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Mezze Themed Meal

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    Posted: 01 July 2014 at 05:58
Designing a themed meal is different than our regular approach to meal planning; even if we’re looking at something totally new.

It’s one thing when you start with a recipe for X type food and decide to make it. That’s pretty much the path we all follow. Sometimes choosing the recipe is a bit more difficult, because we’ve gotten it from a cookbook or website that forced us to decide among several good choices.

Planning a full meal, you would think, is actually easier, because it broadens the possibilities. You’re not forced into making once choice, when there are four or five dishes in a meal.

What I found, however, is that it doesn’t work that way with themed meals. I realized I’d been subconsciously trying to explore the totality of a cuisine in only a handful of dishes. And that ratchets everything up several notches as I tried to balance the regional differences, the various tastes, and the diversity of ingredients.

As I got into researching our Greek meal it became abundantly clear that I could not explore the “cuisine.” There are just far too many possibilities. But two things saved me. First, of course, is the concept of a mezze table. Think in terms of a buffet rather than a served meal. Numerous small plates are put out, and diners make their own choices. Those of you who know me understand how that would be right up my alley.

The other thing that saved me is that practically all authentic dishes can be found all over the Greek nation. This flies in the face of what all of us think we knew. The fact is, most of us have the wrong idea about regional differences in Greek food. Out misconception starts with the idea that terroir, combined with outside influences and local conditions, determine local variations.

No less an authority than Joanne Weir talks about how Greece is the only Mediterranean country with a national cuisine. By this she means that the differences in a dish, region to region, are subtle, often almost unidentifiable to the stranger. A particular sauce, for instance, might be thinner in one region, thicker in another. They might add potatoes in one part of the country, and not in another. Subtle differences. But that sauce will be found all over the country.

This is, she maintains, far different than the dramatic regional differences one finds in Spain, France, and, especially, Italy.

As I continued my research I did so with that viewpoint in mind. And, sure as shooing, it’s true. Certainly there are dishes unique to one region or another. But, in general, Greece really does have more of a national cuisine than is found elsewhere. In short, the Balkan, Island, and Mid-Eastern influences we expect to show up regionally just aren’t there to the degree you’d find them in other countries. Rather, each of them (along with others) form a sort of culinary overlay that blankets the country as a whole.

Still and all, the cuisine of the Greek islands is made up of sunshine, salt water, and ocean breezes. So we decided to use the islands as the base for this meal. Which helped us limit our choices as well.

Another misconception many of us suffer is that Greece is strictly a nation of lamb eaters. Certainly lamb play an important role, as it does in all Mediterranean countries. But it’s not as overwhelmingly dominant as we generally think. Virtually all the proteins play almost equal roles. Beef is, perhaps, not as prevalent. But pork, poultry, and seafood are each just as important to the cuisine as is lamb.

One more surprise, to me, was the diversity of cheeses produced in Greece. Sure, we all know feta. And maybe one or two others. Turns out, cheese is an important part of the Greek agricultural scene, with many types and varieties, at least twenty of which carry DOC status.

Unfortunately, you’re not going to find most of them in your local supermarket. Or even in a specialty store. Fortunately, there are readily available substitutions for those you’ll likely need for cooking. For example, Gruyere, Fontanilla, or even Parmesan can sub for Kefalothiri. Ricotta, Farmers Cheese, or Cottage Cheese an replace Anthotiros. And so forth.

Most recipes we uncovered are designed for four or six portions. Rather than go through the fuss of trying to reduce them for our mezze table, we invited some friends over and made a party of it. I tell you this so you understand I have no idea what halving the recipes might do.

No meal is complete without bread. Greece is a nation of celebration breads, many of them associated with specific holidays. I wanted an everyday bread, hopefully one that wasn’t Pita. Finally found one, with some associated problems as we’ll see. But, unless you’re really into baking, store-bought Pita is just fine for a meal like this.

After a lot of searching, and choosing then discarding, we finalized our mezze table to include:

Daktyla: An everyday bread. Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.
Vouvarilakia. Lamb Meatballs in Avgolemono (egg & lemon) Soup. Adapted from Greek Regional Cooking.
Pita Me Elits Ti Lesvos: Lesvos-style Olive Pies. Adapted from Greek Regional Cooking.
Patzarosalata. Beet Salad. Adapted from Mezze Modern.
Kotopaulo Me Anthotyro Ke Dyosmos. Chicken Anthotiro and Spearmint. Adapted from Greek Regional Cooking.
Pilah Me Mithia Ke Kalamaria. Pilaf with Mussels and Squid. Adapted from From Tapas To Mezze.
Kolokythokeftedes. Fried Zucchini Balls. Adapted from Mezze Modern.
Poutinga Me Mila Ti Korfu. Corfiot Apple Pudding. Adapted from Greek Regional Cooking.


There are, as mentioned above, some problems with Daktyla, starting with there being two forms of it. One usage refers to a Lady’s Fingers like pastry, the other to an everyday pull-apart bread. Finding a recipe for the bread version was a challenge.

