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Old 05-26-2006, 02:22 PM   #41
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Oh - & a couple of simple "Greek" ideas I frequently use:

Top boneless, skinless chicken breasts, or filets of bluefish, mahi-mahi, or really any fish filet of your choice with diced tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, sliced red onion rings, & chopped fresh or dried oregano. Then bake as usual Delicious. The "Greek" treatment works particularly nice with normally "strong" fish like bluefish, mahi-mahi, mackerel, etc., etc.
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Old 05-27-2006, 01:17 PM   #42
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Originally Posted by Ayrton
So what it comes down to is a series of procedures of draining the greens when they're cooked right, reducing the liquid, reassembling. I have it all written down because I did so for a friend a few years back -- if anyone wants it, you can PM me and I'll send it to you as a .pdf file. Otherwise, I can elaborate in another (lengthy no doubt, sorry!) post.
I would love the pdf file :-) I've enjoyed your post so much, and you're making me feel more comfortable about making this.

I was also thinking of doing some of it as near traditional as possible, and maybe doing a few with ricotta AND FETA cheese too (I LOVE RICOTTA), but I love FETA too.

-- Cindy
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Old 05-29-2006, 02:00 AM   #43
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Originally Posted by Cindy
I would love the pdf file :-) I've enjoyed your post so much, and you're making me feel more comfortable about making this.

-- Cindy
Hi Cindy --

Thanks for your nice comments! I've PM'd you about that .pdf file.

Please don't feel apprehensive about making spanakopita! It's 100% achievable, provided you can get ahold of reasonably similar ingredients (and even if not, I'll betcha we can figure out how to get around that ...).

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Old 05-29-2006, 05:06 AM   #44
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also, (and i'd presume that i probably speak for many others also), i'd like to see you post the in-depth version of your spanakopita recipe...
Well philso, "in-depth" you said?!

I'm embarrassed to post such a long reply, however -- honestly? There isn't a single detail I'd leave out if I REALLY wanted to teach somebody how to make it just right (IMHO, of course) and didn't secretly want to break their b***s by leaving out all the stuff I learned through failure.

This is a classic example of "a picture's worth a thousand words" ... but ... what's a girl to do?!


Wash the greens, dill, and onions well, trimming wherever needed. Cut spring onions and dill (and leeks if using) into quite large chunks. Spin or shake all greenery dry (an important step -- it will save you time later). The exception to this would be the leafy greens if you’re planning on following my bulk-reducing procedure which follows (no. 3) as it would make drying the greens first just silly.

Keep all the various greens separate!

Into your largest sauté pan, pour a GENEROUS amount of olive oil (as much as a half cup if you can stand to), a generous amount of fresh, coarsely ground black pepper, the chopped spring onions, and the dill. Sauté very briefly, enough time to keep all greens very bright in color, but to start to soften.

The next step is to add the greens into the sauté pan, however, if you're using 1-1/2 or 2 kilos of spinach as I do, you won't be able to pile them all right away into a sauté pan no matter how large it is, without an irritating amount getting dropped onto the floor. And since you’re simultaneously trying not to overcook any of the greens, you need first to reduce their bulk somewhat rather than adding them in doses.

Usually I just plunk all the washed greenery into one of the sink bowls – plugged, and sparkling clean of course – over which I then pour a liter or two of boiling water. I turn them for a minute or so and then quickly drain. That usually does the trick, although you might come up with a preferred method which would be fine. The important point here is DON’T overcook the greens – an overriding aim in this recipe and one which is at the root of much of the fussy technique.

Once the greens are reduced and drained, into the sauté pan they go, together with the oil, onions, and dill. Salt at this point, but please try your feta first to determine how much salt it will be adding to the final result.

Sauté the whole affair enough time to make the greens somewhat limp and to have started to shed their water, but only just. At that point, dump the entire mixture into a colander over a bowl. Two tips on which bowl to choose:
  • preferably a clear glass bowl
  • preferably a bowl of a shape & height such that the bottom of your colander is suspended several centimeters, at least, from the bottom.
(Both details about the bowl end up surprisingly important once you rig up the draining apparatus -- something which always reminds me of a circus unicyclist on a tightrope ...)

