We were raised in an apartment building comprised of 10 apartments, in a neighbourhood that was filled, for blocks and blocks, with buildings similar to ours. Our parents purchased this building with our aunt and uncle, shortly after arriving in Canada. It may not have been the most picturesque area to grow up in; there were no white picket fences and carefully manicured lawns, but it was magical. Our neighbourhood was bustling, with adults tending to their balcony plants, heading off to work, or walking to the corner fruit shop. And children were everywhere. Almost as soon as the sun came up you would find some kid outside, kicking around a pebble, waiting to be joined by the rest of us, knowing full well that she soon would be.
A bite-sized sweet party in your mouth… wrapped in bacon
Greeks love mezes, little bite-sized (usually) appetizers that you can serve before a meal, or in place of a meal. It is not unusual to be served several platters of mezes, along with a lovely glass of ouzo or ouzo-infused cocktail, and be fully satisfied. The mezes are usually plenty, and they are so delicious that you are never wanting for a complete and formal meal. Common on the meze table are spanakopita, tyropita, meatballs (keftedes) and dips or spreads. Less common would be something like these dates, stuffed with feta enhanced with orange zest and mint, wrapped in bacon. These bite-size morsels of sweet, salt, savoury and awesomeness will definitely make you smile.
A salty and sweet salad perfect for summer eating!
This recipe proves (to us at least) that our parents have always been ahead of the game, trendsetters and taste-masters, flavour fanatics. What appears to be a warm-weather craze these days has been a staple in our parents’ kitchen for as long as we can remember; watermelon and feta salads are incredibly popular, and with good reason. People are in love with the salty, sweet, fresh and bright combination that is created when a ripe, juicy watermelon is tossed together with some great Greek feta. Although ingenious and surprising to many, we grew up on this stuff. As kids we loved watermelon, as did our girls, and our parents discovered that combining other foods with this favourite fruit was a sure-fire way to maximize nutritional intake (giagia and pappou goals!). Feta and watermelon was always a winner combination and it was therefore on constant repeat. Other combinations were less popular (for the record, don’t try to feed anyone you love watermelon mixed with spanakorizo…it’s gross).
You may have noticed that Greeks love syrup. We’ll take a perfectly delicious walnut cake, a delightful phyllo and custard dessert or a simply yummy pear shaped cookie and make them better with syrup. Sticky, and now even more perfectly delicious, syrup soaked cakes are a particular favourite around here (and by here we mean our family, not the internet…although, we’re working on it!).
Our neighbourhood growing up was filled with a lot of kids our age. We lived in an apartment complex, which was one of many on several blocks, and everyone seemed to know everyone else, at least a little bit. Our free time was spent meeting friends on the street, hanging out in the large back yards and driveways of these apartment buildings, playing catch, dodge ball, hide-and-seek, or just hanging around riding our bikes to the corner store to buy popsicles and sip-sacs. On days where there was no school, we would be outdoors all day, coming in only for lunch and bathroom breaks. Reluctant to fully stop all friend-related activities, we would often have friends over to share a quick lunch before heading back out. Knowing this, our parents would usually have some quick and kid-friendly meals at the ready. Included in this were lots of hamburgers and meatballs (called keftedes), and these were well loved, and understood, even by our non-Greek friends. They would ask for ketchup (they were usually given tzatziki instead) and they ate, happily.
Every once in a while our parents would take us to a local Greek bakery to help select a dessert to bring to a dinner party or gathering. Usually they would make and bring along their own galaktoboureko, baklava or melomakarona, but occasionally our parents would be too busy (because they were also bringing along some homemade spanakopita or keftedes) to do so. We would walk into the bakery with them and be overwhelmed with the sights and smells of all the delicious Greek desserts, breads and snacks. Our parents would typically ask us to choose a variety of small, individual serving size cakes (glyka or γλυκά), often 8 – 12 in a box. This was so exciting…shopping for sweets! We were sure to select vanilla cakes, kok, cream-filled pastries, chocolate mousses and anything else that made our box of cakes a sight to behold. The only thing better than selecting the pastries was receiving these boxes of glyka when we had company over. Well before dessert was served, all the kids would sneak into the kitchen, snip the ribbon which tied the box closed, lift the lid with great anticipation, excited to see what joy lay within the box, and then quickly call dibs on the particular piece of dessert that we wanted.
We love leftovers! Having food in the refrigerator has saved our sanity many an evening, and although most times leftovers are served exactly as they were when they were initially prepared, sometimes we get fancy. This recipe is an example of us getting fancy, transforming chicken kokkinisto and French fries into a Greek version of a Quebec classic.
So, this is exciting. Really, really exciting…for us…and we think it will be for you too. If you have been following our Mia Kouppa journey, you will know that this website began as a labour of love, to preserve and honour our parents traditional Greek recipes. This will always be our primary focus, but as things evolve, our focus too has broadened. We started by acknowledging that there were countless other Greek home cooks, with their own wonderful recipes and rich stories to share; we wanted to showcase some of them. And so, More Kouppes was born. Then, while cooking and baking our own recipes, we found ourselves wishing that we could share some of these on our blog too. Well, we realized that when you’re boss…you can do whatever you want 🙂 and that was the beginning of Our Kouppes.
As we mentioned when we first introduced Our Kouppes, many of the recipes we will feature here are heavily influenced by our parents and Greek cuisine…but not all of them. This particular bread recipe for example, although heavy with Mediterranean elements like Kalamata olives, feta, and oregano has very little to do with our parents. In fact, this bread is brought to you because of a man hero named Jim Lahey.
We were raised in a very traditional Greek home, with a large Greek extended family and many Greek friends. Our neighborhood and primary school were full of Greeks, and we happily lived and learned alongside a smorgasbord of other nationalities. As we grew up and ventured off to high school, college, and then university, as we got jobs and got involved in extra-curricular activities (that went beyond Greek folk dancing), our exposure to the people of the world grew and grew. How enriching! How wonderful!
It’s no real surprise then that we both grew up to marry Xeni. For those of you who are not Greek, and who do not understand what “Xeni” are…well, that’s you. Xeni, (the plural form of xenos (masculine) or xeni (feminine)) is essentially anyone who is not Greek. This is not meant to be an insult or a derogatory categorization; it’s just a fact. So, our Anglo-Canadian husbands are Xeni. So is our West Indian neighbour, our Japanese co-worker, and the Cameroonian cashier at our local grocery store. All Xeni. The Italian barber at the local salon is also a Xeno…but a little less so, because Italians and Greeks are the same-same…sort of.