In Part II, I will share more on my thoughts but until then I would love to hear yours!
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
2-3 T. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp. salt
2 large lemons, juiced
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, heated
30 grape leaves, rinsed and drained (from jar or use fresh but boil until tender)
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the onion in 2 T. EVOO for a few minutes, then add the rice and herbs and continue stirring until the onion has softened. Slowly, pour in half the heated stock and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until rice is almost cooked but still very al dente. You do not want to overcook your rice, but you do want it started! Stir in half the lemon juice and remove from heat, cool until easy enough to handle.
Line the bottom of your pot with a few extra vine leaves you have so the dolmades will not burn while cooking, I try to choose the broken or unusable ones from the jar. Take one leaf, place shiny side down, and spoon 1 teaspoon (only 1 tsp. or they will burst open and not be pretty at all) or more/less according to the size of the leaf itself, but you want to easily be able to tightly fold; remember that the rice will still expand more while cooking. Fold over both sides of the leaf towards the center, and begin to snuggly roll up from the bottom to top. You may have to slightly fold the top sides even more inwards (think slight triangle) to get a “prettier” roll. It is all in the practice, so just find what works best for you! Once you have finished rolling one, place it seam side down in the pot. Repeat placing the dolmades together so as to not leave any gaps and allowing the leaves to split open. Try to stack the first layer all facing the same direction and when you begin the 2nd layer, switch the direction for a kind of criss-cross pattern; repeat until finished. Sprinkle the top with remaining lemon juice and olive oil.
Gently, pour the remaining stock just enough to cover the top layer. Place a flat weight – like a small, upside down plate – on top of the vine leaves, cover the pot, and simmer for 45-60 minutes – making sure not to boil, because this will make the stuffing overflow from the leaves. When close to the time, check one to confirm that the rice is tender, take into account that they will also slightly cook a little more while cooling down. Remove from heat, remove cover, and let cool for another half hour. Transfer to a plate/dish and serve with lemon slices and greek yogurt if you choose! It is also very “Greek” to top them with a little white vinegar and some extra salt if needed. Try it all and decide for yourself!
There are many different versions of the stuffing for dolmades, the usual contains ground beef and sometimes even fish. There are also vegetable varieties, but the simplicity of fresh herbs and rice, in my opinion, is the perfect balance of flavor and lightness!
8 Large Fresh Eggs, boiled
1/3 cup greek yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1 T. mayo
1-2 tsp. mustard (or more)
1/8 – 1/4 cup chopped green/purple onion, optional (for the husband)
1 T. fresh dill or 1 tsp. dry dill
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
dash of cayenne, optional
Juice of half a small lemon
Chop or lightly process the boiled eggs and add to a medium bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and gently fold together until blended well. Let chill in the fridge for half an hour or serve immediately on bread, pita, croissant, or even inside a tomato or on a bed of lettuce!
Thankfully, the birthday boy just loved it too! The combination of walnut and vanilla creme were perfect together. Walnut cake is also amazingly delicious when served with ice cream!!! Now that it is almost summer, maybe you could even add a scoop or two of your favorite ice cream! I served a slice with a cup of strong coffee to counter balance the sweetness and they also went hand in hand, for dessert or breakfast 🙂
Walnut Cake Recipe:
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 – 1 cup farina (AP Flour or semolina)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 T. cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp. clove, optional
1 1/2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
Instant package of vanilla filling and needed milk, optional
Prepare the oven to 175°/350°. Prepare 2 small round cake pans: buttered and lined with parchment paper or one regular cake pan. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth. Continue mixing and add one yolk at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing after each addition until all 6 eggs are added. Stir in brandy, orange zest and juice, and mix until all combined. In a separate bowl combine flour, bread crumbs, b. powder, cinnamon, and walnuts. In another medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Slowly alternate combining the dry mix with the egg whites, mixing well after each addition. Evenly pour batter into the cake pan(s) and bake about 20-40 minutes depending on size of pan or until a knife comes out clean in the center of the cake. Cool on wire racks. Prepare the syrup mixture (below) and let boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat and cool slightly. Gently place the first cake layer on your platter and spoon a third of the syrup on until absorbed, add the vanilla creme and gently place on second layer, finally spoon another third of the remaining syrup onto the top cake. Reserve the remaining syrup to add just before serving or if you have a cake platter or dish with a lip to hold the syrup, continue to add all of it. If you are making one cake, simply add all the syrup at once. It works best if either your cake or syrup are hot/warm and the other has slightly cooled.
Simple Syrup Recipe:
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 clove or nutmeg berry
1 lemon slice
It was the same cheesecake recipe here, but only halved. I used the cookies with a little butter to make the crust and added a few in the middle with a handful of chocolate chips too. The melted chocolate was used to add a bit of decor to the tops.
This cheesecake recipe is a lush, thick, and super creamy one! Now that strawberries are in season I am dreaming of a strawberry cheesecake!!!!
Spoon Sweets (γλυκό του κουταλιού) are very common to serve to a guest. They are always served with a glass of water and maybe another beverage too. They are perfect for offering someone for three reasons: 1) they are sweet yet also nice and fruity 2) they look lovely and a little fancy 3) they are something very unique and can easily be homemade and kept for months at a time. It is called a “spoon sweet” because it is literally served with a small spoon and on a glass or crystal plate (unlike mine because I didn’t have any glass or crystal)!