Place a heavy, clean, weight on the top of the greens – another bowl or saucepan filled c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y with water will do – and extract the liquid from the greens mixture. A great deal will come out at first.

Add the extracted liquid back into the now-empty sauté pan and make a quick detour to start on step 8 as well.

Every 5 minutes or so, add whatever other liquid has gathered in the bottom of the glass bowl. For heaven’s sake, disassemble the entire set-up with care (accidentally slopping some water into the draining greens mixture isn't catastrophic -- it's just a pain).

At some point, when the amount of liquid being extracted is reduced to a trickle, declare "enough's enough" and stop tending to it. This should be about 10-15 minutes, although, within reason, the drier the better. Transfer the greens from the colander into a bowl with room for mixing.

Simultaneously, while the extraction process is going on, on as slow a heat as you can stand, start to reduce the liquid.

Never sauté your greens and discard the liquid as it borders on a crime. So much flavor is locked into that liquid!

Initially, as you'll have as much as several cups of liquid simmering away, you can walk away from the stove for awhile (it's a good time to clean the kitchen – which will need it by this point). However, as the liquid reduces more, you'll need to keep a close eye on it all, especially as much of what remains will be oil but you may not realize it. At this point, the liquid easily burns and should that happen, much work will have been lost and there will be no way to reconstitute the liquid.

I “work” the liquid toward the end of the reduction process by tilting the pan back and forth over the flame, carefully watching the steam rise from the drained spots until I sense that less steam is coming out and that presumably, therefore, the water content is almost down to zero. The consistency should be almost syrupy. (It's okay – desirable even, depending on taste – for the oil to have slightly browned as it lends a pleasant nutty richness to the final mixture.)

Oil whatever baking pan you've decided upon, and place in it a bottom crust. (The crust does not need to extend up the sides.)

Mix the hot oil (...or cooled should you need to: the temperature's not an issue) into the now-coolish greens and toss them all about. (If you're using spinach or greens, it's probably advisable at this point to cut them into less choke-inducing sizes. Slashing violently into the whole affair with kitchen scissors works just fine. This keeps the kiddies safe, and also makes it much easier to mix the oil in.)

If you need to do the filling ahead of time and bake a bit later so that it's just coming out of the oven at a certain time, this is where you’d stop with the filling. It can even be refrigerated at this point (but no later) without any reduction what-so-ever in the quality.

(cont'd. in the next post)
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Old 05-29-2006, 05:15 AM   #45
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(cont'd. from previous post)
Beat a couple of eggs and add to the greens, mixing in fairly evenly. Slop the entire mixture onto the bottom crust. Distribute it fairly evenly, but don’t mush it into a really even layer – it has far more eye-appeal and mouth-appeal if it’s a bit uneven.

Over the greens put about a half-kilo (or less if you’re feeling cheap and/or don’t plan on this for a meal unto itself and/or aren't wild about feta) of crumbled SOFT feta.

Very buttery feta makes a melt-in-your-mouth experience that is not to be missed, although up to medium-hard is tolerable too. Avoid hard, crumbly feta like the plague! It becomes almost rubbery as it cools and never really melds with the greens, just sits there acting stuck up.

Distribute the feta around (this means kind of smearing it if you've got the very nicest feta – use your hands). Top with your top crust of choice, then brush on either a beaten egg or a bit of milk (I usually use the latter, often a bit of evaporated milk if it's handy). It should be charmingly bumpy.

Pop it in the oven until the top crust is a golden brown. (With a filo crust you'd be advised to score the top crust for easier cutting later, but with more malleable crusts, it's really not necessary.)

None of these pitas are at their best re-heated in a microwave. The guts heat fine but the crust suffers. Instead, place in a dry sauté pan over a medium-low heat, turning to crisp both sides. It's not quite, but almost as good as when fresh.

