Gigantes plaki (Φασόλια γίγαντες)

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What was that?  You want something satisfying, luxurious, super easy and vegan?  Oh, good.  We’ve got just the thing for you.  Gigantes (or gigantes plaki) is a dish that we think you will come back to again and again. In this recipe, beans are prepared into a stew-like casserole, giving you a meal which is at once elegant, yet simple.

Maybe because gigantes are not the most common of beans, people often refer to them as giant lima beans.  Despite the fact that they look similar, gigantes are creamier, meatier and hold their shape better than lima beans when cooked; they are not the same thing.  When they aren’t mislabeled as lima beans, gigantes are sometimes colloquially referred to as elephant beans.  In actual fact, they are white runner beans (which we think sounds much more appetizing than elephant beans…no offence to elephants).  Even more officially, and officially Latin, they are classified as Phaseolus coccineus . We think these distinctions are important, particularly because gigantes are so special in Greek cooking.  They are so special, in fact, that certain regions of Greece have varieties of gigantes which have been accredited  as Protected Geographical Indication products. Take that, lima bean.

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Fasting and Fava

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Today is Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα), the first day of great lent in East Orthodoxy. The date, like the date of Easter Sunday, varies from year to year and is the Monday seven weeks prior to Easter Sunday.  It is described as “clean” because today is the day we are meant to leave behind sins, sinful attitudes, and non-fasting foods.  In actual fact, lent began yesterday evening with the service of Forgiveness Vespers and the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a major part of lent, and the faithful are meant to embrace this period with clean consciousness (making confession an integral part of this week), clean hearts and even clean homes, as it is customary to clean the house thoroughly during this week.

The decision to fast, and the degree to which one undertakes the fast is, in our opinion, a deeply personal one.  It hinges upon many factors, including one’s health, life circumstances, and previous experience with fasting.  People may choose to limit only meat, to cut out all animal products, to allow olive oil or not, or to fast only the week before Easter Sunday.  We would never presume to tell you the right way to fast, but would instead suggest that you speak to your priest if you have any questions or concerns about your particular situation and the path you would like to follow.  Regardless of your decision, one of the best pieces of advice that our parents gave us growing up in relation to fasting was the following: When you fast, you don’t look at anyone else’s plate (they said this in Greek of course).  By this they meant that you should never look beyond your own self when fasting, and you should never judge another based upon what they put into their mouths.  They also always maintained that fasting should go hand in hand with prayer, confession and goodness towards your fellow man (and of course, woman).

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Tyropites with homemade phyllo (Τυρόπιτες με σπιτικό φύλλο)

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In Greece, this week marks the last week of a festive carnival season, before the start of Great Lent, which precedes Orthodox Easter.  It is a week where many abstain from meat, but happily over indulge in cheese and dairy products in anticipation of the upcoming period of fast, which for many, typically prohibits most animal products.  Even those who will not follow a strict fast enjoy the opportunity to celebrate and feast on cheese and things made with cheese.    These tyropites, with homemade phyllo dough, are our nod to this carnival week of Tyrini (cheese week).

There are so many ways to make tyropites, and every family certainly has their favourite recipe.  This is ours.  Although making tyropites using store-bought phyllo dough (similar in technique to the spanakopitakia we have shared with you) is another delicious option, making your own phyllo adds another level of deliciousness.   In this particular recipe the phyllo is made with yogourt (let’s get as much dairy in here as we can) and the filling is a mixture of ricotta cheese and Greek feta; a combination which is flavourful and light.  The result are small packets of creamy, cheese filling wrapped in a flaky, but light, dough.  Lovely.

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Oranges (Πορτοκάλια)

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Oranges hold a special place in our hearts.  It’s true!  They may be just another citrus fruit to many, but to us they are representative of warm and sweet moments from our childhoods.  A winter fruit in Greece, and quite popular in the Peloponnese,  where our parents are from, our mother and father learned the value of a good orange at a young age.  They had orange trees near their homes which were brimming with delicious and nutritious fruit, particularly special when there was little other fresh produce available to them.

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Veal kokkinisto with rice (Μοσχαράκι κοκκινιστό με ρύζι)

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Happy Tsiknopempti everyone! It is carnival season in many areas of Greece and Cyprus and this festive week is called Kreatini (sandwiched between Profoni week and  Tirofagou week).  Tsiknopempti (Τσικνοπέμπτη), comes from the Greek words τσίκνα, which refers to the smell of roasting meat and Πέμπτη, which means Thursday. This is the day when many Greeks enjoy meat, and one of the last days in which this is permitted before the fast which precedes Greek Orthodox Easter.  Typically it is roasted and grilled meats which are feasted upon, however we live in Canada, where it is snowstorm and freezing temperature season. Canadian winters make outdoor grilling and roasting a little uncomfortable and although we are all for tradition, we’re not crazy.  So today, we offer a meat recipe to celebrate Tsiknopempti which does not require the great outdoors. Instead, here is the recipe for a traditional, slow braised veal in tomato sauce dish (kokkinisto / κοκκινιστό) with rice.  Kokkinisto means reddened in Greek, and represents the fact that the veal is cooked in a tomato sauce.

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Olive oil

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One of our parents most frequently asked questions, after “How are the girls?” and “Did you eat?” is “Do you need oil?”. They are referring, of course, to olive oil,  which is shipped to them by various family members with olive groves in Greece several times a year.  Liquid gold.  The olive oil is kept in their garage, in the huge containers that it travelled in, and they parcel it out to us and to our brother whenever we risk running out.  Our parents literally panic if we tell them that we ran out of olive oil.  This is how it has always been, and because of that we tend to forget how lucky we all are to have on hand fresh, pure and authentic Greek olive oil.

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Spanakopita with store bought phyllo (Σπανακόπιτα με αγοραστό φύλλο)

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Ask most non-Greeks what their favourite Greek food is and we think that a large majority of them will say spanakopita.  Perhaps this is because spanakopita is so easy to pronounce, not requiring the guttural sounds difficult to articulate unless you have practiced them since birth.  Although this is true, it must be more than mere phonetics.  We actually think that spanakopita are so revered because they are, in a word, yummy.

Spanakopita are perfect in so many ways, and there are so many ways to prepare them.  Here we have chosen to share the recipe for what we affectionately call spanakopitakia; the -kia tagged on to the end illustrating that these particular spanakopita are small and adorable.  Made with store-bought phyllo, they are actually pretty easy (albeit time consuming) to make.  In future posts we plan to introduce other variations of spanakopita, including those made with home-made phyllo dough.  We dream about one day having a whole category of recipes called “Pitas”.  No…really…we actually dream about this stuff, like, in our sleep. #losers

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