The Greek isles are alluring; the history and myth of Greece enthralling. And the trendy “Mediterranean diet” phrase nets 835,000 hits on Google (compare that to the 303,000 hits when you do a search for “Creole cooking”).
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mayo Clinic Web site offers this, “The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice. For example, residents of Greece eat very little red meat and average nine servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.”
Wikipedia has this, “The most commonly-understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented by Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University’s School of Public Health in the mid-1990s. Based on ‘food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s’, this diet, in addition to ‘regular physical activity,’ emphasizes ‘abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), and fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts.’”
Cooking among the books
Terry Morris, director of the Payson Public Library, shared her version of the Mediterranean diet in the first of her 2010-2011 cooking classes, calling it “Grecian Holiday” in the brochure about the classes.
Held Aug. 17 in the library’s kitchen and meeting room, the day’s menu — prepared by Morris and class participants — included spicy white bean dip; cucumber dip; meatball soup; Greek summer salad; roast leg of lamb; figs with goat cheese; and a frappe for the beverage.
Morris always provides class participants with a packet containing the recipes from the planned menu, plus those for additional dishes. A few are included here as well: string beans with olive oil, baked summer vegetables and baked spinach with three cheeses (you will find them after the recipe for the roast leg of lamb).
Spicy White Bean Dip
Preparation time: 10 minutes; cooking time: 5 minutes; makes 1-3/4 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1, 15-ounce can navy or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Garnishes: fresh rosemary sprigs and extra-virgin olive oil
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat and add onion. Reduce heat to medium and sauté onion until tender. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring frequently so garlic doesn’t brown. Remove skillet from heat and cool to room temperature.
Scrape onion and garlic mixture into a blender or food processor; add beans and remaining ingredients, except garnishes, and puree until smooth. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve. This can be made several days ahead of when needed, which will create a fuller flavor.
1 medium cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 pint of yogurt (regular plain or plain Greek-style)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dill, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients and let chill for at least one hour. Serve as a dip with fried fish, fried eggplant or fried zucchini
Greek Summer Salad
3 tomatoes, cut in wedges
1 cucumber, sliced into coin shapes
1 red onion, sliced in order to separate into rings
2 green bell peppers, cut into rings
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/3 pound feta cheese, cut in squares or crumbled
2 dozen black olives
dried oregano, chopped or crumbled for garnish
fresh parsley, chopped for garnish
Place tomatoes, cucumber, onion and peppers in large salad bowl
Combine olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in jar with lid; put lid on and shake vigorously.
Pour dressing over vegetables; top with feta and olives; and then sprinkle all with oregano and parsley
Meatball Soup with Egg Lemon Sauce
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, grated
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups beef stock or water
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
Egg and Lemon Sauce
2 to 3 eggs
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons water
To make Meatball Soup
Combine meat, onion, salt, pepper, parsley, half of the rice and the slightly beaten egg. Shape into 30 small balls and dust with flour.
Boil stock or water, tomato juice, butter and salt.
Drop meatballs and remaining rice into boiling liquid, cover, reduce heat and simmer about 35 minutes. Remove from heat.
To make Egg and Lemon Sauce
Beat eggs with water and then, by the spoonful, add about a half-cup of the soup liquid while stirring.
Add lemon juice.
Pour egg mixture gradually over the meatballs and remaining soup, stirring continuously.
Serve at once.
Roast Leg of Lamb with Potatoes
4 pounds leg of lamb
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, cut into slivers
salt and pepper for seasoning
1/2 cup butter
1 lemon, juiced
1 cup hot water
2-1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
Wash meat and place in a roasting pan, making several small incisions in meat.
Dust garlic slivers with salt and pepper and insert into incisions in roast.
Arrange peeled and quartered potatoes around the roast.
Melt butter and pour over meat and potatoes, and then sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Add hot water to pan.
Bake in moderate over for about 2 hours.
When lamb is done, remove to a heated platter.
If potatoes need more browning, put under broiler to finish and then arrange around roast before serving.
String Beans with Olive Oil
2-1/2 pounds string beans
1 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
Remove ends of string beans and prepare by either cutting into 2-inch pieces, snapping or cutting crosswise into thin, slanted pieces or cut into thin strips.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add tomatoes, beans, parsley, salt, pepper and sugar.
Cover and cook over moderate heat for about 30 minutes.
Baked Summer Vegetables
1 pound zucchini
1 pound eggplant
1 pound potatoes, peeled
2 onions, sliced
2 green peppers, sliced
1-1/2 pounds tomatoes
1-1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup hot water
salt and pepper
Scrape and wash zucchini. Slice all vegetables into half-inch pieces. Arrange in baking pan. Add olive oil and hot water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley. Cover and bake in moderate oven for 90 minutes, uncovering for last 30 minutes.
Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Baked Spinach with Three Cheeses
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Edam cheese, grated
1/2 cup Roquefort cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons olive oil
2, 10-ounce packages, ready-to-use, fresh spinach, washed, patted dry and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter a baking pan measuring 11-inches-by-7-inches-by-2-inches.
Mix first 7 ingredients in large bowl.
Heat oil in large pot over medium high heat. Add spinach and sauté until wilted and moisture evaporates, about 3 minutes.
Transfer spinach to a strainer and shake out any additional moisture into sink and then place in prepared baking dish and sprinkle with cheese mixture prepared earlier.
Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
Preheat broiler and place baked spinach and cheese under heat until cheese is golden on top – about 2 minutes (watch closely so cheese doesn’t burn).
Serve in baking pan.
Figs with Goat Cheese
8 fresh figs
1/2 cup goat cheese, softened
8 grape leaves, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup honey
Preheat grill for medium heat.
Make a small cut in the bottom of each fig that is large enough to hold tip of a pastry bag.
