opinions on food and travels

Mama Mia! Greek Night In

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There’s a Greek bistro not too far from where I live called Apollonia.  It rates as one of the casual places I’ve enjoyed locally whose food has had me thinking about it long after I’ve eaten there.  Maybe it’s because I don’t eat Greek food very often, and so my weary taste buds long for something unique.  Or, it could be that the food is just plain delicious.

Valentine’s week (and I have to call it that since my husband treated me to days of lovely surprises) one of my gifts was dinner at Apollonia.  Ohhh, the hummos and the dolmathakia.  The spanakopita and tyropita.  The souvlaki.

Sheer heaven.

Clearly, there was a Greek dinner in the works for us at home after this, and I decided that since the Academy Awards was rapidly approaching, I’d spend the day in the kitchen cooking and watching what my husband calls my “pre-game show” of all things Oscars:  gowns and botox lips, padded rumps and tatooed eyeliner.  You’ve got to love Hollywood at least once a year.

No sooner had I begun the prepping than my oldest son called to ask what we were doing.
“Watching the Oscars and eating Greek food.  Why?”  I asked.
“Because I’m coming over,” he told me and with a quick “See Yah,” he hung up leaving me with my list of what to chop when and Mama Mia running through my mind.  Not the movie — the song.  Well, actually, both.

The connection?  My son is a huge ABBA fan and my husband and I are pretty sappy over the movie, too.  I know.  You can think what you will, but since I was actually around when ABBA’s songs routinely blasted from my car radio, I can be sappy about them if I want.  Besides, who can resist the amazing cerulean water in the film and seriously hunky Pierce Brosnan belting out, “So when you’re near me, darling can’t you hear me…SOS…The love you gave me nothing else can save me SOS!” to an I want to look like that when I’m 60 Meryl Streep.

Ahhhh….

I see a Greek island vacation in my future.

But in the meantime, I’ll settle for homemade hummus, Briami, and Chicken Souvlaki from Peter of Kalofagas.  With ABBA, of course, and this does involve a bit of dancing barefoot without warning.

I’ve been singing ABBA tunes all day every day for weeks.  In the car, at the grocery store…

Mama Mia.  Here we go again…

I just need a sailboat.

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Hummus

1 – 15-oz. can chickpeas, reserving 1/3 c. canning liquid
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
3 T tahini (Middle Eastern sesame paste)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
Salt
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Paprika
Warm pita bread

Drain chickpeas, reserving liquid. Put chickpeas into
a blender or food processor, add the reserved liquid and if necessary, a small amount of water, cover, and blend to a semismooth paste.

With
motor still running, add lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and salt to taste and purée
until very smooth, about 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

Garnish hummus with some olive oil and paprika. Serve with wedges of warm pita bread.

Notes:

This is a Saveur recipe I first made at one of those involved dinner parties my friends and I occasionally enjoy.  Nothing could be easier than making your own hummus and although I do buy it at the store occasionally, it tastes better from home.  It doesn’t quite match the flavor of the hummos at Apollonia, but still. You can make it more challenging by cooking your own garbanzo beans if you’d like, but I usually don’t.  This comes together very quickly if you have a food processor, but make sure to let it run to smooth the mixure out.  I like this recipe because it’s very citrusy.  I didn’t make my own pita this time since I’ve been making other types of bread, but I have in the past and it’s quite easy.  Better tasting that what comes from the store, too.

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Briami

This is a simple vegetable casserole that I’ve tried several versions of in the past couple of years.  This one is the best so far although I enjoyed the addition of Feta the last time I made it.  Essentially, it’s somewhat like a French ratatouille and usually contains eggplant (which I have tried before…) but I decided to try it without this time.  This version contains potatoes.

3 medium tomatoes, peeled, cut into thin slices
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, very thinly sliced
1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
2 medium zucchinis, sliced
3 artichoke bottoms, canned, cut into quarters
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 T parsley, chopped
2 T dill, chopped
2 T basil, chopped
2 T mint, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 c. olive oil
fresh lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Lightly oil a baking dish and spread half the tomato slices over the bottom.  Top with
potatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, artichokes and and herbs.  Salt and pepper the layers as you proceed.  Finish with a top layer of tomatoes and drizzle over the olive oil.

Remove when bubbling and golden brown.  Cover if not serving right away.  Enjoy with a squirt of fresh lemon.  It’s delicious over rice!

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Notes:

The problems I’ve had in the past with this have been related to the potatoes.  Either they’re too thick, or the dish is too deep.  There’s no moisture, or there’s too much moisture.  You name it and it’s happened. All in all, you’d think this dish would have amazing flavor, but it can and has fallen quite flat — and adjusting salt and pepper doesn’t cut it.  This version is pleasant, the potatoes finally cooked (shallow dish and sliced thin enough…) and the tomatoes on the top and bottom seem to have provided a good amount of flavor and moisture during cooking.  The squirt of lemon is a must, otherwise, I’m thinking it still doesn’t have a flavor where everything comes together as I imagine it should.  Honestly, the flavor was much improved the next day when I had it over rice with that squirt of lemon.  Very, very nice.  I’d try this again, but make it the day before so it can sit in the lovely flavored olive oil and juices, then heat it up.

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Kalofagas’ Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki

I pkg. chicken breast tenders
2 T red wine vinegar
4 T olive oil

4 lg. bay leaves

1 scallion, finely chopped

2 sprigs thyme
1 T honey

1 shot of Cinzano

1 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

Thread bite-sized pieces of the chicken breast on 6-8 skewers and set aside.  Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the skewered chicken in a container shallow enough to allow skewers to sit in a single layer.  Alternatively, place in a plastic bag.  Allow to marinate, turning occasionally, at least two hours.  Before cooking, allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.  Cook under the broiler about 6″ from the heating source, turning as the chicken browns.

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Notes: I had the breast tenders on hand so used those, cutting each into 2 or 3 pieces.  Peter’s recipe calls for lemon thyme and ouzo, but I had neither, unfortunately.  I doubt that Cinzano is a good substitute for ouzo, but it worked and the souvlaki was extremely tender and moist.  I use California bay leaves which are more strong than Turkish bay leaves, so I reduced the quantity in half. His recipe also calls for Halloumi, a Greek cheese that can be fried. It’s a challenge to find it, and sadly, I didn’t have it for this recipe.  I’ve located a brick since, however, and it’s now in my cheese drawer.  It’s very expense at $16.99/lb. so I’m going to treat it with much love when I finally use it.  In San Diego, halloumi can be found at Baron’s Market in Point Loma.

To make the Tzatziki…

1 lg. container 0% Fage Greek yogurt (17.5 oz.)
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and grated
2 T fresh dill, minced
squirt of lemon
salt
extra virgin olive oil

Slice the cucumber in half lenthwise and with a spoon, scrape out the seeds before grating the pieces.  Sprinkle it with salt and allow it to sit in a strainer for at least 30 minutes, then squeeze to remove any remaining liquid.  Add to the Greek yogurt and mix in the remaining ingredients.  Serve with the souvlaki and warm pita.

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Notes: Greek yogurt is so thick and creamy (it’s on the left in the 1st photo…) I usually get the 0% fat variety and I happened to have it on hand, so used it.  I also have regular yogurt which is much less creamy.  If you plan to use regular yogurt, allow it to sit overnight in a strainer to drain it.  That will make it more creamy for use in tzatziki.

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Thanks Peter, for the terrific recipe!  I just happen to have a jar of grape leaves in my pantry for my next Greek cooking fest.