Monday, July 13, 2009

Pikantiko Kotopoulo me Fassolakia--Spiced Chicken with Green Beans

I love making tomato-based dishes, known as kokkinista (literally meaning "reddened") and yiahni in Greek. Obviously versatile dishes, they can be made with a variety of seasonal ingredients; with any meat or vegetable available; and can easily be taken from basic to exceptional with a few herbs and spices.

In summer months, kotopoulo (chicken) kokkinisto makes for a much lighter dish than beef or lamb cooked in tomato. And more often than not, a main dish of just vegetables cooked this way graces our dinner table when the warm summer weather calls for lighter fare.

Here I combined some chicken thighs (a flavorful and, more importantly, cost-effective option) with some fresh green beans and added some Hungarian paprika and cayenne pepper for a little heat.

Pikantiko Kotopoulo me Fassolakia--Spiced Chicken with Green Beans

1/4 cup olive oil
8 chicken thighs, skin removed
1 1/2 lbs. green beans, rinsed and trimmed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Handful of dill, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Season chicken with some salt and pepper and add to the pot. Brown well on both sides then throw in the onion and garlic. Shake the pot to combine, then add the plain paprika, Hungarian paprika and cayenne pepper. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with some salt and pepper; bring to a boil, cover then lower heat to a simmer and cook chicken about 25 minutes or so. (Add some water or a bit of chicken or vegetable stock to the pot if necessary.)

Add the green beans to the pot, shake the pot and stir green beans lightly to coat with sauce. Cover the pot and cook until the green beans are tender, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the dill and parsley, adjust seasonings and serve with plenty of bread.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bakaliarakia Tiganita kai Skordalia me Kappari--Fried Whiting with a Caper Skordalia

I'm lucky to have children who love to eat fish. Even luckier, I believe, that fish in New York is pretty inexpensive and pretty fresh. Family favorites such as Red Snapper (Synagrida) run between $6.99 and $7.99 a pound while Porgies (Tsipoures) and Sardines (Sardela) can be found for $2.99 a pound.

I went to the fish market yesterday intent on buying Barbounia (Red Mullet, which were $6.99 a pound) as we hadn't had these tasty little fish in a long while. But when I got to the store, I quickly snapped up the smaller Bakaliarakia (Whitings) that I know the kids really enjoy. And at just $2.99 a pound, these tasty little fish were definitely a steal.

Almost all Greek tavernas around New York--and there are A LOT of them--feature fried bakaliarakia (whiting) on their menus. They serve these small but meaty fish with some garlicky skordalia and the dish is a favorite among most patrons.

As such, it was only natural that I fry our bakaliarakia yesterday and serve them with some skordalia. It's an easy enough dish without much hullabaloo but there are a few cooking points I'd like to note:

  • I find that when frying my fish, double-dipping it (i.e. in egg, then flour, then egg again and finally flour again) creates a much nicer crust.
  • Season your flour well with your choice of seasonings but also season your fish with salt and pepper before dipping.
  • When frying anything, heat your oil really well--you will never get a crisp, well-browned crust if your oil is not hot enough the second your fish touches it.
  • As your fish finishes cooking, place it on paper towels to drain to keep the crust from getting soggy.

I served our bakaliarakia with some skordalia (garlicky mashed potato/bread) that I updated a bit by adding some chopped capers to. The tangy capers provided a great dimension of flavor and went well with the fish.

Note: I like to make my skordalia by simply mashing the ingredients with a fork as opposed to blending everything in a food processor--I just like the chunky texture as opposed to the smooth, sometimes elastic texture this dip gets when blended by the processor.

Bakaliarakia Tiganita--Fried Whiting

2 1/2 pounds small Whiting, cleaned
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying

Wash the fish well with water; pat dry and season with some salt and pepper. Heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Combine flour, oregano, paprika, salt and pepper on a large plate. Place the eggs in another plate. Begin dipping the fish in egg, then dredge it in the flour (making sure to shake off the excess), dip it again into the egg then give it one final dredging in the flour. Place it directly into the hot oil and fry just a few minutes on each side until well browned. Remove fish to a dish lined with paper towels and serve warm along with some skordalia, a salad and some crusty bread.

