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Ye-gads, it’s been a while since I posted a recipe here! It’s not for lack of effort. I have tons of food pics and recipes jotted down here and there… just no screen time. Sorry.

Well, summer is high in Chi-city and we are lovin’ life farmer’s market and CSA style. Tomatoes, cukes, peppers – each week our CSA fills our fridge with delicious bounty and we’re forced, like good Greek peasants, to eat what we have makings for. And what do we have makings for? Greek salad! WOOT!

Traditional Greek Salad (Horiatiki Salata)

Traditional Greek Salad (Horiatiki Salata)

It may not surprise you to hear that the Greek salad that is served in most restaurants is not the real deal. For one, Greeks don’t have lettuce – at least they didn’t for a long time. In fact, my grandmother used to use our lettuce in soups, thinking it was just another leafy green to cook, rather than using it in salads. Of course, this has most certainly changed these days, but the Greek salad of my youth was closer to the recipe below. When you are inundated with fresh garden tomatoes and cukes, this is the best treat in the world.

A note on ingredients: There is a variety of cucumber that I’ve never seen anywhere besides Greece. They are smaller (kirby sized), lighter skinned, kind of football-shaped, and crispier than anything we find here. The closest I have been able to find in texture is the Armenian Cucumber, a long, pale green, ribbed and slightly fuzzy cuke that is available at my farmer’s market. If you can get your hands on one of these, hubba-hubba. Also, the green peppers I’ve had in Greece are nowhere near the massive, watery bohemoths you find in our supermarkets. They are small, thin-walled and incredibly flavorful. Unfortunately, I have no clever tips on how to get your hands on something comparable here. Oh, well.

Traditional Greek Salad (Horiatiki Salata)

  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut in thick wedges or large chunks
  • 1/4-1/2 of an Armenian cucumber or 2 pickling cukes, sliced in rounds
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/4″ thick slice of feta cheese (please don’t waste your money on the pre-crumbled stuff!)
  • olive oil
  • kalamata olives or capers
  • salt
  • oregano

Directions in 30 words or less: Throw all the veggies into a serving bowl. Salt and toss. Drizzle with more olive oil than you think you’ll need. Place feta on top. Sprinkle with olives or capers, and top with oregano.

Dang! Four words over. It’s ok. You’ll forgive me.

Could it be true?!? Have I discovered the answer to my four-year quest for gluten-free filo dough? This guy sounds legit, the video looks legit, and the baklava looks like it might just make my yiayia proud. Oh, nellie. You know what I’ll be up to this weekend!!!

The Philosopher's Kitchen by Francine Segan

The Philosopher's Kitchen by Francine Segan

I just came across the coolest cookbook. It’s called The Philosopher’s Kitchen by Francine Segan. Apparently, the author has spent time studying ancient texts to glean recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome which she then adapts for the modern kitchen. And, if we believe that eating 2 lbs of meat per person per day is a relatively modern occurrence (which we do), it should come as no surprise that there are many delicious vegetarian recipes in the book. And, BONUS! Most are also gluten-free. Recipes such as

Minted Garlic Spread
Red Lentils in Garlic-Roasted Artichoke Cups
Lemony Celery and Leek Soup
Acorn Squash with Pine Nuts and Honey

… Interesting, no?

Here’s more from her site

Gluten-free Pizza á la greca: with spinach, feta, tomatoes, and dried olives


Mmmm… zaaaa.

Gluten-Free Pizza à la Greca: with Spinach, Feta, & Olives

  • One package Gillian’s Wheat, Gluten & Dairy Free Pizza Dough (available at Whole Paycheck)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2-3 garlic cloves
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. chopped spinach
  • 2 oz. feta cheese
  • 1/4 c. pitted olives, coarsely chopped (try Penna’s Olivasecca – they’re amazing!)
  • 1-2 T steel cut oats or corn meal
  • oregano, salt & pepper to taste

This is a great quick meal if you have the foresight to thaw the pizza dough the night before. Of course, you can use a different pizza dough that doesn’t require thawing. Do a little exploring in the frozen foods section of your gross-hairy store and see what you can come up with.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Slice the onion and garlic and saute in olive oil until glassy-looking. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and let cook down until there is very little liquid left. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until their skins start to split – approximately 10 minutes on medium high heat. Add the spinach; saute another 5ish minutes.

Cut a large piece of parchment paper and set on a flat surface. Sprinkle 1-2 T steel cut oats or coarse corn meal (polenta works) in a circle about 6-8″ in diameter. Flatten the pizza dough into a 1″-thick disc and place on the oats/grits. Roll the dough out until it is 12-14″ in diameter. Pinch the edges so you have a little ridge all the way around. Spoon the tomato/spinach/onion mixture onto the crust and distribute evenly. Spread the crumbled feta cheese and chopped olives on top. Sprinkle with oregano, salt & pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until crust turns golden brown. Ta-zaaa!

