Chapter Seventeen: Karpouzi Salata (Watermelon Salad)

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If you’ve been looking for a quick, refreshing salad that can wow your guests any day of the week, then look no further than the karpouzi salata (watermelon salad) Greek Fanny style. It’s a popular summer dish that you may have already tried at a picnic or even in your own home. Or maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram and became dizzy looking at the juicy karpouzi (watermelon) mixed with salty feta cheese, only to notice seconds later that your phone is dripping in drool. Or maybe you haven’t even heard of it and you’re wondering how karpouzi and feta can even taste good together, as a salad nonetheless. I wondered the same thing for many years.

I used to run faster from karpouzi and feta than I did from my yiayia’s koutala (grandmother’s spoon). Feta was supposed to be eaten with olives, or topped on Greek salads or stuffed in phyllo pies. Karpouzi was the mouth-watering fruit served to you after a fine Greek meal, and the word shouted along peponia (melon) by local vendors on the streets of Athens. “Karpouzi! Peponia! Karpouzi!”are words that ring in my ear whenever I think of eating karpouzi—or while lugging off another 15 pound monster to the cash register. Karpouzi and feta were like cats and dogs to me and I never believed they could or should be eaten as one.

Here’s the thing—I don’t like when different foods touch each other. Yes, I’m one of those finicky eaters that cringe at the sight of drastically different foods sharing the same time zone. I think one of the greatest inventions ever made is the plate divider. You know, those Styrofoam plates that divide the plate into three sections to ensure no amount of gravy or avgolemeno sauce leaks into my salad or pasta or whatever is in the section next to it. I would make sure the runny tomato juices of fasolakia would be as far away from my crispy tyropita as possible and you definitely would never catch me putting a garden fruit and a cheese from a farm animal on or near the same plate.

But, two years ago I became a karpouzi and feta lover. Together—on one fork. I was serving as a staff member at Ionian Village and we were sitting down for a meal together like we had many times before. It was a standard Greek meal: lots of meat, pasta, salad and fruit, all prepared by the incredible camp cook, Kyria Sophia. We were enjoying the meal and laughing and having a great time. Towards the end of the meal, one staff member took her feta cheese from her salad and moved her fork to the dish loaded with karpouzi and stabbed a juicy piece with her feta filled fork. Then she ate the two together and obviously enjoyed it. I was so shocked I gave it a try too. And I liked it. And then I had it again. And again. And again.

My time in Greece hasn’t convinced me to retire the plate dividers just yet, but it has left a great taste in my mouth for karpouzi and feta. I have since added a few more ingredients to the two for a refreshing salad. In Greek recipe books you’ll find many variations of this dish, such as adding thinly sliced red onions, tomatoes or cucumbers mixed in for a fuller salad. Mine is much simpler. This karpouzi salata combines just karpouzi as the main ingredient and tossed with feta and fresh mint leaves. I know—not original. But I drizzle mine in a sweet balsamic reduction as the dressing. Balsamic reductions may call for sugar for sweetness—I use Cretan honey for that special sweet Greekness.

Pick yourself up a karpouzi from that local street vendor if you’re lucky enough to be in Greece, or grab one from the nearby grocery store if not—this karpouzi salata is a must try. Just make sure you Instagram your dish so we can all drool over the image.

Ingredients:
-1 seedless watermelon, chilled and cut into bite sized chunks
-1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (I prefer the brand Dodoni)
-1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
-1 cup balsamic vinegar
-1/4 cup honey

Directions:
1.For the balsamic reduction, add balsamic vinegar and honey to a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and let simmer until the mixture reduces by half. Simmering should be about 12-15 minutes.
3. Take off heat and let cool.
4. Cut the rind off the watermelon, and chop into 1-inch bite sized chunks. Place into large bowl.
5. Combine crumbled feta and mint leaves into bowl and mix together.
6. Drizzle balsamic reduction over salad and serve immediately.

Chapter Sixteen: Rizogalo

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As a follower of My Big Fat Greek Fanny, you’ve learned just how easy it is to sustain a healthy Greek lifestyle. Everything from quick and tasty Lenten recipes to simple changes like walking more often, makes your Greek fanny smile. You’re eating healthier and moving around more—but now it’s time for dessert. As I wrote in chapter 1, this blog will teach you how to have your moussaka (eggplant casserole) and eat it too. Today, we celebrate the new you with (rizogalo) rice pudding—a favorite Greek dessert.

My mom knows rizogalo is the key to my heart. Her yiayia (grandma) dished it to warm the bellies of her grandkids. Her mother did likewise. Then it was my mom’s turn to keep the rizogalo tradition as an after dinner treat the same way her yiayia did. Blending her yiayias recipe with local author Ellen Furgis’ recipe and countless different batches later, my mom reached rizogalo perfection. Now she serves her version of rizogalo to me and my brothers—and of course all of our hungry friends who can’t get enough of Mama Saltas’ rizogalo.

