Category Archives: Greek

Olives with Lemon Zest and Fennel Seeds

fennel_olivespI haven’t bought seasoned olives for long year because homemade ones are simply better, cheaper and can be ready in about five minutes. Until now I have been seasoning them either European or what I call Korean style, always applying the same method (i.e. combine everything and put into the fridge). I eat them all year round, at any time of the day, at every occasion and even take them as an afternoon snack to the office. Somehow I feel this newly discovered version will be my first choice for hot summer evenings… These olives are particularly refreshing, slightly tangy and, maybe because of the fennel seeds, they simply beg for a glass of ouzo!

I found this mixture of flavours in Smashing Plates by Maria Elia, a wonderful imaginative source of Greek- and Cypriot-inspired recipes. I’ve barely modified the amounts and the method, but I strongly encourage everyone to check Smashing Plates, an original take on traditional Greek culinary traditions.

TIPS: As a big fan of fennel seeds and in general whole seeds as condiments, I loved the additional crunch and texture they add. If you don’t like the idea of whole seeds (or you aren’t sure about your guests’ preferences), you might use of course ground fennel seeds, but I’d advise coarse ground (and do it after roasting whole seeds).

The author advises to warm in the pan all the seasoning ingredients, but I prefer harsher taste of both garlic and chilli, so I have skipped it and only roasted the fennel seeds. Choose the method that suits you best.

Preparation: about 5-10 minutes

Ingredients (serves as a drinks snack for 8 people):

500 g brined olives (unseasoned, of course), drained and rinsed

3 medium garlic cloves, grated, crushed or finely sliced

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 fresh chillies, chopped (any heat level and colour will be fine; all depends on your preferences)

lemon zest from one medium lemon, cut into small pieces

5 tablespoons olive oil (or more)

Heat a pan on medium heat and roast fennel seeds for about 30 seconds (don’t burn them).

Combine with all the remaining ingredients and olives.

You can serve these olives straight away if you are in a hurry, but they improve after a night in the fridge (of course covered). If you have kept them in the fridge, take them out about 30 minutes before serving because the oil will solidify during the refrigeration.

They usually keep in the fridge for at least a week (or more).

Curry Pie with Leftover Filo Top

filo_crumble1pDo you ever have leftover filo pastry bits? As a filo addict I have those all the time (especially with my individual rolls). Now that I discovered genuine (though expensive) frozen Greek filo, they started to worry me much more than before. A heap of unused small bits of filo suddenly reminded me of a very unusual chicken “pie” spotted in Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies: chicken in a creamy sauce topped with crushed filo pieces. It looked original and delicious enough to stay engraved in my memory. I decided to use their idea of filo top, suspecting it would be perfect for any leftover strips and I was right.

I didn’t follow Hairy Bikers’  filling recipe since I happened to have some other leftovers (curry sauce and unused broccoli stalks from Pork and Broccoli in My Favourite Indian Curry). In fact, my filo rescuing plan became a triple leftover dish! I added some chicken meat, mushrooms and a carrot and the result, though looking quite messy, was a meal of delightful creamy and crunchy goodness. The airy crushed filo topping is so good, I am ready to destroy some whole pastry sheets to make it even if I don’t have leftovers!

As I have mentioned, I didn’t use the pie filling recipe from Hairy Bikers’ book, but it seems absolutely delicious, as well as all the other imaginative pies and tarts this huge source of recipes contains, so make sure you check it whether you are a fan of open tarts, British-style covered pies, mini tartlets, pasties or other similar dishes.

TIPS: You can, of course, make the curry from the scratch (see the recipe here) or use any other sauce of your choice (tomato sauce, for example). I had only 250 ml (about 1 cup) leftover curry sauce, so I have stretched it with some additional coconut milk.

Any vegetable or mushroom can be used here, but I’d advise pre-cooking briefly the mushrooms and the tough vegetables (carrots or broccoli stalks) but not broccoli florets or courgettes, for example.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two hungry people; fills a 16 x 16 cm baking dish):

1 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces

stalks and branches from one medium brocoli, cut into bite-sized pieces

5 rather big cultivated mushrooms (I have used ones called cremini in US and Canada), cut into four

about 400 ml (about 13.5 fl oz) leftover curry sauce (I had only 250 ml, so I added some coconut milk)

1 medium carrot, cut into thick half slices

about 3 sheets of filo/phyllo (can be whole or leftover strips)

oil or butter or coconut fat to brush filo

Preheat the oven to 200°C (392°F).

Heat the leftover sauce (adding more liquid, such as coconut milk, if needed).

As soon as it starts boiling, add the chicken, the carrots, the brocoli stalks and the mushrooms.

