Vegan stuffed eggplant (Παπουτσάκια νηστίσιμα)

Vegan stuffed eggplant (Παπουτσάκια νηστίσιμα)

A vegan version of a classic Greek dish made with eggplant, lentils and olive oil mashed potatoes.

We wish you could all read Greek! Because if you did, you would realize that the name for this recipe is so much more wonderful in Greek.  The literal translation for παπουτσάκια (pronounced pa-poo-tsa-kia) is little shoes. How utterly adorable and perfect is that! And how much more charming than stuffed eggplant.

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Dates stuffed with almond butter and coconut

Dates stuffed with almond butter and coconut

A healthy, quick snack to satisfy any sweet craving

Dates stuffed with almond butter and coconut

 

Sometimes the craving for something sweet hits so quickly, and so aggressively that you find yourself scrambling in the kitchen, looking for something that was already baked, or a candy bar, or a bag of chocolate chips that you spontaneously decide are not necessary for the chocolate chip cookies you were planning to make.  If you don’t have access to these options, you dip into the sugary cereal you know you shouldn’t be feeding your kids, or you make some cinnamon toast, with more brown sugar than cinnamon, or toast.  Or, you pause, remember your health and waistline and choose a piece of nature’s candy instead.   You know, a bowl of grapes or a ripe peach.  Bah! Who are we kidding?? When that urge for sweetness hits, fruit just isn’t going to cut it unless its been morphed into a pie, or unless that fruit is a date.

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Potatoes yahni (Πατάτες γιαχνί )

Potatoes yahni

A traditional Greek potato stew

Potatoes yahni

 

Raise your hand if you love pototoes! You there, in the back, holding a fist-full of french fries, we see you!  And we love you!  And, we too love potatoes.  Whether they are roasted in the oven, bathed in all sorts of beautiful Greek flavours, or boiled and mashed and then transformed into the very distinctive Greek garlic spread called skordalia, we adore them.  Potatoes are so versatile, so available, so economical, that it’s no wonder that the rustic cuisine of Greece has taken this commonplace vegetable and made it the star of a stew which we know will find a happy place in your hearts and stomachs.

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Christmas koulourakia with yeast (Χριστουγεννιάτικα κουλουράκια με μαγιά)

Christmas koulourakia with yeast (Χριστουγεννιάτικα κουλουράκια με μαγιά)

Savoury Christmas koulourakia

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.

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Koulourakia with orange (Νηστίσιμα κουλουράκια με πορτοκάλι)

Koulourakia with orange (Νηστίσιμα κουλουράκια με πορτοκάλι)

Koulourakia with orange (Νηστίσιμα κουλουράκια με πορτοκάλι)

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”.

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Youvetsi with chickpeas (Γιουβέτσι με ρεβύθια)

Youvetsi with chickpeas (Γιουβέτσι με ρεβύθια)

Youvetsi with chickpeas (Γιουβέτσι με ρεβύθια)

 

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.

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Fasting and Fava

Greek Fava dip or spread

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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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