Sunday, April 15, 2018

Potato and egg salad with carrots and spices

Potato salad with eggs because I had leftover eggs from Easter, but honestly, I could have easily made this any other day, because we are egg lovers in this household. We eat them regularly and without restraint; fried, poached, soft-boiled, and hard-boiled when intended for a salad like this one.

We are also salad lovers and I frequently have them as my main meal of the day. I don’t, however, use mayonnaise often in my dishes, but there are rare occasions like this one that call for it and I won’t say no.

Boiled potatoes, of the floury kind, to create that somewhat fluffy exterior that will catch all the spices, olive oil and mayo. Hard boiled eggs. Grated carrot, for its color and sweetness. Spring onions for their gentle heat and bright taste. Flat leaf parsley, always, I never knew the curly one even existed before I moved to the Netherlands and frankly I don’t know why and how people eat it. Spices, because where would cooking be without them, and also because if you know anything about me as a cook and baker, spices are a must. Extra virgin olive oil for richness, some red wine vinegar for acidity.

Sweet paprika, dried mint, cardamom, ginger, cumin all present but not overwhelming, making this otherwise simple salad particularly scrumptious. A filling salad that’s not heavy, one that can easily be had as a main meal or served alongside other dishes.

Potato and egg salad with carrots and spices

Grinding your own spices (in this case the cumin and cardamom) right before using them, makes your dishes more aromatic and flavorful.
Dried mint is used a lot in Greek cooking, especially in keftedakia. Hopefully you can find Greek dried mint because it’s the best!

Yield: 2 as a main meal or 6 as salad

3 potatoes, peeled, boiled and cubed (weight after boiling 400 g)
1 large carrot, grated on a box grater (150 g)
8 hard-boiled eggs (medium-sized), chopped
6-7 spring onions, sliced thinly
Large handful of fresh parsley (leaves and stalks), finely chopped
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried mint, finely crumbled between your fingers
¼ tsp sweet paprika (not smoked)
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ginger powder
Freshly ground black pepper (about 20 turns of the pepper mill)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red-wine vinegar
85 g mayonnaise (about 3 heaped Tbsp)

In a large mixing bowl, add the cubed potatoes, grated carrots, chopped eggs, sliced spring onion, chopped parsley, all the spices, and season with salt and black pepper. Toss to combine and then add the olive oil, vinegar and mayonnaise and mix well so all the ingredients are well coated. Give it a taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Transfer to a salad bowl or individual plates, serve and enjoy.

It keeps in the fridge well for a couple of days, covered with plastic wrap.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Slow-roasted, spice-rubbed shoulder of lamb with pita and tzatziki

There’s nothing like the smell of lamb roasting in the oven on Easter day.

If we were spending Easter in Greece this year with our families and friends, there would most certainly be lamb on a spit on the menu, but since we’re staying in the Netherlands, roasted lamb it is. Not that I’m complaining, because in all honesty, I prefer it.

I have already shared with you my traditional Greek leg of lamb, and the slow-roasted Greek shoulder of lamb with herbs and potatoes last year, and now it’s time for this; something a bit different, a shoulder of lamb rubbed and coated with an incredibly aromatic mixture of spices, garlic, parsley and olive oil, marinated overnight and roasted in the oven the next day for almost five hours.

Needless to say, those five hours will seem like a million, because the smell of that lamb roasting with the spices is going to drive you crazy with anticipation. It will be like torture for your soul but your patience will be rewarded by the most flavorful and tender lamb you’ll ever eat. It will be falling off the bone, it will be juicy and deeply savory with the spices complementing its flavor in the most wonderful way.

And the best part comes now; the eating part. It’s not just having a piece of meat on your plate with a few sides, it’s a whole experience. Sitting down comfortably at the Easter table with your loved ones, having all those fluffy pites ready, your salad, your tzatziki, your sumac red onions with parsley —all the accompaniments to the main dish that more often than not seem to be neglected, but little do people know that they make all the difference— digging in, creating a different type of souvlaki, much more advanced and infinitely more delicious.

