Category Archives: Greek

Chef Cora’s Chicken Lemon Soup

Once you try this four-season soup for the first time, it will instantly evoke the feeling of comfort and home.  Avgolemono(αυγολέμονο) is the real name of this traditional Greek chicken ‘noodle’, and though it is much more popular these days in many non-Greek kitchens (and even some New York hip restaurants) than, say, a decade ago, I think it still merits to be showcased again and again, so many more people can admire its heavenly fusion of its components. Homemade chicken stock with chicken, lemon juice, eggs and rice: just imagining these ingredients together already sounds refreshing and soothing at the same time, for rain or shine, summer heat or winter cold.
One rumor has it that Avgolemono might be originally a Jewish dish from Iberia; other credits the soup invention to the Greek mountain shepherds.  Which might be confusing, but, really, who cares today? You will realize with the first spoon that it doesn’t even matter who invented it. It will carry you away to the sunny Greece and you will just be craving more after.
I’ve opted for one of my favorite Iron Chef’s Cat Cora (who is also one of the 50 most influential women in food, according to Gourmet Live ) recipe of the soup considering her Greek origin and the number of stars Food Network awarded to her Avgolemono.  I slightly modified it, oven-drying the chicken in advance, adding bouquet garni and carrots and leeks to the stock from the beginning. Otherwise I kept the recipe intact.
I liked the fact that she was using whole eggs (no waste) and cooking the chicken from scratch. Some recipes use just the egg yolks instead of whole eggs, or beat egg whites to make it whitish and foamy, some trade rice for orzo. This recipe is using Arborio rice. Please note that it takes around 3 hours in total to cook the soup from scratch, but if you have a quality chicken broth, some roasted chicken leftovers and cooked rice in your fridge already, just skip the making-broth steps and proceed right away with egg-lemon sauce (I do it all the time). This way you will have an amazing soup within 15 minutes or less.

Once you master the classic recipe, feel free to add some extras like grilled corn leftovers, green beans, or even chopped avocado if you wish to add some Latin American touch to the dish and make it more complex.

Quick warning: when re-heating the soup, do not bring it to the boiling point, or the egg will coagulate. It will still be tasty, but much thicker and may be not as pretty, like this one I warmed up the other day for too long. 
The origin of Avgolemono can be traced back to the times of Alexander the Great. Almost as old as the Greek civilization itself, it table travels me to Greece every time I eat it and makes me think of Woody Allen’s quote about the ancient ruins: ‘you see those ancient ruins and you’re hyper-aware of the fact that thousands of years ago, there was a civilization that was mighty… and how glorious it must have been. And now it’s a couple of bricks here and a couple of bricks there and someone’s sitting on the bricks eating their sandwich.” Well, Avgolemono soup in my case, which, I’m sure, will survive as a great Greek classic dish for as long as humanity will continue to have chicken, rice and lemon.
One Year Ago: Muffuletta Sandwich 
One 3 lbs free-range chicken (or equivalent in chicken parts)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and quartered
1 leek, cleaned and quartered
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, parsley and thyme)
2/3 cup Arborio rice
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2-3 large eggs
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 450F. Wash chicken under cold running water and pat dry it. Optionally, place the chicken in the oven for 15 minutes to dry further and seal the juices for the clear quality broth (turning at least twice to dry it all around). Transfer chicken in the large pot and add enough cold water to cover the chicken. Bring to boil and reduce the heat to low skimming the foam when necessary.
Heat the oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add onions. Cook the onions until clear for about 5 minutes. Add to the chicken pot. Add the bouquet garni, carrot, leek and simmer for about 1 ½ -2 hours (depending on the size of the chicken) until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken from the broth. Let the chicken cool. Pull the meat from the bones. Dice into large cubes and set aside.

Discard the carrot and leek. Bring the broth back to boil and add the rice to the broth. Turn the heat to simmer and let the rice cook for to al dente for about 30 minutes (15 minutes max for long or jasmin rice). Add the chicken back to the broth. If necessary, add some boiling water.
Beat the lemon juice and eggs together in a small bowl. Pour two cups of broth slowly into the bowl, whisking constantly. Once the broth is incorporated, add the mixture into the pot of chicken soup and stir to blend well. Add the salt and pepper. Serve hot garnished with minced fresh parsley, oregano or dill.

