Mama Mia! Greek Night In

IMG_0739
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.

IMG_0751

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.

IMG_0744
IMG_0745

IMG_0746
IMG_0750

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!

IMG_0776

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.

IMG_0799

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.

IMG_0770

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.

IMG_0758 IMG_0764

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.

IMG_0814

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.

37 thoughts on “Mama Mia! Greek Night In

  1. I’m going to try those last two! (I’m not even going to attempt to spell them.) I LOVE Greek food and Mama Mia! I grew up on Abba. My favorite scene is the “Lay all your love on me” with the scuba divers kicking their fins up. Have you seen the play?

  2. Hi Sagan — cheers to another ABBA fan! The casserole is very good — I’m sure to keep playing around with the flavors.
    Hey BD! Nope, haven’t seen the play, but sent my oldest to see it in LA years ago when it first came out. Would love to go.

  3. I love Greek Food and Peter is the best. I haven’t tried this chicken souvlaki but his pork souvlaki is to absolutely die for as I am sure this is too!!!

  4. I loved the Broadway show when i first saw it years ago. My mom was literally dancing in the aisle. The movie was gorgeously filmed and made me want to book an immediate ticket to Greece to purchase my own little hotel and embark on an enchanted life.
    At least I can live through Greek food. Yours looks amazing!

  5. I absolutely love Greek cuisine but have never tried the Briami before- I’m vegetarian till Orthodox Easter though so it sounds like a great time to try it (though I’ll keep the eggplant…love that stuff).

  6. Kelly, you chose a fine array of Greek dishes for this banquet…I would be quite at home tucking into this feast!
    The chicken & halloumi marinade is good but you should also try the one Judy’s referring to, with yogurt in the marinade (very tender result).
    Today, you’re my honourary Greek, pat yourself on the shoulder, stand up and yell OPA and do a twirl like Zorba!

  7. This is getting me all pumped up for my Greek Dinner Party tomorrow night!!! Everything looks soooo great! You can also get Halloumi at North Park Produce on Poway Road.
    I’m so hungry for Greek food right now I can’t even stand it!!

  8. Can’t wait to hear about the outcome of your dinner — so much fun! Thanks also for the heads up on another source for Halloumi. It’s quite a bit farther for me though.

  9. Wow, I’m impressed with your greek food fest (did that rhyme? eek)! I really like Apollonia, too – we went there recently when Bristol Farms ran out of its one high chair 🙂 The food there was great, but the Greek cuisine at Kelly’s house looks pretty incredible too.

  10. What a wonderful feast you have here. In the future I am hosting a Supper Club and my plan is to have a Mamma Mia! party, Abba and Greek food. I will boomark this for a great place to start! Thanks.

  11. I make briami a lot, in different incarnations depending on the season. Although your version looks gorgeous (and way prettier than mine), I don’t have the problems you describe with the potatoes or the flavor being flat. Instead of cutting the vegetables into slices, I cut them in chunks. I use a large, high-sided roasting pan. I toss together everything in the roasting pan with more olive oil than you use, and spread out the vegetables so they aren’t all crammed together. If they’re in too small a pan, or layered like you have them, the vegetables mostly steam their way done. If you spread them out, the vegetables actually roast and their flavor concentrates in a very nice way. But hey, I love baked vegetables and I’d happily eat your lovely dish in a NY second (that is if I were lucky enough to eat at your table!)

  12. Thanks for your advice, Laurie. Honestly, I’ve been a diligent recipe follower for this type of dish and it’s amazing that not one has said to spread everything out. I am TOTALLY trying that next time because I know that what you’re saying about the oil and roasting has to end up making so much more flavor.

  13. My great grandfather was from Athens & Greek food still abounds at our family gatherings. We love making the lamb & macaroni recipe he brought with him from Athens.

  14. amazing. first of all, i wish there was a greek bistro somewhere near me. secondly, i wish you were near me, because i would mooch some of your food ALL THE TIME. 🙂

  15. I love this! I’m bookmarking your page right now. Your hummus looks so smooth and creamy, and that casserole look delicious. Thanks for a wonderful Greek night!

    1. Hey, Thanks! It is a great recipe and one of the few I actually keep handy instead of looking for a new one. I’m incorrigible like that….or just not very organized?

  16. I am greek and I make briam quite often. I’m going to have to agree with Laurie (partially). I slice my vegetables, I usually put the onions on the top because the caramelise nicely and layer the rest below. You need to use a lot of olive oil and tomato juice. Dress the vegetables after you’ve layered them and then stir them around. I add a bit of water too and I after it goes in the oven I check it 2-3 times and stir again. This dish is special because it’s not baked or roasted. The vegetables have to cook in olive oil. That doesn’t mean you should cover them with loads of oil, but you should have enough so that when you stir them round they all have some olive oil around them. 🙂

    1. Thanks very, very much for your feedback on this dish. It’s really been quite an experiment for me and I can’t wait to give your suggestions a try!

Comments are closed.