Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Semolina Halvas

So, the last time I blogged about this dish - and probably the last time I made it - was the 21st of October, 2009. It...didn't turn out. This time I went with a simple recipe, and in hindsight, I think there were one or two things I did to make it turn out better this time around.

Last time, Maria asked me if I had tried the "1-2-3-4" recipe, and I don't think that I had. I did some research and the recipe she had posted was very similar to the one in Vefa's Kitchen (seen here on my blue ottoman), which had more details on the actual cooking. I think the problem was that the last time, I had used cold syrup and hot semolina, like I was adding syrup to a cake - it made sense to me, and might well have been in the recipe. But these recipes did not specify that the syrup be cold, and I think that makes all the difference. Plus, I may well have not browned the semolina enough, which would have meant that it wouldn't absorb as much syrup, causing it to have the consistency of applesauce - not particularly appealing!

1 cup of olive oil or melted butter
2 cups of semolina
3 cups of sugar (Vefa's Kitchen specifies "fine/caster sugar", but I don't think that's necessary)
4 cups of water
1 cinnamon stick
a handful of pine nuts or chopped almonds
several cloves
lemon/orange peel and/or juice
ground cinnamon for sprinkling
Equipment: two large saucepans, two wooden spoons, a metal ladle, a clean towel, a pan or molds for the finished dish.

In one pot, combine four cups (=one litre) of water with three cups of sugar, the cinnamon stick, cloves, and the citrus peel of your choice, plus a bit of juice. I don't tend to keep fresh citrus in the house, so I used a dash of bottled lemon juice. Stir and heat at medium heat.

At the same time, in the other pot, combine the cup of olive oil and two cups of semolina, stirring the mixture constantly over medium heat as well. When the mixture starts to change colour (if you are using a good olive oil, it will be greenish to start; if not, the yellow colour will simply deepen), add the pine nuts or almonds, and continue to stir until the mixture is golden brown. Be vigilant about stirring it, or it will burn.

By the time the semolina is ready, the sugar should be dissolved into the water, forming a light syrup. Remove the spices and peek with a slotted spoon, and add a ladleful at a time to the semolina. "Vefa's Kitchen" seems to imply it should be the semolina which goes into the syrup, but I don't think that makes much sense - you want the semolina to absorb a huge amount of liquid, so adding the syrup bit by bit to the semolina makes more sense. Add the syrup with one hand, stir vigorously with the other, and keep going till there's nothing left. Your arm will get tired (the mixture gets quite heavy), but it will be worth it in the end. Keep the burners under both pots on while you do this, I think the continued influence of the heat is an important element.

When all of the syrup has been absorbed by the semolina, cover the pot with a clean dish towel, put the lid on top of that, and leave it to cool for 10 minutes or so. Come back and spoon it into whatever container you want - you can put it into molds or bowls, then invert and decorate with some powdered cinnamon and some pine nuts, as I've done, or you can put it in a pan and scoop portions out.

Delicious hot or cold, halvas should have a rich, silky-yet-gritty texture, sweet but also citrusy, enhanced by the warm, familiar taste of cinnamon and cloves. The pine nuts reveal themselves like buried treasure, nutty nuggets of glistening amber. Pure joy, pure comfort food. Please do give this recipe a try, and tell me how you liked it!

Καλή όρεξη!
- Σ.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fassolia yiahni

I made this dish twice in July, until I was sick of it. But man, was it ever good! Usually when I make fassolia yiahni (which we call "summer fassolada" in my family), it's vegetarian. This time I thought I'd experiment with adding some boneless, skinless chicken thighs to the mix...they really didn't add much, except a whole bunch of time wasted browning the meat. Chris thought I should add ground beef, but I feel like it would be similarly "meh". What makes this dish so amazing is the freshness of the veggies - it's not something I would ever make in the winter, with musty potatoes, bland zucchini and wrinkly, flavourless string beans. But in July, when everything is at its peak, this dish is sweet and juicy and amazing...

Ratios are up to you - I like a good mix, my mom adds extra potato because that's her favourite part. You would feel a bit ripped off if you didn't get at least a few pieces of potato in your serving, so don't skimp on them. Don't cut your zucchini/courgettes too small, as they will get mushy. I used baby zukes this time, so I cut them chunkier than I normally would; this saved them from disintegration, but also meant that they tasted very green and "strong" in the centre, where they had no contact with the tomato sauce...