Rizogalo is not only my favorite dessert, but is also my favorite thing my mom makes, period. It always brings me back home. And I live at home. Yes, I’m one of those Greek kids who can’t seem to leave the nest. And why would I want to leave? I get daily lifetime lessons from my dad, my brothers constantly keep me laughing, and I get special homemade batches of rizogalo from my mom. I’ve got it made. As long as my mom keeps making her rizogalo, the only place I’m moving is into the kitchen to refill my bowl.

I’ve made rizogalo many times on my own using her recipe, but there’s just something going on when my mom makes it that makes it more delicious. Maybe she pours the milk in more smoothly or sprinkles the cinnamon on top more evenly than I do. Whatever she does, it’s thick. It’s creamy. It’s home. And now it’s yours. So go ahead, grab a bowl and warm your belly, it’s time to treat your Greek fanny with rizogalo.


Ingredients:
-5 cups whole milk
-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 cup long grain white rice
-2 Tablespoons vanilla
-1/4 cup butter
-1 egg, separated
-ground cinnamon for serving

Directions:
1. Pour 5 cups of milk into a deep saucepan then heat the pan and add the rice, sugar and butter. Stirring constantly to avoid scorching, bring mixture to a boil.
2. Reduce the heat and continue to cook at a medium simmer uncovered until the rice is thoroughly cooked (about 1 1/2 hours). Stir the rice occasionally during the cooking.
3. When the rice is fully cooked, remove from the heat and stir in vanilla. (There is no need to remove the skin from the surface, just stir it into the pudding).
4. Beat the egg white until stiff, then blend in the yolk. Now, carefully dilute the egg with about 4-5 tablespoons of the hot pudding, beating continually to keep the egg from coagulating.
5. Add the egg mixture slowly into the pudding and stir until it thickens.
6. Put rice pudding into a large bowl or into small bowls for serving and set aside to cool.
7. Sprinkle with cinnamon on top and enjoy!

Chapter Fifteen: Three Green Salads

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Once a month, I get together with three of my friends—Whitney, Anna, and Kathryn to cook a meal as our “girls night in.” We don’t throw pillows around or get into the latest gossip. Girl’s night always revolves around eating and includes lots of laughter. We either prepare the whole meal together, or each of us will take turns bringing different course dishes or simply supplying the wine. For our most recent dinner, I volunteered to take salad duty. Summer had just started and there’s nothing more appetizing than fresh salad greens.

My first thought was to bring a Horiatiki Salata (Village Greek Salad) and call it good. The Horiatiki Salata is the most popular salad of Greece, consisting of only cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, oregano, feta, green peppers and olives, all lathered in Greek dressing. You can Google search “Horiatiki Salata” and find countless recipes and colorful varieties of the dish. It’s such a classic and tasty salad that soon My Big Fat Greek Fanny’s own recipe and artsy pictures will be among the many searches online. But there’s more to Greece’s salads than cucumbers and tomatoes. Greeks vary their salads season to season and use all kinds of ingredients such as beets, potatoes, watermelon, and most commonly—ranges of leafy greens.

For girl’s night, I prepared two of my favorite leafy green salads, plus one I hastily created that turned out to be the fan favorite among my trusted taste tasters. These salads each comprise different greens as the base and tossed with different toppings, dressings and herbs to make them unique. For your next BBQ, afternoon snack, girl’s or boy’s night in, go beyond the familiar Horiatiki Salata and try something new. You’ll truly surprise your guests and yourself. Give each a try to find your favorite. Then experiment with different leafy greens or other toppings to create your own new go to salad.

Maroulosalata (Romaine Lettuce Salad)
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Say maroulosalata out loud ten times fast and you’re sure to chuckle to yourself as you stumble on the word a few times. I sure did when I mispronounced it to my friends as I was introducing the salad at dinner. If you can’t get past the pronunciation, dig into the salad anyway and let your taste buds do the talking. Maroulosalata is comprised of marouli (lettuce), spring onions and dill. Traditional maroulosalata calls for Romaine lettuce. It’s a light and easy to make salad that’s served year round, but is more common in the warmth of spring and summer months. The fresh dill adds zest to every bite and marries perfectly to the classic olive oil and vinegar dressing drizzled throughout. I brought this salad when Anna announced her main dish of halibut seasoned with dill. The two paired together perfectly. It can also be served as a main or side salad, and served alongside other vegetable dishes.

Ingredients:
-2 heads of romaine lettuce, finely chopped or cut in ¼ inch ribbons
-1 bunch of spring onions, sliced
-4 Tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
-1/3 cup red wine vinegar
-2/3 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Wash and dry the lettuce, onions and dill.
2. Finely chop the romaine lettuce, giving it a shredded feel and ensure there are no chunky pieces.
3. Slice the spring onions to the thickness you prefer, and finely chop the dill.
4. Add the spring onions, dill, and romaine lettuce to a bowl.
5. Mix together olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
6. Toss the salad with the dressing and serve immediately.