Adapted from: Chef Cat Cora’s recipe for Avgolemono soup from

Spinach Pie Spanakopita and Fun in the Sun

Oh, summer, how I longed for you! And finally, you came to Eastern Canada with all your colors, welcoming breeze, humming sounds, camping, wilderness and millions of the itsy-bitsy things.

Summer is the season I can live through with no bigger ambition than my next BBQ or a pool party and it’s been like that for years. Which is why, the timing could not have been any better than the last real week-end of sun when we had our first BBQ-pool party. First real hot, long due sunny day, after prolonged raining and pouring. With almost overwhelming number of ideas and inspirations for a nice alfresco getaway – I was almost lost in choices.
The BBQ party is usually all about grilled meat, which we’ve had plenty of: assortment of kebabs, rack of pork, chicken tzatziki drums – they were all good. But when I caught my breath to pause and see which dish was the biggest success, it happened that an oven baked homemade spinach pie, Spanakopita, stole the show. Once again, Chef Redzepi’s prophecy about 2014 being all about the veggies and packing on greens turned out to be true – and, yes, it was a humble freshly baked spinach pie stuffed with hot aromatic puree of greens, herbs and cheese that was a star of our soiree.
 When those are real Greek people giving you kudos about your spinach pie, you better take a note and a good picture, because they do know a thing or two about Spanakopita. After all, this traditional savory pastry dish made of spinach, feta cheese and eggs wrapped in crusty dough, has been a Greek soul food for centuries. I must admit, it does taste great on a hot summer day and not only in the Greek islands. 
Another party winner was a perfectly fluffy marble cake (Gâteau surprise) Diane brought for the dessert – it was simply amazing so light and decadent at the same time. Thank you, Diane, I’ve savored the last sliver of it this morning with coffee – it was a super-delicious party reminder.
Saturday was really the first most beautiful summer day with plenty of sun; clear sky; cool summer wind; roses, daisies, poppies, irises, lupine, peonies – all opening at the same time; the bees buzzing and birds humming. This is our Canadian summer: everything in the nature suddenly rushes to bloom and seed almost screaming to complete the life circle in the short few months before going back into the long months of slumber. 
We did a fair amount of hammocking, swimming and splashing. Our doggy joined the water ball play in urge to bust the damn ball, which she did eventually. (No biggie, Michael, I will get you a new one.)
And of course the food: nothing tastes better than a good food eaten outside in a great company! It was so nice and so deservedly relaxing, it now feels it might have been other people from a great summer outdoors sketch… But it was us and the fun was ours and the Greek savory pie did exist, although for no longer than 20 minutes. This gave me an idea to write this post and share some apps about the successful Spanakopita making. 
Here are my tips for a great homemade Greek spinach pie, Spanakopita:
– A freshly chopped spinach would deliver the best results, but most of the time (I won’t lie) I use freshly frozen (thawed and drained) spinach to save time and effort. As long as you don’t let a pack of frozen spinach sitting in your freezer for months, I see no reason why not to go for this little convenience.
– Savory herbs add an amazing kick to the taste: freshly minced chives/scallions, oregano, dill, parsley slightly cooked in ghee or olive oil with the dash of nutmeg before mixing them with chopped spinach do make wonders to the taste of the pie. Feel free to use any extra of your favorite herbs like fresh thyme, basil or mint just to experiment for the taste you’d like to attain.
– The feta cheese I use most of the time is less salty than a standard feta cheese (I soak it in a milk or water overnight to drain out the excess salt. Sometimes, I use the mix of feta and ricotta or cottage cheese instead.
– Finally, I always use store bought puff pastry dough instead of phyllo dough, which, again, saves a lot of time and cuts on the amount of butter.
Quite often, I also use puff pastry dough making spinach puffs or turnovers with the same spinach filling – a superb companion to a bowl of soup or a cup of tea, not to mention the array of grilled things you can have them with.
And that’s basically it about my Spanakopita pie. I hope you, your guests or family will enjoy it like we did. Cheers to the happy summer times y’all!
4 tbsp olive oil or ghee (clarified butter)
3 tbsp ghee or butter at room temperature for greasing the pan and brushing the top
¼ cup chives or scallions, minced
¼ cup parsley, minced
¼ cup dill, minced
1 tbsp fresh oregano, minced (optional) or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 small pinch nutmeg
2 packages (10 oz each) frozen, thawed and well-pressed/drained spinach or 2 ½ – 3 lbs of fresh spinach, chopped
1 ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled (I also drain the excess salt in advance by soaking feta in milk or water)
4 eggs, lightly beaten (plus 1 egg for egg wash to brush the top)
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 (397 g) pack frozen puff pastry dough, thawed in the fridge overnight
Preheat the oven to 375F. Melt the ghee or butter, or olive oil in the frying pan and add chives or scallions. Cook for 2 minutes until soft and add parsley, dill, oregano and nutmeg. Add spinach, mix well and cook for another 2 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Add crumbled feta and eggs, mix well.
Brush the bottom of 8 by 8 (for the thicker crust) or 9 by 13 inches (for thinner crust) baking pan with melted ghee or butter. Roll out ¾ of the puff pastry to cover the bottom and sides of the dish. Brush with ghee or butter. Add the spinach filling and spread evenly to be flat. Brush the edges with egg wash. Top with the second dough sheet ½-inch thicker than the bottom sheet. Press the edges together with fork or fingers to seal. Brush with the rest of melted ghee or butter. Finish brushing the top with egg wash. Cut a few slits on top with the paring knife for the steam to get out. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until well-puffed and golden brown. Let the pie sit for about 10 minutes before cutting in pieces. Serve warm or at the room temperature.