Skordalia me Kappari--Caper Skordalia

2 medium potatoes, washed, peeled and boiled until tender
2 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1 large clove of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
2 teaspoons finely chopped capers

Drain potatoes well and place them in a large bowl. Begin mashing the potatoes with a fork and then set aside until somewhat cooled.

wet the bread with some water or milk and squeeze out any excess. Add it to the potatoes along with the garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar and stir and mash the mixture with a fork until well combined. Begin adding some oil in a steady stream stirring constantly. Once you've added enough oil to reach your desired consistency, stir in the chopped capers.

Allow the skordalia to sit for a while, then serve with fried fish, fried eggplant/zucchini slices or some fresh bread.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Agginarotyropita--Artichoke Cheese Pie

In Greek, the word "Pita" does not simply stand for the flatbreads most people are familiar with in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. Instead, "Pita" is the Greek word for pie, a significant component of the classic Greek diet.

In the old days, a Greek housewife was quite frankly "judged" on her ability to roll out her own phyllo and as such her most prized kitchen tools included only a long, thin wooden rod used as a rolling pin and a large round wooden surface on which to stretch the phyllo.

Back then, pites (plural for pita) offered a way for housewives to make something a bit more substantial out of the little produce that was actually available. Fillings and techniques varied from region to region: savory or sweet; phyllo layered with a vegetable filling; coiled or S-shaped; some with cheese, others without; and many made with rice or semolina as opposed to dairy so as to abide by the dietary restrictions of Lent. The possibilities were and continue to be endless.

I love having some form of Greek savory pies on hand during summer months as they always make for a light meal and a quick bite before or after a day at the beach. A flavorful pie--be it spinach, cheese, squash, or any other combination of vegetables and herbs you like--can go a long way. Pair it with a fresh salad and a Greek dip such as melitzanosalata, tzatztiki or kopanisti and you've got a light lunch that won't weigh you down when you're out and about in the sizzling summer heat.

During Lent I made an "Agginaropita" that consisted of artichokes, herbs and a bit of semolina to bind it all as eggs and cheese were out of the question. It was quite good and extremely satisfying but the other day I put together this "Agginarotyropita" as I adore Greek pies featuring cheese, especially Feta. I served it during my daughter's birthday party and more than one guest commented that it was the best tyropita they'd ever eaten! I love how the artichokes provide an extra dimension of flavor. Try it, you won't be disappointed!

Agginarotyropita--Artichoke Cheese Pie
Makes a 13x9-inch pie

6 to 8 artichokes, cleaned and chopped
Handful of dill, finely chopped
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 pound good quality Feta, crumbled
1/3 cup grated Kefalotyri, Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
3 tablespoons olive oil (you will need more for brushing the phyllo)
Freshly ground black pepper
12 sheets of phyllo

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil the baking dish and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the artichokes, dill, parsley, Feta, grated cheese, pepper and eggs and stir until mixed thoroughly. Add the 3 tablespoons olive and stir (adding a little more if the mixture seems too dry).

Working quickly, take a sheet of phyllo and layer it in the baking dish. Brush the top with oil and repeat layering with 6 more sheets of phyllo (brushing each with oil before topping with the next). Spoon filling evenly over phyllo and then begin layering remaining 5 sheets of phyllo over top, brushing each with oil before topping with the next. Pinch edges of phyllo to form a crust around the pie and brush top layer well with olive oil. (Alternatively, you can roll sheets of phyllo filled with some of the mixture as I did here.)

With a sharp knife, score only the top layers of phyllo into servings (this will make cutting the pie later much easier). Bake the pie in the center of the oven until the phyllo is golden, about 45 minutes. Let it cool before serving.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Butterflies, ladybugs, strawberries ... Oh my!

Two weeks ago today my little princess celebrated her fifth birthday! At the risk of sounding oh-so-cliche, I cannot believe five years have passed already. She seems quite grown up for her age--and as I too was always much too mature for my own good, I see a lot of myself in her. One key difference, however, is that she is much more outgoing than her Mommy...and that's a good thing. Aside from that she possesses much of the personality I do: she's got my love of reading, my romanticism, my creativity, my stubbornness, my affinity for perfection, my willingness to keep trying and--as most who know us can attest--she looks exactly like me ... my very own little clone!

We celebrated her birthday with family and friends and I made this special cake:

Inside was a buttery vanilla cake with layers of fresh cream whipped with Mascarpone cheese and dotted with sliced strawberries that were tossed in some sugar and raspberry preserves. The flowers, ladybugs, butterflies and strawberries on the cake's exterior were all molded from gumpaste and hand painted with some food-safe color dust mixed with lemon extract. The grass and basket-weave design were made of freshly whipped meringue buttercream frosting. All for my little girl ...