Roka Salata (Arugula Salad)
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Roka (arugula) is one of the most underestimated leafy greens, despite packing lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It’s numerous health benefits are well known. Arugula is native to the Mediterranean, and is definitely a green that should be added to more plates worldwide. The Greeks eat plenty of arugula as a “Roka Salata” and is traditionally served as just roka, topped with thin slices of local cheese and dressing. To add more essence to the salad, it is common to add walnuts, pine nuts and sundried or fresh tomatoes to the mixing bowl. This is a common salad throughout Greece, and a go-to for Whitney whenever she sees it on a menu. She likes to add other types of lettuce to the roka. That’s ok. The strong peppery taste of arugula can be a turn off to some, and many recipes add romaine lettuce to the salad to temper the arugula. I like it solely with arugula and serve it that way. The Roka Salata is perfect as a main salad alongside chicken, fish or even pasta dishes.

Ingredients:
-6 cups arugula
-Kefalotyri cheese, shaved
-1/4 cup white vinegar
-3/4 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
Optional add ins: walnuts, pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, or shaved parmesean cheese if Kefalotyri isn’t available.

Directions:
1. Wash arugula and add to a bowl along with sun dried tomatoes and walnuts.
2. Mix together olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
3. Toss the salad with the dressing.
4. Top with shaved kefalotyri and serve.

Lachano Salata (Cabbage Salad) Fanny Style


For my green salad taste-testing party, I decided to serve something new while keeping with the theme of leafy greens—this time the crunchier lachano (cabbage) was used as the base. I have a love for spicy foods, so jalapenos had to be in the mix too. To that I added leeks and limejuice for a sweet flair, and cilantro on top for a finished touch. This cabbage and jalapeno salad is the right amount of spicy and equally refreshing. Create your preferred level of spicy with more jalapenos, or tone it down with less. Mid meal, I was pleased to hear Kathryn say, “I usually hate cabbage but this is the best salad here.” I agreed with her and we both quickly reached for second helpings. The Lachano Salata can be served plain as a side salad, or by using Anna’s suggestion and top it on tacos to form a Greek-Mexican styled dish that will wow any dinner guest.

Ingredients:
-1 head of cabbage, finely shredded
-4 medium leeks,
-4 jalapenos, diced
-1/3 cup cilantro
-5 limes, juiced
-3/4 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Cut and remove the stem and core of the cabbage. Clean and slice the cabbage in half and slice each half to create quarters.
2. Thinly slice the cabbage into strips.
3. Cut and discard the roots of the leeks, using just the white and a small portion of green parts only. Carefully clean the remainder of the leeks, and cut them into rounds.
4. Halve the jalapenos and remove the seeds. Dice into small pieces.
5. Add cabbage, leeks and jalapenos into a bowl.
6. Combine the limejuice, olive oil, and salt and pepper into a bowl and whisk together.
7. Drizzle the salad with the dressing and top with cilantro and serve.
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Salads can be fun. Enjoy!

Chapter Fourteen: Let’s Walk

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Stand up—I have some big news for you. As Americans, most of our days are spent sitting and our fannies are paying for it. That probably wasn’t the most shocking of news, but stay standing. Between driving to and from work, typing at desks, watching reruns of Friends (guilty) or popular Netflix movies, and then lying down in bed to repeat it all again in the morning, the only walking we get is moving to and from the next seated position. It’s time to give our fannies some attention. It’s time to go for a much-needed walk, or volta (stroll) as they say in Greece.

We were made to walk. But, our lives have changed and we are now more sedentary than ever, spending most of our time sitting or lying down. The first thing in the morning we read and check social media while lying in bed. We sit in our cars as we order a Grande caramel latte macchiato with whip cream, or whatever those popular Starbucks drinks are. Instead of walking to the grocery store, we drive. We cheer on our favorite sports teams while sitting on an overly cushioned couch. All of our meals are spent sitting around a table or eaten hurriedly in our cars on our way to work. I’m typing how much we all sit around all day, while I sit at my desk in a very uncomfortable metal chair. We all need to make an effort and take lessons from our Greek roots and find some time in our busy lives to get more movement.

Look at our ancestors. To them, walking was the only way of getting around the xorio (village). Even today you’ll find locals walking to bakeries for the freshest psomi (bread) and pies to start their day. For dinner they’ll stroll to a nearby fish market to get their hands on the latest catch or walk next door to the meat market for a rack of lamb. The pethia (children) walk to and from school. Every afternoon papouthes (grandpas) meet up at the local kafeneio (coffee shop) and laugh over a game of tavli (backgammon) while they sip their frothy frappe. They are social, they eat well, and they walk everywhere.

Walking is a very underestimated form of exercise. But, it’s absolutely free and requires no gym membership, is low impact on the body, and burns fat. Make time for 30 minutes in your day for a volta. There are many different ways to incorporate it into your day. Let’s get started:

  1. Find a walking buddy: Take your dog for a volta in the morning or after work, or better, both. Don’t have a dog? Go with a family member or friend. They tend to have to stop to pee far less than a dog would anyway.
  2. For the busy worker: Set a timer on your phone at least every hour to get up and walk around the office to peel you away from the screen for a few minutes and give your fanny a break from those long periods of sitting.
  3. Break up your day: If you don’t have a full 30 minutes, break up those 30 minutes into 3 sessions—finding 10 minutes here and there. A 10-minute walk after each meal is a great place to start and to burn the extra piece of baklava from dinner.
  4. Commercial break: While you’re watching the Ross & Rachel saga on Friends, every time a commercial comes on stand up and march in place or walk around the living room. The commercials are boring and repetitive anyway.
  5. Walk while you talk: Taking conference calls and catching up on the latest gossip with your friends doesn’t need to be spent in a chair. Take your phone calls on the go.
  6. Do your chores: You may have hated dusting and vacuuming as a kid, but it’s an easy way to get moving. Gardening is an even better way to break a sweat while you pull those never ending weeds and pick those delicious vegetables you planted in the spring.
  7. Walk for a cause: Benefit your body while you help out a cause or fundraiser. You can find 5K events happening almost weekly wherever you live.
  8. Track your steps: Use a fitbit, pedometer or better yet, most smart phones now have a “health” app and are more accurate anyway. Aim for 5,000 steps a day to start, and go up from there. After you get in the habit of 5,000 steps a day you’ll notice you’ll be more motivated to strive for even more steps. Getting 8,000-10,000 in a day is a great goal to build up to, and then after that the sky, or the trail ahead is the limit. When you get home from work and are short of your goal, hop on a treadmill to round the numbers off or go outside and walk around the block.

Don’t let your fanny sit around all day. Whether you are the step tracker, dog walker, or the person who just takes the time to get a walk in no matter where you are, your fanny will thank you for the extra movement. Weight loss and trimming down really is as easy as a walk in the park.
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Chapter Thirteen: Make Your Own Greek Yogurt

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Taste buds give you the ability to taste things, while “taste buds” are food items that commonly go well together. For instance, there’s peanut butter and jelly: a go to lunch for hungry kids. Bacon and eggs: the classic American breakfast. Burgers and fries: an equally classic American lunch. Coffee and paximathia (a semi sweet cookie): the breakfast choice for Greeks. Peas and carrots: peas and carrots? Well yes, remember how Forrest Gump said that he and Jenny “goes together like peas and carrots”?

There’s also salt and pepper, steak and potatoes, pita bread and tzatziki sauce, milk and cookies—the list never ends. We’ve all tried different “taste buds” during our lives. During my visits to Greece, I discovered my favorite “taste bud” of all: Greek yogurt and honey.

Greek yogurt is healthy, creamy, thick and rich. Just a drizzle of sweet honey on top will cause your taste buds to scream for more. Yogurt has been made for thousands of years in many cultures, so let’s thank whoever originally thought that consuming spoiled animal’s milk was a good idea. It was a brilliant idea. Now, in the last decade or so, Greek yogurt has skyrocketed in popularity and dominated the dairy sections in grocery stores worldwide. Basically, the difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is thickness and fat content—Greek yogurt is strained multiple times to remove the liquid whey in order to make it thicker than regular yogurt, which also creates a nutritional difference between the two (in bulk, Greek yogurt has more protein, less carbohydrates, and more fat). It’s easy to find dozens of Greek yogurt options these days as many manufacturers have been putting “Greek” on their yogurt labels to join the obsession—but don’t let the label fool you.

You won’t be fooled by the authentic Greek yogurt brand Fage. It’s the closest you’ll find to yogurt that’s served throughout Greece in an American store. The only downside to Fage or any other store bought yogurt—especially Greek yogurt, is the price. And, if you’re like our family, Greek yogurt is constantly in your fridge, meaning your wallet is always going through a straining process. Although you can quickly pick up yogurt from the dairy aisle, making Greek yogurt on your own is just as simple and definitely much more rewarding—plus you’ll be getting more bang for your buck.

For just the price of one gallon of milk (average of $3) you can make your own giant bowl of Greek yogurt and triple the amount you’ll get from one container of store bought yogurt. Fair warning though—after you make your first batch of Greek yogurt, you’ll be getting weekly requests to make it for friends and family.

My recipe for Greek yogurt comes from the Louie Katsanevas family (a family that seems to populate a quarter of the Greek population in Utah). In the mid 1950’s, nine Katsanevas brothers and sisters immigrated to Utah from Greece. Just one brother, George, decided to stay back in their family’s xorio (village) of Kampous, Crete—a small but beautiful mountainous village outside of Chania, Crete. I met George in his xorio during the summer of 2014 with my cousin Chris Metos, who is a Katsanevas on his mother’s side. George was extremely humble and generous, and during our one-day visit, he probably fixed us four different and filling Greek meals.

When I was certain if I took one more bite of anything I’d turn into Violet Beauregard from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and would have to be rolled out of the xorio, George brought out his homemade Greek yogurt. My eyes lit up. It was perfect. In my broken Greek I told him I wanted to learn how to make Greek yogurt just like him, and in his broken English, he told me his family in Utah makes it just the same and to learn from them.

As we left the village of Kampous, George made sure my suitcase was stuffed with Cretan honey. My taste buds were very pleased to have had George’s homemade Greek yogurt and honey.

My favorite “taste bud” combination after Greek yogurt and honey is burger and fries. I typically get that fix at Utah’s famous burger chain, Crown Burger, owned by the Katsanevas family. One day as I was eating a jalapeno burger and fries and nearly two years after meeting George, in walked Louie Katsanevas. He invited me to sit down with his daughter Mary and that’s when I knew I finally had the chance to ask him for his family recipe.