Say Sardine: Part I

It’s fun to catch the last glimpse of summer having a little Grilled Sardines alfresco party. Succulent, fatty and so-Mediterranean, freshly grilled sardines taste totally different from canned and are sometimes called ‘’brain food’’ for their high nutritional value. Sardines are packed with Omega 3, B-vitamins, selenium, niacin, calcium and many other good things, and, are unbelievably tasty.

Which is why, their lusty grilled aroma remains as alluring as ever all along the beaches of, practically, any Mediterranean country (and, of course, Portugal). Who can ever forget the traditional Malaga’s chiringuito experience with sardines skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over the drift wood in an old fishing boat berthed in the sand? Or Lisbon’s favourite open-air salt-packed sardinhas grelhadas served with a simple potato, tomato and grilled capsicum salad?
Curiously, my first grilled sardines know-how hails from one disastrous dim-sum dining experience. The story is actually worth telling. Imagine a cold winter Sunday morning. You read an article from a major press (La Presse), which goes: ‘’… you can have tons of delicious treats and a mountain of crisp-fried sardines at this place for just a few dollars … will make you come back to this newly opened dim-sum restaurant again and again…’’ Yumm, sounds so attractive! Sure enough, I go to check out the place. When I arrive the place is packed, so I park myself between the doors with many others. Next thing I notice, I am squeezed between people who all have well-spread herpes labialis (cold sore) on their face. I feel threatened. My first instinct tells me to ‘’FLEE’’, but my perseverance wins so I just cover my face with the scarf and try not to breeze. I think about the reward I am about to get – sardines… My turn comes up and I am rushing into a crowded dining hall to be placed among other sardine lovers. A grim-faced female server stops by my table, says something in Chinese and hands me down few baskets from her cart. I ask her if I can have some sardines. The woman gives me the stink eye and leaves without an answer. I take a bite of the gluey samples in hope that sardines are coming with the next cart. The slippery-cold bock choy and dumplings which taste like a cross between radish burp and slime bring me back to the thought that, perhaps, leaving the place at once was not such a bad idea. But I am on the mission to get sardines… Another elderly server comes by and slides down something fried that looks like pig-ear crisp, although can be a sliced cardboard soaked overnight and deep-fried this morning. I begin to speak louder and gesticulate to make it clear that I want sardines and I don’t see them among the dishes served. She answers something in Chinese (again) and drifts away with her cart leaving me no options but to go look for a manager. I find him in the steamy kitchen which smells like rotten cabbage and can convert to a ‘’Day of the Sorcerer’’ movie set in a snap.  He confirms to me that they run out of sardines (what?!).  More than ‘’a few dollars’’ short, I leave the place praying not to develop a sore on my lip…  But I am now even more determined to get bloody sardines. I have two options: I can go high-end (Fereira Café, or similar) and be treated for sure, OR, I can go to La Mer (the fish market) and buy some fresh sardines and cook them myself. And since my belly is bloated with crap which La Presse journalist called ‘’delicious treats’’, and my daily resto budget is gone, I do the latter.  Voilà, with a bit of patience, garlic, lemon, olive oil and salt I finally succeed to have a mountain of freshly-roasted sardines for a few dollars indeed. I celebrate this with Rhapsody in Blueand a glass of chilled Rosé…