Ingram & Shapter have a great picture of Daktyla in their Breads of the World, but did not include a recipe, opting instead for several Greek celebration breads. There are numerous recipes found on the web, but they’re almost exclusively for the Lady’s Fingers type. Finally I found this recipe on the King Arthur Flour site.

While it does produce an interesting and flavorful bread, the final loaf is more like break-apart rolls than the loaf shown in Breads of the World. So my search for a true Daktyla continues:

For the sponge:
1 cup white whole wheat flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp instant yeast
1 1/3 cups water

For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tbls olive oil
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds (plus 1 tablespoon to sprinkle over the loaf)
1 tbls nigella seeds (plus 1 teaspoon to sprinkle over the loaf

Mix the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, yeast and water in a bowl. Let the mixture sit for an hour, or until it becomes foamy and full of bubbles.

Mix the remaining ingredients into the sponge and knead to form a soft, supple dough, adding more flour or water as needed. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Divide into eight pieces. Round each piece into a ball, then shape each into an oval about four inches in length.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or sprinkle with cornmeal or semolina. Place the oval of dough side-by-side, long sides facing, leaving about one inch between them. Cover the pan with greased plastic film and let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until it’s expanded enough so the ovals touch each other.

Brush or spray the dough lightly with water and sprinkle with a mixture of sesame and nigella seeds. Bake the break in a preheated 375F oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

(Meatballs In Avgolemono Soup)

Avgolemono is the classic Greek mixture of eggs and lemon. It’s used as a soup, as a sauce, even as a dip throughout the country. Here it’s made into a soup, with meatballs floating around. You can make the meatballs with beef, if you prefer, rather than lamb. Both are authentic. We prefer going on the smaller side with the meatballs, using about two teaspoons of meat.

1 lb ground lamb
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Dash parsley
1 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup raw rice
1 egg

2 eggs
1 cup lemon juice

Mix the ground beef, onion, salt, pepper, parsley, tomato paste, rice, and egg in a bowl. Form into meatballs. In a pot, bring 10 cups water to a boil. Drop the meatballs into the boiling water. Partly cover the saucepan.

Process the eggs and lemon juice in a blender until fluffy. Take a little hot liquid from the pot. Add it to the mixture in the blender and blend only briefly. Add the egg sauce to the saucepan, slowly mixing it in over a low flame. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 25-30 minutes. Serve hot.

PITA ME ELITS TI LESVOS                                 
(Lesvos Olive Pies)

Olive pies are ubiquitous to Greece. The specific fillings vary, but they all consist of an olive-based stuffing wrapped in Phyllo pastry. Lesvos is particularly known for the quality and diversity of its olives, and this recipes highlights that fact. If you can't find olives from Lesvos (a distinct possibility) don't worry about it. Just use any combo of green, black, and purple olives of your choice.

1 cup evoo
2 cups coarsely chopped white or red onion     
1 large fennel bulb, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 cup Lesvos olives, chopped
6 green bell peppers, roasted and chopped
2 cups fresh dill, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs phyllo at room temp.

Heat 2 tbls olive oil in a large, heavy skillet, and cook the onions and fennel, stirring, over medium heat until wilted. Sprinkle in the sugar, reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking 8-10 minutes until the mixture is lightly caramelized. Combine the caramelized onion mixture, olives, peppers, dill, and garlic in a large bowl.

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly oil a cookie sheet.

While you work, keep the phyllo covered with a damp paper towel. Remove the first sheet and place it horizontally on your work surface. Brush lightly with olive oil. Place a second sheet on top and brush that with olive oil too.

Spread about 1 cup of the filling lengthwise across the bottom of the pastry, about 1 inch from the edge. Fold the bottom edge up over the filling to create a bulging rectangle, then fold in the sides just enough to seal them, and roll this pocket into a cylinder. Coil the resulting pastry cylinder into a circle by joining the two ends and place seam side down on the cooking sheet.

Cover with a kitchen towel as you continue with remaining phyllo and filling. Place the twists about 1 inch apart on the pan. When they are all formed, sprinkle their tops with a little cold water.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve.

(Beet Salad)

What’s that you say? You don’t like beets? Nonsense! You just haven’t tried them this way.

Although the recipe says to boil them, we prefer roasting beets. Wipe each beet with a little olive oil, wrap individually in foil, and roast at 400F until tender. Depending on size this takes about an hour.

2 lb 3 oz beets
½ cup olive oil
3 tbls white wine vinegar
10 ½ oz strained yogurt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
3 oz roughly ground walnuts
Pinch of salt

Boil, peel, then dice the beets. Place them in a serving bowl.

In a separate bowl, blend the olive oil with the vinegar, yogurt, garlic and walnuts. Pour this mixture over the beets. Add a pinch of salt, stir, and chill before serving.

(Chicken Anthotiro and Spearmint)

This is a simple to prepare poached chicken dish that packs a surprising flavor punch.

