Tomato Paste, a Mediterranean Staple and Why You Should Use It

September 11, 2012 2 Comments

In my mother’s descriptions of my grandmother’s cooking and her own, one ingredient would come up that seemed odd to me: tomato paste. I would wonder: why would you use all these fresh ingredients and then add a canned tomato product?

Well, in the olden days it served a purpose: it was used as a substitute for tomatoes, when fresh ones were not available. Tomato paste was made at home as a way to preserve tomatoes to use during the winter. I read somewhere that tomato paste originated in Italy and and then its use spread across other areas of the Mediterranean, which makes perfect sense considering how important tomato is in the Mediterranean cuisine.

My mother remembers as a little girl in the 50’s, going to the local deli (in Greece) and getting 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff on a piece of wax paper so her mother could use it for cooking. What did they do with it? Well they made the known kokkinista, which translates as the “red ones”. These are dishes either made with tomatoes or tomato paste, hence the name referring to the redness.The tomato paste along with olive oil is warmed up (or almost sautéed) in a pot or pan, and the vegetables or meat are added and cooked. Of course it is also used in pasta and sauces and basically when you want to give a little color or added flavor. Read more »

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Caponata, a Real Sicilian Appetizer

September 7, 2012 1 Comment

Ok, I promise this is the last eggplant recipe I will be sharing this year. But seriously you cannot talk about eggplant and not mention this delicious, not to mention healthy Sicilian dish. Eggplant is probably the most popular vegetable in Sicilian cuisine and when you cook it in olive oil along with tomato, onion, olives, capers, celery and a bit of sugar it makes an ideal accompaniment to good hearty bread and some red wine. Once again a typical Mediterranean dish that makes you want to eat a bunch of vegetables.

Apart from the fiber that you’ll be getting from the eggplant and tomato, you also will get plenty of antioxidants from the eggplant, tomato, oregano, onion and the olive oil. Well, actually almost every single ingredient is a source of antioxidants.

I’ve tried several recipes and this is a combination of a few of them that had the best results. Read more »

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Briami (The Greek Ratatouille)

August 30, 2012 6 Comments

I don’t like to describe a dish using the name of a dish of another culture, but if you ask someone (who is not Greek) what briami is they willl probably just give you a blank look. If you ask them what ratatouille is, well… there are more possibilities that they will know that it’s not just a cartoon.

So today is briami or briam day. This is another summer favorite, although I have to admit, I also make it during other seasons without eggplant. Briami is basically chunks of vegetables cooked in olive oil, and it belongs to the lathera family. But you don’t just add any vegetable you want, there are certain vegetables that make up briami: potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onion, tomato, sometimes okra and bell pepper. You can make briami in a pot just like you would make ….let’s say fasolakia lathera (green beans with tomato and olive oil), or in the oven which is how I like it. With the roasted version, the vegetables become crispy and in combination with feta cheese and a fresh bread, this is a perfect meal. Read more »

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Chios Mastiha: A very special Greek ingredient

August 27, 2012 3 Comments

Last week the summer forest fires ravaged many areas of Greece including the island of Chios. Chios is home to mastiha also known as mastic and unfortunately the fires destroyed almost 30% of the rare and difficult to cultivate, mastiha trees. But why is mastiha so special?

Mastiha is basically resin from the mastiha trees and appears in drops (see photo). While these mastiha trees may grow in other areas in the Mediterranean and produce resin, only the Chios trees produce the mastiha “tears” that have the characteristic aroma, taste and health benefits. Mastiha from Chios also is a P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) product, which means that its name (and reputation) is protected and only mastiha from Chios can carry this name. Read more »

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Baked Eggplant with Feta Cheese and Olive Oil

August 23, 2012 2 Comments

My personal favorite way of eating eggplant is baked, combined with tomato, olive oil and feta. It is a simple, but flavorful recipe and I managed to make it lighter by lightly sautéing the eggplant and letting the eggplant slices strain on paper towels. Yes, you need to sauté them a bit, otherwise the skin will be hard, but leaving them on paper towels will help get rid of the excess oil. I also did not use too much olive oil in the baking dish, I just drizzled some on top of each slice as opposed to having the whole baking dish full of oil. Read on for the recipe Read more »

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Time for Eggplants! Why you should eat this decadent vegetable

August 22, 2012 2 Comments

The eggplant is one of my favorite vegetables. If it sounds like I’ve said this before, I probably have because I really have a weak spot for all summer vegetables. When eggplant season comes around there are all sorts of traditional Greek recipes to choose from. I remember one summer, I was spending my vacation on the island of Kithira and the family of my sister-in-law Maria, had their own organic garden with plenty of eggplants. So everyday we would eat eggplants. One day it was melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), another day eggplant with rice, then eggplant stuffed with beef or eggplant with tomato or moussaka (a lasagna like dish of eggplant cooked with beef and potatoes) or stuffed eggplant. There was even sweet syrupy eggplant preserves. But even after that eggplant overdose I never got sick of them.

The eggplant is a decadent vegetable; when cooked it literally melts in your mouth and caramelizes giving it a sweet taste. Although Greeks have plenty of eggplant recipes, the Mediterranean in general is known for its love of eggplants and there is an abundance of  traditional recipes to choose from. Read more »

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What to eat on a Greek Island

August 13, 2012 Leave a Comment
Zucchini sticks, beets and tzatziki (garlic -greek yogurt dip)

Zucchini sticks, beets and tzatziki (garlic -greek yogurt dip)

As promised I am sharing my dining experiences while vacationing with my family on the Cycladic island of Paros. Generally I am against rules that dictate what you should eat while on vacation, heck you are on vacation, you should be able to enjoy things you like and try foods you may never have a chance to try again! Unfortunately, many people place rigid rules on themselves even when on vacation. For example, at the hotel we were staying, a  young couple, obviously very fit, would come to breakfast with their big protein shakes every morning, have a couple of fruit and that was it. Too bad because they missed out on some wonderful local Greek breakfast foods.

On the other hand, many vacations are centered around food: hotels and cruises with all inclusive buffets, the whole vacation appears to be just about eating, not very healthy or fun either. So make sure you enjoy the food, especially if you are visiting Greece, because it is truly a unique experience. Just don’t waste your calories on average foods you can find anywhere like soft drinks, ice cream, crackers, chocolate bars, grilled meats etc. Read more »

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