My point is, as long as you can buy two pounds of frozen sardines at $2.99 (at marche Adonis, for example), you don’t have to go through my try-&-fail dining experience and can successfully feed a small army on a budget with some of the following fool-proof tips. 
Frozen sardines are much easier to clean than fresh: use your fingers to shave the scale in a bowl of water (I find using the back of the knife still breaks the tender flesh); slit the underbelly and pull the guts out while the fish is still half-frozen. Leave the head and tail on or cut them off if you prefer. For fresh sardines and more elaborate technique of making sardine butterflied (en papillote), follow these tips. I personally don’t like to fiddle with that, especially when sardines are to be grilled: the bones play the major role in developing umami during the cooking process. Here are some of my favorite ways to cook and serve grilled sardines:
International: marinated in lemon/garlic/parsley/olive oil/salt/pepper sauce for 15-30 minutes, grilled on medium-high for 3 minutes on each side. Excellent with carrot-leeks side dish.
Portuguese: simple and fast – encrust sardines with layers of kosher salt; keep in the fridge for an hour or so, then just wash the salt off, pat dry and throw them on a grill (again, 3 minutes each side). PS: sardines cooked this way are often not gutted (it is best though to apply this technique with fresh sardines). Serve with lemon wedges and simple salad of your choice.
Spanish: in escabeche sauce (mix of olive oil, a bit of red/white vinegar, garlic and herbs simmered for 10 minutes) splashed over the grilled sardines and served cool – utterly delicious and well worth trying.
Greek: wrapped in wine leaves. This is one of my preferred techniques – vine leaf wrap prevents the fat from burning, helps to manipulate the grill easily and keeps the sardine flesh moist. Works well on the frying pan too. 
Good tip: use wilted lettuce or wild grape leaves (popular weed in our backyards, see the image below), if you don’t have real vine leaves handy. (FYI, you can also make an awesome sauce for the grilled meat from wild grapes.) Just collect the biggest wild vine leaves, rinse and simmer them in salted water (2 tablespoons/1 liter) for 5-7 minutes. Drain and let cool before wrapping.
PS: Please do not confuse the wild grapes though with Menispermum Canadense plant which is poisonous. 

 Simple, healthy and unforgettable!
2 lbs (1 kg) or 12-16 medium to large size sardines
12-16 vine leaves in brine, washed
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced (optional)
1/3 teaspoon fresh or dry thyme, minced (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Scale sardines with your fingers under the running water, gut them and wash. Pat dry and rub the fish with a mix of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and herbs, OR just sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Wrap sardines individually with vine leaves rinsed from the brine. Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill for 3-5 minutes on each side or until flesh flakes well when tested. Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread, chilled white or rosé and lotsa napkins. OR, serve grilled sardines as meze with a shot of ouzo. Enjoy your alfresco!