So, there's no real "recipe" with precise measurements here...but you will want to have these things handy:

- fresh local green string beans - about a bag full, washed, trimmed, and snapped in half (or into thirds, if some beans are especially large)
- fresh local smallish zucchini (aka courgettes), cut into thickish slices
- fresh local white new potatoes, cut up into halves or quarters
- one onion, diced
- as much garlic as you'd like, at least two or three cloves, diced
- some sort of tomato: my mother uses the better part of a can of tomato paste + 2c. of water; I had canned San Marzano tomatoes, so I mashed them up and used that. You could probably use any canned product, or diced or grated fresh tomatoes.
- lots of Greek extra virgin olive oil - I use "Solon" brand.
- Greek sea salt
- fresh-ground black pepper
- oregano

Put your diced garlic and onion along with a generous amount of olive oil in your "soup pot" over medium heat - I used a stock pot, but it tends to get burnt on the bottom - use something with a nice heavy bottom. I usually coat the bottom of the pot with oil - amounts are up to you, but remember that olive oil isn't the enemy, and it will add to the texture and flavour of the final product. Saute the onions and garlic till soft. Add your green beans and stir until they are bright green. Add your tomatoes and potatoes, cooking for five minutes, before adding the zucchini (this helps prevent overcooking the zucchini). Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Let boil on medium heat for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally (keep an eye on it, as it has a tendency to stick), or until potatoes are cooked. Taste for salt. Serve with nice crusty bread.

If you want to add chicken, like I did: trim and dice up some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and pan fry in batches in olive oil. Add to the pot along with the potatoes.

Kali orexi!
- Σ

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dakos, part II

Maria V. posted some dakos on her Facebook page the other day and I thought "what better thing to eat on a hot, muggy day when I don't want to cook?" I re-read her post about it, then hopped in the car to get some tomatoes, cucumber and ricotta from the grocery store, since I still had some paximathia (rusks - like hard melba-toast-esque buns) saved, I'd recently bought some (admittedly Canadian) feta, and I always have oregano on hand.

The last time I made dakos, I made them with artisanal rusks from the bakery in my father's home village of Galatas, and they were too hard for my taste. I also used a food processor to pulp the tomatoes for me, and I used crumbled feta alone.

This time, I was determined to do things right. I knew that both feta and ricotta are suggested as substitutes for the incomparable myzithra cheese (which my uncle makes by hand from the milk of his own goats), and I usually choose one or the other in a recipe. But what if I combined the two? That's precisely what I did - I mashed a slice or two of feta with spoonfuls of a similar amount of (again unfortunately Canadian) ricotta, and the result was neither too salty or too sweet (I find ricotta sickeningly sweet), and was thick and creamy. Success!

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself...we should do things in order.

Mise en place, from left to right, clockwise: Cretan rye rusks, ricotta, English cucumber (garnish), green olives (garnish), sundried black olives (garnish), tomatoes (ignore the garlic), Cretan oregano, feta cheese (centre). There's also some extra virgin first cold pressed Greek olive oil somewhere over there to the right.

So, ingredients:
Rusks (2-4)
Tomatoes (1-2)
Feta (at least one or two slices)
Ricotta (a few spoons full)
Olive oil & oregano to taste
Cucumbers and olives to garnish


Get out 1-2 rusks per person. Mine were large so I should only have done one up, but I chose to do three. I'll eat the left-overs later. I smashed mine up a bit with the butt of a steak knife because I was worried about ruining my dental work biting into a whole rusk if it was still hard. This step is optional.

Now, grate your tomato. I don't have any pictures of the actual grating, because it was messy. You'll be left holding the skin, but that's a good thing because it lets you grate all of the flesh without grating your own!

Doesn't that look awesome! I was worried after the first tomato, but the second one worked out great. At this point I drizzled on some olive oil...

Mmmm, oily.....

Now for our cheese mixture:

I don't know what I should call it: rifeta, ricetta, or fetacotta! As much as I like the sound of fetacotta, I wouldn't go that way I don't think because it would mean something like "cooked slice" in Italian...!