Take your warm pita, open it up, place some shredded pieces of lamb inside, drizzle with the juices from the pan (there will be plenty!) and a good squeeze of lemon, add some of the carrot, red cabbage and apple salad with ladolemono (olive oil and lemon dressing) on top, a small handful (or big if you’re anything like me) of the finely sliced red onion mixed with fresh parsley and sumac, and finish off with a good dollop or two of the glorious tzatziki.

Juicy, tender meat, spicy, slightly hot and sweet and deeply fragrant, with unctuous, crispy skin, with the crunchy salad adding acidity to balance the richness and strong flavor of the lamb, freshening it up, with the onion and sumac adding zing and spark, and the tzatziki lending its creaminess to the whole lot while the warm, soft pita being the ideal vessel to carry it all into your mouth.

Not only the best Easter meal ever, but the best any-day meal if you’re looking to eat something utterly scrumptious.

Kalo Pascha!! Happy Easter!!

Slow-roasted, spice-rubbed shoulder of lamb with pita and tzatziki

Bear in mind before you start that the lamb needs to be marinated for 8-12 hours so you should prepare it the night before.

As always, using the freshest spices makes a difference in the ultimate flavor of the dish. The freshest the spices, the stronger their flavor and aroma will be.

Yield: 6-8 servings


For the lamb
1.8 - 2 kg whole, bone-in lamb shoulder
Sea salt
spice - garlic - olive oil paste / rub
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp hot paprika
2 tsp sweet ground red pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp Urfa (isot) pepper
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground aniseed
⅛ tsp ground cloves
4 garlic cloves, mashed
A large handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the salad
¼ red cabbage, sliced
1 large carrot, grated
1 sweet apple, peeled and cored, cut into large matchsticks
ladolemono dressing
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the onion mixture
1 red onion, very finely sliced
A large handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley, chopped
½ tsp ground sumac (or more to taste)

To serve
Tzatziki (this is my recipe for wild garlic tzatziki - if you can’t find wild garlic, use 3-4 regular garlic cloves instead), double quantity
8 pita breads (preferably those with pockets), warm
Lemon, for squeezing

Special equipment: large glass pan/baking dish (to marinate the lamb in), large roasting pan (to roast the lamb in), baking paper, aluminium foil, box grater

The night before, prepare the lamb.
Start by mixing with a spoon all the ingredients for the rub (spices, garlic, parsley and olive oil) in a small bowl. You should have a paste that is easy to spread. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oi.
Place the lamb in the glass pan and using your hands, smear it with the paste and rub it all over, making sure to coat it well.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate the lamb for 8 and up to 12 hours. I marinate for 12.

The next day, preheat your oven to 160°C.
Τransfer the lamb to a large roasting pan (together with any rub/juices that have accumulated) and season generously the lamb with salt on all sides. Then add 1.5 cm of water to the pan and cover it with baking paper and then with aluminium foil. Seal the foil tightly all around the pan so that no steam can escape during roasting.
Place the pan on the low rack of the preheated oven and roast for 4 hours until the lamb is very tender. The lamb should feel soft when you touch it through the foil. Then, turn the temperature up to 180°C, take off the foil and baking paper (don’t throw them away), using a large spoon baste the lamb with the pan juices, place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and roast for 35 minutes until it is golden brown.
Remove the pan from the oven, cover with the reserved baking paper and foil, and leave the lamb to rest for 20 minutes. Then, cut into pieces and season with salt if needed.

In a small bowl, add all the ingredients for the ladolemono and using a fork or a small whisk, beat well to combine.
Toss the cabbage, carrot and apple together in a large salad bowl. Add the ladolemono sauce and toss to coat well.

Onion mixture
Mix onion, parsley and sumac together in a small bowl.

Add shredded pieces of lamb in the warm pita, drizzle with the pan juices, squeeze some lemon over it and add salt if needed. Top with the salad, onion mixture and tzatziki and enjoy!

The lamb tastes fabulous the next day and it remains juicy and tender.

• Προσαρμοσμένη από το περιοδικό Gourmet Traveller

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paschalina Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) with mahlepi and mastiha

I love Easter cookies —I’m referring to the Greek ones of course, pascahalina koulourakia— and each year, I can’t wait to bake them so that my house will fill up with the aromas of Easter.

I have already shared with you my classic Greek Easter koulourakia a few years ago, but this year I am sharing something a little bit different.

