Sunday, July 4, 2010

Family ties

My mom says that I got the knack for cooking from my grandfather and that always brings a huge smile to my face. I loved my grandfather tremendously. He was a very important figure in my life and a very talented person. He was a painter, a sculptor and a home cook and whenever he was cooking or working on his art, he was always whistling. Sometimes I can still hear his whistle if I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough...

My grandfather loved to cook. He would stay in the kitchen for hours, preparing marmalades and jams, pies and breads, all kinds of savory dishes and desserts. He liked to experiment with different ingredients and he used to watch French cooking shows on satellite tv, trying to pick up new ideas for dishes and constantly coming up with new recipes. What he also did, was make sure to take the credit for whatever he had cooked, letting everyone know that he was the one responsible for the delicious food on the table and not my grandmother. He was funny that way.

He had a summer house by the sea where my brother and I spent every summer with him and my grandmother. He used to dive and catch mussels, clams and octopuses for us all the time. There is a specific image of him etched in my mind. He, sitting at the veranda with a big plate of raw, freshly caught clams on his lap, prying them open one by one with the help of a huge knife, squeezing a couple of drops of lemon over them and then quickly sucking them down with a loud, slurping sound.

To him, eating was a ritual. He sat at the head of the table, enjoyed every single bite and he demanded that the bread basket and the bottle of ouzo were always situated next to him. He couldn't live without his crusty bread and his shot of ouzo. The practice of sitting at the dinner table and savoring the meal for more than an hour or sometimes hours if having company, nibbling on various mezedes (plural for mezes) and sipping ouzo, is characteristic of all the Greeks from Constantinople (Istanbul). My grandfather was born and raised in Constantinople or 'Poli' as we Greeks call it for short. He lived there until his mid-30s and then moved to Piraeus, Greece with my grandmother- who was originally a Greek from Poli and the city of Smyrna- and their two children; my mom and my uncle.

What they brought with them, as every other Greek from Poli did, was a food culture very much distinguished from the traditional Greek one. A food culture and a type of cooking influenced and shaped by the intermingling of the traditional Greek culinary customs and those of Anatolia (Asia Minor). The extensive use of spices, the utter importance of food in everyday life, the celebratory way of viewing food in general, are elements that are deeply rooted in my family's culinary consciousness. The type of cooking of the Greeks from Poli is called 'Politiki Cuisine'.
You can catch a glimpse of what it means to be a Greek from Constantinople and the importance of food, in the wonderful Greek movie 'A touch of spice' ('Politiki Kouzina').

I was brought up with that kind of cooking. My earliest memories of food include lots of spices and heavy sauces, an array of dishes, the names of which I couldn't even pronounce because of their Turkish origin, and a reverence toward the ritual of eating, especially when we had guests. The abundance of food served at a gathering was, and still is at such occasions, monumental. If just the main meal and a salad are on the table, it is considered shameful by my grandmother and my mom. They need to have at least five or six dishes of mezedes around to call it a proper meal.

Pastourmas (seasoned air-cured beef), soutzouki (a dry and very spicy sausage), dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with rice and mint), soutzoukakia (beef patties in a tomato sauce), piazi beans (white bean salad with onions, parsley, olive oil and vinegar), Politiki salad (grated carrot and white cabbage tossed with vinegar and olive oil), eggplant imam baildi (stuffed eggplants with onions and tomato), tas kebab (beef or lamb in a spicy red sauce), hunkiar beyiendi (an eggplant purée with diced meat) are a sample of Politiki Cuisine along with the famous desserts like baklava, ekmek kataifi and a delicious and refreshing drink called airani (yoghurt mixed with water and salt).

I could go on and on with a never-ending list of dishes. I want to dedicate a post to each and every one of them and I will at some point, but as an introduction to Politiki Cuisine I chose one of my favorite dishes in the world; Manti. (Manti is the name of the dish but manti is also the name of each small pouch of filled pasta. The plural is also manti). I am so excited to be sharing this recipe with all of you. Manti are the Greek-Turkish original ravioli or tortellini. I'm sorry to any Italians out there but the Turks came up with this dish first.
Manti is actually a dumpling with a pasta-type dough, filled with ground meat, usually lamb or beef, mixed with spices and it is either boiled, steamed or baked in the oven. It is served with a yoghurt sauce and red pepper and there are versions of it that call for an additional tomato sauce though I find that to be too much.

Making your own dough for the manti is crucial. There are those who use wonton or other ready-made wraps but I prefer the old fashioned way of making my own. It is a fairly easy process of combining flour with water, though you may find that in most Turkish versions of this recipe they tend to add eggs. The Greek version is a bit lighter.
For the filling, I prefer using a mixture of ground beef and pork, bulgur wheat and spices. The pork doubtlessly adds some extra flavor to the manti and the bulgur, which is widely used in Politiki Cuisine, gives a nutty flavor to the overall dish. The filled manti are baked in the oven and once they are almost cooked, they are drenched in beef stock and put again in the oven to soak up all the juices. The dish is served with a sauce of Greek strained yoghurt and mashed garlic and it is topped with ground red hot pepper and sumac.

