Friday, April 18, 2014

Paschalina Koulourakia - Greek Easter cookies

Last night, I started preparing the traditional tsourekia (Greek Easter yeasted sweet breads). I kneaded the dough until soft, smooth and shiny and placed it in the fridge to rest and proof overnight.






Today, as I took it out of the fridge, my nostrils were filled with the aroma of mahlepi and mastiha and I couldn’t wait to bake my breads. I braided the long strips of dough and after an hour or so, my beautiful tsourekia were ready. It was so hard to resist eating them right there on the spot.






Yesterday, though, I made something equally irresistible and delicious; paschalina koulourakia (Πασχαλινά κουλουράκια), Greek Easter cookies, and this year’s batch was a revelation.






I make traditional Greek Easter cookies every year but I was never quite satisfied with the result. Sometimes they were too sweet, other times they puffed up too much or were too hard. This time however, after studying my notes from previous years and making the appropriate adjustments to my recipe, I came up with the ideal, for me, cookies.






They are somewhat longer than the classic cookies of this type, crispy but not hard or crunchy, they have the heady aroma of butter, vanilla and orange, and the sesame seeds on top give a pleasant nuttiness and added texture. Without being too sweet or heavy, they are indeed the best Greek Easter cookies I have ever made.






Hope you give them a try!

Happy Easter to all those who celebrate!











Paschalina Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies)

These are the type of Greek Easter cookies served on Easter Sunday since they contain eggs and butter (not Lenten). Τhey are perfect to dunk into your morning or afternoon coffee without disintegrating (an oh-so-important characteristic of a good Greek cookie).






Yield: 35 cookies

Ingredients
200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange, grated
2 medium-sized eggs, plus 1 beaten egg for glazing the cookies
400 g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling

Special equipment: stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, plastic wrap, large baking sheet, baking paper, pastry brush


Preparation
In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl) add the butter and sugar and using the paddle attachment (or with your hand-held mixer) beat on medium-high speed until you have a creamy and light mixture. Add the vanilla and grate the orange straight into the bowl so that all the oils from the orange zest fly into the mixture and beat for a few seconds to incorporate. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to incorporate them fully. Then add the flour and mix over low speed until just combined.


Flour generously a clean work surface and empty the dough on top. Flour the top of the dough and knead with your hands for 2-3 minutes, sprinkling with more flour if it sticks to your hands (I had to sprinkle flour a couple of times to achieve the desired consistency), until the dough is soft and pliable but is not sticking to your hands. It may seem that it needs more flour but it doesn’t. You don’t want it to become stiff or too firm otherwise your cookies will be tough rather than crispy.


Shape it roughly into a ball and cover it with plastic wrap. Put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest.

Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Line your baking sheet with baking paper.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it and using a tablespoon measure, scoop out the dough, roll into a small ball (walnut-sized), and then roll it out with your fingers into a thin rope 25-26 cm long. Fold it in half and then twist the ends over each other three times to create the final shape of the cookie.

Note: You don’t need to flour your work surface because a) the dough shouldn’t be sticky at all and b) you need friction in order to shape the balls into ropes.


Place each cookie on the prepared baking sheet and continue with the next. Space them a bit apart as they will spread a little during baking. Using a pastry bush, glaze each one with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a few sesame seeds.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake the koulourakia for 15-17 minutes, until set and golden, being careful not to burn them. The edges tend to burn easily so you may want to turn the baking sheet around halfway through the baking time.


Take them out of the oven and transfer them onto a wire rack to cool.
Continue baking the rest of the cookies.

Once cooled, you can keep them in a cookie tin for one week.





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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spanakorizo

In the Greek Orthodox religion, a number of people fast during the forty days of Lent leading to Easter Sunday, yet most people fast only during Holy Week. Abstaining from eating meat, fish, dairy products and eggs is common, but there are some people that go as far as not consuming olive oil, an ingredient that is never absent from any type of Greek meal. That is some hard-core fasting in my book. It is difficult enough not to eat meat and fish for me.






Nature is at its best right now as far as vegetables are concerned so it isn’t too hard to find something flavorsome to eat. The fact that Greek cuisine has numerous vegetable dishes that are both delicious and imaginative is a plus for anyone looking to eat well and fast at the same time.






Like this classic Greek dish. Spanakorizo (σπανακόρυζο) literally means spinach rice and is a dish falling under the category of “ladera”, Greek vegetable dishes with an olive oil-based sauce. Spanakorizo is creamy, with the rice being somewhat al dente and the spinach silky and juicy, the green onions and dill giving a fresh note and the lemon juice adding a much needed acidity to balance the astringency that the spinach leaves in the mouth.
It is an easy and quick dish to prepare and if you end up with leftovers, you have an excellent lunch option for the day after, as spanakorizo tastes even better the next day.











Spanakorizo (Greek Spinach Rice)

The rice used in this dish is Karolina rice, a very typical type of white, medium-grain rice used a lot in Greek cooking, but the Italian Arborio would work perfectly as well.

Spanakorizo is usually made with lemon (that’s the way we have always cooked it in my family) but it can also be made with a red tomato sauce. I will have to give you that recipe another time.

Accompany the spanakorizo with some feta, fresh crusty bread and lemon to squeeze over the top.






Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients
1 kg fresh spinach
150 ml olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
8 green onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
40 g fresh dill, divided into stems and leaves, finely chopped
150 g Arborio rice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon, plus extra for serving

Special equipment: large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, colander


Preparation
Clean the spinach, cutting and discarding the thick, hard stems with a knife. If the leaves are large, cut them into smaller pieces. Rinse them well under cold running water and drain them in a colander.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, add the olive oil and place over a medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chopped onion, green onions and dill stems and sauté until they soften but don’t color.

Add the spinach, the rice, salt and pepper and stir until the spinach settles. It will take a few minutes as there’s a lot of spinach.
Put the lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, making sure to check after 10 minutes to see if it needs more water. Spinach usually releases quite a lot of water while cooking so you will most probably won’t need to add any water but to be on the safe side, check, and if you find that it looks dry, add a little (no more than ¼ cup).

The spakanorizo, as already mentioned, is ready after 15-20 minutes of cooking or when the rice is cooked. The rice must be a little al dente and not mushy and the spinach must be soft but not mushy. Also, the dish should be wet but not soupy, and it shouldn’t be dry.
When ready, check the seasoning, adding more if needed, add the chopped dill leaves and the lemon juice and stir. Take the pan off the heat and allow to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on.

Serve warm or at room temperature with extra lemon juice.



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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Greek fried calf’s liver with onion and parsley

Calf’s liver two days before Holy Week? Yes, because if you have low iron levels and your doctor tells you that either you start eating more red meat or you start taking iron pills, well, I chose meat, calf’s liver to be exact as it’s been a favorite treat of mine since childhood. Now, unfortunately, I neglect to buy it. How come this never happens with chocolate?






So I finally got some liver the other day from the butcher and of course I ended up eating it alone as S is notoriously anti-liver of any kind. I didn’t complain. Don’t go thinking however that I ate all the liver you see in these photos, no, these were taken back in October when I was home in Greece and the pictured liver was cooked lovingly by my grandmother.






This is my favorite way of eating calf’s liver; in the style of Greek cooking I was brought up with, the “Politiki cuisine” (read about it here). You cut the liver into cubes, flour and shallow fry it in olive oil. You serve it with a good amount of finely sliced red onion mixed with chopped flat-leaf parsley and you’re set!






The liver needs to be pinkish inside otherwise you end up with a chewy mess and you don’t want that. It should be eaten freshly fried accompanied by a small glass of ouzo, some hand-cut fried potatoes and a horiatiki (Greek) salad.






I don’t know if any of you are fasting or not, and trust me I don’t want to be the one who tempts you to break your fast, so I will suggest you have this dish on Easter day. It makes the perfect, pre lamb-feasting meze.











Sikotaki Politiko (Greek Fried Calf’s Liver with Onion and Parsley)

This for me is the best way to cook calf’s liver, not to mention one of the simplest.
There are no specific measurements for this recipe as they are easily adaptable to the amount of liver you want to serve.






Ingredients
Calf’s liver slices
All-purpose flour
Olive oil, for frying
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon, for squeezing juice on top

Red onion, thin half-moon slices
Fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped


Preparation
Remove the outer membrane from the liver slices as well as any nerves. Cut the liver into bite-sized pieces.
In a large plate or round pan, add flour and add the liver pieces. Toss to coat them well with the flour.


In the meantime, in a large frying pan, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil heats well (it needs to be very hot but not smoking), add the liver pieces in batches, shaking off the extra flour and being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry 1 minute on each side but not more, otherwise it will be chewy.


Using a slotted spoon, remove the liver pieces from the pan and onto a platter, sprinkle with salt and pepper (salt is not added before cooking as it makes the liver tough), and squeeze some lemon juice on top.

In a small plate, mix the onions and parsley.
Serve liver immediately, with a good amount of onion-parsley on top or on the side.





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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A favorite meal


The other day, I was craving fried potatoes with crumbled feta and dried oregano. So I made just that.






I peeled a couple of large potatoes I found hiding in my vegetable basket among some onions and garlic heads, I cut them into long strips and fried them in olive oil.

I dropped them in a large bowl, added some good sea salt and a couple pinches of dried oregano that I had brought back with me from Euvoia last October, and tossed them.






I divided them between two plates, I took a piece of feta from the fridge and crumbled it on top, adding another pinch of oregano.

On the side, a bowlful of boiled kale left-over from the day before, dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

We ate our meal as the warm rays of the sun were coming through the window.











Greek Fried Potatoes with Crumbled Feta and Dried Oregano

This has been one of my favorite meals ever since I can remember myself. The side of boiled greens (kale, Greek wild greens like zohous or vlita , spinach, chard) is essential.






Ingredients
Floury potatoes
Olive oil (or sunflower oil), for frying
Feta
Greek dried oregano

Boiled greens with olive oil and lemon juice, to accompany the potatoes

Preparation
Peel the potatoes and cut them into strips.
Add oil in a large, deep pan (fill it halfway up) or in a deep fat fryer, heat it to 175°C and add the potatoes. Fry until crisp and lightly browned. It takes about 12 minutes in the deep fat fryer and a little longer in a pan.

Empty the potatoes in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt and a couple pinches of dried oregano. Toss and serve into plates. Crumble as much feta as you like on top and add another pinch of dried oregano. Serve with the side of boiled greens.



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