8 oz soft, Anthotiro cheese (we subbed Ricotta)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbls fresh spearmint, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
2 boneless chicken breasts
1 cup water
1 qt white wine

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix the Anthotiro, garlic, salt, pepper, and spearmint together in a bowl.

Butterfly the chicken breasts, pound slightly to make them of equal thickness, and stuff them with the cheese/spearmint mixture. Roll up and wrap with foil. Place in a baking pan. Add the water and wine to the baking pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for approximately one hour.

Upon removal of the pan from the oven, drain the juice (remaining from the wine) from the bottom of the pan into a blender. Add one teaspoon of cornstarch per cup of liquid to the juices and blend.

Remove the chicken from the foil and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Cut each rolled breast into round slices and pour the sauce over.

(Pilaf with Mussels and Squid)

When we saw this recipe something resounded. It’s a perfect way to experience the seafood of the Greek islands, with ingredients that are all readily available. If you set aside mussels for garnish, as it recommended, try to match them for size.

¾ cup dry white wine     
2 tbls chopped fresh parsley
2 bay leaves     
2 lbs mussels     
1 lb squid     
¼ cup evoo
1 medium yellow onion, mixed     
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, diced     
8 green onions, thinly sliced (whites and green)
1 cup tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped     
1 red bell pepper, roasted and diced
1 lg pinch saffron threads, revived     
1 ½ cups water
1 cup bottled clam juice or fish stock     
1 cup long-grain white rice
Salt and pepper to taste     
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tbls coarsely chopped parsley     
6 lemon wedges

Heat the white wine, parsley, and bay leaves in a frying pan. Add the mussels, cover, and cook until the mussels open. Remove the mussels as soon as they open and reserve the mussel juices. Set aside 12 mussels in their opened shells for garnish. Remove the remaining mussels from their shells, discarding the empty shells.

Slice the squid into thin rings and cut the tentacles into bite-sized pieces. Wash well. Heat the mussel juices over medium high heat and cook the squid, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Remove the squid and reserve. Reserve the mussel juices.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and green onions and cook until the vegetables are soft, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, red pepper, and saffron and simmer 20 minutes. Add the water, fish stock, rice, salt, pepper, and mussel juices and cook until the rice is tender and the liquid is gone, 20-25 minutes.

When the rice is done, add the mussels, squid, and lemon juice and toss together. Let sit 2 minutes.

To serve, mound the rice, mussels, and squid in the center of a platter. Garnish with the reserved mussels in their shells, the parsley, and the lemon wedges.

(Fried Zucchini Balls)

Although this recipe sounded great on first reading, it did not, as mentioned above, work. Whether that was due to a translation error or something else I can’t say. If anyone want’s the recipe to experiment with, I’ll gladly post it.

POUTINGA ME MILA TI KORFU                            
(Corfiot Pudding With Apples)

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t do a lot of desserts in this household. But that’s changing as I discover more and more meal endings that are not overly sweet, as is the case with so many American desserts. This fruit pudding is a good example.

1 lb sour apples (Granny Smith or Pippin) peeled and sliced
1 lb red apples peeled and sliced (or sub ripe pears)
3 tbls sugar
3 tbls raisins
3 thick zwiebacks or 6 melba toast grated
2 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp grated lemon peel
Juice from 1 lemon
Whipped cream for decoration

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place the sliced apples in a long, ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the sugar, and add the raisins.

In a bowl, mix the grated zwiebacks with the eggs, milk, grated lemon peel, and lemon juice. Pour the mixture over the apples and bake for 45-50 minutes.

Serve the pudding hot, topped with whipped cream.

But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 July 2014 at 06:38
Although it’s never a bad idea to share resources, there were so many surprises researching our Greek themed dinner that I thought it especially pertinent. So, in addition to heavy use of the internet, and consultation with Greek acquaintances, here are some of the references we used to create this meal:

Breads of the World, Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter, Hermes House, London, 1999
International Cuisine, Michael F. Nenes, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ, 2009
World Cheese Book, Juliet Harbutt, editor, DK Publishing, New York, 2009
Cooking The Greek Way, Maro Duncan, Spring kBooks, London, 1964
Greek Regional Cooking, Dean and Catherine Karayanis, Hippocrene Books, New York, 2008
Three Sisters Around The Greek Table, Betty, Eleni, and Samantha Bakopoulos, Adelfes
Publishing, Toronto, 2009
From Tapas to Meze, Joanne Weir, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2004
Mezze Modern, Maria Khalife, Interlink Publishing, Northampton, MA, 2008

But we hae meat and we can eat
And sae the Lord be thanket
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Margi Cintrano Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 July 2014 at 17:14

Wonderful set of récipes and research materials. Thank you for posting.
Volamos a Mediterraneo, un paraiso que conquista su gente u su cocina.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 July 2014 at 23:36
Brook - I finally was able to read this, and I must say that you've done an extraordinary job! Your choice of a mezze table makes good sense and you research vis a vis regional vs national cuisine matches my own observations; also your point about meats in Greek cooking.

Very nice, and a valuable addition to our knowledge base jere at FotW - thank you!
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