The pita will keep three, maybe four, days, but no more without the bottom crust getting disgusting.

(Sorry to disagree, BreezyCooking, but in my experience, spankopita does NOT freeze well as it gets waterlogged and revolting upon thawing.)
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Old 05-29-2006, 05:50 AM   #46
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Originally Posted by philso
wow, it's great to be able to get the low-down from such an assembly of experts.
Ayrton - that's quite interesting about the other-varieties-of-crust-than-filo. i'd like to hear what your crust recipe is like. also, (and i'd presume that i probably speak for many others also), i'd like to see you post the in-depth version of your spanakopita recipe.
i also have something that i'd like to run past you.
here in japan, i can get feta if i take a train about an hour and a half, but filo is pretty much non-existant. so, no recipe in hand, i made some (actually have made some a few times), and (i may be delusional here) i'm wondering if this is even close to how it was made by your husbands grandmothers' before the advent of the frozen, packaged variety. i made a dough of water, olive oil, salt and bread flour. after kneading, i first rolled it and then stretched it out with the backs of my hands (vaguely like pizza dough, but this was on the table, without tossing). i got it to about 1 meter by maybe two and a half meters or so, about the thickness of a piece of paper, but maybe just shy of being as thin as the commercial filo, at least around the edges.
do people still make homemade filo in greece, or is it like bagguetes in france; left to the pro's?
Hi philso! I see you're up and kicking in Japan at this hour. Always did want to visit there. Out of curiousity, are you an ex-pat?

Regarding your questions: the crust recipe I use is a VERY standard American/British pie dough recipe -- flour, salt, shortening (lard or butter or margarine) and ice water. Do you need proportions?

As for your hour-and-a-half train ride to get feta (!) I can only say it must be MIGHTY nice feta for you to go to that trouble! Is it from a Greek-owned grocery, by any chance? That would be great since they would most likely bring in the real deal, and some variety too.

Have you tried quizzing the owners of local Greek restaurants, or don't such things exist where you live?

As for the filo dough, first of all, I'm VERY impressed with you trying to make your own, and with getting such a huge piece so thin! I'll just betcha there aren't very many Greeks who could (or would) do that these days.

Which somewhat answers your other question: yes, making filo at home is indeed a dying art here. I know no-one who makes it, even several elderly women living in remote villages who do, otherwise, make some pretty amazingly authentic stuff.

Here most people buy filo and other doughs, frozen, from the supermarket. We can also buy it at small dough "workshops" scattered around throughout Athens. There they still make their own filo and other doughs like kourou, kataifi, and puff pastry, and they're a great deal of fun to visit and watch. They work on absolutely huge tables by the way -- about 3 or 4 meters square! Flour, flour everywhere!
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Old 05-30-2006, 07:23 AM   #47
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Ayrton - only got a few minutes to reply at this point.
1) absolutely fabulous post - i've got a few days off towards the end of june, and i may do it then.

2) ex pat - not intentionally, but seems to have turned out that way

3) generally two kinds of feta available at the store i go to; australian and danish(?) as i recall. not particularly great.

4) never heard of any greek restaurants around, which doesn't mean that the don't exist though. mounting an expedition may turn one up.

5) i'm ok with a regular pie crust. in fact, having looked at the number of questions concerning pie crusts, i've started an in-depth dissertaion i'm thinking of titling "pie crust 101". i'm kind of a busy guy, so it's not coming together all that fast though.

6) the filo (ok, strudel dough with olive oil) i make isn't all that difficult. it's a fun little project i only do about once a year or so. you might want to try it yourself
let me make sure that wine's ok before i use it.
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Old 12-02-2006, 01:14 AM   #48
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Greek Beans and tomatoes

1 can green beans ( drained, I use home canned ones but you can use the store bought)
1 can tomatoes ( undrained, I use the home canned ones here too)
olive oil
Salt, pepper, oregano and parsley

Sauté diced onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft
add beans and tomatoes. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add spices either fresh or dried may be used.
Cook until liquid is almost gone.
I like to make this in the summer with fresh string beans and tomatoes. It is one of the best dishes in the world, imo.....

