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Fried cheeeeeeeeeeese. La-laa!!!!

Saganaki. Oh, hells yeah!

Saganaki. Oh, hells yeah!

Generally, Greek restaurants are a good place to load up on wheat-free meat-free delectables if you know what to look for. Sadly, the saganaki isn’t one of them. That’s why we have kitchens in our homes, though. Here’s how to make this delicious treat. Locating the right cheese might be the hardest part. It’s made with Kefalograviera, a semi-hard salty cheese that is reminiscent of an aged manchego… in other words, GOOD. In Chicago, we get ours from an Indian market on Devon of all places (Patel Bros. just west of Western on the north side of the street). Cypriots make it with Halloumi, which you can sometimes find in specialty markets. It’s a weird cheese, though – kind of squeaky when warm.

Saganaki

  • Kefalograviera cheese
  • 2-4 T gluten-free flour (I use brown rice flour, but any flour or gf mix will do)
  • fresh lemon juice
  • veggie oil

Directions: Slice the kefalograviera into large 1/4″ thick slices. Put a couple tablespoons of flour onto a plate. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a frying pan. While waiting for it to get hot, wet the cheese slices with water and coat with flour. When the oil is hot, put the cheese in and fry a couple minutes on each side, until the flour is a golden brown. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon on top and serve immediately.

YOWSAHS! Sorry for the hiatus. Had a baby. Wasn’t cooking. Back now, although only in 20-minute intervals. We’ll see how it goes.

My number-one, all-time favorite cookie? Easy. Melomakarona. Melo-ma-kwhoo? It’s a Greek treatsie made with the stuff of the Gods: olive oil, walnuts and honey. Aside from being ridonkulously delicious, if anyone gets on your tail about eating too many cookies, you can tell them that they’re made with olive oil, so they’re cleeeeearly healthy. Puh-lease.

I have wonderful memories of my grandmother making piles of these when she came to visit. The hilarious thing about trying to replicate her recipes is the inexact measurements she’d provide. For example, “one glass olive oil.” A glass? Which glass, Yiayia? To which she’d shrug and reply, “enh…” as she reached for the nearest glass and filled it to whatever arbitrary height she needed… Ah, yes. Sixty-five years in the kitchen’ll do that to ya.

Anywhooooo, I’ve longed for melomakarona since going GF. Finally got up the gumption to try. And how did the first attempt go? Very respectable! A bit more delicate than their gluteny cousins, but I don’t know that I’d change a thing. So here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Melomakarona!!

Gluten-Free Melomakarona!!

Gluten-Free Melomakarona

For the cookies

  • 1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. grated orange peel
  • 1/2 c. ground walnuts
  • 2 2/3 c. oat flour
  • 1 1/3 c. potato starch
  • 2/3 c. tapioca starch
  • 1 T ground chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T brandy

For the syrup

  • 2 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 c. water
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks

For the topping

  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 T sugar

Cook them cookies: Cream the butter and the sugar. Add the olive oil and beat until smooth-ish. Add O.J., egg, baking soda, and orange peel and beat. Stir in ground nuts, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and brandy. Dough should be softer than your average cookie dough, but not sticky.

Form into oblong logs (turds? Not so appetizing, but, hey – it’s a good way to describe them…) and with a fork, gently press a grid into the top of each cookie. (Alternatively, my yiayia used to press them gently against the textured side of a meat tenderizer. Needless to say, we don’t have one of those in our veggie kitchen.) Bake on the top rack of a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until very lightly browned. The cookies will be rather dry and pretty delicate – don’t pick them up with a vice grip or you’ll have melomakarona dust. But the syrup is the antidote to said problem. Onward.

Finishing touches: Combine honey, 1/2 c. sugar, water, whole cloves and cinnamon sticks in a small saucepan and heat over med. low heat until sugar dissolves. When cookies come out of the oven, dip each one in the hot syrupy goodness for a second or two, making sure each one is completely submerged. With a slotted spoon, transfer the freshly bathed cookie to a plate and sprinkle with a mixture of chopped walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Serve with Greek coffee. Try not to eat all at once.

The New York Times recently sang the praises of cabbage in their article The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating. Wow, ok, so I just checked the date and it was posted on June 30, 2008! Funny how time is compressed in my noggin…

Anywhooo, I found their suggestion for how to eat cabbage less than inspiring. As a crunchy topping for burgers? Enh. I have always loved cabbage and the Greeks have a particularly delicious way of preparing it in all it’s raw glory. It’s called lachanosalata (pronounced la-ha-no-sa-LAT-a). It’s simple as a pimple and delish as a knish. Here it be:

Naturally Gluten-Free! Lachanosalata: Greek Cabbage Salad

Naturally Gluten-Free! Lachanosalata: Greek Cabbage Salad

Lachanosalata: Greek Cabbage Salad

  • 1 head of green or red cabbage
  • juice of 1 lemon OR 3-4 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp salt
  • copious amounts of olive oil
  • Greek oregano

Slice the cabbage into thin, thin, thin, did-I-mention-thin? strips. Put in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Pour the lemon or vinegar on & toss. Douse in olive oil and sprinkle oregano on top. The salad is great fresh. And as the leftovers marinate, the cabbage becomes translucent and reduces quite a bit – the second day is a different and equally delicious experience. Kali orexi!

Fantastic.

The End.

Kidding! But for any celiacs in Chicago, Venus is a hot destination. A little visited restaurant in Greektown (little visited b/c it’s off the main strip on Halsted, but only by a half block), they serve Greek-Cypriot food. And, I just discovered they have an extensive gluten-free menu (two full pages!). Woo!