Louie was overjoyed to share, and proud to learn I had been long seeking his recipe. The Katsanevas method of making Greek yogurt is easy. He didn’t have to show me how to make it; he simply got out a pen and paper and had me write down the steps as he explained the process. Louie explained that Greek yogurt is easily adjusted based on the consistency you prefer. If you like a runnier Greek yogurt, strain less. If you prefer Greek yogurt more on the thicker side like me, strain more. Test it out and find what you like, and you’ll soon be running to the dairy aisle only to stop for gallons of milk to make your own batch of Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt and honey is delicious on its own, but you can add even more pals, such as walnuts, fresh or dried fruits or granola to combine with these “taste buds” for even more tasty flavors.

Ingredients:
-1 Gallon whole milk
-3 Tablespoons Fage Greek Yogurt or other plain yogurt as your starter
Directions:

1. Pour milk into a large pot, and bring to a boil.
2. As soon as the milk boils, take off heat and pour into a large glass bowl.
3. Let cool for 10-15 minutes. Using a thermometer, let liquid cool to 130 degrees.
4. Stir in the 3 tablespoons of yogurt starter. (After your first homemade batch, you can use your homemade yogurt as your starter).
5. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and put a blanket or towel over the whole bowl to keep warm, and place on your counter at room temperature or in the oven with nothing but a light on.
6. After letting the yogurt sit for 20-24 hours, uncover bowl.
7. Wet a large dishtowel and squeeze out until damp then place on top of the yogurt to absorb the whey.
8. Every 2-3 hours, remove towel and squeeze out the liquid, and replace the towel back on top of the yogurt. Repeat 4-5 times depending on the thickness you want.
9. Check with a spoon or fork for desired thickness.
10. Once desired thickness is met, refrigerate and enjoy!

*Shortcut: After the yogurt sits for 12-24 hours, line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the yogurt in the strainer to remove excess whey. Keep in the refrigerator until desired thickness.

Dedicated to George Katsanevas, who passed away January 4, 2016. May his memory be eternal.

 

Chapter Twelve: Greek Super Mama

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She smothers her children with love and support, she’s selfless, and she protects those she cares about. She’s an excellent host, and cooks for armies large or small. She makes the best home cooked meals and her guests always ask for more. The next day sends her paidia (children) to school armed with leftover pita, moussaka and dolmathes. Raging rain or scorching sunshine she ensures no one leaves the house without a jacket. She’s the last to go to bed, and the first to awaken. She works hard. Everything she does is for her family and others, leaving little time for herself. She’s a Greek Super Mama.

I have a Greek Super Mama. You probably have one as well, so we’re all familiar with their sacrifices as they ignore their own needs by putting themselves last in order to care for others first. After a day of juggling between long work hours, she ends the day with stacks of endless dirty laundry that never seems to get smaller. Then she puts it all into the dryer before ironing and folding. For some Greek Super Mamas this is the only time she will watch television, her iron moving across the ironing board in rhythm with a Dancing With The Stars tango. She has no off days.

Unfortunately, this means that for a Greek Super Mama, health and self-care is often neglected. A Greek Super Mama needs to know it’s okay to take care of herself. She needs to know that her family is only as healthy as she is and that health is an important investment for her. Since free time is hard to come by for a Greek Super Mama, even finding 15 minutes a day to do something relaxing are beneficial. Here are three realistic tips that can be incorporated into her day to make her health a priority. If you have Greek Super Mama help her get on course with these simple steps:

  1. She needs sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is recommended by health experts, but your Greek Super Mama will insist that’s too much. Try your best to get her to get a reasonable amount of sleep per night to help reduce stress and boost her mood. Her body—and her new attitude—will thank you for the extra zz’s.
  2. She needs time to relax. It may be tough to find time in her busy schedule, but finding time for herself to relax will help melt away her stress from a jam packed day. Going for a walk, taking a yoga class, begin reading a new book, or simply taking a bath can do the trick.
  3. She needs to brush back a little bit of that Greek pride. In other words, let her know it’s OK to ask for help. And if she does, make sure you do help and not just pretend you are helping. She loves your smile but that’s not enough. Not everything has to fall on her plate, and in those times when you see her struggling, lend a hand, find a friend or family member to help with the load and don’t let her tell you she doesn’t need your help. She does. Anything helps. And, you need to not only help, but let her know how to ask for help, too.

It’s easier to figure out how an airplane flies than to figure out how a Greek Super Mama manages her time. How can anyone who works so hard continue to wear a smile day in and day out. So efcharisto (thank you), to all of the Greek Super Mamas in the world who are the rock of the family without expecting anything in return. Without them we’d all go hungry, we’d be hypothermic in the winter and full of mosquito bites in the summer, and we’d be lost when it comes to knowing how to sign a check, where to vote and where to go to get the car oil changed. We have our Greek Super Mamas to thank for the valuable lessons they teach us just by all of the selfless acts they do with precious little thanks every day. Let’s not be silent any longer. Sagapo, Greek Super Mama.