It is an immensely tasty and aromatic dish and its authenticity and rustic quality makes it unique. The cooked dough is crunchy and browned on top and deliciously moist at the bottom, overflowing with all the scrumptious juices from the meat and melted butter. The nutty flavor of the bulgur is a perfect match for the pungent spices. It has a superb spicy flavor and I have to admit, it is rather heavy. The yoghurt-garlic sauce on top, as well as the red pepper and sumac, add a complexity to the overall dish, giving it a hint of heat, sharpness and acidity, while the yoghurt succeeds in making it a bit lighter.

Delicious, healthy bulgur

Manti is a main dish that will surely fill you up and give you an incomparable tasting experience. It is ideally served with a simple salad of shredded carrot and cabbage dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar. A carafe of ouzo or a tall glass of beer would be a fitting accompaniment to the dish.

Whenever I make these kind of dishes I feel a sense of accomplishment and a connection to my family's roots. I'm sure that if my grandfather was alive he would be very proud of me.
Do you ever feel the same way? Do you have a specific kind of cuisine that links you to your ancestors? Are there dishes that remind you of loved ones?

Politiko Manti (Greek pasta-type dough filled with minced meat and spices with a yoghurt-garlic sauce)

Manti is the name of the dish but manti is also the name of each small pouch of filled pasta. The plural is also manti.

This dish is truly exceptional but it does take a lot of time to prepare.

The recipe calls for beef stock. You can make your own, you can use canned beef stock or cubes.

In case you don't like pork, you can use just ground beef or a mix of ground beef and veal or lamb. Greeks always choose veal over beef, we don’t particularly enjoy the mature flavor of beef, but you can use either.

The yoghurt-garlic sauce contains 4 garlic cloves which might sound a lot, but that is the point. This is the way the dish is supposed to be. You can of course use less garlic or even more, depending on how much you enjoy it.

If you can't find the spice sumac, you can substitute with a little freshly grated lemon mixed with a pinch of salt.

Yield: about 65 manti / 6-8 servings


for the dough
500 g all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
280-290 ml tap water

for the filling
300 g ground veal or beef
100 g ground pork
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, grated or finely chopped in the food processor
1/3 cup (65 g) bulgur wheat
2 heaped tsp tomato paste
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

for the yoghurt-garlic sauce
500 g Greek strained yoghurt (preferably full fat)
4 medium-sized garlic cloves

750 ml hot beef stock
30 g unsalted butter at room temperature for greasing the baking dish
45 g plus 30 g melted unsalted butter for brushing the manti
Cayenne pepper, ground (or other red hot pepper such as the Greek boukovo or the Turkish pul biber or aleppo)
Sumac, ground (optional)

Special equipment: small food processor or large grater, large baking dish (the one I used was a 40 x 30 cm ceramic baking dish), garlic press or mortar and pestle, rolling pin


Make the dough
In a large bowl, add the flour and salt and mix them with a fork. Make a well in the middle with your hand and add 100 ml of the water. Mix everything with your hands and continue adding water little by little. You might need a little less or a little more water so adding it to the flour a little at a time ensures that you don't end up with a watery and sticky dough.
Continue mixing the water and the flour with your hands until a dough forms. Turn the dough over to a lightly floured surface and knead it for about 8 minutes until you have a tight and firm dough. Place it inside a lightly floured bowl and cover it with a tea towel. Let it rest for 1 - 1 1/2 hours in a cool place (not in the refrigerator).

Make the filling
In a large bowl, add all the ingredients for the filling and mix everything together with your hands for about 5 minutes, until all the ingredients are well blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for half an hour so that the flavors of the filling have a little time to blend.

Make the manti
Lightly dust your work surface, your hands and your rolling pin with flour.
Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces.
Take one piece of dough, roll it in between your hands to make a ball and then roll it out, using the rolling pin, into a large square with a thickness of a little less than 0.5 cm. Then, using a knife, cut the large square into smaller squares (6 x 6 cm). (Make sure the squares are floured enough so that the small manti won't stick together when you place them in the baking dish).

Put a heaped 1/2 tsp of filling at the center of each small square of dough, fold over the dough, creating a rectangle and press all around the edges so that you seal the filling inside the dough. Then take the top two corners of the rectangle and fold them onto one another thus creating a pouch (see the photographs above to get a clear idea of how to make the pouch and what they should look like).

