Tag Archives: feta

Double Event!

14 May

Hello, pieists! Apologies for the delay. I had 10,000 words to write and chemistry problems to solve and et lag to get over. But in return for your patience you get a DOUBLE EPISODE. A double event, one may say, to borrow the term from Ripperology. Two pies, one post.

The near-absence of pies on my travels (save Lee’s eponymous pie) was redeemed by my cooking an entire dinner centered around a Greek pie. My granny, an avid follower of this blog, came to visit Atlanta and requested a pie. Having pretty much never had the opportunity to cook for her, I decided to make a Greek extravaganza. (Note that my family is not, in fact, Greek. I just wish we were.) I decided on the Greek Vegetable Pie as it’s a guaranteed winner, a Greek salad, and a reprisal of my Greek chicken.

First the pie: I guess I’ve already written about it, but just to remind you, it has sautéed zucchini and onions stewed with tomatoes and finished with feta. The only spices are s+p and oregano.

The salad: first off, a Greek salad should NEVER have lettuce. If your Greek salad has lettuce, something has gone terribly wrong in the mind of the chef. Lettuce never appears in Greek food. A proper Greek salad at its simplest contains coarsely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with cubes of marinated feta. Optionally, you can drizzle a little bit of olive oil on the top or add in some kalamata olives. The salad I made for this pie night was a little sad as I forgot to marinate the feta (in a mix of good olive oil and oregano), but it was also hindered by the feta being low-fat. Listen: low-fat feta is great in cooking. It keeps the feta taste and appearance while cutting the fat by about 800 calories (just a rough estimate). But in a salad, where the raw ingredients contribute their unmixed flavors, low-fat feta is a killer. It’s dry, hard, and has a quarter of the taste. Fortunately, though, I am a pie-maker and not a salad-maker, so it wasn’t a huge deal.

The chicken: this is pretty much the simplest chicken recipe known to man. First, whisk together olive oil and honey in a baking pan. Honey is an amazing product: it may solidify over time, but it never goes off. According to legend, Alexander the Great’s body was preserved in honey for 300 years. If one was talking about formaldehyde, which also preserves bodies, one might ask whether it was safe to eat; fortunately, honey is an amazing natural product with numerous health benefits that just happens to also preserve bodies! A recent study in Connecticut came to the conclusion that eating local honey doesn’t decrease allergies, but it’s still worth a shot. It’s the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie natural sweetener. It comes in more varieties, flavors, and textures than other sweeteners, can be produced locally pretty much anywhere (including the roofs of urban buildings), and is just all-around awesome. I just bought some acacia honey from Sardinia at a festival this weekend with a thick, grainy texture and a crazy fruity taste. Once you try real honey, you can never go back to the bear. Anyway, the honey I used for the chicken came from the Friday food market in my neighborhood in Athens two years ago. Once the oil and honey are blended, add the juice of 1 lemon and oregano (or a Greek spice mix if you have – this will generally contain rosemary, ground olives, and more oregano). Roll the chicken around in some s+p and then rub the sauce all over it. Slice the used lemon and lay the slices decoratively on top of the chicken pieces. (Oh yeah, I use chicken breasts and thighs, but you can do this with a whole chicken – just stuff lemons inside it!) Cover and stick it in the oven (200 C). In the meantime, caramelize some thin-cut onions. When the chicken has been cooking for about half an hour, put the onions on top and cook for another 10 minutes.

This was so delicious I can not even tell you. You just have to try it.

Now, on to the second. This Sunday I went to the Real Food Festival at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre (which I will write about later). I am pleased to say that I have never had more free samples of cheese in my life; it was wondrous. The best by far was the original type from a small Welsh creamery called Bleanaefon (pronounced Blen-AYVon). I tasted this cheese and pretty much started dancing with joy. Literally. I was jumping around and waving my hands (when they weren’t reaching for more cheese). I decided to buy the cheese and include it in my pie: a Welsh cheese pie!

I got home from the festival and promptly googled “traditional Welsh food” and discovered that Wales, once famous for nothing but sheep, is experiencing a culinary renaissance, part of the back-to-the-farm movement. Cider is apparently huge, and recent cider popularity has increased interest in traditional brewing methods and heritage apple varietals. Pork is big, but so are heritage breeds of sheep, which look amazingly picturesque wandering around the countryside. Root vegetables of all types have always been popular. The NYT even had a feature on luxury camping in Wales where you can stay in an old caravan or on a farm and eat in Michelin-starred country restaurants. I hopped off to TPS and bought a variety of root vegetables and a boatload of parsley.

The veg: turnip, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potato, purple cabbage

The spice: s+p, parsley

The rest: cheese, milk, pastry

The method: Peel and chop the root vegetables and boil til edible. Chop and boil the cabbage separately. Drain and put into a large mixing bowl; roughly mash, then add in the cabbage. Add in about half a cup of milk and, well, as much cheese as you like. Season with s+p and about a handful of parsley. Cover with pastry and bake til the pastry is done.

This pie night was so successful! 8 people showed up, and we had lots of additional food. Anna made pizzas, Katy brought dessert fruit, Ben made gluten-free pastry and covered the little pies beautifully, and Laura J brought wine (and her new bf!) and potatoes (both were very helpful in the kitchen!) I also made cheesy bread (one could call it Welsh rarebit, but it wasn’t really) and potato scones, which are basically mashed potatoes made into little patties and roasted. Everything was delicious!

