In Greece, when friends get together for lunch, it is an all day affair! Whether there are 4 or 14 dining, the amount of food is almost the same. The table is covered with small plates, called mezethes. For sure you will find tzatziki, slices of feta with oregano, mixed olives, salads, and a variety of dips and sauces like these. Food is always eaten “family style” and shared among everyone at a table. You order ala carte and pass the plates around until all the food is gone and the glasses of ouzo and wine are empty. A minimum of two hours but more commonly three to four hours of eating, talking, drinking, and then eating and drinking some more. If you have never experienced this, it is indescribable how the time passes when you are surrounded by good food and good friends! Here are a few feta dips that can easily be put together for exactly such an occasion.
Greek bean soup is almost like a national dish in Greece, although it doesn’t seem to be so popular on this side of the world. Rather, I have seen the infamous Avgolemono soup everywhere including restaurants and even canned on supermarket shelves! I think the reason behind this is because it is one of the humble foods found on every Greek table at least once a month, sometimes once a week. Especially now during times of crisis, there might be some people living off this stuff!
There are certain Greek meals that have a reputation for bringing back memories, youvetsi is one of them. And although I was not raised Greek, this is one of those meals that takes my husband back to his childhood just by smelling it. Especially when made in the crock pot, the aromas of lamb, tomato, and cinnamon fill the house with a comforting warmth that brings a permanent smile to his face.
The first picture is from a time I made youvetsi in Greece using a dutch oven, it turned out good, but this time using a slow cooker it was incredible.
I am sure everyone has heard of Greek yogurt, it is everywhere here. But do you know what makes it “Greek” and do you understand the nutritional benefits over just regular yogurt?
First, Greek yogurt is still simply yogurt! The key factor in making it qualify as Greek is that it is a strained yogurt. It іѕ produced wіthоut adding аnу stabilizers оr gelatin tо the finished product. Since it iѕ а dairy product produced bу the bacterial fermentation of milk, it саn be produced іn small quantities by аnуonе аt home. You juѕt nееd sоmе milk, time and patience аnd thе bacteria wіll do іtѕ job. The end result is a more dense, creamier, and rich tasting yogurt. Of course it is still offered in full, low-fat, and non-fat options.
Finally we are safe and sound in Florida. Our 2 day trip turned into a 3 day journey, but thankfully everyone along the way was really helpful and friendly. The first leg from Thessaloniki to Istanbul was delayed 4 1/2 hours, so by the time we landed (in the rain), got our luggage and dog, found our taxi, and got checked into the hotel it wasn’t worth going downtown. We were completely wiped out from the delays and stress of taking our dog along with us, but we were really happy that our hotel was so nice. We wanted to stay somewhere between the airport and downtown, so we chose Novotel (Istanbul). We also hired a taxi service to pick us up and drop us off – we had 3 suitcases, 1 dog, 1 kennel, and 3 carry on bags. Backpackers Travel (Istanbul) was awesome!!! For about the same price as grabbing a taxi outside, they sent a van and driver to the airport and the hotel the next morning. Besides the rain and ridiculous traffic the night we landed, their service was exceptional and I would recommend using anytime in Istanbul! Like I said before, our hotel was 4 star, and maybe we are just used to the budget friendly 2 star hotels but this one was pure luxury. We were treated like VIPs the whole time and the staff and accommodation was really great! We ended up just ordering room service and relaxing in the room. As much as we would have loved to see the city, we are glad we rested and plan to go back someday! PS. If you ever go to Istanbul, please know that Americans are subjected to a $20 visa – this is good to know before you stand in the customs check line like I did!
Today I get to share with you homemade phyllo dough by one of the best homemakers ever, my mother-in-law. She is a self taught cook beginning from the time she married, and has amazingly developed her cooking skills along with raising 5 wonderful children - of whom I married the eldest. I have been trying to learn some of her recipes so that I can recreate them for my husband anytime he is feeling homesick for Greece. The only problem with that is ,like with all good cooks (and most Greeks), she uses a few recipes and doesn’t quite measure the same as us Americans. Here they use water glasses, coffee cups, and soup or sweet spoons – no fancy measuring cups to go by. It makes trying to copycat her recipes a bit more difficult, but with time I will continue to try.