Greek Potatoes with Lemon and Oregano

Greek Potatoes with Lemon and Oregano

Nothin’ like a little comfort food when you’re facing the possibility of lake-effect snow. Oh!

Greek Potatoes with Lemon and Oregano

  • 5-6 reguh-luh old potatoes
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1.5-2″ chunks. Coat in olive oil and place in a 8×10″ baking pan. Add the lemon juice, oregano, salt & pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, stir, then bake another 10-20 minutes until a fork inserts easily into the potatoes and the edges are nice and crispy brown.

It’s been more than 10 days, but forgive me. I vacate. (Did I just turn vacation into a verb? Yes, I did. I kind of like it…) By now my little olivinas are brining happily and approaching deliciosity. But I have not revealed how they got from tasteless snoozefest to their current state of yum. So let me divulge.

Ingredients for Brining Homemade Olives

Ingredients for Brining Homemade Olives

Once the olives are cured of their bitter madness, it’s time to add back some flav-ah-flave. It starts with a basic brine that can be spruced up to your heart’s content with lemon, garlic, fresh herbs, dried herblinas, food coloring (what? ew – totally kidding), hot hot peppahs, gin, vodka, you name it. If you’re unhappy with what you come up with, the beauty of brine is that you can always change the flavor. Either add more of the same to bump up the flavor, add new spices to change the flavor, or if you’re totally disgusted by your first creation, dump the existing brine and start over. Brining is more of an art than a science, so if you feel moved to add 5 cloves of garlic rather than 3, by all means, knock yourself out.

Once brined, the olives need to be stored in the refrigerator. They will be ready to eat in about two weeks. Typically, the longer they sit in the brine the better they taste, but let’s be honest; who can stand to wait longer than 2 weeks!?

Basic Olive Brining Recipe

  • 3 ¼ c. water
  • ¾ c. white vinegar
  • 5 T salt

Some of my creations in past years:

Homemade Olives A la Gioco:

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 T fennel seeds
  • 4 whole dried chili peppers
  • 2 star anise
  • rind of 1 orange
  • 1 T black peppercorns

Homemade Speecey-Espicy Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 10-20 whole dried chilis
  • 4 cloves garlic

Lemony Snicket Homemade Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 1/2 lemon, sliced
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 4 cloves garlic

Herbaceous Homemade Olives

  • 1x basic brine recipe
  • 2.5 lbs cured olives (will fill 1/2 gallon jar)
  • 5ish sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 T black peppercorns

Where to buy fresh olives:
For the past five years, I have bought my olives from Penna, a family-run business in California. While you’re at it, check our their Olivasecca – amazing dried black olives the likes of which you’ve never tasted. You can also follow them on Facebook and they’ll keep you up-to-date on when olive season starts and ends.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go! (you are here)
Homemade Olives: The curing process

Homemade Olives: The curing process

Olive night came and went and the olives are now happily eating up all my available counter space, curing their little brains out. Why must they cure? Olives in their raw state are seriously bitter (try one! It’s shocking), so they must be cured to remove the ick. There are three ways to do this:

1. Salt-Drying: I don’t know much about this method other than it uses a shocking amount of salt. But suffice to say, at the end of the process you get shriveled little uber-olives. Power-packed with flavor. Not for the faint of heart or the fair-weather olive friend. I love them.

2. Curing with Lye: Commercial olives are typically cured with lye. It’s the lower-maintenance method (barely) and has therefore won the hearts of olive manufacturers eager to turn out this year’s batch of olives and make a buck. Any olives you see that have not been cracked have likely been lye-cured. But everything I’ve heard about lye tells me it’s a nasty thing to work with in your home, so we’ll be curing with…

2. Curing with Water: Oleuropein*, the substance that makes olives bitter, is soluble in water (how lucky). So an easy, albeit more labor intensive way to remove the bitterness is to soak the little olivinas in water. To do this, first you must crack the olives (really well) to allow the bitterness to leech out. Then put them in a jar and cover them completely with water. At this stage there is no need to refrigerate them. Change the water every day for 10 days. Over the course of the ten days, you’ll notice the water you dump each day gets less and less stinky yellow. At the end of this process, the olives will smell faintly olive-like but will be almost tasteless.

How do you crack an olive?

