I cook for a lot of reasons; sustenance of course, stress reduction at the end of a trying day, to share a meal with friends, but also for the sheer challenge of re-creating a great restaurant meal using previously untried ingredients or techniques.
I don’t remember my first taste of Greek food. It might have been the little restaurant on the corner in my old neighborhood, Byzantion, or a sample at one of the hundreds of food related trade shows I have attended. The use of many of my favorite ingredients and flavors, draw me to these recipes frequently. Oregano, lemon, olive oil, feta, mint, all at their peak of freshness…what’s not to love! My dishes are based on traditional recipes mostly found in the fabulous “bible of authentic Greek cooking” Vefa’s Kitchen. I add and subtract ingredients based on what needs to be cooked from the garden, the pantry or the fridge. The abundance of spinach and kale from the garden are the inspiration for the Spanakopita, which is typically made with only spinach.
Laura’s “Somewhat” Traditional Spanakopita
1-2 large bunches kale, stems removed and sliced into bite size pieces
1-2 large bunches baby spinach, washed well, drained, tough stems removed
(The “greens for sauté” mix from Trader Joe’s is awesome for this, if you don’t have a garden. You will need two bags)
12-14 large green onions, thinly sliced – both whites and tops
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
8-24 ounces of feta cheese, coarsely chopped (Mt. Viko’s is my preferred feta)
1-2 teaspoons minced, fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste (remember the feta is a little salty by nature)
1 package phyllo dough, brought to room temperature
olive oil for sautéing and coating the pan
olive oil spray for assembly
9 x 13 baking dish
Sauté the kale in batches, in a large skillet coated with olive oil over medium heat. You do not need to cook through, just soften it. Remove the kale to a colander.
Next sauté the spinach, again it does not need to cook all the way through, remove to the colander. Now sauté the green onion and parsley for 1 -2 minutes. Add the greens back to the pan and continue to cook over low heat about 10 more minutes. Place all greens in a bowl and cool. You want to make sure this is cool enough to not cook the eggs that you will add in the next step. You can chill this overnight in the fridge.
Add 2/3 of the feta to the greens. Break the 3 eggs into a separate bowl whisk thoroughly. Add the eggs to the greens and cheese mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Because the water content varies in greens and affects the total volume here, you will need to determine if you need one more egg and a little more cheese. You want everything evenly distributed and well coated.
This is where is gets pretty non-traditional….Did you notice I have not told you to melt any butter, in spite of working with phyllo dough? Unless I am making something sweet with phyllo, I use olive oil spray. Both for the ease in application and to cut the calories a bit.
Coat the bottom of the baking dish evenly with olive oil. Unroll the phyllo. Layer single sheets into the baking dish as shown. Spray between each layer with olive oil. I used about 8 sheets in total to line the pan. Pour the filling into the dough lined baking dish. Gently pull the sides and ends in over the filling. Remember to spray oil between the layers of dough. To pretty it up a bit, I added one more sheet over the top of the pan, folded in half and sprayed with oil in between. (I have made this recipe into little “triangle pillows” for appetizers, as well as individual servings in muffin cups. Experiment, have fun, make it your own!)
Preheat the oven to 375′ and bake 45-50 minutes until lightly browned and internal temperature reaches 170′. Let rest at least 15 minutes before cutting into squares for serving. This is wonderful both hot and at room temperature.
Laura’s Greek Inspired Salad
I don’t think there is ever a time when a Greek salad does not taste wonderful. In keeping with today’s theme, you knew it was coming, didn’t you? The veggies aren’t from the garden, but this is something we make many times over throughout the summer.
1 English or 3-4 Persian cucumbers, peeled (or not) coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped (if your prefer green, that is fine!)
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
12-15 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
6-8 ounces large, pitted and well drained kalamata olives
8 ounces chopped feta cheese
Juice of 2 lemons
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
chopped fresh dill, about 1 tablespoon
salt and pepper
Place all the veggies, cheese and olives in a bowl as shown. I like to serve it “deconstructed” as not everyone likes olives or tomatoes etc….
Juice the lemons. The ratio for the dressing is 2 to 1, olive oil to lemon juice (or, if you prefer, red wine vinegar). Add the appropriate amount of olive oil to the lemon juice and whisk. Add salt and pepper to taste as well as the minced dill. (Or basil or oregano or mint or whatever combo suits your taste.) Pour the dressing over the salad and chill for 2-3 hours. Serve on a romaine leaf with a little dressing from the bottom of the bowl, drizzled on top.
I bet you think I am done now….not just yet! I had a couple of chicken breasts I needed to cook up, so in keeping with today’s theme, I decided to make a one of my favorite chicken soups, Avgolemono. There have been many times when I have had a cold or the flu and my husband has ran to a Greek restaurant to get it for me! As with any cultures version of “chicken soup” there are hundreds of variations. I break with tradition by adding finely diced celery and carrot , as well as fairly good size chunks of chicken, to my recipe. I have had the soup many times with only broth and rice. No matter what is left out or added in, it should always be smooth, velvety, creamy and lemony.
Avgolemono Soup – Laura’s Way
2-3 cups chopped, cooked chicken
2 quarts, total, chicken stock (may need more for adjusting thickness of soup)
2-3 carrots, peeled
2-3 stalks of celery, peeled
juice of 3-5 lemons
1 cup of Arborio rice
You can make this soup with prepared stock, rotisserie chicken, or start all the way from scratch by boiling and deboning a whole chicken. You can also make this soup vegetarian by using vege broth and eliminating the chicken. My recipe today is based on a finished total of 2 quarts of stock. I started with 2 bone in, skin on chicken breasts, one quart of stock, minced onion , a price of carrot and a piece of celery. Simmer all gently until the chicken is cooked. Cool, remove chicken from bone, chop into small chunks and set aside. Strain broth and place back on a slow simmer.
Chop 3 stalks of celery and 2-3 carrots into small uniform dice. Add to the gently simmering stock.
Cook for about 10 minutes. Bring broth to a strong rolling bow. Add 1 cup of rice, reduce heat and simmer, covered for 20 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot.
While rice is cooking prepare egg and lemon thickening. In a small blender whisk together 5 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice and 4 eggs, until very light and fluffy.
Place into a large bowl. Temper the eggs by adding a few ladles of hot broth into the bowl. Once tempered add all back into the pot. Keep on very low heat.
I had to make two adjustments for our taste. I did not think the soup was as rich, creamy or lemony as usual. To correct this, I blended 2 egg yolks with 5 more tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice. I tempered the mixture and added back into the pot. It was exactly the fix needed. After a few more minutes on the stove – the soup was far thicker then we like, so I added about 1 additional cup of chicken stock. With a few extra dashes of salt and pepper – our soup was perfect.
This was a wonderful first day of summer meal that left us with lots of options for a few lunches!
Thanks to Dave for learning to use all the different settings on the new camera! I believe I see improvements!