Let it simmer until the chicken is done.

If you use softer vegetables, such as courgette or brocoli florets, put them into the sauce about two minutes before the end (unless you like them rather mushy).

Taste the sauce, adjust the flavours and pour everything into a baking dish (you should have roughly 2/3-3/4 of the height filled; I have used here a 16×16 cm dish.

Spread the filo sheets or torn pieces flat and brush them slightly with the fat of your choice.

(If you use whole filo sheets, not leftovers, cut them into six or more squares).

Crush the filo in your palms and place on top of the curry making sure you cover well the whole dish.

Bake until golden (about 15 minutes).

Filo (or Yufka) Rolls with Beetroot and Feta

beet_filoyufkaBeetroot is one of these widely available vegetables I – strangely – almost never buy. I do not hate it, but it never provokes a craving I often experience while seeing beautiful tomatoes, aubergines or recently even fennel. When I recently saw the fabulously elegant Roasted Beets with Aromatised Feta Mousse at Katerina’s Culinary Flavors, I found the combination of the two ingredients highly promising and kept on thinking about it. Whenever I think about Katerina, filo pastry instantly comes to my mind and this is how I had this idea. If you hate beetroot, obviously these rolls are not for you, but for me, who has nothing against it, they were the best thing I’ve ever had with this humble vegetable. Thank you so much, dear Katerina, for this wonderful idea and constant inspiration!

Here are some other filo/phyllo pastry ideas you might like (especially if you hate beetroot):

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Filo Rolls with Black Pudding

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Feather-Light Filo Tart with Plums

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Chanterelle and Goat Cheese

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Rolls with Feta and Leek

Filo Triangles with Curried Beef

Filo Triangles with Indian-Style Beef

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita (Greek Feta and Spinach Pie)

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Mock Spanakopita Rolls with Wild Garlic

Filo Rolls with Bok Choy Leaves and Feta

Filo Rolls with Bok Choy Leaves and Feta

Filo Rolls with Roasted Green Chilli Pepper and Feta

Filo Rolls with Roasted Green Chilli Pepper and Feta

TIPS:  While adjusting the taste I found the beetroots’ sweetness too overwhelming and decided to add first lots of garlic, then chilli powder and finally some tamarind pulp. For my tastebuds this last magical touch that has made the filling perfect, but you might not like beetroot with strong flavours, so add all those gradually, according to your preferences.

You might wonder what cracked wheat or semolina are doing here. This is a magical trick I learnt from Katerina too: if added in small amounts, cracked wheat will not change the taste or texture, but it will absorb the humidity from the filling (the rolls will not leak).

I have recently had problems to buy filo pastry (my two favourite supermarkets stopped selling it), so I made an experiment with yufka, often described as “filo of the Balkans/Turkey” (my package even had the word “filo” printed). Well, even though I find this new pastry good, it is definitely NOT filo. Yufka (at least the one I bought) is at least 3 or four times thicker than filo pastry and doesn’t have such a light crumbly effect when baked (I find it also doesn’t brown quickly, hence the light colour at the photograph above). In short, it works as an emergency replacement, but is definitely different.

Tamarind (apart from its raw form) is usually sold either in hard blocks or in ready-to-use pulp (usually in jars). I strongly encourage everyone to buy the blocks, which keep for years in the fridge and which yield a much more lively, tangy pulp than the jarred one (moreover, they don’t have strange additives). It’s very easy to prepare pulp from the block: tear a 2×2 cm square and put into a mug. Add about 100 ml boiling water and after 5 minutes start stirring until the block starts dissolving. Leave for about 15 minutes and than strain through a sieve, pushing the pulp out with a spoon. Such a freshly squeezed pulp will keep in the fridge for several days.

Preparation: about 2 hours (or 1 hour if the beetroot is already cooked)

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter):

8-10 filo sheets or 2 1/2 yufka sheets

2 big beetroots

180-200 g feta

4 big garlic cloves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/3 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons tamarind pulp (if you make it on your own, or 3-4 tablespoons if you use the jarred pulp) or lime juice

salt, pepper, chilli powder

3 flat tablespoons cracked wheat or semolina

melted butter or oil

(fresh coriander leaves or dill)

Cook or bake the beetroots until very soft.

Put the cold beetroots and the garlic in a food processor and mix to a pulp.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Place the beetroot pulp in a bowl and add the cumin, the turmeric, the tamarind pulp and crumbled feta.

Season with chilli, salt, pepper and ground black pepper. Taste and adjust the flavours and add cracked wheat at the end. Give the pulp a good last stir.