They can be made from almost any kind of fruit, although sour and bitter fruits are particularly used. Sometimes they use just the rind of the fruit and other times the whole fruit may be used. Some popular spoon sweets are made from oranges, watermelon, cherries, kumquats, quinces, figs, lemons, pomegranates, or various berries. It is also common to use unripe nuts, flower petals, or even olives! A well-made spoon sweet retains the original color, aroma, and taste of the fruit only sweeter, softer, and slightly chewy.
Easter in Greece is very different for me. Besides the wonderful church celebrations and emphasis on Christ, there is also a huge stress on family and spending time celebrating all together, I just love that! We have eaten so much since Saturday night that I think it might be time for another brief fast. Here are our lunch tables: 1) Prepared my my wonderful mother-in-law, anything she makes turns into gold, seriously, she makes the most authentic and homemade Greek food I could ever imagine; 2) prepared by our only living yiayia (grandmother), she too has a great talent in the kitchen. I try to get them to teach me how to cook, but they insist that I will learn better then them, I only hope to become as great of a cook as either one of these wonderful ladies.
Just some Greek coffee and fresh juice on a typical visit to yiayia’s house.
Our Easter lunch at home in my husband’s parent’s house. Stuffed beefteki, lamb meat skewers, traditional Easter soups, salad, lots of wonderful cheeses and sauces, wine, and of course red eggs to hit together!
Even Meli has enjoyed the benefits of the sacrificed lamb and RISEN KING. I am sure she loves being here more now with a garden to run in, chickens to chase, and bones to hide and eat!
Hope you are still enjoying this wonderful holiday season!
Christ is Risen!
The unique traditions of the Greek church are not only a sincere and humble focus on the true meaning of Easter, but a deep concentration on what the actual story of Easter and what this means today for us as believers. Today and tomorrow are a deep mourning time and this is represented through each act of the service. A highlight and something special that I enjoy is carrying the bier (tomb) and επιτάφιος (pronounced epi-TA-fi-os) around the village. This symbolizes the funeral of Christ and the epitaphios is above his tomb, decorated with many, many beautiful flowers.
A band/choir playing and singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by all the church and its surrounding neighbors. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfume on the epitaphios, holding lighted candles in their hands. Upon returning to the church, the bier is held up high by some strong men of the church and all the parishioners walk underneath, either touching or kissing as they pass. SPRING is in the air, and Greeks worldwide are preparing to celebrate their pascha or Greek Orthodox Easter.
Another one of my favorite moments is tomorrow (Saturday night), the service begins at around 10pm and around midnight the lights will all be off and the church will be quiet. At this point, the priest will bring out a single lit candle (the HOLY light) and announce, CHRIST IS RISEN!!! He will then share the Holy light to everyone around and the church slowly becomes bright and glowing from everyone holding candles! This light will be carried to their houses and kept for as long as possible. It is a truly magical feeling and everyone is smiling and greeting one another saying, Χριστός Ανέστη “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) and they will reply, Αληθώς ανέστη “Alithos Anesti” (Truly He is Risen)!!!
As you leave the church and even when you arrive home, sometimes around 1am, you celebrate and crack an egg with your family and friends. This not only represents Christ breaking out the grave and rising to life after three days, but it represents the NEW LIFE you walk in Christ as a believer! The spirit will be joyful and festive for at least the next 40 days as Greeks continue to celebrate with food, family, wine, dancing, music, and all around merriment!
The food traditions of celebrating Easter are rich and full. Besides the sweet tsoureki breads that are made, there is a popular Easter soup called, Magiritsa. It is made from various parts (not typically eaten like the intestines and liver, blech) and an egg/lemon sauce; it is supposed to be a gentle way to reintroduce meat back into the diet after fasting for about 50 days. Personally, I have never tried this soup and I may or may not this year… only time will tell.
The following Sunday morning, everyone returns to church for one last service and communion before going back home and having massive outdoor feasts with their family and friends, usually with each family roasting a whole lamb. The celebrations will not stop until Monday which is also a national holiday in Greece. There will be literally a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, sauces, and sweets galore. I will be sure to take some pictures if we attend any barbecues this year.
I hope wherever you are for this Easter that it may open your eyes even wider to the love of Christ and that you would understand how much He loves you and draw closer to Him.
Καλό Πάσχα & δόξα στον Θεό,
(Happy Easter & Glory to God),
*The spices I used
Mix 1/2 – 1 cup flour, yeast, 1 T. sugar, and warm milk together until a thick, wet batter is formed, rest 30-60 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and enough flour to form a dough. Knead for 5-8 minutes and cover to rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled or almost tripled in size. Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Using as little flour as necessary, roll the dough into about 12-14″ long ropes. Gently braid the ropes together forming a loaf and tuck under the ends making sure to seal them well. Preheat your oven to 400°, let braid rise for 20-30 minutes, then brush with your beaten egg: use the egg white for a light colored bread, use the whole egg (I did) for a medium colored bread, or use only the yolk for a deep brown colored bread. Place sliced almonds all over your bread and strategically position your eggs! Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 25-35 minutes or until golden brown and hallow when tapped on the bottom.
PS. A trick used to make and keep the bright red eggs shiny is to rub them with olive oil!!!
We are now in Halkidiki with the in-laws and the sun is shining and Meli is barking 🙂 This is the first time our inside pup will experience the joy of being an outside dog! She has already made the garden chickens her friends, and I use the term friends very loosely…. she observes them more from afar and barks when they come too close!
Kali Anastasi (Good Resurrection) is a common greeting over the next few days!