Place goat cheese in pastry bag with plain tip. Squeeze a small amount of cheese into each fig (the filling will make fig plump slightly).
Wrap each fig in a prepared grape leaf and skewer 2 or 3 figs together.
Lightly oil grill grate and place skewered figs on hot grill.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning once halfway through. Remove figs from grill, drizzle with honey, and then serve.
(Greek iced coffee)
Makes 1 serving
1-1/2 to 3 teaspoons instant coffee (Nescafé® recommended)
2/3 cup cold water
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar (optional)
1/2 cup milk (optional)
2 to 3 ice cubes (optional)
Place coffee powder, sugar and 2 to 3 tablespoons water in cocktail shaker or blender. Combine until mixture forms a thick, frothy foam.
Pour foam into a tall glass, stir in remaining ingredients and enjoy, using a straw, which can be used to blend ingredients when they settle on the bottom of the glass.
Homemade Greek Yogurt
1 quart (32 ounces) full fat sheep or cow’s milk, pasteurized
2 tablespoons plain unflavored commercial yogurt with active live cultures
2 tablespoons full fat milk (same as first used)
Bring ingredients to room temperature.
Heat the milk to just boiling, remove from heat and pour into non-metal container.
Let cool to lukewarm (a skin will form on top).
Mix the 2 tablespoons of yogurt and 2 tablespoons of milk.
Add the yogurt mixture to the lukewarm milk, carefully pouring down the side of the container so as not to disturb any skin that may have formed
Cover container with a clean dishtowel and place on another towel in a warm, dry place for at least 8 hours, or overnight, but no more than 12 hours, to thicken.
Carefully drain any excess liquid and refrigerate for 4 hours before using. Will keep 4 to 5 days in frig.
4 cups plain whole-milk commercial yogurt
Line a sieve with a coffee filter and place over a bowl. Put commercial yogurt in the coffee filter and refrigerate for 12 hours. Makes about 2 cups thick yogurt.
Can be used in recipes or makes four half-cup servings, which can be topped with honey, dried fruit and walnuts and served as a dessert with almond cookies or breakfast dish.
Two dishes most typically associated with Greek food – gyros and baklava – were not included on the menu the cooking class was to prepare, but Morris provided the recipes in the packet provided participants.
Gyro Burgers with Tahini Sauce
Preparation time: 20 minutes; cooking time: 12 minutes; makes 4 servings
1 pound extra-lean ground beef
1 teaspoon Greek seasoning
4 pita rounds (or pita pockets if available)
4 lettuce leaves
8 large tomato slices
4 thin slices of red onion
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- Tahini Sauce/Paste can be found in the imported food aisle of some grocery stores or you can make your own – Recipe to follow.
Combine beef and seasonings. Shape into 4 patties. Grill over medium high heat (350 to 400 degrees), covered with grill lid for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until meat is no longer pink.
Open pockets of pita bread, line each with a lettuce leaf, 2 tomato slices and a red onion slice.
Add burger and drizzle with Tahini Sauce and sprinkle each with a tablespoon of the feta.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 340 degrees.
Spread sesame seeds on a cookie sheet/roasting tray.
Toast for 15 minutes, stirring regularly to toast evenly. Don’t let seeds brown as it alters the flavor.
Remove from oven and allow to cool briefly.
Fit food processor with metal blades and add toasted sesame seeds and half the oil.
Process on high for a minute, stopping to push mixture down from sides back to where blades can work it.
Add rest of oil and continue to process until a smooth, well-incorporated paste is created. Cleaning the sides of the bowl as needed to keep mixture in contact with blades.
Using a flexible spatula, put paste into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. This will keep for several weeks if container is well sealed.
1 pound phyllo pastry sheets
1-1/2 cups butter, melted
1 pound walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups sugar
2 cups water
juice of 1 lemon
Place 1 pastry sheet in well-buttered pan and brush with butter. Place second pastry sheet on top of the first and butter again. Repeat until six layers of buttered pastry sheets are in the pan.
Mix nuts, breadcrumbs, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Thickly sprinkle on top of layered pastry sheets, and then place two buttered pastry sheets on top of nut mixture. Repeat with balance of filling and buttered pastry sheets until filling is gone and an additional six sheets of buttered pastry sheets have been used.
Brush top with remaining butter and trim edges with a sharp knife. Cut diagonal lines the length of the pan to create a diamond pattern, and then sprinkle with water.
Bake in a moderate oven for about one hour or until pastry is golden in color.
Boil sugar, water and lemon juice for 10 minutes.
Pour hot syrup over cooked baklava and allow to stand several hours before serving.
Terry Morris will present three more cooking classes at the library for 2010-2011. There are two sessions of each class: 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The next program will be on hors d’oeuvres on Nov. 16. The menu to be prepared will be rosemary shortbread crackers; mini red potatoes and caviar; crispy asparagus straws; carmel brie; butternut squash and crème fraîche; mini tartlets and quesadillas; chai porusski.
The titles of the classes in 2011 are Asian Invasion, Feb. 15 and Sips & Sliders, May 17.
The Asian Invasion class features a menu of: crab rangoon; California sushi roll; Thai style spring roll; lettuce wraps; rich & famous roll; fried rice; moo goo gai pan; chunky monkey roll; and passion fruit spritzer.
Sips & Sliders will have participants making gazpacho shooters; chips & dip trio; arugula salad with roasted fruit; five varieties of sliders; nutty ice cream burgers; and homemade ginger ale and rootbeer.
Each class is limited to 12 participants and costs $15 per person. The classes fill fast, so get in touch with the library to register now for the classes of interest to you.
A book for discussion is assigned for each class and is made available to participants in advance of their program.
For more information, call the library at (928) 474-9260.