Cooking Greek

24 Oct

This weekend, 12 Wisconites gathered in my university’s laboratory kitchen. They were there to learn a little something about Greek cooking, and to try their hand at some traditional recipes.  One young man fell in love with Greek food when he traveled to Greece with his high school Latin club, one woman had had a taste of Greece through family members who were from Samos. Those who hadn’t had a chance to visit the country, definitely hoped to do so soon.

Our Group

We focused our class on making  mezethakia, or appetizers, most of which can be made ahead, and all of which can be easily enjoyed standing up, a small plate in one hand, a glass of wine in the other — in short, the ultimate party food.  We marinated olives and toasted pita chips; whipped up Meltzanosalata (Eggplant dip) and dozens of bite-sized Tiropitakia; rolled and simmered Soutzoukakia (cumin seasoned meatballs in a cinnamon scented tomato sauce); and sauteed Kolokithokeftedakia (zucchini fritters).

Preparing Soutzoukakia

Everyone’s recipe turned out well and the cooks all received an “A” — except for the group responsible for the zucchini fritters. This group had started the class a bit disappointed — they had been assigned the Eggplant dip, toasted pita wedges, and marinated olives, and they felt that these didn’t present much of a challenge.  What they hadn’t counted on were the zucchini fritters, which I had thrown in at the last minute after discovering an abundance of delicious looking zucchini squash that morning in the market.

Roasted eggplants, ready for Eggplant Dip.

The group dove into the challenge, grating the zucchini, sprinkling it with salt, and setting it in a colander to drain. However, we were short on time so they took a short cut and formed the fritters a bit too soon.  As usually happens when one cuts corners, their first fritter fell apart. So did the second, and the third. They were about to give up when one of the cooks suggested adding more fresh bread crumbs. The second suggested reshaping the fritters into flatter discs. And the third suggested sauteeing them in much less oil.  In the end, not only did the zucchini fritters turn out “just right,” they wound up being one of the tastiest items on our menu! The group’s final grade:  “A” Plus!


For Zucchini Fritter recipes, check out Kalofagas — one of my favorite Greek food blogs (!) and Serious Eats.

Marinating Olives

Marinated Olives

  •  ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem
  • ¼ tsp. dried fennel seed
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 lb. mixed Greek olives

In medium skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, fennel seed and lemon zest over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes until garlic and herbs become fragrant.  Add the olives, toss to coat gently and heat until warmed through.  Serve room temperature.

Preparing roasted pepper/feta “purses”

Spanakopitakia — Spinach & Feta Purses:  Yield 48 purses.  From Fine Cooking, Holiday 2007.

  •  1 ¼ cups crumbled feta (about 6 0z.)
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups thinly sliced scallions (about 2 bunches)
  • Kosher salt
  • ¾ lb. baby spinach, well washed and dried
  • 1 jarred roasted red pepper, drained, patted dry, and finely diced (about ½ cup)
  • 24 sheets phyllo, preferably 9 X14 inches, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

Heat oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl, combine the feta, oregano, thyme, lemon zest and black pepper.

In a large sauté pan, melt 2 Tbs. butter over medium-high heat. Add the scallions, sprinkle with ¼ tsp. salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and brown (about 3 minutes).  Add the spinach, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and cook, tossing with tongs until just wilted, about 3 minutes.  Transfer to a colander to drain and let cool for a few minutes before thoroughly pressing and squeezing out any excess liquid.  Add the spinach and the roasted red pepper to the feta mixture and combine well.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining 6 Tbs. butter. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment or brush them with a little of the melted butter.

Unroll the phyllo and stack 24 sheets on your work surface. Cover the stack with plastic wrap and a damp dishtowel.  Take one sheet of phyllo off the stack and lay it on a large cutting board (cover the remaining sheets).  Quickly brush it all over with some of the melted butter. Top with another piece of phyllo and brush tha piece all over with butter.  Repeat with one more piece of phyllo.

Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo sheets in half lengthwise, then cut each half into four even pieces so that you have 8 pieces about 4 ½ x 3 1/3 inches each.

Put 1 heaping tsp. of the feta filling in the center of each phyllo piece. Gather the corners of the phyllo together over the filling and pinch together firmly to enclose the filling.   Transfer to prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo and filling to make a total of 48 purses in five more batches.

Bake the purses until the phyllo is crisp and browned all over, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even browning.


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