Sunday, November 28, 2010

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Greece

The eighth stop on my culinary adventure is Greece.  While Ethiopia may have been the birthplace of mankind, Greece is, in some ways, the birthplace of cooking.  In 320 B.C., Archestratos wrote the first cookbook.  Ancient Greek cuisine focused typically on wheat, olive oil and wine.  The use of meat was not common; instead, fish was the principal protein, which is to be expected given the large amount of coastlines and islands that are a part of Greece.  Oregano, parsley and dill are the principal herbs used in Greek cuisine.  Over time, more spices were introduced into Greek cooking, principally because of the country's geographic position between Europe and the Middle East.

THE APPETIZER

Returning to the present day, my personal challenge requires me to prepare a main dish; however, I wanted to make a Greek meal.  I decided to begin with a mezze, which is an individual plate designed to each provide a different eating experience.  Normally, one would have a couple of mezzes; however, given I have to make a main dish for my personal challenge, I decided to make only one.  The mezze is Domatokeftedes, a dish from Santorini of fried tomato fritters.  


DOMATOKEFTEDES
Adapted from Whats4eats.com
Serves 2-3 

Ingredients:
1 to 1 1/2 cup of fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped
1/4 bunch of mint, chopped
2 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
3/4 cup of flour
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper to taste,
Olive oil for frying

Directions:
1.  Prepare the batter.  Mix the tomatoes, herbs, scallions, salt and pepper in a large bowl.  Adjust seasoning to your tastes.  In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder together, then stir into the tomato mixture to make a batter.  If the batter is too thick, add a little water.  If it is too thin, add a little flour.

2.  Fry the Domatokeftedes.  Heat the olive oil on medium-high.  Drop small spoonfuls of the tomato mixture into the oil and flatten slightly. Watch for splattering.   Fry on one side until brown and then flip to brown on the other side.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve either immediately or at room temperature.

To accompany the Domatokeftedes, I decided to make some Tzatziki, which is a cucumber/yogurt sauce or meze that is typically identified with Greek cuisines (although there are variants of this sauce in Bulgarian, Turkish and Persian cuisines). The Tzatziki was a great dipping sauce for the Domatokeftedes.

TZATZIKI
Adapted from About.com

Ingredients:
1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of vinegar
1 clove garlic, diced finely
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of white pepper
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, strained
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 cucumber, diced and seeded
1/2 teaspoon of fresh dill

Directions:
1.  Combine the olive oil, salt, garlic, vinegar and pepper in a bowl.

2.  In a separate bowl, blend the yogurt and sour cream with a whisk.  Then add the olive oil mixture and stir well.

3.  Add the cucumber and dill.  Continue to stir and then refrigerate for at least two hours.

THE MAIN DISH

For the main dish, I decided to make Psari Spetsiotiko or Fish Baked with Tomatoes and Breadcrumbs.  This dish is supposed to have originated in Spetses, which is fishing town southwest of Athens.  It is a simple fishing village food consisting of fish baked with breadcrumbs and a tomato sauce that includes parsley, honey and a few other ingredients. 



PSARI SPETSIOTIKO (FISH BAKED WITH TOMATOES 
AND BREADCRUMBS)
Adapted from Whats4eats.com
Serves 2-3 

Ingredients:
1 pound of fish fillets
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 cup of breadcrumbs
1/2 lemon, juice only
1-2 garlic cloves, diced finely
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon of honey
1/8 cup of chopped parsley
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Directions:
1.  Prepare the fish.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Spread the half of the olive oil in a baking dish large enough to hold all of the fish in a single layer.  Sprinkle half of the breadcrumbs over the bottom of the dish.  Lay the fish over the breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Heat the remaining olive oil over medium.  And the garlic and saute briefly for one minute.  Add the tomatoes, honey, wine, parsley, salt and pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes.  

3.  Cook the fish.  Pour the tomato sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs.  Bake in the oven until the fish is cooked through, about fifteen to 20 minutes, and the breadcrumbs have formed a golden crust.


THE SIDE DISH

Finally , I decided to make a vegetable side dish to accompany the Psari Spetsiotiko.  I wanted to challenge myself with the side dish, so I decided to make something with artichokes.  Artichokes have their place in Italian cuisine and I have read a lot about the use of artichokes in recipes.  They also have their place in Greek cuisine.  So, for the side dish, I decided to make Aginares Latheres (pronounced ahg-kee-NAH-rehs lah-theh-RES) or αγκινάρες λαδερές. 

AGINARES LATHERES (ARTICHOKES WITH VEGETABLES)
Adapted from About.com
Serves 2-3 

Ingredients:
1 carrot, cut in to thick slices
1-2 potatoes, cut into cubes
1 bunch of scallions (or 1 onion), chopped
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped
1 1/2 lemons, juice only
1/2 tablespoon of flour
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 to 1 1/4 cups of water

Directions:
1.  Prepare the artichokes.  Clean the artichokes by removing the outer leaves and the stems.  Cut off the top (down to just above the choke) and scoop out the choke with a spoon.  Trim off remaining leaves around the sides to leave just the pale colored heart.  Rub the artichoke hearts with lemon as soon as each is cleaned and immediately place the hearts in a bowl with water and half of the lemon juice.  This will prevent the artichoke hearts from turning black.
2.  Saute the vegetables.  In a soup pot, saute the scallions or onion until translucent.  Add the carrots and potatoes and continue to saute for about 5 minutes more.  Thereafter, add the artichoke hearts, dill, celery, salt, and pepper, continuing to stir.

3.  Add liquid and flour.  Add the remaining lemon juice to about 1/2 cup of water.  Add flour and continue to mix until smooth.  Add the mixture to the pot, stirring until it is mixed well with the vegetables.  Add the remaining water to cover the vegetables and bring to a boil.

4.  Finish cooking the vegetables.  Then reduce the heat so that the vegetables simmer.  Cover and let cook over low heat until the vegetables are done, after about one-half hour.

*     *     *

Overall, the Domatokeftedes (along with the Tzatziki) and the Psari Spetsiotiko were very good and I would definitely make these dishes again.  The Agineres Latheres did not turn out well, primarily because of my inexperience with cooking artichokes.  I did not include any pictures because I was not happy with the final product.  I included the recipe, which was reduced for two people, for anyone who wanted to try it.  You can also click on the about.com link to get the full recipe. I definitely intend to try cooking with artichokes in the future, but I think I need to do more preparation before attempting this Agineres Latheres or any other dish featuring artichokes in the future.

In the end, this may not have been my best meal (although I have to say again that the Domatokeftedes were very good), I think that it was definitely a good experience.  Well, until next time....

ENJOY!

To learn more on Greek cuisine, check out Wikipedia or Greek Food.

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