Friday, September 23, 2011

The Briam

Having grown up in a house that smelled of spices and lamb roasting in the oven, of freshly baked, sweet, syrupy baklava and buttery tyropites (cheese pies), of keftedakia (meatballs) and whole fish frying in large pans and, well, living in your typical Greek, crazed-about-food household, I can't imagine growing up any differently.

Those home cooked meals shaped the way I taste and experience food, and no matter how much I expand my culinary horizons, I'll always crave the foods that I grew up with. This is the case with briam.

It was one of those dishes that crept into my childhood diet every once in a while, giving my mom the chance to feed me and my brother some vegetables that we wouldn't complain about eating.

She was so clever as she'd mash together all the vegetables on my plate with a fork so I wouldn't focus on the ones I didn't like (i.e. all of them) and refuse to eat them. Of course, as years went by, I realized what a delicious dish it was, and her artfulness in hiding the vegetables was no longer needed. I was hooked. I loved that dish, and I've loved it ever since.

Briam is a dish of vegetables—potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes—baked in the oven with onions, parsley and lots and lots of olive oil. It belongs to the category of "Ladera" (of which I have written before in this post), meaning dishes prepared with olive oil and without the addition of any other type of fat.

If you were ever wondering what Greeks cook in their homes, well, this is it. There are many versions of this dish depending where in Greece you are from, with different vegetables being added or subtracted from the mix. Oftentimes, the vegetables used in briam are simply those that one has on hand.

My version is my family's briam. The one my grandmother has been cooking for the past sixty years, the one my mom has been cooking for almost thirty, and the one I have been taught to cook by those two food heroines of mine.

Round cut potatoes are placed at the bottom of the "tapsi" (large baking pan). Then come the zuchinni slices, then the onions, the eggplant and the green bell peppers. The fresh chopped parsley is sprinkled on top and the tomatoes are scattered haphazardly all around whereas salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil are added just before putting the tapsi in the oven.

After a couple of hours of slow simmering in the oven, you have the most delicious, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth baked vegetables in a sumptuous tomato and olive oil sauce that you'll ever taste. Feta and crusty bread are all the accompaniments you'll need. Just make sure you have enough; once you start dipping that bread into the sauce, there's no turning back.

Briam (Greek Baked Vegetables)

I have always thought that us Greeks would make terrific vegetarians or vegans because we're used to eating dishes like this one. Whenever I eat briam, the thought of vegetarianism passes through my mind, but then I recall the taste of beef or pork-fat dripping out of a souvlaki and I suddenly come to my senses.
That was so not the point I was trying to make. But, you know what I mean, no?

This is a main dish that can be served both straight out of the oven but also at room temperature. It is actually preferred to be eaten the next day as the flavors become fuller and deeper overnight.

My grandmother shallow-fries all the vegetables lightly in olive oil before putting them in the "tapsi" but I, being more health conscious, skip that step. I have to admit though, her version is better because of it.

You might think that the quantity of vegetables is a lot but trust me, they will cook down, releasing all their water and juices and you'll end up with half their volume.

Yield: 6-8 main course servings

4 large floury potatoes (about 900 g), peeled and cut into 1-1.5 cm-thick slices
3 medium-sized zucchinis (about 750 g), cut into 1-1.5 cm-thick slices
3 onions (about 200 g), thinly sliced*
4 small eggplants** (about 600 g), cut into 2-2.5 cm-thick slices
3 small green bell peppers (about 450 g), cut in large pieces
A handful (about 25 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped plus extra for sprinkling over the dishes
4 medium-sized tomatoes (about 500 g), chopped or 400 g canned chopped tomatoes
250 ml extra virgin olive oil
65 g tomato paste
350 ml water
Sea salt (or any other salt, I just always use sea salt in my cooking)
Black pepper, freshly ground

Special equipment: large baking pan

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

It is best if you sprinkle a little salt and pepper after the addition of each type of vegetable rather than solely at the end.

First, place the potatoes at the bottom of your baking pan and add the sliced zucchinis on top. Those two vegetables need to be at the bottom of the pan because they require more time to cook. Then add half of the onions, followed by the sliced eggplants. Then add the rest of the onions and the bell peppers. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped parsley on top. Add the tomato paste to the 350 ml of water and stir well to dissolve. Pour it all over the vegetables along with the olive oil. Add a last sprinkling of salt and pepper. Mix a little with a large spoon without messing up the vegetable layers and place the baking pan on the lower rack of the preheated oven.

Check the vegetables every half hour, mixing each time carefully with a large spoon.
The briam will be ready after about 2 hours or when the vegetables are soft, have taken on a golden brown color and have become crispy around the edges. The tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan must be shiny and rich.

Allow to cool slightly and serve. Sprinkle some fresh chopped parsley on top if you want.

It freezes extremely well so if you have any left, put it in an airtight container suitable for the freezer and enjoy it any other day you want.

*In case you don't like the texture of onions, you can grate them with a box grater or chop them finely.
** If you want to take the bitterness out of the eggplants, sprinkle the slices with some salt and leave them inside a colander for an hour. Then rinse them well and squeeze them lightly to get a little bit of their juice out.