Spread pillowy mounds of "rifeta" atop your tomato purée, drizzle with oil, and crumble some oregano on top. Eat with some cool cucumber and some green or black (preferably Greek) olives on the side. I liked the "eye" Maria gave hers, using an olive, so I gave mine like owl faces (two eyes and a beak) with some dried black olives since dakos is also called "koukouvayia", which means "owl":
   What a cute little family of owls!

I drank a Moosehead Light Blackberry beer, brewed nearby in Saint John NB since it's what's in the fridge right now, but this would be much better with an ice-cold Mythos beer or some ouzo!

Kali orexi!

Monday, June 7, 2010


I recently made my first proper spanakopita, which went over so well that I immediately bought more phyllo, with the goal of making another one the very next week, while my ricotta, fresh dill, etc. were still good. But for whatever reason Chris kept talking me out of it...and suddenly I had phyllo sitting in my fridge which had been there for three days. Something had to be done. I had everything I needed for spanakopita, but I had promised myself after the hortopita I made a few posts back, that my next foray into phyllo would be a sweet recipe. My friend Kate prides herself on her baklava and has always claimed it was easy...and all I'd need was honey and walnuts. What was there to lose?

Well ok, I knew I wanted to use honey in the syrup, but I knew that I would need some inspiration, if not instruction, so I did a search of the posts I'd read/saved in my Google Reader, and came across the perfect recipe over at Elly Says Opa's blog, which I combined with some elements from Joumana's recipe at Taste of Beirut.

Greek baklava (with an Eastern twist)
~1 lb. walnuts
1.5 heaping tsp. cinnamon (next time I'd add a bit more)
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. ground cloves (I used 1/2 tsp., but I'd add more, I like my nut mix well-spiced)
1 (16 oz.) package phyllo dough, thawed (I used Sobey's brand)
salted butter, melted in the microwave - I took out a stick of butter and melted it a bit at a time as I needed it, not sure of the exact amount.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
dash of lemon juice
dash of orange blossom water (at the end)
dash of rose water (at the end)

Combine your water, sugar, honey, lemon juice and cinnamon stick, and bring to a low boil, then turn down to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While you are waiting for the syrup, toast the walnuts pieces in a dry frying pan. I forgot about this step until I'd already sat them in the food processor and added sugar and cinnamon to them - it wasn't a problem, but you do run the risk of burning the sugar when you toast the nuts. Did make the whole kitchen smell like cinnamon though, that was a plus.

Put your walnuts in a food processor along with the cinnamon and cloves, and pulse until there aren't any big chunks left.

Once the syrup is ready, add your orange blossom and rose water - if you don't have these don't worry, they're optional, but you can buy them at Scoop and Save in Fredericton if you want to try something exotic. Stir for a few seconds, then take it off the heat. Once it's lukewarm, pour it into something (I used my 4c. liquid measuring cup) and put it in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Grease a (9×13) pan (I don't remember what size mine is, but you can trim your phyllo down to fit), and slowwwwwwly and carefully unroll your phyllo leaves. You can handle phyllo, just don't be rough with it. Cover it with a damp kitchen towel when you're not using it so it won't dry out and become a huge pain to work with! Now, count your phyllo leaves - I found that the Superstore brand phyllo had less leaves than the Sobeys brand package did. I think I had 22, some of those got damaged while baking. Just flip through one of the corners.

Having decided how many sheets you have to work with, place your pan on top of the phyllo and cut away the excess with kitchen shears, and place one layer of phyllo at the bottom of your pan. Brush the phyllo with the melted butter, and then add another layer of phyllo, and brush with more butter. I stopped when I had gotten to 5 sheets, where I added what I like to think of as a "rubble" layer, like putting rubble fill inside a wall - cheap, easy, ugly, but when you put a nice top layer on no one will know! I got this idea from Joumana's post above so for pictures, check hers out. Basically you take your phyllo trimmings, and scrunch them up like tissue paper and make a layer of that, drench it with butter, then cover it up with a nice smooth phyllo sheet. I find it gives me a thicker bottom without using more sheets, and it's quick, too!