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven: Hearty Greens and a Side

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Sitting down to a home cooked Greek meal is something special. You’ll find mezes (appetizers), psomi (bread), plus multiple main dishes and desserts, leaving little space on the table for anything else. Eager eaters will anxiously fill their bellies. But, as the exhausted cook, you know just how many pots, bowls, and mixing utensils were needed and dirtied to make this one meal happen—a lot. Sometimes you need to rely on simpler dishes, so here are two one-pot wonder, traditional Greek recipes for those occasions when time and ease are of the essence—fasolakia and fava.

Both are Greek staples, one featuring green beans at the base, and the other comprised almost solely of yellow split peas. With both, most of your time will be spent watching and waiting. Both are hearty and healthy, and just by adding a traditional Greek salad, orzo or potatoes, or a fish or meat dish, your table will be full and you’ll worry less about those dirty dishes, and worry more if there’s enough psomi for your guests to go around.

Fasolakia (Green Beans Stew)
There’s nothing quite as rewarding as picking fresh vegetables from your garden.  Add some herbs and spices or a special sauce, and those veggies make life worth living. My favorite garden vegetable is the green bean. When my dad’s green beans start producing, it means fasolakia will soon be on the table. You can enjoy fasolakia throughout the summer months when the beans (and the tomatoes that are blended) in are at their freshest. Or, be like me, a person who eats fasolakia year round. When the bean and tomato vines are wilted from the garden in the colder months, I go with store bought beans and canned tomatoes. Fasolakia is a “lathera” dish, meaning a dish that is nearly drowned in olive oil. Lots of olive oil! The olive oil, herbs and tomatoes combine with the beans for a wonderful sauce, so make sure to have plenty of psomi nearby when you make this dish because you’ll certainly want to sop up every last drop of juice when you reach the end of your bowl.

Ingredients:
-1 large white onion, sliced
-2 pounds green beans (fresh or packaged)
-4 cups whole tomatoes, chopped to medium pieces (canned or fresh)
-3/4 cup olive oil
-6 garlic cloves, chopped
-2 Tablespoons oregano
-2 Tablespoons tomato paste
-1 cup red wine
-1 Tablespoon parsley, chopped
-Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Snap the ends of the green bean and discard the ends. Pull out the string from the spine of green beans if necessary. Wash and drain the trimmed beans in a colander.
  2. In a large pot, heat ½ cup of the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions until they become wilted. Add in the garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and sauté for another 5 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  3. Add the green beans and blend with the tomatoes and oil. Add the remaining oil and wine and mix in. Turn down the heat, cover the pot, and slow simmer for approximately 1 hour.
  4. Towards the end of the hour, add in additional oregano, salt and pepper to taste, or oil if you’d like.
  5. Test beans for flavor and doneness and season to taste.
  6. Serve warm and enjoy!

Optional:
-For a heartier meal, chop and add in potatoes or zucchini (add in before the beans).
-For a tasty topping, add crumbled feta or kalamata olives when serving.

Fava (yellow split pea puree)
Santorini is known as the beautiful Greek island with white washed homes and fences set against the Mediterranean Sea, creating some of the most breathtaking sunsets in the world. Santorini is a must visit. Besides the stunning beauty, Santorini is also known throughout Greece as producing the best yellow split peas. Tavernas all over the island use those split peas to create an island favorite—fava. Do not confuse this dish with fava beans (koukia). However fava got its name, it’s a puree of split peas, onions, olive oil and herbs, and is typically served as a meze (appetizer). It can be served creamy (by using a blender) or chunky (served directly from the pot) depending on your liking. To give it an extra flair and flavor, fava can be topped with a variety of garnishes, such as; diced red onions, feta cheese, capers, chopped parsley, kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes, or anchovies. It’s the ultimate comfort food: smooth, warm, delicious, and as the Greek fanny would have it—healthy. If you’re lucky enough to visit Santorini be sure to try the fava, and put your spoon down long enough to enjoy that picturesque sunset that Santorini is known for. But don’t fret; you don’t have to be in Santorini to eat fava. This recipe will stimulate your taste buds just like the tavernas do in Santorini so you can enjoy fava in your home year round from sunrise to sunset.

Ingredients:
-1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
-1 large red onion, finely chopped
-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
-1/4 cup lemon juice
-salt and pepper to taste
-2 teaspoons dried oregano

Directions:

  1. Wash and rinse split peas in a colander
  2. In a medium pot, heat ½ cup of the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until they become wilted. Add in the split peas and coat with olive oil. Add water to the pan so that the split peas are covered and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and slowly cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, checking and stirring the peas occasionally. Add water to the pan throughout and mix together.
  4. When the split peas have softened and look mashed together, take off heat and mix in the salt, pepper and oregano. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Serve as is for a chunky texture.
  6. For a smoother finish, put contents into a blender (immersion blender or transfer to a food processor) and add lemon juice. Blend until smooth. Season to taste.
  7. Serve on a platter and drizzle with olive oil and toppings and enjoy!

Chapter Ten: Breakfast On the Go

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There’s time, and then there’s Greek time. Greek time is defined as arriving to any function 10 minutes, 6 hours, or 2 days after the time suggested. The exception to that definition is my yiayia. She does everything ahead of time and arrives early to everything. I’m sure she will even be the first person to read this article. I give her credit for me being just as punctual about time as she is. Well, except for mornings that is, when Greek time kicks in full gear.

