New year’s eve is approaching and apart from the food and drink, the Vasilopita is the center of attention. The vasilopita is a new year’s cake that has a coin hidden in it and is cut at midnight. It is traditional for each family to have their own vasilopita and a piece is cut for each family member. If the coin is in your piece you supposedly have good luck for the rest of the year. Sometimes the vasilopita is cut the next day and businesses as well as associations and ministries all have vasilopites that they cut during the first few weeks of the year.
The vasilopita is a moist cake made with ingredients everyone has at home: sugar, flour, eggs, milk and orange. There is another more bread-like version made with yeast, which is a bit, more time consuming, but in our family we make and like the cake version. Now obviously this is not a particularly healthy recipe, what with the butter, but you usually enjoy only one small piece and if you have leftovers you can enjoy it over the next few days with coffee or tea. Read more »
When you go to a traditional tavern in Greece you often see on the menu salata epohis meaning seasonal salad, in other words salad that is made with seasonal vegetables. In the winter that salad is cabbage and carrot (lahano-karoto).
Everything is shredded very much like coleslaw, but the dressing is not mayonnaise based but as expected olive oil based. Typically this salad is served with an olive oil-lemon (or vinegar) dressing with an almost equal amount of each with a ratio of about 4:3 (olive oil to lemon juice or vinegar). It may be served with some black olives Kalamon for decoration.
Obviously this salad is super-healthy and filling. Cabbage belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family along with cauliflower and broccoli. These vegetables are rich in certain compounds that appear to have anticancer effects, although it is still not clear to what extent. As with most vegetables, cabbage has very few calories, one cup has a mere 27 calories and it is a good source of fiber, vitamin C and folate. Read more »
With just a few small changes to your celebratory dinners you can add a taste of the Greek-Mediterranean diet but also the health benefits of this diet, without changing your menu all that much.
1. Serve Mediterranean Dips. Instead of heavy cheese dips rich in saturated fats start with some equally delicious Mediterranean dips. The yogurt based garlic dip tzatziki, the creamy split pea fava and the tasty fish roe dip taramosalata make ideal choices. All three of these easy recipes are rich in antioxidants and the good fats and they can be made the day before. Accompany them with some thin breadsticks and if you can find them, barley rusks (paximadi).
2. Cook with Olive Oil and Greek Yogurt. Use olive oil and Greek style yogurt for your cooking. When making mashed (regular or sweet) potatoes use olive oil and Greek style yogurt instead of butter and cream. It will make for a lighter side dish but also a healthier one without sacrificing taste. Olive oil also can be used for roasting and cooking as well. An easy and tasteful way to serve seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli is by simply placing them in a pan, adding olive oil and garlic and roasting them for 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Read more »
I will continue with one more of my favorite olive foods: olive bread. In Greek it is called Eliopsomo. This bread is really something else; it can be a small meal, a snack, breakfast and an appetizer. I remember having a piece of this moist savory bread after a day on the beach and it just hit the spot. This bread makes a good snack nutritionally: the olives provide some fat while the feta some protein and the whole-wheat flour will give you fiber. These three nutritional components (fat, protein, fiber) provide satiety, making it an ideal snack or small meal. Of course you are getting some good antioxidants from the olives as well.
Now authentic Greek olive bread is of course vegetarian, and something Greeks could snack on during their religious fasts that prohibited animal products. My version includes cheese so although it wouldn’t be appropriate for Greek fasting, it is OK for vegetarians who also consume dairy. I also used half whole-wheat flour making it a bit healthier and heartier. Read more »
Now that it’s apparent why olives should be part of your everyday food routine, it is useful to have a variety of ways to include them in your diet. Of course you can eat them plain with some bread, cheese and tomato which I have to admit is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them, but another way is making an olive paste or as it is known olive tapenade.
Now a year ago I had written about olive tapenade and had mentioned that it really is not a Greek product, but Provincial French one. But is it? Well, apparently its origins may be in ancient Greece. We know that olive oil was one of the Three Fundamentals, the three most important components of their diet (the other 2 being bread and wine) of the ancient Greeks. A recipe of the time described using black olives and combining them with vinegar, honey, cumin, fennel, coriander and mint. When I had visited Crete, Cretan chefs and culinary students, explained that in Crete during times of war olive paste was a basic food for survival it was served on bread. So, olive paste really is also a Greek product. Read more »
The olive harvest season has started for a few weeks now, and for me it’s just another reminder of the wonder of the olive. Yes, this fruit produces olive oil, and that is its main use, but the actual olives, known as table olives are a very important part of the Mediterranean and Greek food culture. While there are several recipes that include olives as an ingredient, particularly in Crete, generally olives are best known in the Greek food culture as a food on its own. Traditionally, it was common to have olives with bread for breakfast or a mid morning snack or along with herbal tea in the evening. Olives were something one did not need to buy; it was what the land produced. Olives are also strongly associated with the Greek-Orthodox fasting period. Since animal products such as cheese were not allowed, olives became an accompaniment for all meals during this time.
As an ingredient the olive takes many forms in Greek cuisine. It is added to dough to make what we call eliopsomo, olive bread, it is a common accompaniment with beans and lentils, there are also olive pies as well as combinations of olives with meat or seafood and of course there is even sweet olive preserves (gliko toy koutaliou). Read more »
Broccoli and cauliflower are such misunderstood vegetables. They seem to be coupled with ingredients that are chosen to hide their taste rather than complement it: loads of artificial melted cheese and cream will do the trick. But when you combine broccoli with healthy ingredients such as garlic, olive oil and nuts the result is simply delicious. With that in mind I’m sharing this simple Mediterranean inspired broccoli recipe.
This particular time I found purple broccoli at the market. According to the farmer, this type of broccoli is an older variety in Greece compared to the green type. I wasn’t sure about that, but I bought it anyway as cruciferous vegetables and bright colored vegetables are full of antioxidants and other substances that protect from various diseases particularly cancer, and this purple broccoli fit the bill plus it was really pretty and the taste is almost the same as the regular green variety. Read more »