However, whenever anyone mentions "Greek Food," my thoughts always go to Pastitsio, a dish that is similar to Lasagna, and yet couldn't be more different. I love this stuff so much that I included it in my cookbook!

Here's the recipe:

For those of you to whom the name “Pastitsio” is unfamiliar, it is a traditional Greek dish that is a very close cousin to Italian Lasagna. I’d describe it as a little more refined in its flavors, but every bit as voluptuous. It’s magnificent to come home to after a chilly afternoon spent at the football stadium, and it benefits from reheating. My long-time friend Emy Kosmas shared this recipe because she knows how much I love Pastitsio.

makes 16 servings (maybe more!)

Meat Sauce
1 cup onions, finely chopped
1 cup + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
2 pounds ground lean lamb
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf

Cream Sauce (Béchamel)
5 cups half and half
4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups flour
Freshly grated nutmeg
8 large eggs
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
3/4 pound Kefalotiri cheese, grated
1 1/2 pounds ziti, cooked
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. For meat sauce: In a large skillet, cook onion in 3 tablespoons butter. When onion is translucent, add garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add meats. Cook over high heat, breaking meat up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer red.
2. Season meat mixture with salt, pepper, tomato sauce, oregano, cinnamon, basil, bay leaf, parsley and wine. Cook the sauce, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. (The dish can be prepared to this point in advance and refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to use it.)
3. For cream sauce: Heat milk and 4 cups half-and-half just to the boil. In another saucepan, melt 1 cup butter. Add the flour, stirring with a wire whisk. When the roux is blended and smooth, pour in the hot milk and cream, stirring vigorously with the whisk to keep it from lumping. Cook until the sauce is thick and smooth, about 15 minutes.
4. Season sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Turn off heat and let the sauce cool for 10 minutes.
5. In a bowl, beat eggs with remaining half-and-half. Gradually add about 2 cups of the warm cream sauce to this egg mixture, beating constantly to make sure the eggs don't curdle. Then pour the egg mixture into the cream sauce, continue to stir until everything is well blended. Finally, beat in the ricotta.
6. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a LARGE baking dish --at least 15 x 9 x 4 inches.
7. Cook the ziti and put half in the dish. Sprinkle with half the Kefalotiri. Spoon in half the cream sauce, smoothing it with the back of the spoon. Spread on all the meat sauce. Now add remaining ziti, cream sauce and Kefalotiri. Sprinkle on Parmesan. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, covered, then 30 more uncovered. Let stand 30 minutes before cutting.

Teacher’s Tip: When you make an elaborate pasta dish, you’ll want to make it the centerpiece of your meal. All I would serve with this luscious casserole is a salad of tart young greens such as arugula, dandelions or mache, dressed simply with lemon juice and the very fruitiest extra-virgin olive oil you can find.

Wine Tip: There are some delicious Greek wines available these days, but if you live very far from a major city, you will probably have trouble finding them. I’d be tempted to choose a Spanish Rioja (red!) for its vivacious character
Wine is the food that completes the meal.
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Old 12-02-2006, 02:19 AM   #49
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Greek food lovers, ChefJune's recipe of Pastitsio is very good and you should try it. In case young wild greens are not available, you can serve it with a cabbage salad or any boiled seasonal veggies like cauliflower, zucchini etc. Just drizzle EVOO and vinegar/lemon over it.
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Old 12-02-2006, 03:00 AM   #50
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I didn't realize I had already asked the freezer question. Sorry :-)

Pastisto is another one that my husband wants me to learn to make. I'm still working off a one FUNCTIONING burner stove. I told him when he hooks up my new stove, I'll start making this stuff. LoL The new stove has 5 burners and a convection oven and a warming oven. :-)
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