Tag Archives: Aglaia Kremezi

Myzithra

17 Jun

My students and I have been traveling through Greece for two weeks now, and the emerging theme of our journey seems to be Myzithra — the soft, creamy cheese made from goat and sheep milk that can be served savory or sweet.

We began by taking the bus from Athens to Port Lavrio. The students were looking forward to their first ferry ride, which I promised would be pleasant as the small craft navigated its way through calm, clear waters under a bright sky to the Cycladic island of Kea, or Tzia as it is locally called.

But before we could unload our bags onto the wharf, a strong southern wind arrived, stirring up heavy gray clouds and an agitated sea. Greeks say the southern wind is a strange wind, unpredictable and portentous. Most of us sat protected from it in the cabin of the ferry, but those suffering from queazy stomachs clung to the railing of the upper deck, ducking as the waves sprayed over the side.

Fortunately, the wind departed as swiftly and unpredictably as it had arrived, leaving us in peace to hike along the island’s many goat trails, swim its coves, visit its ancient temples, and learn to cook its specialities under the guidance of Aglaia Kremezi and her husband Costas Moraitis, who run the cultural cooking program Kea Artisanal from their family home and gardens.

Aglaia taught us how to make a number of savory pies before announcing that next we would learn how to make Myzithra. She came out carrying a large pot by its handles, filled with cow’s milk. Though Myzithra is traditionally made using goat and sheep milk, it was too late in the milking season and Aglaia’s neighbor’s sheep and goats had nothing left to offer. Besides, Aglaia assured us that it was perfectly fine to substitute our own local Wisconsin ingredients for those found on Kea, and instructed us to always remember that cooking is as much art as science.

Aglaia placed the pot on a flame and simmered and stirred, and added this and that, and soon the first Myzithra curds had formed. A few minutes later the cheese was wrapped in cloth suspended from a string over a bowl, straining away.

Myzithra can be served sprinkled with fresh herbs snipped from your outdoor or window sill garden, or drizzled with honey. At Aglaia and Costas’ table, we had the pleasure of tasting a variety of honey produced by bees that had pollinated thyme, sage, arbutus, chestnut, carob and a number of other flowers. The honey ranged in color from pale gold, to warm amber, to deep chocolate, and in flavor from mild and sweet, to bitter and bold.

To make about 1 pound Myzithra, Aglaia says you will need:

2.5 quarts full fat milk (a mixture of goat and sheep milk is preferable, but cow milk works just fine)
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt

Place a colander lined with two layers of cheese cloth over a deep bowl.

Place the milk in a pot and bring it to a boil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Let it cool to about 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the lemon juice, cream, and pinch of salt, and stir over medium-low heat. When the milk starts to form tiny clots, after about 20 minutes, stop stirring. Raise the heat to medium high and continue cooking for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the temperature reaches about 199 degrees Fahrenheit. The curds will be large and creamy. Lower heat and simmer for 8 to 10 more minutes, without stirring.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the lined colander. Allow the cheese to drain for 15 to 30 minutes. You can transfer the curds to a small basket to give it form, or a bowl. Cover and refrigerate. It keeps for 2-4 days.

More of Aglaia’s recipes can be found in her many English-language cookbooks, including her most recent “Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts.” You can also visit her blog, Aglaia’s Table.
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Dolmades With a Nasturtium Surprise

18 Sep

Last night, darkness came noticeably early and the temperature dropped into the 30s.   My cats , calling a temporary truce, curled up on the couch under a purple blanket in a warm and peaceful kitten pile.  Deciding they had the only sensible approach to this less-than-ideal situation, I nudged them over and took my place under the purple blanket, book and glass of wine in hand.

I began reading Donia Bijan’s Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen.  It had been recommended to me by Aglaia Kremezi, journalist, cookbook author and owner of Kea Artisanal, a cooking school on the Aegean island of Kea, an hour’s ferry boat ride from Athens. We were standing in her outdoor kitchen and she had just sent my students off into her garden, baskets dangling from their arms,  to gather grape leaves in preparation for the upcoming “How to Make Dolmas” demonstration.  As the last of the students was disappearing around the bend, Aglaia shouted, “And bring back some nasturtium leaves, too!”

Gathering grape and nasturtium leaves in Aglaia and Costas’ garden

Aglaia had just finished Maman’s Homesick Pie and was intrigued by the author’s description of her mother returning from long walks carrying stacks of nasturtium leaves which, being tender and peppery, made a “fine alternative to the more tangy grape leaves” she usually used when making her Dolmas. And, being of a generation where you don’t let anything go to waste, she would use the pretty nasturtium petals for garnish.

Nasturtium

Aglaia was so charmed by this description that she wanted to give it a try. When the students returned, their baskets brimming, she set them to rolling dozens of stuffed grape leaves and a few stuffed nasturtium as well.  They were tender and peppery and, as Donia promised, a pretty and tasty alternative.

Here is Aglaia’s recipe for Dolmas, which you can make using grape or nasturtium leaves.  You can find more of Aglaia’s recipes in her books Foods of the Greek Islands, Foods of Greece, and Mediterranean Hot & Spicy.

Dolmades Nistisimi, Lenten Grape Leaves Stuffed With Rice (8 to 10 servings)

  • One 8-ounce jar brine-paced grape leaves, drained
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 5 scallions (white and most of the green parts) finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice, such as Arborio
  • 1 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Freshy ground black pepper
  • About 1 cup water
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly squezzed lemon juice
  • 2 lemons, cut into wednges
  • Thick sheep’s milk yogurt or yogurt that has been drained using a cheesecloth

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Carefully separate the grape leaves and blanch them, in batches, for about 1 minute, in the boiling water.  Rinse with cold water and drain.

In a large bowl, combine the onions, fennel, scallions and salt and work the mixture between your hands to wilt the vegetables. Stir in the rice, dill, mint, 1/2 cup of olive oil and plenty of pepper.

Line the bottom of a large pot with the smaller and/or torn grape leaves.  Place a large leaf, vein side up, on a work surface, and the stem toward you.  Cut off the stem with scissors.  Place about a tablespoon of the filling near the stem.

Nasturtium leaves with filling

Fold the two sides of the leaf over the filling.  Fold over the bottom and roll up the leaf tightly like a cigar.  Place seam side down in the pot.  Continue with the remaining leaves, placing the dolmades tightly next to each other.  When the bottom of the pot is filled, make a second layer.

Pour the water, the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the lemon juice over the dolmades.  The liquid should almost cover them; if it does not, add a little more water.  Place an inverted heatproof plate over the dolmades to keep them from unrolling as they cook.

Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked.  Remove from the heat. Cool completely.  Refrigerate overnight.  To serve the dolmades, bring to room temperature. Arrange on a plate and serve, accompanied by lemon wedges or thick yogurt.

We spent two wonderful days with Aglaia and her husband Costas at their home and cooking school on Kea.  Kea is not a well known tourist destination, which has helped it maintain its charm.

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