IT WAS ALL GREEK TO ME: A Culinary Tale by Jo Hart

The next post is from a dear friend of mine that has been coming to the Nafsika quite recently who loves the hotel, the area and the food! I always enjoy seeing the dishes that people make from Theodora’s recipes as I know she does herself. Theodora loves the fact that her recipes are passed on not only in the family but to our extended family as well!

But let Jo tell her story….


My journey into Greek cooking.  I was inspired to branch out into a different
cuisine following holidays at the Nafsika Hotel, and aided and abetted by Spiros
Mouzakitis and his lovely mum’s (Theodora) great recipes.

jo-hart

Me at my Kitchen!

My story is probably very like many others that have stayed at the Nafsika over the years.  The only word I knew in Greek was ‘Kalispera’, which I knew from the Eurovision Song Contest and Katie Boyle all those years ago “Kalispera Athens this is London calling, please could I have the results of the Greek jury”.  I am ashamed to say that I have learnt very little Greek at all despite having spent the last few May holidays in Corfu and at the Nafsika Hotel.  But I have been given a free drink for asking for the bill at a restaurant in Agios Stefanos Beach in Greek!!  Which if my memory serves me right is to ‘logarizmo parakalo’ (phonetic) no way could I do the Greek Alphabet.

I am more enthusiastic about Greek culinary dishes.  I like cooking and I have
used recipes shared by Spiros of the Nafsika Hotel, Agios Stefanos, Avliotes,
Corfu.  Most of the recipes shared are from Theodora, the Kitchen Queen of the
hotel and it is her natural flair for cooking and her son’s willingness to
harness this for the good of the whole family which has made the Nafsika what it
is today, and the reason that people return year after year, the food and the
hospitality are a great draw.  As well as the witty repartee of mine
host.

Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

The first dish that I ever tried to cook following one of Theodora’s recipes was
Theodora’s Spanakopita.  I followed the recipe to the letter and was really pleased with the results, as I became more accustomed to making it I did actually vary the
ingredients like trying it with Goats cheese instead of Feta, and using cheddar
in place of the ‘kefalotiri’ cheese or parmesan cheese as recommended, although
the taste was good in all instances there were subtle differences to the
finished dish.   All very edible.

spinach-pie

My very first attempt making Spanakopita.

jos-spanakopita

Theodora’s Spinakopita (Spinach Pie)

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

The next dish I made was broad beans with artichokes, this was a real feat to
complete, owing to the difficulty in getting the ingredients in the UK.  Waitrose, Sainsburys, and Morrisons all have fresh artichokes when in season,
but they are very expensive.  It is possible to buy frozen from Waitrose.   I
find that it is easier to find the components for this dish in Calais (I live in
Kent so make frequent sojourns to the Nord Pas de Calais, where it is possible
to get both frozen and fresh artichokes at reasonable prices).   I ended up
using artichokes from the deli counter from Sainsburys  when I made the dish and
the 1 fresh one that I bought.  It is a light dish which had an acquired taste I loved.

artichokes_being_cooked

Artichokes being cooked

buttter-beans-with-artichokes

Artichokes with Broad Beans and Peas.

I made tzatziki, which is really easy, and tastes so much better than the
ready made variety you can buy in the UK.   If you are watching your waistline,
use the 2% fat Greek yoghurt as the 0% fat one makes it too runny.

I made a Greek salad, although I do think the feta you buy in UK is too salty for
my liking.

I also made Theodora’s famous moussaka, spanakopita and stuffed vine
leaves. My daughter who was with us and a fussy eater ate everything, even the
youngest amongst us was willing to try everything, although she wasn’t as eager
as the rest of us for my Greek cooking.   Never mind, she may remember where she
first tasted it when she is older and wiser.  The moussaka deserves a special mention, the method that Theodora makes requires frying and reserving  the potatoes and aubergines, the result was well worth it as it enhances flavour.  I made the béchamel sauce with skimmed milk and it probably wasn’t as creamy as made with whole milk but a  better for the waistline.  I used Delia Smith’s all in one white sauce recipe which I find foolproof.  That is the only change I made to the recipe was to make it lower fat.  Hopefully it didn’t suffer because of it.  I do not think so.

Dolmades (Stuffed Vineleaves).

I made these for a family meal whilst staying at my sister’s place in Newquay, this is a picture of my first attempt. The dummy run. They were really good even though I say so myself and I served them hot with a roasted pepper sauce. They are a bit fiddly, and at the time of making you could get the vine leaves in Morrisons, sadly they no longer do them, so it would be a trip probably to London for me to get them, so I haven’t made them very often since. I will however, bring some back with me on my next trip to Corfu. I suppose that you could use cabbage.

dolmades

Dolmades

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken.

