Rice Pilaf

This is a recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook, a go-to cookbook that was given to me as a wedding gift. Twenty-plus years later, I still refer to this cookbook. One of the reasons I trust it so much is because of the accuracy of the Greek recipes included. (Zoe Coulson, the author, might have been Greek – these recipes are so authentic.) Anyway, this is her recipe for “Orzo-Rice Pilaf.” It’s an excellent accompaniment to any roasted or grilled meat, or fish.  I’ve adapted the original recipe a bit to please my taste buds – I hope it pleases yours, too!

¼ c. unsalted butter
¼ c. olive oil
I yellow onion, chopped fine
1 c. orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 c. chicken broth
1 c. regular long-grain rice (white or brown)

In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, melt butter with olive oil. Add orzo and onion; cook until pasta and onion are golden, stirring often, about 10 mins. Stir in broth and rice; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 mins. or until liquid is absorbed and orzo and rice are tender.

Serves 8.

Kopenhai

If I had to pick one Greek dessert that I loved above all others, this would be it.  The filling reminds me of cakes made with marzipan, and if it makes me think of marzipan, then it has to be good!  This dessert was created in honor of the Danish prince who, in 1862, became King George I of Greece.  (Kopenhai is named for Copenhagen, the capital of his native Denmark.)  My mother got this recipe from an old family friend from Chicago.  The idea of working with filo can be scary, but it really is easy – especially when you are only using it in layers in a pan.  It is so easy that my daughter demonstrated making this dessert at a local Greek festival, after only one practice session with filo.

cutting filo 

Cake: 6 oz. blanched almonds, ground fine
1/2 lb. melted butter, unsalted
2 c. sugar
1 c. bread crumbs (Panko works well)
1/2 oz. brandy
7 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 lb. filo, defrosted

Syrup: 2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 t. lemon juice

Make the syrup: Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then allow to simmer, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lemon juice, stir, allow to cool, then refrigerate.

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 375°F.  Separate the eggs; beat the egg whites until the peaks just stand up. In a mixer, beat egg yolks and add sugar slowly until the mixture is fluffy and light. Then add the brandy. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a large spoon, fold in the whites, alternating with the bread crumbs and almonds. Mix well.
Butter a large (13″ x 9″ x 2″) Pyrex dish or metal pan. Use half of the filo for the bottom, separately fitting and placing each sheet, and buttering it before layering the next sheet. Pour the mixture on top of the layers of filo. Then continue layering and buttering the remaining sheets over the top of the mixture. Cut the top layers of filo down the middle (the long way) with a sharp knife before cooking. Bake for 30-40 mins. Pour the cold syrup over the hot cooked cake.  For a traditional presentation, cut into diamond-shapes.

Roasted potatoes

This is a super–easy recipe that picky-purist-eaters (like my first-born prince) will actually request. If you’re really in a rush, increase the oven temp to 450° F, and roast for 30 mins, stirring every 10 mins. The fresh herbs dress up the presentation; the dill is especially nice when accompanied by fish dishes.

2 lbs. baby red rose potatoes
¼ c. melted butter
¼ c. olive oil
¼ c. lemon juice
4-6 peeled, fresh garlic cloves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley to taste (optional)
Chopped, fresh dill to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash and quarter the potatoes. Spray with PAM, or grease a 12” x 7” casserole dish. Whisk butter, olive oil, and lemon juice together. Spread potatoes and garlic in the casserole dish, drizzle with the butter mixture, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the oven. Roast for 45 mins., stirring potatoes every 15 mins., until potatoes are fork-tender. Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using. Serve hot.

Serves 6-8.

Tsatziki

Tsatziki is a Greek classic – a cool-as-a-cucumber, appetizer dip that can be extended into the main part of the meal.  This is an excellent recipe from Joyce Goldstein’s Mediterranean Cooking. It’s great as an hors d’oeuvre with pita bread triangles, or as a condiment with roast chicken (or lamb) and rice pilaf. The secret ingredient is the fresh mint.

2 c. plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and coarsely grated
Salt
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 t. pure olive oil
2 t. lemon juice
3 T. chopped fresh mint
Freshly ground pepper

1. Line a sieve with cheesecloth (or a doubled paper towel) and place over a bowl. Spoon the yogurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or as long as overnight.
2. Place the grated cucumber in a sieve set over a bowl, sprinkle with salt and let drain for 30 mins. Then rinse off the salt and gently squeeze the cucumber dry.
3. In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, garlic, olive oil, cucumber, lemon juice, and chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, if desired.

Cook’s notes: I use low-fat Mountain High plain yogurt; I’ve tried Fage yogurt, thinking that Greek-style yogurt would be better, but it was way too thick and heavy. I just put the garlic through a garlic press (no mincing for me!); I just sliver the mint, I don’t really chop it. And I don’t add extra salt after salting the cucumbers; it doesn’t need it. I do add pepper, of course.

Greek Easter

“Greek Easter” has always been notoriously (well, if you’re Greek Orthodox) out-of-sync with the rest of Christendom. This year is exceptionally late: Greek Easter is on May 5; everybody else’s Easter is on March 31. That’s 5 weeks! Talk about Greek-time… (as opposed to on-time). Ah well, I guess we can buy Easter treats and decorations at half-price…

Except that traditional Greeks don’t really go in for the Easter bunny thing. Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox Church, and little bunnies and fuzzy chicks don’t enhance the drama and ritual of the celebration. The closest we get to Easter baskets is red eggs and Easter bread. The Easter bread sports a jaunty red egg baked in the middle, and sometimes the dyed eggs get wrapped in tulle and tied with a ribbon, but that’s about it.

red egg

That said, it’s helpful to remember that Greeks are also known for independent thinking – Greece was the birthplace of democracy, after all. Translated, that means anything goes – I hope my mom is not reading this!  So, if you want a Greek menu and an Easter egg hunt for the little ones – go for it! (That’s what I do, anyway!)Greek Easter apps

Here are some of the options I’m considering for Greek Easter on May 5th:
Saganaki with french bread slices
Tyropites
Hummous with pita triangles
Tsatziki
Crudités

Barbecued leg of lamb
Rice pilaf
Roasted potatoes
Grilled sea bass
Spanakopita
Greek salad
Greek Easter bread

Kourambiethes
Karithopita
Kopenhai
Galactoboureko
Fresh fruit

Wines/spirits from Greece
Coffee
Chamomile tea
Potokalathes