One year I remember we stayed for a whole month at my father’s village in Ahladokambos with my grandma (yiayia) and grandpa (pappou), we were in the process of moving and my parents were looking for a place so they thought our time would be better spent at the horio (village) rather than crowded Athens.
I remember that time fondly now, but back then those were long days. At that time the village was not very accessible, and my grandparents did not drive so we had to be creative with how we spent our time. We walked all over the village every day acting like explorers. The villagers who would meet us would ask us: “tinous eise esy?” which translates whose are you? Meaning who are your parents. So we would explain, and then they would get all excited: “Oh from America?” and they would tell us all their memories of my dad when he was young. We went shopping at the little grocery store, which was fun to get there, but than you had climb up the steep hill to get to our house which was at the upper village. Other activities included reenactments of Jesus Christ Superstar with my then teen sister, visiting the yard next door which included lamb, goats, chickens and a donkey, helping my grandma make hilopites (Greek pasta) and of course eating.
It’s not like we were eating all day, but there were three meals a day and my siblings and my cousins along with my yiayia and pappou sat at the table together for all three meals. So the schedule of the day basically involved playing all day, taking a nap and meals. Oh yeah, they also had a TV, back then there were only 2 television channels and the program started at 5pm, which was when everybody woke up from their afternoon nap. At that point yiayia let us turn on the TV and we would watch a cartoon for a half hour.
Yes, we played all day, running up and down those steep hills, and that stairway up the porch which we must have gone up and down ten times during the day.
So you can imagine we had quite an appetite. Everyday my yiayia would cook all sorts of meals: lathera, goat, lamb, fish, pasta, plenty of tomato-cucumber salads (at every meal), beans – she made everything. We really did not have desserts, although she had a stash of kourabiethes hidden in the salon for guests. In the evening we usually had a small meal and sometimes if we were lucky, yiayia made tiropitaria. Tiropitaria get their name from tiropita which means cheese pie, but these are not baked but rather fried pieces of dough with feta incorporated in them.
Many areas of Greece have recipes like this, my grandma’s is slightly different because she just mixed all the ingredients and rolled out these pieces of dough, whereas other recipes use the feta as a filling.
I remember her over her gas stove, frying these things and placing them one by one on the table. We waited until she was done and we each had a piece.
Now yes these are fried, but you have to remember we were otherwise eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, following a traditional Greek diet, plus we were moving all day. So fried food once in a while is OK, especially when it is fried in olive oil. A Spanish study had shown that people who ate fried food occasionally that was fried in fresh olive oil (not olive oil that has been re-used) and followed a Mediterranean diet showed no increased risk of developing heart disease. Also this recipe really is just a bit of dough along with a touch of feta cheese (about a ½ teaspoon per pita), so not so bad really.
I tried to recreate this recipe based on my experience and my father’s and aunt’s descriptions. The only difference is that I used dough that does not contain any yeast. I chose to do it without yeast so that I could make them quickly (these took me about 30 minutes from beginning to end). The other ingredients are basically feta cheese, olive oil and my favorite ingredient that reminds of Ahladokambos and my yiayia, mint, actually spearmint.
These pitas are very thin. They should be half the thickness of a pancake or even less. That way they fry quickly and the result is a very light an airy flat bread.
Serve right away, otherwise they will get soft (although I happily eat them that way too).
Yiayias Greek Crispy Pita Breads with Feta Cheese – Tiropitaria
For the dough
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
For the filling
- 3 ounces feta
- 2 tablespoons chopped mint
- Olive Oil for frying
Makes 12 pites
1. Mix the flour with the salt, add the water and olive oil until a dough forms.
2. Knead the dough for a few minutes on a floured surface. The dough should be soft and a bit stretchy.
3. Divide in 12 pieces and roll into small balls.
4. In a bowl mash the feta until it becomes a paste. Add the chopped mint and mash and mix.
5. Take one piece of dough and spread just a bit with your fingers, spread some of the feta paste about 1/2 teaspoon. Close the ball by folding the dough over the feta. Knead the dough just a bit, so the feta is incorporated in the dough.
6. With a rolling pin (I use a plain one which is just a stick- no handles), roll out the ball in a round pita about 6 inches (16-17 cm) diameter. Make sure there is flour on your rolling pin so the dough does not stick on it. Note these should be very thin.
7. Heat some olive oil in a pan, enough so that the bottom of the pita is in the oil when in the pan. The heat should be medium high.
8. Put in your pita and fry for about 1 minute on each side moving it around. You should see air pockets forming. You can prick these with a fork.
9. Remove and place on paper towels and also cover with a paper towel.
10. Continue with the rest of the pieces of dough until you have fried them all.
Best served immediately.