Moussaka Please

Somehow high sky, crickets (this summer we also have an abnormal amount of cicadas in Quebec) and crisp August nights remind me of my Mediterranean travels and always put me in the mood to make a good, hearty Moussaka. It has been a year since I made it last time and promised the guy named Alex to post it, so here I am re-creating the Greek version of it, only a year after. Sorry for the delay, Alex, time is a rubber band in the Greek terms and I hope you will still enjoy making it.
There are zillions of different recipes/ingredients of Moussaka (this dish is not just Greek, but an Eastern Mediterranean staple): with or without meat, potatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, béchamel or yogurt sauce, etc. Ultimately, it’s a combination of: layer/layers of the correctly spiced and cooked meat sauce (lamb or beef); layer/layers of either eggplants, or potatoes, or both (sometimes zucchinis are there too); cheese and béchamel, or yogurt sauce topping. There’s been a debate in blogs and forums as to the sauce. Apparently, it is a shame in orthodox Greek tradition to replace classic sauce béchamel with yogurt/eggs/cheese mix. But I’ve seen dozens of great recipes in favor of yogurt mix, especially when it comes to gluten free recipes. Anyways, since ’’tous les gouts sont permis’’ (all tastes are allowed) in North America (otherwise Rachel Ray would not be a celebrity chef), I will let you decide whichever you prefer and will give you both, béchamel and gluten free versions. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
My version is a tribute to Naxos Island, a famous Greek land of potatoes (and many other good things), so, obviously, this Moussaka has potatoes in it. 
Contrary to our ‘’you slow you blow’’ mentality, Greek people know that ‘’anything goes’’ and are never in a hurry. Their cuisine reflects this and is simple in its core: you just have to have a FRESH INGREDIENT to it, be it a cucumber, yogurt or a ground meat. And, of course, spices and herbs like oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc. And a good splash of wine in everything you cook.
My family knows already that making moussaka heralds series of all kind of Greek meze in our kitchen. This time, having had my own share of what is called ‘’I hate reboots’’ period, I was happy to indulge myself in making a whole bunch of the Greek treats like wine wrapped sardines, rice & meat balls, eggplant spread, fish fillet in tahini sauce, almond cookies, all kind of salads, etc. Some of which I will certainly post next. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
So lets’s further on to our Greek moussaka, and then bring it out and eat it outside having a panoramic view of the sea and the waves lapping pebbles at our feet (in our minds). Or just bring it in and watch the immortal ‘’Zorba the Greek’’ while having it and let the time stand still. Cheers! 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas

Ingredients & Instructions:

Vegetables & Cheese:
2 large globe eggplants (or 4 Japanese or white eggplants), sliced
3-4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
olive oil
1 cup Kefalotiri or Myzithra cheese, grated (Parmesan or similar sharp cheese is often used in North America as a replacement)

I. Vegetables & Layers:

Slice the eggplants, salt them sparingly and let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain from liquid, pat dry and dispose on the baking sheet in one layer. Brush with olive oil and grill/broil lined in one layer for about 4-5 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Peel and slice the potatoes (1/4 inch thick) and either boil them for 4 minutes and drain, or fry/broil them in oil for 5-8 minutes until golden, but still slightly undercooked. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Layer a casserole with potatoes, overlapping slightly (use half). Sprinkle with cheese. Top the potatoes with eggplant slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Layer a casserole with potatoes (use half). Cover with meat sauce (SEE BELOW). Repeat the layers or until the ingredients last. Sprinkle each layer with cheese. Ladle the sauce béchamel (SEE BELOW) to cover the final layer and sprinkle with cheese on top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Let cool for at least 15 minutes for the juices and flavors to set up.

II. Meat Sauce:

1 lb ground lamb or beef (if you want to turn it into Beef Moussaka)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup red or white wine (or organic apple cider vinegar mixed with water half & half)
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and brown the ground meat. Add onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and black pepper. Mix well, add salt and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add wine, mix and bring the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes or until liquid is almost evaporated. Set aside.

III. Sauce béchamel:

1 stick unsalted butter (or ½ cup or 114 grams or 4 oz)
4 cups milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
white pepper to taste 
salt to taste
Warm up the milk without letting it simmer. Remove from heat. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour over a gentle heat using a whisk until it turns slightly yellow and starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add milk little by little whisking gently, return to low heat until mixed well and sauce slightly boils and thickens. Add nutmeg and white pepper and mix well. Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl and whisk well. Slowly add sauce béchamel to the egg yolks, whisking all the time until the mixture is well mixed and bring back to the very low heat without letting boil. 

Note: For Gluten Free Yogurt Sauce equivalent: beat 3 eggs with a tablespoon of cornstarch (dissolved in a bit of cold water to prevent lumps). Add two cups of natural yogurt, ½ cup of shredded cheese, salt, white pepper, pinch of nutmeg and whisk well. Some recipes add 1 tablespoon of rice flour to the mix, but I find it optional.