Growing up there were very few things that only one of our parents would make; generally they worked together to prepare their delicious meals and desserts. But some things…some things belonged to only one of them, and fried eggs belonged to our father.
On weekend mornings our father would often greet us with a fried egg or two. Αυγά μάτια (which literally translates into eggs eyes – bizarre!) are a variation of sunny-side up eggs made more delicious because they are fried in olive oil. This cooking technique results in an outer edge of crispy egg white and a yolk which is cooked just perfectly. Sprinkled with just a touch of salt and pepper, they are a simply beautiful way to start the day.
NOTE: We have 2 recipe boxes below. The first recipe box is for a pan that is 11 x 16 inches; and the second recipe box is for a pan that is 9 X 13 inches.
We have 4 daughters between us and when they were pre-schoolers our parents cared for each of them while we returned to work after a blissful year or two of maternity leave. Not only were our children embraced by papou and yiayia’s love every day, they were also exposed almost exclusively to the Greek language and their Greek heritage. How special, and how blessed we all were! As if that weren’t enough, their bellies were filled daily with nutritious, home-cooked meals which were essentially made-to-order. If our daughters wanted to snack on milk and freshly made Greek cookies (koulourakia), our parents set to baking. If they craved spaghetti, the water was boiling before they could even say “σε παρακαλώ” (please). If they wanted chicken and there wasn’t any in the house, papou would run (practically) to the market to pick some up. Nothing was too much trouble, and to this day, especially when it comes to their grand-daughters, nothing ever is.
Although each of our girls had her particular favourite, one meal which was often requested by all of them was, and still is, pastitsio. It seems that their taste buds are similar to many of yours because since starting this blog a few short months ago, pastitsio is a recipe which many of you have requested as well. So, here it is. 🙂
I say tomato, you say…yeah, but what kind of tomato? Greeks love tomatoes and we incorporate this fruit (yes, tomatoes are fruit) into several traditional recipes. When fresh tomatoes are called for, things are pretty straightforward; find the freshest, most delicious tomatoes and buy them. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, or even a small balcony that can accommodate a pot, plant some tomato seeds and enjoy freshly-picked, vine-ripened tomatoes for as long as the weather in your neck of the woods allows. Otherwise, try to find the ripest, sweetest smelling tomatoes at the grocery store and keep them on the counter until you are ready to use them. In our city, we are lucky to have a local company which grows beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes year round, in a rooftop greenhouse. Incredible! Maybe you have something similar where you live? Regardless of where you find your perfect tomatoes, do not place them in the refrigerator, particularly if you are planning to eat them uncooked. The cold temperature does bad things to tomatoes, damaging their inner membranes and giving them that nasty mealy texture that is very un-tomato like. Great tomatoes belong on the kitchen counter, showing off their bright red skins and fresh green stems.
The classic Greek chicken soup made with rice and a rich egg-lemon sauce.
We love this soup. We love making it today, and we love reminiscing about how much fun it was to help our parents make it when we were young. It’s true that it is relatively simple and in terms of active cooking time, this soup doesn’t require much; there is a lot of waiting around. Waiting for the chicken to boil and for the stock to be made. Waiting then for the rice to cook. One of the key steps however is preparing the egg and lemon mixture, the avgolemono. This is what transforms a plain rice soup into a Greek classic.
We realize that most of you probably already know how to prepare homemade french fries, but humour us. We couldn’t, in good conscious, omit posting on something so delicious just because it was so easy. Besides, easy does not mean straightforward and we have discovered that there are as many ways to fry potatoes as there are to eat them. We thought, maybe some of you have never cooked homemade french fries, or maybe you are confused about exactly which method to use. Maybe our parents can help.