I’ve experimented with several ways; faced with 20-30 pounds of olives, I alternate between two to avoid sore hands or amputated limbs (you think I jest…) The first method involves placing one olive at a time on a cutting board and either leaning on it with the flat side of a cleaver (any wide, stiff knife will work. A second, smaller cutting board will work as well). This works better if you’re tall or like to cook in platforms or stilettos. The second method is similar; you rest the flat side of the knife on the olive, but instead of leaning on the knife, you give it a swift whack with the heel of your hand. Sometimes the knives get slippery from the olive goo (careful, it stains) and you get scared that you’ll slip and chop off a limb. When that happens, you might consider switching to smashing the olives with that second, smaller cutting board I mentioned instead of the slimy knives.

*This is priceless – Wikinerdia’s explanation for what oleuropein is: “tyrosol esters of elenolic acid that are further hydroxylated and glycosylated.” In case you were wondering.

Where to buy fresh olives:
For the past five years, I have bought my olives from Penna, a family-run business in California. While you’re at it, check our their Olivasecca – amazing dried black olives the likes of which you’ve never tasted. You can also follow them on Facebook and they’ll keep you up-to-date on when olive season starts and ends.

Other posts in this series:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!) (you are here)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go!
Raw Olives, oh joy!

Raw Olives, oh joy!

The anticipation sets my little tastebugs atwitter. September is olive harvest month and I just got 40 (yes, 40) pounds of fresh green olives delivered to my doorstep. Saaaa-weeet! Bitter, actually, but we’ll fix that. Stay tuned for this three-part post:

  1. Blather on about the greatness of home-cured olives and order freshies (you are here)
  2. T’aint no lye: Curing olives without the nasties (hint: use water!)
  3. Brining is the key to olive happiness. Oh, the places we’ll go!

Stay tuned. Olive curing happens tonight.
YUM!

I knew some Greek somewhere had made chickpea meatballs before (see my post here)! Apparently they’re called revithokeftedes. Different than mine, but the recipe sounds good – can’t wait to try it. Peter’s blog, by the way, is very good – with beautiful photos and tasty, authentic Greek recipes. My one beef is that I wish he’d lay off the endangered fish (swordfish, grouper, roughy – all things I’ve seen often on his blog). Buzz kill, dude.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but the best translation for “keftedes” is meatballs. That said, the Greeks make more kinds of meatballs without meat than with meat. I can think of patatokeftedes (potato meatballs), kolokithokeftedes (zucchini meatballs), kremidokeftedes (onion meatballs), and taramokeftedes (fish roe meatballs – amazing, by the way) for starters. And although I’ve never heard of them (outside of falafels), I’m betting that somewhere, sometime, some Greek made chickpea keftedes. I channeled this anonymous Greek the other day and came up with my own version. Husband’s review: “visionary.”

Chickpea Keftedes, why not?

Chickpea Keftedes, why not?

Chickpea Keftedes with Yogurt Dill Sauce

  • 3 c. cooked chickpeas (approx. 1 c. dry)
  • 2 c. diced potatoes
  • 1 egg
  • 1/8 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 1/4 c. gluten-free nutritional yeast
  • 1 shot of ouzo
  • 3 T chopped fresh mint
  • salt to taste
  • gluten-free flour for dredging
  • 2 c. grapeseed oil for frying

Make the batter: Cook the chickpeas in a pressure cooker, covered with 2 inches of salted water (1/2 a teaspoon or so). If you’re using regular brown potatoes, peel them. If you’re using a thin-skinned potato like yukon gold, don’t bother. Dice them into 1-2″ cubes and steam or boil until a fork can be stuck into them smoothly. In a large bowl, mash the chickpeas with a fork or a potato masher if you have one. Add the potatoes and mash further. Don’t try to get a smooth paste – these are better with some chunky morsels in them. Add the mint, cheese, nutritional yeast, ouzo and olive oil and mix until combined. Taste for salt. Add the egg. Get ready for fryin’.

Fry ’em up good: Heat 1 c. of the grapeseed oil in a large frying pan. (I know grapeseed oil is a random ingredient – veggie oil works fine too, but I have been very impressed with grapeseed oil for frying. Apparently it has a higher smoking temperature which means it won’t evaporate at frying temps and gunk up your pan and kitchen with that nasty, hard-to-clean oily grawp.) Put 1/4 c. of gf flour on a large plate. Spoon out a golf ball-sized blob of the chickpea batter onto the plate and roll in flour. When the oil is hot, plop it in and flatten slightly. Fry on each side until a light golden brown. Serves 4.

Yogurt Dill Sauce

  • 1 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 T chopped fresh dill
  • 1 t. chopped fresh chives
  • 1/4 t. salt

Directions: Mix von mix. Serve cold. Can be made a day in advance, but it’s so quick and easy, why bother?