I am sure you are wondering what the heck soutzoukakia is if you aren’t Greek, and the first time I heard someone mention it I replied, “Gazoontight” (Gesundheit)!
Although this dish has a ridiculously funny name, it has a seriously delicious taste. This particular version of the recipe comes from a part of Turkey called, Smyrni. This used to be a heavily inhabited by Greeks before the population exchange in 1922. It is basically a Greek meatball but instead of round it is egg shaped or like a sausage link.
I personally am not a huge fan of all the Greek syrup sweets, most of the time they are just too sweet. Having said that though, I do like the occasional syrup cake. The two most popular are Ravani and Karydopita (walnut cake). Ravani, that you see here, is a simple semolina cake lightly infused with either lemon or orange zest. Two versions I have grown to love are a coconut Ravani or a cinnamon one, like below!
aka “Giouvarlakia” in Greek, pronounced yiou-var-LAkia
I remember tasting this soup last Easter for the first time. It is not the typical Easter soup, that would be called “mageiritsa”. But once this American girl found out what the ingredients of THAT soup were, she politely maybe snobbishly refused to eat it. There is just something about using the inner parts of an animal to make a soup. But the tradition of this soup does make sense, it is supposed to help gently break the fast of no meats or dairy for the previous 40 days. Parts like the liver and intestines are apparently more easily digested.
When I first moved to Greece, there were many adjustments I had to make, but there were already some things I knew how to do. I already knew how to drive a standard/stick shift, I was roughly familiar with the metric system, I occasionally air dried my clothes, I’ve washed many dishes by hand, and I have lived abroad surrounded by foreigners. Some new things I had to adjust and learn, like how to make and drink Greek coffee, how to find parking when there seems to be nowhere to park, getting by with the Greek language, making many traditional Greek dishes, going to a different store for each item I need, carrying only cash, raising my voice to be heard, and how to de-bone a whole fish so that I am not eating all bones!
I can’t believe it is almost November, and even almost 2012! Where has the time gone?
Now that school has begun, the days fly by and Monday to Friday seems to come and go faster than I can keep up with. Thankfully though, life is really good right now. Amidst all the turmoil this country is facing and the extreme austerity measures we are forced to adapt to, we still feel very blessed. We are still being taken care of on a daily basis: we have shelter, food, work, health, love, and an abundance of so many more daily joys!
Something I don’t like or understand in Greece are strikes. Today is a big striking day. Almost all public services (including schools, all means of transportation, military, church officials, government offices, ect) are closed because the people want a change and striking is a desperate attempt to get some change. Unfortunately, at least from where I am standing, this is just a lose – lose situation. You see, the government has AGAIN made salary decreases. For us this means about 300 euros less each month, basically a whole month’s rent to put it into perspective. But it doesn’t stop there. We are also awaiting an emergency property “tax” that will be around 200 euros each and the worst thing of all, it makes no sense, it is simply the government reaching into our pockets yet again. And on top of that, the government is suspending 30,000 public servants, some of which may be teachers. So, people are striking, not show up for work. And if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Unfortunately though, the actual chances of the government changing its mind because you missed work are slim to none. A total lose – lose situation!
Greek food is very memorable. Whether it is the first time you taste your first gyro sandwich or maybe you are just a sucker for homemade baklava, but regardless of which recipe exactly it is, you definitely remember its origins! The first time I tasted keftedes (Greek for meatballs) or keftedakia (Greek for small meatballs) was kind of an unusual experience. We had just been visiting the in-laws for a couple of weeks and were leaving that morning to drive to Athens, about a 5-6 hour drive from north Greece. Being the wonderful mother-in-law that she is, she made us a picnic for the road.