izmir, is a city on the south west coast of Turkey. Before 1922, nearly half of the city's population was Greek, consisting of mostly very wealthy people. In 1922 the relationships between Greece and Turkey worsened, leading to genocide or deportation of Greek population. In most of the cases, people who finally managed to reach Greece could not save any of their wealth. So the only wealth that they brought with them was their culture and of course the finest recipes. There are many recipes coming from Smirni, and I guess each Smirnean grandma has her own little secrets. The flavors of Smirni combine Greek and Turkish influences, they are spicy and aromatic, and it is just impossible to pass by without getting a wet mouth.

Probably the most famous Smirnean recipe is the meatballs. Spiced with cumin and cinnamon, they are (traditionally) fried at first and then cooked in a delicious tomato sauce. I really love them, and despite the first impression, cooking them is really easy. That is why I decided that this would be the main course for the Greek dinner party that I organized this Sunday.


For the meatballs:

1 kg ground beef
2 cups bread crumbles
2 eggs
1/2 cup dry red whine
1 whole garlic head, minced (YES one whole head, not just 1 clove)
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce:

1 can chopped tomatoes
2 cups tomato puree
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 head garlic, minced (Again, head not clove)
10 grains allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients for the meatballs until the mixture is uniform. Set aside for about 15 minutes to let the minced meat absorb the flavors of the spices.
2. Shape the meatballs in the size of two fingers. They should be sort of oval.
3. As I already mentioned, traditionally you are supposed to fry the meatballs in some olive oil and then use the oil from the pan in the sauce. I did it once like this and they were pretty heavy (not that this came as a surprise to me). So this time I actually baked them in the oven. I think this is the optimal, since it is much healthier and they don't lose any of their taste. So at this point place your meatballs in a baking pan and bake in the oven at about 200°C until they are crispy from outside and well done inside. Set aside.
4. Prepare the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together in a large pot. The pot should be really big since you will add all the meatballs to it later. Cover the pot and cook the sauce for about half an hour at low heat.
5. Once the sauce is ready dip all the meatballs in it one by one. The best way is to try to place them one next to the other, as if trying to cover the bottom of the pot with them.
6. Cover the pot and cook on a low heat for another half an hour or maybe even a bit longer and they are done. Let them cool for few minutes and then serve with rice.

I know that the amount of garlic in this recipe sounds enormous and most people will be skeptical. In fact I also was, but I decided to give it a try and I don't regret it. If you are too afraid, you could try to cut the amount in half and see if you like it. If you do, next time try to increase the amount. I promise you'll love it!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Croissant with Banana and Chocolate

Last Friday we went out with an Italian friend of ours. After watching a movie, topped with a couple of beers and while the time was already past midnight I suddenly figured that I was a bit hungry. The fact that beer is a liquid bread didn't really help, and my thoughts were jumping from one nice food to the other. At some point I realized that I was already thinking about the great breakfast that I would cook the next morning. Banana and chocolate croissants! I have to admit that the idea of mixing bananas with Nutella is not mine. Back in Thessaloniki (my home city), while being a student, this was one of my most favorite sweet crepes from Valentino. Ok, maybe second favorite after Nutella with cookies' crumples. So I figured: "What's better than crepe with Nutella + banana? A croissant with Nutella + banana!!!". And here I was, in the middle of the night, slightly drunk and thinking about my breakfast!

1 pack of croissant dough, that makes 6 croissants

1 banana

6 tsp Nutella

1 egg lightly beaten (optional)

1. Preheat the oven at 200°C.

2. With a sharp knife cut the dough along the marked lines, so that you obtain 6 triangles.

3. Spread 1 tsp of Nutella over the surface of each triangle avoiding the top.

4. Cut the banana in half and slice each half in 3 pieces. Place one piece on each dough triangle, along it's short side.

5. Holding the banana inside, roll the croissant in a nice roll, starting from the short side of the triangle. Don't press to much. There should be some space between the layers for the croissants to "grow". Otherwise the croissants won't be puffy.

6. Brush the croissants with the beaten egg.

7. Place the croissants on a buttered baking tray and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they are nicely golden and crispy.