Continue rolling out the rest of the dough pieces, cutting them into 6 x 6 cm squares, filling them and making the small manti.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Grease (with 30 g of butter) the bottom and the sides of the baking dish and place each manti (small pouch) inside, arranging the manti one next to the other, and not one on top of the other, until you have filled your baking dish. Also, you must place them in a way that each manti is standing upright, with the filled part of the dough touching the bottom of the baking dish.
When you have filled your baking dish with the manti, brush the tops with 45 g of melted butter and place dish on the lower rack of the oven. Bake the manti for 1 hour until browned.

Note: Once they are ready you must also have ready the hot beef stock.

Take the baking dish out of the oven and turn the heat up to 220 degrees Celsius.
Pour the hot beef stock over the manti, brush the tops again with 30 g of melted butter and place the baking dish back in the oven, on the middle rack. Bake for further 15-20 minutes until the manti have soaked up the beef stock.

Make the yoghurt-garlic sauce
Mash the garlic cloves with a mortar and pestle or using a garlic press. In a medium-sized bowl, add the yoghurt and the mashed garlic and mix with a spoon. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Once manti is ready, take the baking dish out of the oven, and place manti on individual plates. Top with 3 - 4 Tbsp of the yoghurt-garlic sauce and sprinkle with cayenne pepper or other hot red pepper as well as with sumac, if using.

Serve immediately.


  1. Your grandfather must be so proud. He sounds like an incredible man and I can imagine sitting on a veranda, slurping oysters, and listening to his stories. Thanks for sharing!

  2. τέλειο έγινε,
    αγαπημένο φαγάκι, είτε είναι μαγειρεμένο στον φουρνο είτε στην κατσαρολα είναι από τα αγαπημένα της οικογένειας, ιδιαίτερα όταν μαζευόμαστε όλα τα μέλη

  3. Manti look so delicious. Lucky you had a grandfatehr who liked to cook. Men in my family only like to eat!

  4. Majestic is indeed a proper description for this dish. I can't wait to try it, and to have all the recipes of the dishes you named as well. I might even forgive you for claiming we did not invent ravioli ;)
    Indeed, if there is a food that I feel ancestral, that is all of Mediterranean food. All of it. My parents come from Venice, and the cooking there has deep Ottoman influences.

  5. great post, great grandfather ...and what a delish dish, love all the pics the last one is my fav


  6. Wow! How often we forget in this age of "fast" to sit back and enjoy the food we eat with the people we love. Such lesson we can learn by remembering our families, whether from Turkey, Greece, Italy, France or New England! And the manti look so good - I love pasta made with out the eggs - so fresh and light. I will be serving this to my dean and her husband when they come to show us pictures form their recent trip to Greece.

  7. This is very, very nice - and as always, I like to read your posts, I enjoy them a lot. To present ch dish step by step - a lot of work.
    I have never met my grandfathers. My grandfather on my father's side was talented, too. He was supposed to be a pianist, but the II World War and difficult communism era did not allow him to develop his career as a musician. Instead, he became an engineer and he was working for electricity plants. He died in sixties, when he was only forty, from a heart attack caused by stress...8 years before I was born.

  8. Hi Magda, I love learning about the beautiful Manti, and look forward to posts about the many dishes you grew up enjoying---widely different from my experience!

    Your question is interesting; sadly I grew up in a family of not-very-good cooks. Perhaps in the future my cooking will be a strong memory and influence for my daughter, and someday, her children..

  9. Teresa Blackburn,
    I found you via Nancy at Good Food Matters...I really like what you are doing with your food blog, the history and family stories are so interesting. I grew up in the Southern USA where cooking was next to the Godliness! A good cook was highly respected and I learned many of the things I know from my family and family friends. I still make many dishes like my Grandmother - Tomato Bread Soup (Southern Style), Buttermilk Biscuits, Cornbread, Chocolate Pies with Meringue, Blackberry Cobblers...all were originally made with local farmed raised ingredients and I am trying to carry on the tradition as are my daughters.
    I will be visiting your blog often as I do Nancy's. Nancy and I have been "food friends" and "art friends" since we were much younger and have kept up both our friendship and our food connection. Bon Appetit.

  10. Thank you all for sharing your own memories of loved ones and of the food you grew up with. This is what's amazing about having a food blog; getting the chance to connect with people, finding out what drives them to cook, finding out the similarities we all share no matter where we come from, no matter how different our lives and experiences are.

  11. Hi Magda, I've only recently discovered your blog and I think it's wonderful. You've posted so many recipes I'm planning to try, my home-grown tomatoes are almost ready for your tomato jam and the dulce de leche chocolate bars will be perfect for my husband's birthday. I've just added manti to my list, they look delicious!

    My mum is a good cook, she taught me all the basics. I wish I could make jam like hers but I've never had the need to learn since she makes so much!