I make this dish in a roasting bag, as it gives the potatoes the texture that I require, and like for the dish. I find that the Marfona potato is a good one to use for this recipe. It’s very simple you just place all the prepared vegetables in the bottom of the bag, season, add lemon juice and olive oil, spices oregano, and bay leaf and then put the chicken on top, the whole dish cooks in the oven and the potatoes and vegetables take on the flavour of the chicken and the potatoes cook, semi boiled/semi roasted. It’s better if cooked in a slow oven about 150C,  adjusted slightly if you have a fan oven. The smells will begin to waft through the house when nearly ready. All you do is open the oven and take a look if the potatoes have begun to take on a semi roasted appearance then the dish is ready. This is one of my favourite recipes and so easy to make.

greek-roast-chicken

Greek Lemon Roast Chicken

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

This was a recipe that Spiros had promised to me for ages, and which I waited for with bated breath.  It took a really long while for him to send this to me, having promised it to me following his putting a picture of it on Instagram.  The picture below is of the dish whilst it was cooking, and what is so lovely about this recipe is the heavenly smell of cinnamon and spices that waft through the house while cooking, very reminiscent of Christmas cooking smells.  One of my favourite childhood remembered smells is coming home from school and the Christmas cake being cooked and another is liver and bacon being cooked for dinner.  They both conjure up lovely memories.  If you are staying at the Nafsika don’t miss the calves liver and bacon with garlic mash it is to die for!!  When Spiros puts a recipe of any sort on his blog, I love the little tips often included, like in this case to make sure that the shanks were completely tender, as it can vary according to the age of the lamb. Lots of tips which he relates are what his mum does.  In case of all those English readers the difference for example between Welsh, English and New Zealand lamb and the relative age of the lamb.

giouvetsi-with-orzo

Theodora’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with Orzo.

The finished dish. The orzo is easily obtained in the UK, although this particular orzo was purchased in Agios Stefanos Beach and taken home with me, along with other items like the small green lentils, called fakes. Have used orzo in other recipes countless times, makes a change from rice. That’s one recipe I haven’t made so far from the array that Spiros has put on the blog. There are bound to be others I haven’t got round to doing as yet, and maybe this year there will be something new that I would like to try following my holiday at the Nafsika in May!

I am looking forward to trying out more recipes in the future.  I would like to make Baclava – which I would share with friends as it is better while still fresh and is so delicious it must be eaten at once!
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Top 5: Greek Dishes I’m Embarrassed Not to Have Eaten

My narrow-mindedness towards certain Greek dishes stems back to my childhood as they were not a part of our family meals when I was a child. Therefore I did not get the chance to know or like these dishes.  It is amazing how much your parents can influence you over what foods you do or do not eat.  Of course, their influence does not stop with only foods.  I am proud to say that I have surpassed both my parents in tasting all sort of foods that they would never dream of trying, however bizarre or common place they may be!  Some foods I have only just recently tried and begun to like.  For example my mother’s Lentil Soup — something in the past I refused to try.   There are still a few Greek dishes remaining for me to try and hopefully start to like in the future!  The following are a list of the ones I have not eaten for most of my life!

1. Tzatziki

Tzatziki

Tzatziki

Tzatziki is one of the favourite Greek dips during the summer season yet for some reason even though I like all the ingredients individually.  It is made with yogurt, cucumber and garlic.  When you add them all together I find the taste totally foreign to my taste buds and maybe it has to do with the fact that I normally eat yogurt with something sweet and to have it as a savoury dish puts me off.  To be honest I have tried it once and I sort of liked it but not so much to try it again!  The main reason for my dislike of this dish is that my mother never introduced tzatziki to me thus I never grew up to like it.  I was more a taramasalata person so when the dips come to the table I would feast on the ‘pink stuff’ and forgo the ‘white stuff’!

2. Russian Salad

Russian Salad

Like the name might imply, it is made from potatoes, vegetables and mayonnaise.  I have not tried it because I don’t like mayonnaise and there is lots of mayo in it.  In hindsight, I may have done myself a world of good as mayonnaise is not the most healthiest of things to eat!  Of course, if you like it, like most people seem to do, the dish is fit for a Tsar!

3. Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes

Once again, I love tomatoes in every form hot or cold but I have never tried to eat them stuffed and I simple eat the Stuffed Pepper which normally was in the pan along with the Stuffed Tomatoes.  My sister and mother don’t eat them either so the pan would be filled with stuffed Peppers and in the corner would be 1 or 2 Stuffed Tomatoes for my father who would be the only person to eat them.

4. Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

One of the classic Greek dishes where we use grape leaves to wrap food, dates back to the days of Alexander the Great. This is another dish that has escaped my taste buds!  Stuffed with rice, pine nuts and herbs this simple dish which slightly resembles the rolling of cigars (only that you roll them on the table rather than your thighs), is loved by most tourist visiting Greece. There is no real reason why I have not tried them and I’m sure if I did I would not dislike them but…yet, again they were never on our family table so no one of my family likes them.

5. Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita

I have included this dish in the list even though I now do eat Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) but I have only started to eat it a few years ago.  Once again, since there would be Cheese pies on the family table along with the Spinach pies and I would of course always have the Cheese pies –which I still love!  My love for this dish came after I tried a Monemvasia pancake-thin pastry called Saïtiá which is unbelievably delicious, prepared with handmade Phylo dough and filled with fresh spinach (or wild greens), leeks, and feta cheese.  Now, I can’t get enough of my mothers Spinach Pie! There are many variations of a Phylo stuffed pastry throughout all of the regions of Greece and sometimes even between neighboring villages. But now, I try them all!

What are some of the Greek dishes you have not tried? Yet?

Theodora’s Spanakopita – Spinach pie

I can’t in all honesty say that my mother’s spinach pie is any better or different than the whole range of spinach pies that are made around Greece, although to be fair a lot of people have said that hers was the best they have ever tried! The ancient Greeks would stir in all sort of edible greens and wrap them to make pitas (pies), sadly, we don’t know how they made their pies as today’s spinach phyllo crusted pies first appeared during the Byzantine era. Spinach originated in ancient Persia (modern Iran). The rest of Europe had to wait well into the middle ages before they sampled this richly flavoured green. The English word spinach dates to 1530.

This will probably surprise many that have tried my mothers spanakopita as it is called in Greek but my mother did not make this dish at home and only started to make it when we opened the hotel! Coming from the Diapontian island of Ereikoussa (Erikousa), my mother was taught to make other sorts of pitas (pies) which I will reveal in later articles so when I wanted spanakopita on the menu she had to be taught to make it. Once again, my aunt Marika from Athens came to my mother’s rescue. So popular was the dish when we first introduced it in Agios Stefanos that my mother had to make 2 pans of 15 portions on each pan a day! Several years later, when we would be selling of smaller amounts of the spanakopita, I wondered why people stop ordering it. Only to painfully realize that the other tavernas had started to sell it as well but as some of them would buy it in pre-made and frozen pockets of spanakopita, these would taste nothing like my mother’s homemade version so people would be dubious to try our spanakopita once they tried one of these other ones. How I would pine when I heard them say to me, “I have tried it before and don’t like it”!

My mother’s recipe is a bit different from all the others I have seen on the net but my mother told me that she started making it like those others but the recipe has evolved to the present one.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours
Servings: 10

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 spring onions (scallion) roughly chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup (118 ml) chopped fresh fennel
¼ cup (59 ml) chopped fresh dill
4-5 fresh basil leaves, chopped
4-5 fresh mint leaves, chopped
½ cup water
2.5 pounds of spinach leaves
1 cup of crumbled Feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Kefalotyri cheese (or Gruyere cheese)
pinch of ground nutmeg
12 sheets phyllo pastry
¼ cup (59 ml) olive oil

Preparation:

Wash and drain the spinach leaves. Chop spinach coarsely. If using frozen spinach thaw completely and drain excess water. Spinach should be fairly dry.

Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep saute pan, onions, green onions, garlic, fennel, dill and add half a cup water saute until soft and translucent so that the dill and fennel are well cooked, until they are soft as Theodora would say. She also uses these fresh from her garden so they are extra aromatic. Cook until most of the water evaporates.

Stir in spinach, parsley, basil, mint, nutmeg and cook for 5 to 10 minutes until spinach has wilted and all excess moisture evaporates. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In the next part, Theodora does it her way again. She does not use any eggs as most recipes use though it was in the original recipe of her aunts. Nor does she use ricotta cheese (which is Italian and Greeks would use Mizithra cheese which will be nearly impossible to find out side of Greece) simply because the feta cheese that she uses is very creamy and does not need another creamy cheese to help the dish.

Take away from heat and add feta cheese and sprinkle some kefalotyri cheese and mix with the spinach mixture. Allow to cool.

Prepare the Pita:

Preheat oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F).

Carefully remove the phyllo roll from the plastic sleeve. The biggest problem in working with phyllo is that once exposed to air, it tends to dry and the pastry sheets may break, so you will need to work quickly. To prevent drying, cover the phyllo roll with wax paper and a damp towel while working with the individual sheets.

Lay one sheet of phyllo pastry on a flat surface and brush with olive oil then place in prepared baking dish. Lay 6 phyllo sheets in the pan, lightly brushing each with oil before adding the next layer. Brush all the edges first since that is where drying will begin. Spoon the spinach mixture over the top of the phyllo and carefully spread evenly and fold overhanging phyllo sheets over filling. Finish off with the remaining 6 sheets of phyllo, brushing each as previously done. Tuck overhanging phyllo sheets into the pan and seal filling.

Carefully cut into squares before baking or else the phyllo leaves will crumble if it’s done afterwards. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve hot or it can be refrigerated, re-heated in a normal oven as microwaves ovens make the phyllo pastry soggy. Enjoy!