8. Let them cool a bit and serve with some custard sugar.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mediterranean Chicken Orzo

Orzo is a type of pasta. In Greek it's called Kritharaki and it looks just like rice. In fact, it looks so much like rice, that when I cooked it for my 30 year-old cousin who lived in Russia his whole life, I actually had to convince him that it is not rice!

Usually there are two different "sizes" of orzo. It doesn't really matter which one you use. The difference is mostly visual and of course the one that is bigger requires a little more time to cook. But you could always try and see if it's ready.

Anyways, I was not really expecting to find this kind of pasta in Amsterdam, as it is supposed to be something very local. Imagine my surprise when I saw it while checking the Turkish stores in the neighbourhood. One of the many great things that I can find only there. That's why it feels like home. At the end, Greek and Turkish cooking have a lot in common. Well good for us, because I haven't seen any Greek store here around, so the Turkish guys really save me from missing mom's great cooking!

I was so happy that I found orzo in Amsterdam that I used the whole 500 gr pack of it. Of course the resulting amount of food turned out enormous for only two people. So you may as well cut all the amounts in half.


500 gr orzo pasta
400 gr skinless, boneless chicken breast, chopped in bites (You could prepare it without chicken for a vegetarian version. It is still very delicious!)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 zucchini, diced
1 green pepper, sliced
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp chilly flakes
2 tsp sugar
10 grains allspice
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves
salt and ground black and red pepper to taste

1. Cook the orzo just as you would cook a regular pasta, in a pot of boiling salted water, until it is almost soft. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large pan heat the oil. Add the chicken and cook over a medium heat until the chicken is cooked through.
3. Add onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, green pepper and pine nuts. Cover and cook until the vegetables are soft.
4. Pour in the tomatoes and bring to boil. Add the zucchini, herbs and spices and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the orzo absorb the juices for few minutes.
5. Add the basil leaves and serve.

Alternatively you could put the mixture into a ceramic oven-proof dish, spread some mozzarella on top and bake in the oven for few minutes until the cheese makes a nice golden crust.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

In my opinion Greek salad is one of the best on earth! It contains lots of vitamins from all the vegetables, good fats from the olive oil and even some proteins from Feta cheese. There is only one "but" about it. To make it good, you really need good, ripe tomatoes. Too bad it's impossible to find them in Amsterdam in winter. That's why after September I usually switch to green, lettuce-based salads. The problem with them is that they are... boring! I mean, what is so exciting about shredded lettuce, with some onions and olive oil - vinegar dressing?!

Luckily there is always a way to improvise a bit. This time I added an avocado and a grapefruit and it was great! Very fresh and juicy. To be honest I took the idea from a Caribbean cooking book (for one more time), and changed a bit the dressing. Stratis doesn't like neither the avocados nor the grapefruits. However, he liked the combination. The hilarious thing about it is that he thought that the red in the salad (grapefruit) was actually a tomato. Once I told him what it was he said: "If this fruit tastes like tomato, no wonder it's juice has such a bad taste". Well that's his personal opinion. I love anything made of grapefruit.


1 large red grapefruit
1 large ripe avocado
5 lettuce leaves
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sweet mustard (optional)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and ground black and red pepper to taste

1. Peel the grapefruit, separate the pieces, remove all the membranes and place the flesh in a large bowl.
2. Cut the avocado around the length and separate 2 halves. Remove the pit. With a large spoon separate the flesh from the skin, then slice the avocado with a sharp knife. Place the slices at the same bowl with the grapefruits.
3. Cut the lettuce into large pieces and add the to the salad.
4. In a small bowl mix the oil, vingar, lemon juice, mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix well and serve immediately.

Another great thing about this salad is that it is full of vitamins, particularly vitamin C which is very essential during the winter months.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I was lieing in my bed this morning, wondering if the weather would improve later on and if we would see some sun. It took some time to wake up completely and by the time I was up I was pretty hungry. I was thinking about some nice breakfast idea and remembered my mom's Grenki (very popular Russian breakfast). I think the English name for this is French toast. I literally grew up with this food. It was a typical weekend breakfast since I can remember myself. Some nice memories came to my mind. :) I wonder why I make them sooo rarely.