There are certain foods which bring us back to our childhoods instantaneously, and rizogalo (rice pudding) is one of them. Coming home from school we were often greeted with a still slightly warm, soup bowl full of the stuff, sprinkled generously with cinnamon. We would sit in front of the television, with our mother by our side, watching a bit of after-school specials before starting our homework or going out to play with our neighbourhood friends. Now that we are older, and have made this for our own families, we can appreciate that our mother likely benefited from the almost meditative act of making rizogalo, enjoying the last bit of quiet before everyone returned home, and before she went off to work in the evening. Making rizogalo is not complicated, but it does ask that you stand by the stove, stirring quite constantly. Not too much thinking required, just a steady, rhythmic, and repetitive circular movement. A perfect opportunity to free your mind and focus, zen-like, on being in the moment. An also perfect opportunity to, for example, tell your husband to find his own socks, since you can’t possibly leave the stove.
Greek stewed green peas. The best recipe to enjoy peas!
Poor peas. We don’t think there has ever been a more maligned vegetable. Word on the street is that toddlers hate them, teenagers refuse them and grown men weep when they are added to an otherwise perfect dinner of meat and potatoes. As far as we know, peas are the only vegetable that kids would rather shove up their noses instead of into their mouths. And it doesn’t end there. If you want to insult someone’s intelligence, call them a pea-brain. Facebook has a page devoted to hating peas, creatively called, “I hate PEAS!!!”. (Incidentally, this page has more followers than our Mia Kouppa Facebook page. Friends, can we please fix that?) Then there was that time when the New York Times published a recipe suggesting that peas be added to guacamole. Hysteria ensued. Peagate was such a big deal that even President Obama weighed in…against the pea! We don’t get it. Perfectly round, vibrantly green, and subtly sweet, we think peas are fantastic. Doubt us? Keep reading.
For many families, Christmas brings special traditions and special recipes. Whether it is pannetone, fruitcake, plum pudding, or tourtières, what makes these limited edition foods extra meaningful is that they are often only made during the holidays; a time of gatherings, joy and celebration. In our family, the traditional Christmas Eve treat is lalagia; savory, oval shaped rings of fried dough. I know, I know….we had you at fried dough. For our parents, making lalagia brings them back to their own childhoods. On the day before Christmas, the women in the villages where they grew up would gather to prepare this special, highly anticipated treat.
We realize that many of you (even Greeks) will have never heard of lalagia. Or maybe you have had something similar, which goes by a different name. Our parents are both from the Messinia region of the Peloponnese where lalagia are extremely popular and considered a local specialty. Yet, even within this region of Greece, they are not found everywhere. Traditions, customs, and of course recipes, vary from village to village and from family to family.
Although especially common during Christmas, when folklore claims that they ward off evil elves and evil spirits, across Messinia lalagia are available in bakeries year-round. In fact, during the summer in Kalamata there are vendors who sell their freshly made lalagia right on the beach. Sigh. So, if you are unfamiliar with lalagia, this is the year to make their acquaintance. Trust us. You’ll be happy you did.
Christmas is coming and for many people of the Greek Orthodox faith the hustle and bustle of shopping, tree trimming and holiday baking is accompanied by a period of lent. Nisteia, or fasting, is meant to be a spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper connection with God and it occurs several times during the year. The Christmas fast begins on November 15 and lasts until December 24. During this time, the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs on most days, as well as oil and wine on specific days, is prohibited. Shellfish however, such as shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters, and squid (calamari), are permissible most of the time. Cue the fried calamari.
This is a recipe which garners much ooh-ing and aah-ing when it is served. Funny, because it is actually a very simple and quick meal to prepare, particularly if you find calamari which is already cleaned. So, whether you are Greek Orthodox or not, whether you are fasting or not, go ahead and try this fancy, not fancy, meal.
Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and bursting with flavour!
It’s hard to know exactly what makes these meatballs so delicious, but we have a few ideas. These bite sized morsels are made with a mixture of two types of meat, are perfectly spiced, and because they are fried you end up with a meatball which is crispy on the outside but soft and juicy on the inside. Meatball perfection.
Our parents often serve these meatballs as meze (appetizers) or as part of a buffet dinner. Occasionally they will be an easy lunch or supper, served with a batch of homemade French fries and some feta cheese. So good! The only problem with these meatballs is that they are so small, and so delicious, if you are not careful you can end up eating about 45 of them without even realizing it (not that anyone is counting of course).