Sunday, July 10, 2011

Greek Home Cooking

The cookbooks to review are stacking up a bit, so I have come up with a new plan. We've built a bit of a supper club around the books to review, and each host/hostess gets to keep the book they cook from and we review the dishes from the dinner.

The "test" book for the review provided by Andrews McMeel, was Food from Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros. I think the best part of the book is the photography and the introductions to each recipe that provide the history of the recipe and context of when it is enjoyed. Recipes are organized around a blend of holidays and traditions, such as Fasting Foods, Easter and Baker's Foods.

Many pages in the book are used for setting the scene; travel photos and full page scenery to give the feel of Greece and frame the flavors of the dishes. It's pleasant to just flip through the pages and daydream about dusting off my passport. I found the vegetable dishes most appealing from the recipes we tried. The beets with yogurt and pistachios was a surprise best hit. I made it the way the book had written for the dinner. Since then, I have adapted the recipe to have more tanginess and less raw garlic. My version is here (scroll down).

We also made Artichokes and Fava Beans, which was a nice change of pace from the simple favas with pecorino that I usually make, lemon pairs well with artichokes and fava. Mint and artichokes are what the Flavor Bible refers to as a "holy grail" pairing, something I discovered by accident serving my kid steamed artichoke with the lemon-mint dressing I had on hand. A holy grail pairing is something like melon and prosciutto or tomatoes and basil, where the combination of the two ingredients is flavor perfection.

The main dishes we tried were Baked Fish with Tomato and Baked Lamb with Rice-Shaped Pasta. The fish dish was light and fresh. The lamb dish I would revise a bit, it was dry and needed more flavor for us.

We tested the book earlier this spring, so all the ingredients were in season. I got stuck deciding between Spinach Rice and Wild Greens Pie, so I made my own blend, Wild Greens Rice. Yes, I was lazy and did not want to make the pastry on a week night! But I do love spanikopita, and both these recipes reminded me of those flavors.

This is a book I would buy from its visual appeal alone, but there are many recipes that will inspire my own cooking. I've always loved Greek food and am excited to have this as a field guide to trying more.

My recipe versions:

Beets with Lemony-Mint Yogurt Dressing
1 lb. beets, roasted as below
2 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. white balsamic
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tbs. walnut oil
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1 tbs. honey
1/4 cup mint, chopped
1/3 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
3 tbs. crushed pistachios

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash beets. Cut the stems and root from the beets, wrap in foil. Save the greens for the next recipe. Cut the root end off a head of garlic, wrap in foil. Place both in the oven. Roast the beets for about an hour (longer if the beets are larger than 2 inches diameter). Roast the garlic for about 45 minutes.

When the garlic is done, unwrap and squeeze the cloves out of the peel. You can use the remaining garlic in many ways; such as blending with mayonnaise and lemon for an aioli. Unwrap the beets and using a paper towel, rub the skins off the cooked beets for easy peeling. Set the beets aside to cool to warm.

Blend the remaining ingredients, except pistachios, into the sauce and toss with the beets. Garnish with the pistachios and serve just room temperature.

Wild Greens and Rice
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
2 tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
12 oz greens, mixed, baby kale, arugula, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens, collards
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1/2 bunch dill, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 tbs. mint, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4 oz. feta cheese crumbled
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper to taste

Boil the water, add the 1 cup rice. Cover, turn down to a simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a larger pot. You will need room for the greens until they cook down. Add the garlic and saute for a minute. Add the greens and saute for about five minutes, or until just wilted, but still bright green. Remove to a cutting board and let cool enough to chop. Add the chopped herbs, green onions, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fold in the rice and feta cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes until the top just turns golden in places and the rice and greens are heated through. Goes well with chicken or fish.