  12. this looks amazing
    it looks like a work of art, not just a meal
    my cooking resembles my mother's: fast and hearty - whenever i cook, i feel just like my mother

  13. Teresa - thanks for stopping by. I've never tasted Southern USA food but everything sounds delicious. I will be visiting you to find out more.

    Tamsin - thanks for taking the time to comment. If you make any of the dishes I would love to know how they turned out!

  14. Oh yum! I'm a sucker for most Greek food and these look so amazing. Your grandfather reminds me of my dad... Always in the kitchen trying new (and delicious!) things :)


  15. I love the cute fold and the yogurt dressing sounds absolutely fantastic (I love Turkish yogurt, which is like Greek!). I would love this pasti..

  16. This is the loveliest post, Magda. I think your grandfather sounds wonderful. Many of my memories of my own grandparents center around food and the dinner table as well.

    I cannot wait until you write about dolmadakia, soutzoukakia, and, well, all the rest!

  17. The manti is cute. They remind me of the Chinese dumplings my sister made two weeks ago although manti is completely different :)

    Hello from Malaysia. :D

  18. Magda

    I have always been fascinated by manti; just hate to eat manti unless it is at least "good". Did not know it was also Greek! I have had several friends in Beirut during childhood whose family came from Smyrne.
    I will bookmark your manti recipe as I am planning to make it at some point; also, I love the use of bulgur in yours which I have not found elsewhere.

  19. I am including another comment, because I too am fascinated by manti; I think the dough made with flour and water is more middle-eastern in influence, because this is how pasta is made in the levant; in lebanese cuisine, there is a dish similar to manti called shish barak, made with the exact same dough; it is probably influenced by the Turks, though I don't know for sure.

  20. I just saw the movie Politiki Kouzina when I was in Greece this summer, good movie but I thought the ending was sad!

    This post made me very hungry!

    Its so nice that you were very close with your gradfather, I was very close with mine too. :)

  21. Hello Magda! This recipe has me salivating! Any pointers as to how to prepare this ahead for a dinner party?

  22. Hi! I have never made this in advance before but I believe you can prepare these up to the point of placing the raw filled manti into your baking dish. Brush them with butter, wrap them with cling film and put them in the fridge the night before your dinner party. (Follow the recipe up until the point that it says to put the manti in the oven).
    The next day, allow them to come to room temperature and all you need to do is bake them, douche them with the stock and bake them again.
    Good luck and please do let me know how it went!

  23. I've just found my way to your lovely blog. I clicked on this recipe because I will never say no to a dumpling and am tickled to discover a connection: in Korean these are mandu, which must be related to manti. Mandu-making is always a family or social occasion; you sit around together and assemble them and chat.

    1. It's amazing how different cultures share similar recipes. Thank you for your lovely comment Peggy. :)

  24. Dear Magda your blog and the Politiki Cusine is so interesting for me since my grandmother immigrated from Thesaloniki to Istanbul and I am Smyrna(Izmir) born. I find so familiar feelings , eating habits in your blog which remind me of my family past. I tried your manti which interested me because of the bulgur included in the filling. I was wondering how to make it in advance too. In Turkey we have ready made manti which is semi baked then frozen. Iwonder if this method would süit your manti, I will try and make a comment.

    1. Dear Ejide, thank you so much for your comment. I am so happy to hear you liked my recipe for the manti and it's so interesting to hear our similar stories.
      I have never made the manti in advance, but I guess you could prepare them and freeze them for a couple of weeks, or put them in the fridge for a day before cooking them.

  25. Hello,

    I found your blog hile I was reading a post in Smitten Kitchen. And I'm really happy to come across with you :)

    My grand grandfather and grandfather were from Trabzon (Trapezus/Pontus), and my father says that their "family name" was "Paleougllari" (Sons of Pale (?)) before modern Turkey. As an Istanbulit with roots in Trabzon I always feel close to "Constantinople soul"...

    To read this post made me feel something deep that I cannot define...

    Mantı is one of my favorite Turkish food and I guess I'll try this Politiko Manti with your recipe soon...

    Best regards from Istanbul...

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for your comment. It means a lot to me that my words touched you. Thank you, friend, for sharing a bit of your own history, and my warmest regards to lovely Istanbul!

  26. Hi Magda, I'm the one in my family that spends time in the kitchen (too much time according to my wife) trying new things. I've already made some of your recipes and all turned out beautifully. The first one was the Pastitsada Kefalonitiki, because my pappous was from Kefalonia. I will try this one, looks fantastic!

  27. This recipe is excellent but I found that there was twice as much filling as their was dough -- perhaps you have accidentally doubled the filling recipe? All the same, I'm not disappointed to have too much filling. I have frozen the extra meat mixture for when I next make this delicious recipe.

    1. Hi. No, there's no mistake in my recipe. I've cooked this many times and I always use up all of the filling. I have no idea why you were left if so much filling but you can always use it to make meatballs. :)