For me, Easter is synonymous with the flavors of mahlepi (a highly aromatic spice, reminiscent of bitter almond, made from the seeds of wild cherry trees) and mastiha (a mastic-tree resin from the Greek island of Chios) which are present in the Politiko tsoureki (a type of sweet, yeasted bread made for Easter in Greece), and even though I am going to bake tsoureki, as I do every year (actually, I have already baked my first batch, testing yet again a new recipe), I wanted to incorporate these flavors into my koulourakia as well.

It took me a couple of tries to get them where I wanted them to be not only in terms of flavor but texture too, and finally I hit the jackpot! These, ladies and gentlemen, are now officially my favorite Greek Easter cookies.

They’re buttery and slightly crispy but not hard, with a shortbread-like texture inside but lighter. They have the distinct aroma and flavor of mahlepi, mastiha and orange, and they’re sweet but not overly so. They are perfect for dunking in your morning or afternoon coffee, in fact they will cause you to drink more coffee than usual because you’ll want to keep dunking these cookies in it, and great to eat on their own when you simply want to have something sweet and buttery.

I’m sharing these with you along with my best wishes for a wonderful Easter for those of you who celebrate this Sunday. We Orthodox Greeks celebrate next Sunday, so we still have a week to go, which means more time for baking!!

Hope you enjoy and I’d love to see photos of them if you make them!

Paschalina Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) with mahlepi and mastiha

I use Greek mastiha (mastic) from the island of Chios in the form of tears (little solid pieces), not already ground mastic, because its flavor and aroma is far better and more intense when freshly ground. The same goes for mahlepi (mahleb); I use the whole seeds that I grind myself. I would advise you to do the same if possible.

These koulourakia taste better the next day as the flavors have had time to develop and infuse into the cookies even more. Not that they can’t be inhaled on the same day; just sayin’.

Yield: 20 cookies

200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
130 g icing sugar
1½ heaped tsp (8 g) ground mahlepi
5 mastic tears, ground together with ½ tsp white granulated sugar*
Zest of 1 orange, grated
1 medium-sized egg
2 Tbsp (30 g) fresh milk (full-fat or 2%)
400 g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp (7 g) baking powder
Pinch of salt

1 small egg beaten with ½ tsp fresh milk, for glazing the cookies

*To grind the mastic you need to add a bit of sugar, otherwise it will stick to the blade of your spice grinder or your pestle (if using a mortar and pestle).

Special equipment: spice grinder (or pestle and mortar) for grinding the spices, stand mixer (optional), plastic wrap, baking tray, baking paper, pastry brush

Add all the ingredients (except those that are for glazing the cookies) in the bowl of your stand mixer and using the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl and using your hands) beat for 1½ minute on low speed. At first, the mixture will look like crumbs, then it will start to come together and in the end it will gather around the beater. The dough should be soft and pliable and it should not be sticking to your hands. If you’re making this by hand it will take longer to come together.

Transfer the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, shape it into a large disk, wrap it tightly and place it in the fridge for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 175°C.
Line your baking tray with baking paper.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap it and cut it in half so you have equal sized pieces (I always weigh the dough). Wrap one half with the plastic wrap and return it to the fridge. Keeping the dough cold ensures that the cookies won’t spread too much during baking.
Divide the other half of the dough into 10 equal pieces (again, I weigh to be concise; it ensures that all my cookies bake uniformly and at the same time).

Working on a clean surface (which you don’t need to flour because firstly, the dough shouldn’t be sticky at all and secondly, you need friction in order to shape the balls into ropes), take each piece of dough, shape it into a ball and then, using your hands, roll it into a 20 cm long rope. Fold it in half and then, holding the ends, twist on opposite sides three times to create the final shape of the cookie.

Place cookie on the prepared baking tray and continue with the next. Space them apart because they will spread during baking. Using a pastry bush, glaze each one with the beaten egg and milk mixture.

Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 19-20 minutes, until golden and there are some cracks on top. Turn the tray around halfway through baking time.

Remove the tray from the oven and leave cookies on the tray for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Continue making and baking the second batch of the cookies.

When they have cooled completely, transfer them to a cookie tin. They keep at room temperature for a couple of weeks, although I seriously doubt they’ll last more than a couple of days.