So, smooth your phyllo down (this would be sheet 6) on top of your rubble/rag layer, butter it, maybe put one more layer if you want, then start dumping out your nut filling. Elly calls for 1/4, because she does four layers of walnuts - I didn't have enough sheets and my tray was big, so I only did two. You'll have to judge what you want to do based on how many leaves you have, how much filling you have, etc. Anyhow, dump out 1/4-1/2 of your mix and then pick your pan up and gently shake it from side to side, which will give you a nice, even layer of nuts. You might have to push a few into the corners, but it works like a charm.

Add another 5 layers of phyllo, buttering between each one (or every two sheets, if you're lazy!). Dump the rest of your filling if you're doing half and half, if not keep alternating 5 sheets of phyllo with nut mix. Top with 7 sheets of phyllo, like on the bottom

Take a dull butter knife or spatula and gently go around the edge of the baklava, tucking the edges down in. Choose a long, sharp knife (I used the "slicer" in my knife block) and cut your baklava into diamonds or triangles. I'm not any good at diamonds, and I usually cut things into squares, but triangles aren't much harder: cut your baklava into three columns and four rows, then cut each square in half diagonally for triangles (baklava isn't exactly good for you, so triangles are a nice way to halve a portion). You have to cut your baklava before you cook it, otherwise the phyllo will just shatter when you try after pulling it out of the oven.

Speaking of ovens, it's time to bake our baklava! Into the oven it goes. Elly recommends 50 minutes @ 350F, and Joumana 45 minutes, but I set my oven timer for 40 minutes and really, it was only like 30-35 minutes and it was golden brown. So set it low, and keep and eye on it! I happened to smell it and thought, "I should check on it in case it's starting to burn", but I caught it in a state of perfection.

Once it's cooked, pull it out and sit it on a trivet on the counter, and fetch that lovely syrup from the fridge! It won't be cold, but cool enough. Pour it over the hot baklava and watch as it hisses and bubbles and soaks into every nook and cranny! Why the cold syrup though, you might ask? Well, one element has to be cool and one hot for the pastry to absorb the syrup - you can bake the baklava first and then pour hot syrup on it once it's cooled, but I found it easier to cook the syrup first while I was prepping. It's up to you, really.

Now the longer this sits, the better it will be, but it's worth having at least one piece warm and fresh, once it's cooled. Oh! One more thing! If you put this in the fridge, or even leave it out on the counter, don't cover it up! Phyllo-based dishes need to be left uncovered for the phyllo to stay crispy. Trust me, nobody likes soggy phyllo...

Enjoy with a glass of milk, or a cup of Greek coffee if you're so inclined!

Καλη όρεξη! Bon appétit!

- Σ

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I just wanted to drop by and mention that I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, I've just been very busy with school (doing my student teaching placement), and I lost my camera for a while (!), but I'm almost done the student teaching and I found my camera the other day, so keep your eyes peeled for posts from me in the near future!

- Σ

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Christmas Baking, part III

Ok, so the other thing I made over the holidays as melomakarona. I had been waiting foreeeeever to have some, and I finally got around to it on New Years Eve...I had to wait till New Years' Day to soak them in syrup, but I was ok with that.

Now, normally I would post a recipe, but since these didn't turn out I won't bother. They tasted fine plain - I liked the subtle hint of orange peel in them - but the syrup-soaking was a disaster. I had even bought a candy thermometer, to prevent any issues with the temperature of the syrup, and I still managed to mess it up. Instead of cold cookies/warm syrup, I'll do cold syrup/warm cookies, because the syrup kind of turned into taffy by the end! It was soooo hard to get them apart to eat afterwards, and the syrup all just sat on the surface rather than soaking in. We ate them all, but they weren't at all what I wanted.

Christmas baking, part II

So I've been a bit remiss in my posts lately (sorry about that), but now that school is back in session I've got assignments and group projects flying at me willy-nilly. But I have been taking pictures of things, and now that they've started to pile up I figured I should post something! First up: kourabiedes (part II) and melomakarona!

These kourabiedes are made with the same recipe as the first batch, but I made them bigger and rounder, added almonds, and added some rose water to them before I dusted them with sugar. They were much better, if only because they weren't burnt!