The bad news is I’m not a morning person. The good news is I’m not the grumpy don’t talk to me until I have my coffee person. I’m more of the press the snooze button four or five times, lay in bed until the last possible second before I have to get ready for work, only to realize I haven’t given myself enough time to eat breakfast type of person. And this happens every single day. I wish I could wake up right when my first alarm goes off and bound down into the kitchen to make a fluffy omelet, brew a fresh cup of coffee, and read the daily newspaper. Instead, after my alarm goes off for the fifth time I frantically get dressed, groggily wobble down the stairs, and gobble the nearest edible thing in sight.

Although a calm morning with an omelet is a nice way to start the day, it’s just not reasonable for me, and probably not for you either. So what do you do? Certainly you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But like me, you’ve become used to grabbing an apple or banana or a leftover sandwich, maybe you get a muffin or coffee at the nearest drive up, too.

But I channel my inner Yiayia Saltas and make my breakfasts ahead of time, which eliminates those hectic mornings. I am no longer hangry (hungry+angry) at work, I stay full until lunch, and I get to press that beloved snooze button a little longer in the mornings knowing my breakfast is ready and waiting for me in the fridge. What’s often in the fridge is Greek overnight oatmeal.

It’s basically oatmeal in a jar and only takes five minutes to make. It’s simple and delicious morning breakfast. The base is simple: oatmeal and almond milk. You can top and add in different ingredients of your choosing, such as: peanut butter, chia seeds, your favorite fruits, and protein or cocoa powder. To give it a Greek touch I mix in thick Greek yogurt and imported Greek honey. Here is my Greek inspired overnight oats plus two other of my favorite go to recipes. Give them a try, then enjoy a good nights rest knowing you don’t have to scramble in the morning to make breakfast, and you can be late for something else later in the day.

Greek Yogurt and Honey Oats
Because I’ve grown up on Greek yogurt and honey, so it just makes sense.
-1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel cut oats)
-3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or coconut or plain milk)
-1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use non fat Fage yogurt)
-1 Tablespoon honey
-1 pinch of cinnamon
Toppings:
sliced banna and blueberries (or fruit of your choosing, like strawberries or blackberries)
-more honey drizzled on top

Directions:
1. In a mason jar or small bowl, add Greek yogurt, honey, cinnamon, and almond milk and mix together.
2. Add in oats, and make sure all ingredients are combined.
3. Seal jar with a lid or plastic wrap and set in refrigerator overnight.
4. In the morning, enjoy as is or top with your desired toppings.
**Oats can be stored for 2-3 days
Tip: I use a larger mason jar so I can stuff fruit on top in the morning.

Two other delicious combinations to try:

Chocolate Peanut Butter Oats
Because chocolate & peanut butter is the best combination…ever.
Ingredients:
-1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel cut oats)
-3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or coconut or plain milk)
-1 ½ tablespoons chia seeds
-2 tablespoons peanut butter (or almond butter)
-2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Topping:
sliced banana (or fruit of your choosing, like blueberries or strawberries)

Directions:
1. In a mason jar or small bowl, add chia seeds, peanut butter, cocoa powder and almond milk and mix together.
2. Add in oats, and make sure all ingredients are combined.
3. Seal jar with a lid or plastic wrap and set in refrigerator overnight.
4. In the morning, enjoy as is or top with your desired toppings.
**Oats can be stored for 2-3 days

Protein Kicker Oats
Because we could all use more protein.
-1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel cut oats)
-3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or coconut or plain milk)
-1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use non fat Fage yogurt)
-1 scoop chocolate protein powder
– 2 teaspoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon cacao powder
Toppings:
sliced banana (or fruit of your choosing, like blueberries or strawberries)

Directions:
1. In a mason jar or small bowl, add Greek yogurt, protein powder, chia seeds, cacao powder and almond milk and mix together.
2. Add in oats, and make sure all ingredients are combined.
3. Seal jar with a lid or plastic wrap and set in refrigerator overnight.
4. In the morning, enjoy as is or top with your desired toppings.
**Oats can be stored for 2-3 days

Enjoy! Try different combinations and find flavors you like.

Chapter Nine: Two Quick Lenten Dishes

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Hosting a dinner party during lent can be a tricky task because we know not everyone does lent the same. You have your strict fasters, the semi-fasters, the non-fasters, and the “I don’t know what fasting is” fasters. And all need to be fed. Typically my usual dinner parties include a variety of greens, cheeses, meats or fish, and Greek yogurt for dessert—basically zero to few Lenten options. When lent comes around, my menu changes to please all my guests. Although not everyone may be fasting, and definitely not everyone has an agreeable pallet, I rely on two easy to make dishes that everyone agrees are not only Lenten, but also healthy and quick to make.

Garbanzo Bean Soup (Revithia)
My dad discovered this recipe on one of our visits to the island of Sifnos many years ago. Before that he was not a fan of Garbanzo beans, but just one bite changed his ways. Two bowls later and he was asking the owner for the recipe. Just the revithia, onion and little else. On Sifnos they use dry garbanzo beans and bake everything in a ceramic baking dish over night. You can do that too but it’s just as satisfying coming from the can and cooked stovetop, and I’ve added extra flavors I like.