If you use yufka, cut the sheets into four pieces each. Divide the filling into as many equal parts as the yufka pieces you have obtained.  Then, proceed as if you had filo sheets (which you don’t need to cut).

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge closest to you, a portion of the filling.

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Brush the rolls just before baking with some oil or melted butter.

Bake until light golden. Serve hot or slightly warm.

You can sprinkle with coriander or dill before serving.

Tzatziki with Fennel (Greek Yogurt, Cucumber and Fennel Dip)

tzatziki_fennel_I know most of us have been looking for warming, filling autumn dishes, but maybe, just like me, from time to time you need something fresh, something bringing back sunny summer memories… What about a new version of tzatziki? I found it while reading my latest buy: Food of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi and as a relatively recent fennel convert, I was thrilled to add it to my recipes’ list. It’s light, refreshing, crunchy and if you slice the fennel very finely (with a mandolin for example), I bet your fennel-hating guests will love it and some won’t even guess what they are eating. Serve it with grilled skewers, meats and vegetables, as a party dip or as a healthy bread spread. Most of all, hurry up before the fennel season ends!

As usually, I have modified the ingredients’ amounts and their ratio, so check Aglaia Kremezi’s original recipe. If you are interested in Greek food, I strongly advise her fascinating book, written with passion and deep knowledge of the culinary heritage and traditions of Greek islands, but most of all full of luscious-looking recipes.

TIP: If you use chilli pepper, black pepper is not necessary in my opinion.

Preparation: 10 minutes + cooling time

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 cup) Greek yogurt or any natural yogurt you have

1 small cucumber or 1/3 long cucumber

1 small fennel

salt, (ground black pepper)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove

(1 fresh small chilli pepper)

3 heaped tablespoons fresh chopped dill or fennel fronds

olive oil

Grate the cucumber (you can peel it or not, I prefer it unpeeled) and squash well to remove the juices.

Place in a bowl.

Slice the fennel very finely (the easiest way to obtain it is with a mandolin).

Place the fennel in the same bowl, add the crushed or grated garlic, the salt, the pepper (if using), the finely sliced chilli (if using), the lemon juice, the dill or fennel fronds and mix well. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Sprinkle with olive oil just before serving.

Filo Rolls with Bok Choy Leaves and Feta

bokchoyrolls_Bok choy (or pak choy) is one of the rare autumn and winter vegetables I always look forward to. As much as I love its stir-fried crisp stalks, I have never liked the texture of warm limp leaves, so if my bok choy had abundant leafy part (sometimes half of its height), I used to cut off about 3/4 of the leaves and throw it away. I hate wasting food, so I kept on experimenting with this unwanted part until I found a dish where its softness would be more than welcome. It worked perfectly as the spinach replacement in the famous Greek Spanakopita filling I have been making for some time according to Katerina’s excellent recipe. The result is equally delicious, though of course not  strictly Greek…

Instead of a whole pie I have made individual filo rolls, the form I prefer and find easier. I have slightly modified Katerina’s Spanakopita recipe, mainly adding garlic, so make sure you check her original recipe on Culinary Flavors where you will also find homemade filo pastry instructions.

TIPS: If you have less bok choy or less feta, feel free to change the ratio. I think that increasing the bok choy’s amount is less risky (feta is very salty).

The chopped dill is not obligatory here. If you use it, either use it fresh or frozen (not dried).

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (makes 6 rolls):

6 sheets of filo pastry

150 g feta cheese, crumbled

1 egg

3 big handfuls of chopped bok choy leaves

1 big clove garlic, crushed

(2 heaped tablespoons fresh chopped dill)

1 flat tablespoon cracked wheat (you can use semolina instead, but I prefer cracked wheat)

black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Put the chopped leaves into a bowl and squash them with your hands until the volume is reduced. Crumble the drained feta into a bowl. Add the chopped leaves, dill (if using), cracked wheat and some ground black pepper, stir well and with a spoon divide into 6 equal portions (this will make the filo sheets’ filling process much easier).

Spread one filo sheet on a big chopping board.

Place horizontally, about 2,5 cm/1 in. from the filo sheet’s shorter edge which is closest to you, a portion of feta and bok choy mixture.

Roll tightly but delicately, starting from the edge which is closest to you, folding the two lateral edges into the roll, so that the filling doesn’t leak during the baking process (I have folded here about 3 cm/about 1,2 inch on each side).

Proceed in the same way with the remaining rolls.

Brush the top of the rolls with some oil or melted butter, place on a baking tray or baking paper and bake in the oven until slightly golden (about 30 minutes in mine). Watch them often as they tend to burn quite quickly.