Homemade phyllo and spinach filling, perfect for Lent, and anytime
Growing up we lived close to our grade school, and so lunches were eaten at home after a short walk down one street and one lane. Our mother, who worked at different periods either at home, or in the evenings, was available to meet us at the school and walk the short distance home with us. Once there we would very occasionally be treated to our parents’ newly discovered convenience food; the TV dinner. We loved those surprise lunches, from the compartmentalized courses to the odd looking sauces and vegetables which were less than vibrant. We especially loved returning to school and, on those days only, asking our friends “what did you have for lunch?”, knowing that they would probably ask us the same. Then, we could nonchalantly, but with a quiet glee, say, “Oh, you know, a TV dinner”. Our non-Greek friends would nod their heads with approval and understanding. Our Greek friends would look bewildered.
Much of the beauty of Greek cuisine is that it varies from region to region. In part this is due to agricultural possibilities (think mountainous landscapes versus islands surrounded by the sea), connections with other cultures, and local customs and traditions. Every recipe tells a story, and offers a glimpse into the rich web of history, both cultural and culinary, that makes Greece and Greek food such an important and fascinating area of study. Although many of these unique regional dishes are well known (think kalitsounia from Crete or lalagia from Messinia), others are so local that they are known only to isolated villages. The recipe which we are sharing here is one such example.
This summer we were so fortunate to have our cousin visit us from Australia. His mother and our mother are first cousins, but if you ask our mom, they were actually as close as sisters. Raised in the same house, they grew up sleeping in the same room (actually, the same bed), eating at the same table, and living similar experiences, from schooling to household chores, to family joys and struggles. When our mom left Greece to come to Canada she fully expected that her sister-cousins (there were 2) would soon follow her, as would her own siblings. Unfortunately, Canadian immigration laws at the time prevented her cousins from coming to Canada as they were too young; they instead immigrated to Australia. Although the cousins speak often, they have not seen each other since they were young women.
Our parents make so many types of koulourakia (Greek for cookies that are great for dunking into coffee or milk) that it is almost hard to keep track of them all. To help differentiate one koulouraki from the other, they often refer to a key ingredient. So here, we present to you koulourakia with orange…because, you guessed it, they contain a fair bit of orange juice. They also often refer to different koulourakia by the person who prefers them over all others. So these, along with being koulourakia with orange, are also affectionately referred to as “Georgia’s favourite”.
Our parents always managed to put filling and delicious food on the table, whether they were rushed, tired, or simply not in the mood to cook (rare, but it did sometimes happen). Youvetsi (sometimes called Giouvesti) was the perfect solution to any of these situations. A baked dish of orzo, tomato sauce and protein, this is a relatively quick, and incredibly easy way to feed a family.
When our parents needed something quicker than quick, and easier than easy, they turned to preparing youvetsi this way. Unlike the more typical versions which include meat, like lamb or chicken, this recipe is made with chickpeas. By turning to legumes, this youvetsi is perfect for meatless Mondays, during lent, or when you simply want a vegetarian (actually, vegan) option.
Several weeks ago we shared a favourite childhood meal, rabbit stew. We knew that this recipe would be met with some strong reactions; eating rabbit is clearly not for everyone. Although we totally understand and respect this, we felt that it was a shame that not everyone would taste the wonderful flavours of this stew…rabbit aside. Then we remembered that sometimes our parents would replace the rabbit with eggplant! And we laughed, because we realized that this too could be met with some strong reactions; eggplant is not the most popular ingredient out there.
Some months ago, we posted a fasolatha recipe and some people questioned, “Where’s the tomato?”. At the time, we explained that there are in fact, two broad categories of this traditional Greek bean soup; the one we originally posted, which has no tomato and has a light broth (λευκή), and this version, with a rich tomato base. Both are delicious, nutritious and incredibly easy to put together.
This is an incredible dish that we just know you are going to love. Not only is briam a luxurious way to eat your vegetables, but it is an incredibly easy way to eat them too. All the goodness is simply thrown into a roasting pan, mixed together, and baked; this makes clean-up a breeze, giving you more time to enjoy your family, your garden, or this blog.
Some meal preparations lend themselves to teamwork. Our mother would make this simple, wholesome and economical dish of green beans and potatoes about once every couple of weeks, and each time she would invite us to join her, as she prepared the beans for cooking. We would sit with her at the kitchen table (which was, of course, covered in plastic) faced with a bowl full of green beans. One by one, we would take the beans, and carefully snip off each end. The trimmed ends would collect in a pile on the table, and the beans would be placed in a colander, to later be washed.