  1. Growing up in your house must have smelled wonderful, Magda. Very tasty dish.

  2. Thank you for sharing a bit of your home - what beautiful colors and I can ONLY imagine the aroma!

  3. I wouldn.t mind smell of greek dishes in my kitchen.They are great masters with lamb.chicken and fish,know their best when roasting and pairing vegetablaes their pitas a(spanakopita ) and their seets..o yes baby;))

  4. Wow.... HOW BEAUTIFUL!!!! I've had a version of that before and never knew how to make it. I'm writing that down. I'm trying to avoid all the extra oils, but once in a while, I love something swimming in olive oil, especially with bread!!! :) Love all your recipes! I've always loved Greek food, but I only get what they have here in US Greek restaurants, I'm sure once you're in Greece it's a whole different story! One day I hope to try it there in person ;)

  5. Oh my word- those photographs have literally got me scraping at my screen. I'm supposed to go out for pizza tonight. Now all I want is to stay home, open a bottle of red wine, and eat this.

  6. OK i'm convinced, this would sure be enough to satisfy my the rest of the family! We have just eaten roast chicken but I would have readily swopped!

  7. oh my. this looks right up my alley. delish!

  8. I think I sliced my veg too thin but I made this tonight...and I ate too much!!! And after making a tapsi-full, we'll be eating it for days! Do you know if it can be frozen and reheated later?

  9. Stamatia, it sure can! It freezes extremely well.
    I too tend to eat too much whenever I make briam. I think to myself "it's only vegetables" but it's a heavy little dish huh?

  10. Briam is one of my favorite dishes and I've only made it once - and very unsuccessfully - in our tiny oven in Folegandros. Now that we're living on the mainland, I'm tempted to try again using your recipe. I think that having a regular oven will make the difference. Do you think cooking it in a clay pot would be good? I have one of those wonderful pots from Sifnos....

    1. I had the luck to spend a few years in a Greek family. They made briam in a thick-bottomed cooking pot. A clay pot must definitely work as well!

  11. This looks and sounds delicious! I'm going to save this recipe so I can try it myself! Thanks for sharing it!

  12. I'm sure a regular oven will make the difference. Clay pot would be great Heidi. Good luck! I'd love to know how it went.

  13. Thanks for sharing the family recipe with us. It looks sensational.

  14. Really scrumptious looking! That is a dish I cook a lot during the summer. I love briam!



  15. I adore Greek style vegetables. This recipe is so awesome, gonna try it soon.

  16. I totally know what you mean with this dish.. I so badly want some. I just love it when vegatables are not good for you: they usually are seriiously good to eat.

  17. Gosh! I love greek cooking style, Happy I bumped into this blog, bye Roberta!

  18. I love how this recipe looks...just my style of eating and cooking. We Southerners love our squash and peppers just as you Greeks do so this is a new "go to" recipe for my files.

  19. That is the kind of food I love the most. This kind of food beats dessert any day, I am serious (even if I just posted about chocolate cake...). I am sure it tastes better the next day, but how do you wait untile then???

  20. Excellent! I adore the flavor of slow simmered vegetables.

  21. Wonderful dish! We have a similar dish in Lebanon called " Dervishe's beads".

  22. gorgeous colors! thanks for the great idea on what to do with my overflowing end of summer vegetables! beautiful and healthy =)...

  23. So glad I found your pretty pretty blog. Congratulations on making the Saveur list. That is quite an honor. The veggies are gorgeous. In fact, I'm not sure I've seen a prettier veggie dish. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Oh wow, I had never heard of this but as I'm addicted to vegetable dishes, this is definitely for me. I can imagine how wonderful it must taste and am determined to make it this week while the veggies still have some flavour.

  25. beautiful--love seeing a Greek version of layered baked summer vegetables, all that oil and rich vegetable juices, just begging to be dipped.

  26. These dishes look so colorful and delicious! The pictures make me bite my monitor. :) I am more acquainted with Italian cooking, and these dishes look like something that could be Italian as well, at first glance. Is the difference mainly in the seasoning? Or do you know of any other differences which could help an amateur like me distinguish or recognize Greek dishes in a restaurant for example?

  27. Yes, we grew up eating this. It's wonderful, just wonderful.

  28. Magda, you have captured my sentiments about this glorious dish perfectly! I absolutely LOVE this dish and like you, grew to love it more as I grew to the point now that it is a staple in our home. Thank you for posting it so well!

  29. Dear Magda, thank you so much for the recipe. I've been using it ever since December, 2012. And Briam is one of my favorites. These photos were taken on the 9th of December, 2012. And it has just come to my mind to post the links.

    I am not sure my Briam is just like it must be, but it's delicious. I like the way Feta melts and gives saltiness to the vegetables... And I adore the sauce.

    Thank you!


    1. Oh, I love briam too! I can't wait for the summer to come so that I can have access to all these vegetables in their prime. Feta with briam is a must!

    2. Magda, I have a pan in the oven right now. It should be done in about an hour. The whole house smells good!

  30. Thinking of making this as a side dish to my meat eating family members...any suggestions as to what meat would be best?? Thanks!