I first discovered their menu online and was skeptical because it did have some suspicious listings. For example, they had patates tiganites (french fries) listed which any savvy gf diner knows is bad news b/c it is fried in the same oil as the breaded Everything, etc. But, when the waiter handed me the gf menu, all of the suspicious items were blacked out – evidently someone showed them the errors in their ways. Being familiar with Greek food, however, I must say that they left off some great gluten-free dishes that do appear on their regular menu, so it’s worth a shot to look at the regular menu and ask. Two great vegetarian dishes to ask for are the pantzarosalata (marinated beets served cold with olive oil and herbs) which goes great with skordalia and talatouri, and lahanika scharas (grilled veggies served with balsamic vinegar and oil). On that happy note, I leave you to dream of gluten-free Greek food. I need my zzzs.

Truth be told, I’m a soupivore. If I could translate every meal into some kind of soupy goodness, I would, in a second. Maybe it’s a tribute to college days when we would “drink our dinner” (enh, not really – never was a big drinker) or the fact that I am a camel and unless you force me to drink water, it never really occurs to me to do so (much more likely). But to me, nothing is better than a big ol’ vat of soup with my name on it.

Avgolemono Soup Yiayia would be proud of

Avgolemono Soup Yiayia would be proud of

Ranking high on the list of soup favorites is a Greek masterpiece called avgolemono. The name literally (and oh so gracefully) means egg-lemon. You can stop drooling (you were gagging? How rude.) If you’ve never tried lemon in your chicken noodle soup (or veggie equivalent) you haven’t experienced the goodness that Greeks bring to brothy soup (they add lemon to everything. And it’s damn good, might I add.) Avgolemono is akin to a creamy chicken rice soup, but here I make it with veggie broth for us rabbits. Great for a quick meal on a cold winter’s day, or if you have a cold and need some love from the Greek Yiayia you never had (or maybe you did! What do I know?) Anyway, enjoy.

Avgolemono Soup

  • 8 cups veggie broth
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 eggs

Bring 4 cups of broth to a boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer until rice is tender (also a great use for leftover rice). Add the remaining 4 cups of broth and turn heat to medium-low so that no bubbles are breaking the surface (very important!). In a medium bowl or a 2-cup measuring cup, add the lemon juice to the eggs and beat.

The secret of making avgolemono is to make sure that the eggs do not coagulate and produce the strings characteristic of egg drop soup (Greek grandmothers everywhere gasp with horror). Rather, the eggs should act as a thickener, making a creamy soup without the help of a flour roux (which they do sometimes in restaurants as a shortcut, so ask before you order).

There are several tricks to avoiding the egg drop disaster. First, slowly add 2-3 ladles of the hot broth to the egg and lemon mixture while beating vigorously. This will bring the temperature of the eggs up slowly to approach that of the soup. Then, before adding the watered-down eggs to the soup, make sure the soup is not boiling or even simmering. Any bubbles that break the surface mean that the temperature is too high and you’ll get egg drop, I can guarannnntee. So turn the soup way down and make sure it is perfectly still before adding the egg mixture. As you add the egg mixture, again, beat vigorously. Serves 2-3.

Reheating this soup can be tricky. You have to watch to make sure it doesn’t simmer, or again, the egg drop disaster will rear its ugly head. Those metal heat diffusers can be handy if you have a gas stove. I think microwaves are also a safe option… don’t quote me on that, though!

The Greeks do not fear garlic. You shouldn’t either. Skordalia, the lesser known Greek garlic dip (tzatziki being the better known one, thanks to gyros) actually has its root in the word “skorda,” which means garlic. And that’s the common theme that runs through the countless variations of this dip. Some are bread-based, some potato-based, some almond- or walnut-based. All are delish, but if you ever order it at a Greek ‘straunt, be sure to ask the waiter if there is any bread or flour in it.

Skordalia is typically served with fried, salted cod (bakaliaro) or sliced beets (patzaria – a personal fave) or fried zucchini (kolokithakia). My husboy is on an eggplant buying binge lately (no complaints here), so we tried the ol’ zucchini/eggplant switcheroo. I think my Yiayia would have done the same.

Fried Eggplant with Greek Garlic Dip

Fried Eggplant with Greek Garlic Dip

Fried Eggplant

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2/3 cup of brown rice flour
  • 1 cup grapeseed oil
  • salt & pepper

Slice & soak: Slice the eggplant into 1/4″ rounds and place in a bowl of cold water. Pour a generous amount of salt over the eggplant and let soak for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the breading. Measure out the flour onto a dinner plate, add a healthy dose of salt and pepper and mix to distribute evenly. Gently squeeze the eggplant while submerged in the water. Do this a couple of times. You’ll see the water change to a narsty brown color. This is good. This means the salt is doing its job of leeching the bitterness out.

Fry the bastards: Remove the eggplant from the soaking water, gently squeezing to get the last drops of bitter water out. Coat in your flour mixture. Heat a pan with the grapeseed oil (I use this because it doesn’t smoke at frying temperatures) on high. Fry the eggplant until lightly golden on each side. When done, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb some of the excess oil. Makes enough for 2 people. Serve with the skordalia below.

Skordalia (Greek Garlic Dip)

  • 5 medium Russet potatoes
  • 5 medium cloves of garlic
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • salt

Cut potatoes (unpeeled) into thirds and cover with salted water. Boil until you can stick a fork easily through the thickest potato chunk. Drain and cover with cold water. Peel taters (you can do this right off the bat if you prefer, but it’s easier after they’re boiled). In a large, preferably flattish bowl, mash the potatoes well so there are no lumps. Crush garlic and add to mix. Add olive oil and vinegar and mix well. Salt to taste. Makes dip for an army (ours never lasts past lunch the next day…)

Kali orexi!

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