10 slices of bread
3 eggs
100 ml milk
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
some olive oil or butter for frying
sliced ham and mozzarella for serving
, optional (you could remove the ham for vegetarian version)

1. In a shallow bowl beat the eggs with the milk, salt and sugar.
2. Heat the oil or melt the butter in a pan with non-stick surface.
3. One by one dip the bread slices into the egg mixture from both sides (don't let them soak though) and place on the pan, few at a time. Fry on both sides until its dark golden. Remove from the pan, set aside and proceed with the next batch.

4. Arrange few Grenki on a pan, place a slice of ham and some mozzarella on each piece, cover and fry over a very low heat until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Alternatively you could serve Grenki with jam or honey. It is a great start of the day and it keeps you full for quite some time. My man sad that Grenki rock!!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Potato Gnocchi - four in one

Since our trip to Florence I've been planning to make Gnocchi, which is basically a potato based pasta in shape of little bites. I tried 2 or 3 different version in different restaurants and really loved it. They have a nice texture of spongy dough and you can combine them with any sauce or just garlic flavored butter. They are (relatively) easy to cook and served with various sauces make a nice and diverse dinner. So today I finally dared and I think it was quite a success.

For Gnocchi:

1 kg russet potatoes, with skin
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (or a bit more) flour
salt, fresh ground pepper and nutmeg to taste

1. Cook the potatoes until you could easily stick a fork in them. Don't overcook them though.
2. Let the potatoes cool until you can handle them and peel the skin off.
3. Mash the potatoes until there are no lumps in them, but not too long or they might turn into glue.
4. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg and mix well. Pour in the egg and mix fast. Don't let the egg cook.
5. While mixing with your hands, gradually add the flour. Keep adding flour until you get a dough that is not sticking to your hands. It should be firm but not too hard.
6. Take some of the dough and roll on a floured board into a "snake" of about 1.5cm in diameter.
7. With a sharp knife cut into bites of about 2cm long. Dust with some flour and set aside. Continue with the next portion of dough until you use all of it.
8. Optionally you could shape your gnocchi by pressing them against a fork, creating little cuts on the surface. They look more "artistic" this way! But if you are bored or have no time you could skip this step.
9. In a large pot boil the water and add some salt. Carefully put the first batch of gnocchi in. Cook for few minutes. You will see that they are ready when they float on the surface. Don't cook them too long or they will absorb too much water and become very heavy and hard to digest. Remove with a slotted spoon just about half a minute after they start floating. Proceed with the next batch.

At this point you could either serve them with the sauce or you could first fry them a little in some butter just enough to make them a bit golden. Personally I liked the fried version a lot, although my man preferred just the cooked version. I guess that's matter of taste.

For the serving I prepared 4 different version, the easiest being just dipped in some Crème fraiche and sprinkled with black pepper. Simple and delicious!

Here are the rest of the recipes. Of course you always use a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese.

Bolognese sauce:

500gr ground beef
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 tbsp dry oregano
10-12 grains allspice
salt, ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

1. In a large sauce pan heat the oil.
2. Add the onion and garlic and fry for few minutes until the onion is golden.
3. Add the beef and cook until the meat is brown.
4. Pour in the wine, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes and the spices, cover and simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes.
5. Add the fresh basil and cook for 5 minutes more.

Pesto sauce:

5 tbsp green pesto
1 tbsp Crème fraiche
1 tbsp chopped nuts
some of the Cnocchi water

1. Mix all the ingredients except for water in a small bowl until the mixture is uniform.
2. Add some of the Gnocchi water and mix. At the end the sauce should be sort of liquid but still creamy.

Garlic flavored butter:

3-4 tbsp butter or margarine
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp dry thyme

1. In a small pan melt the butter.
2. Lower the heat, add the garlic, pine nuts and thyme and cook until the garlic is lightly golden.

You could prepare the sauces while waiting for the water to boil. This way you will have both the Gnocchi and the sauces ready more or less at the same time, so you could serve them immediately!