Ingredients:
-6 15 oz cans of garbanzo beans (undrained)
-1 large white onion, quartered
-2 small shallots, halfed
-4 bay leafs
-3 lemons, juiced
-3/4 cup of olive oil
-4 cloves of garlic
-pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized pot, pour full contents of garbanzo beans plus the liquid into the pot.
  2. Add onions, shallots, bay leafs, garlic, and half of the olive oil. Add pepper to taste.
  3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat all the way to low and slow simmer for one hour or until beans are soft.
  4. 15 minutes prior to serving, add remaining olive oil, plus lemon juice.
  5. Serve with lemons and enjoy!

Spinach and Rice (Spanakorizo)
Spanakorizo has become an instant favorite of every single mouth I’ve fed it to. The style my mom grew up with included tomato paste and you’ll often see other recipes that will include a tomato sauce to the dish. That is something you can add on your own as well as you find new flavors you like. I don’t include a tomato sauce in mine, and I have officially won over my mom with this one. Served as a side or main dish, it’s simplicity and taste will surely be on the menu for many occasions to come.

Ingredients:
-2 bunches of spinach, chopped
-1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
-6 cloves of garlic, minced
-1/2 cup long grain white rice
-2 large lemons, juiced
-1/4 cup dill, chopped
-1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until they become wilted.
  2. Add spinach to the skillet, stirring in for couple of minutes.
  3. Once spinach is nearly cooked, pull off the heat and store aside in a bowl.
  4. Cook rice according to box directions. While rice is simmering, stir in spinach, onions and garlic, plus the dill and parsley.
  5. Add lemon juice and remove from heat.
  6. Serve warm and enjoy!

 

Chapter Eight: Vegetarian Yemista

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I first discovered my love for yemista when I was an Ionian Village camper in Greece in 2008. I looked forward to days when the campers and staff followed the Orthodox fast and had to abstain from meat. That meant yemista was on the table. After the three weeks spent at Ionian Village I came back inspired in my faith, more knowledgeable in Greece’s history, and hungry for yemista. Yemista (or Gemista) is a Greek word meaning “to be stuffed with.” Like me, you likely grew up just calling it stuffed tomatoes or peppers, or zucchini. Many chefs and amateur cooks have created their own take on this traditional Greek dish, finding that most of the variety will come from the filling.

Yemista is typically served by hollowing out vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and sometimes potatoes, and then filled with rice, herbs, cheese, and ground meats. This is a dish you can let your imagination run wild with, creating stuffing flavors of your choosing to fill your favorite vegetables. Since that visit I’ve made it my mission to try as many kinds of yemista as possible at people’s homes, in my own kitchen and restaurants throughout Greece and America. My yemista fixation led me to discover many new tastes and textures, until I created a recipe all my own.

My favorite vegetables to stuff are tomatoes and peppers, and my favorite stuffing combines many herbs, cheese, and sour Trahana (a Greek pasta made of wheat flour kneaded with milk you can find in Greek specialty markets or by ordering online. Some people even make their own. I’m not there yet). Many yemista recipes will use rice, but I think the Trahana creates a better texture, especially when combined with feta cheese. Whether this is your first time attempt at yemista or you’re like me and order it any chance you get, it’s a tasty dish you can easily create at your next party or family gathering. Your guests are guaranteed to leave both satisfied and…stuffed.

Ingredients:
-5 large ripe tomatoes
-6 green bell peppers
(or hollowed zucchini or eggpant)
Stuffing
-1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
-1 large white onion, chopped
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 jalapeno, finely chopped*
-1 1/3 cups Sour Trahana
-3/4 cup raisins or currants
-1 cup skim milk
-1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
-1 fist full of chopped parsley
-4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
-Sea salt to taste
-1/2 cup olive oil
-1 zucchini or potato cut into cubes**
-1/3 cup of breadcrumbs

*Instead of a jalapeno, substitute for 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes.
**I use the zucchini to fill the gaps between the tomatoes and peppers so they don’t tip over while cooking.

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Wash and cut off the tops of the tomatoes (save the tops) and carefully scoop out the tomato pulp. Place pulp into a strainer.
  3. Wash and cut the tops off the peppers (preserve the tops) and remove the seeds.
  4. Tightly pack the tomatoes and peppers in a large casserole baking dish, leaving as little space between the vegetables as possible.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions and garlic, adding in the chopped bell and jalapeno peppers after onions become wilted.
  6. Add the preserved tomato pulp, raisins, trahana, and skim milk, and stir the mixture. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove from the heat and add mint, parsley, and feta cheese. Stir mixture and adjust this seasoning to your liking, more or less mint, parsley, or feta to your taste.
  8. Stuff vegetables evenly with the mixture, and cover the tomatoes and peppers with the their tops.
  9. Lightly brush or pour olive oil over vegetables and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and salt. Pour the remaining olive oil in the pan to prevent burning and sticking.
  10. Bake for about 1-1 ½ hours or until peppers and tomatoes are softened.
  11. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!