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O-pie!

22 Feb

Yesterday was GREEK-THEMED PIE NIGHT, which was probably my second-most fun pie experience. I love Greek food pretty much more than life, and maybe slightly more than Persian food. Greece is a wonderful country for pies, as I found out while living there two years ago. They love layering in particular, and of course stuffing vegetables into things. Here are some of the best:

  • spanakopita (σπανακοπιτα): spinach pie. Blanch about 3 pounds of spinach and mix with 2 chopped and caramelized onions and a big bunch of dill. Mix 1 pound of feta   (yup, a a pound of feta) with 3 eggs, then combine this with the greens mix. Season to taste. Butter a square pan and make layers: (1 sheet filo dough+brush of olive oil)x10, plop of cheesy spinach, repeat. End on a filo layer, and brush the top with some beaten egg to make it shiny. Bake at 200 C for about 25 minutes. This amount of filling will make about 2 medium pan-fulls, maybe enough for 10-15 people depending on how much you like spinach. These are the most filling creatures known to man though. When Sam HRB and I were Masters Cooks, we made something like 8 zillion spanakopitas one night. I don’t remember the exact quantity, but I know we bought enough spinach that I had to use a rolling suitcase to get it from the car to our building. Fortunately the spinach was cheap, so we could afford the $25 of feta squares. (It was enough for Sam to make the same face he did for six pounds of ginger, which was a great moment. Kind of like an “ohgodwhy” mixed with amazed fascination.) In Greece spanakopita is served both in slices and as individual dumplings, usually in a pasty/empanada shape.
  • tiropita (τυροπιτα): cheese pie. Basically the same as above, but with ricotta and no spinach. Some recipes recommend cinnamon, which sounds like a fine idea. You could even sass it up and add some other Greek cheeses.
  • moussaka (μουσακάς): mmmm. The best kind is with lamb, but without eggplant. I can’t really comment on the recipe as I’ve never made it, but it seems to be lasagna noodles layered with ground lamb, tomatoes, sometimes potatoes and zucchini, and topped with bechamel.
  • pastichio (παστιζιο): kind of the same as moussaka, but with more bechamel and macaroni instead of lasagna. More like a casserole.
  • dolmades (δολμαδες): the epitomic Greek dumpling: rice/lamb stuffed into grape leaves. I made the rice mixture on Sunday – after cooking rice and allowing to cool for about 10 minutes, add oregano, chopped mint, s+p to taste, and the juice of 1 lemon. One should then proceed to wrap the mixture in the leaves, but since I thought of this at the last minute I had none. Anna P told me it’s best to steal them from your nearby vineyard. Sadly, we can’t all live in Tuscany.
  • One can also make dolmades with cabbage leaves (lahanodolmades/λαχανοδολμαδες), or stuff the same mixture into zucchini with the seeds removed (kolokythakia/κολοκυθακια). Or into tomatoes, or peppers, or…
  • Oh wait, we can’t forget baklava, which is filo layered with nuts and honey.

Uh, so I believe I was going to tell you about my pie. I made a version of my Greek pasta – not actually Greek, but rather invented in Greece by my hungry room-mate and I after a market trip – with filo. I don’t know if anyone at TPS has ever bought as many zucchini as I did – 8, I think. Here it goes:

The veg: 8 zucchini, 5 smallish tomatoes and 1 can diced tomatoes, 5 red onions, 2 big handfuls spinach

The spice: s+p (fresh-ground is very important!), oregano, dill, ~100 grams feta, filo dough

The method: Slice the onions into rings and caramelize. Slice the zucchini into short spears and either roast or sautee. After removing about half the seeds, salt the tomatoes and blend them to small chunks; cook on the stove with salt until some of the liquid is gone. Blanch the spinach and set aside. When the tomato mush and the zucchini spears are almost ready, mix them together and add in the onions, spinach, and tomato paste. Add the oregano, dill, salt, and pepper to taste. Note that although it may taste ok now, the cheese really rounds of the dish. Feta adds a sort of coolness to all the warm vegetables – maybe that’s why a Greek salad tastes so good (cool with cool, warmed by tomatoes). Butter a pie pan and layer filo at the bottom as in a spanakopita. Add about an inch of vegetable mix, some crumbled feta, and then some more filo. Continue until you run out of vegetables; end on a filo layer and try to tuck it in at the corners.

Τα ρεστα: [This is a Greek phrase that means “the change”, but I always think of it as “the rest” as it’s spelled – as in, the rest of the work is complete, go have a rest with your full stomach.] I used olive oil to to cook everything in this meal instead of Flora. It makes things taste much more Mediterranean (accepting that the idea of Mediterranean food” was really only cemented 25 years ago, but that’s another story). Also, be sure to use either fresh or really, really good dried oregano. This is so important.

I have no further comments. It was delicious. The meal was supplemented by tzatziki, Laura J’s cucmbers and hummus and Greek salad, Anna P’s Greek yogurt dessert with honey and pine nuts, and Laura T’s bread.

 

UPDATE: I completely forgot about the cheese, which is UNACCEPTABLE. I tried to make saganaki by frying breaded slices of halloumi, but they just wouldn’t catch fire. Despite their inflammability, they were the highlight of the party. I originally made one slice per person but ended up using the rest of the block, which was devoured by the guests like the raptor scene in Jurassic Park.