Cretan Pies with Cheese

In Crete we make these thin dough pies sprinkled with cheese and they are delicious! The dough requires only a few ingredients. However, it does take some skill to roll it out nice and thin. My grandma taught me this “art” when I was 15 and I am so thankful for that. Though if you don’t know how, a dough roller machine does the job perfectly well. These pies are best eaten warm, right off the pan with a gruyere type of cheese on top.

 

Making the dough

Put most of the flour in a large bowl and make like a little “crater” with your hands in the center. Add half of the lukewarm water, the olive oil, salt and raki. Raki is a local drink from Crete which is usually available in liquor stores. I found it easily both in Dubai and London. Use plain vodka if you cannot find raki your local store, it does the trick! Knead the dough and alternate between the remaining flour and water, until you find the right consistency. Let it rest for 30 mins.

If you are doing this by hand, dust a big surface with flour and divide your dough in 2 or 3 balls. Start rolling out each ball by rolling up and down and side to side. Then turn the dough, dust with flour again and keep rolling. Ideally the thickness should be 2-3 mm. You can cut it out in circles using a small plate, if you prefer round ones…

 

…Or you can cut them in squarish pieces!

Cutting squarish pieces

Making the Pies

Add a small drizzle of olive oil in a pan and bring it over medium to low fire. Put the pie in and fry it for like 2 mins each side, until its nicely browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat the same process with all the pies. The pan will get hotter over time , so you might want to lower down the heat as you go.

Sprinkle with some nice hard cheese on top and serve immediately.  Kids love them!

 

Cretan Pies with Cheese

Lovely thin dough pies with cheese from Crete made from scratch. Your guests will be impressed and the kids will love them. This is a real authentic Cretan dish, tasty and crunchy.

  • 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) plain flour
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup Raki or Vodka
  • olive oil for frying
  1. In a large bowl put most of the flour and make like a little “crater” with your hands in the center. Add half of the lukewarm water, the olive oil, salt and raki or vodka. Knead the dough and alternate between the remaining flour and water, until you find the right consistency. Let it rest for 30 mins.

  2. If you are doing this by hand, dust a big surface with flour and divide your dough in 2 or 3 balls. Start rolling out each ball by rolling up and down and side to side. Then turn the dough, dust with flour again and keep rolling. Ideally the thickness should be 2-3 mm. You can cut it out in circles using a small plate, if you prefer round ones…

  3. Add a small drizzle of olive oil in a pan and bring it over medium to low fire. Put the pie in and fry it for like 2 mins each side, until its nicely browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat the same process with all the pies. The pan will get hotter over time , so you might want to lower down the heat as you go.

    Sprinkle with some nice hard cheese on top and serve immediately. Kids love them!

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Eggplant Salad

I love eggplants! Grilled or in a stew, I find them delicious. A really nice dish to make is eggplant salad. This is roast eggplants made into a thick cream. It’s perfect for a family table or as an appetizer dip for your party. It’s pretty straightforward to make it and you can adjust the ingredients to make it thicker, thinner or spicier. Let’s do this!

Roasting the eggplants

Cut the eggplants in half and place them in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. It took me about 45 minutes to roast them. If you want to do this quicker, cut them in thinner slices. Stick them in the oven at 200 C / 390 F. They will be done when the flesh is soft and easily pierced with fork.

Smoke them over fire until they are browned like this

Making the eggplant salad

Take them out of the oven. If you have a gas stove and can spare a few moments, smoke them on the fire for a few seconds each. Let them cool a bit. With a dessert spoon, scoop out the flesh.

Scooping out the flesh

Add the eggplant flesh into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients apart from the parsley. Start blending and adjust the olive oil or salt accordingly if you need more. Add the parsley at the end and give it a last mix. This eggplant salad goes well with meat and also works perfectly as a dip. You can refrigerate for a few days. Enjoy!

Eggplant salad

Its a great creamy eggplant salad to pair your meat dishes with. Also, it works very well as a dip for your beautiful appetizers. If you are an eggplant lover, this is a must try dish!

  • 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) eggplants (yields about 650 g / 1.4 lbs cooked flesh)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 bunch parsley
  • 1/2 lemon juice
  • salt and pepper

Prepping the eggplants

  1. Cut the eggplants in half and place them in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you cut them in thinner slices, they will roast quicker. Stick them in the oven at 200 C / 390 F. They will be done when the flesh is soft and easily pierced with fork.

  2. Smoke them over fire until they are browned.

Making the eggplant salad

  1. Take them out of the oven. If you have a gas stove and can spare a few moments, smoke them on the fire for a few seconds each. Let them cool a bit. With a dessert spoon, scoop out the flesh.

  2. Add the eggplant flesh into a food processor with the rest of the ingredients apart from the parsley. Start blending and adjust the olive oil or salt accordingly if you need more. Add the parsley at the end and give it a last mix. This eggplant salad goes well with meat and also works perfectly as a dip. You can refrigerate for a few days. Enjoy!

Escargot with Rosemary – Cretan Kohli Boubouristi

My ramblings today are all about Escargot aka Snails.

I know, I know.

People don’t like escargot, in fact most people make a face of disgust when I tell them how much I enjoy cooked snails. I love them. I can clear off one whole plate in a matter of a few minutes.

 

Where I grew up in Crete, escargot are a local delicacy and in fact a widely beloved and often cooked dish. You can buy them at any open air food market. And many people – including my parents – pick them wild from the fields.

Life Cycle of Snails

 

 

 

In Crete, the rainy season starts around September/October. This is when the kohli wake up from summer estivation. They crawl all over the fields eating grass and leaves and they reproduce. This pretty much continues for 5-6 months which lasts all through the winter season. During this period they cannot be eaten, as they are too thin and have a bitter taste.

 

Later on around March the picking season starts. Snails dwell in fields up in the hills or in vineyards.  They are usually found under the stone or soil, or close to the vine trunks. Once picked, they are stored in crates and fed mostly flour and uncooked pasta. This feeding and tending period lasts about one month. It’s enough time for the kohli to fatten up and clean up.

At the end of this time they are ready for consumption and their taste is earthy and juicy, not bitter at all. As Snails don’t do well in heat, they stay dormant in their shell during the hot months. Starting in May, they seal their shell with a dry layer of mucus.  Source: Wikipedia.

Making the escargot

First, put the snails in a bowl full of water and let them sit for 4-5 mins to soak.

Soaking the snails

With a preferably toothy knife, remove the layer over the shell opening. Scrub the shell all around to clean it thoroughly. One by one.

 

 

Thereafter, sprinkle some salt straight on the bottom of a wide frying pan.

Put it over medium-high heat. Place the snails on the bottom face down. In Cretan dialect, boubouristi means with the face down. Hence kohli boubouristi, which basically means snails (cooked) face down. There. Moving along swiftly.

Tuck them in the pan nice and tight so they all fit and cook them for 3 mins.

Add a cup of water and cook them for 15-20 mins. You’ll see a greenish-yellow foam forming on the top

Remove the foam with a spoon as much as you can. After about 15-20 mins add the olive oil and sprigs of rosemary.

Taste the food and add some more salt if needed.

At this point, you probably want to add some extra water to make them extra juicy, about 1/3 cup.

Cook for 5-6 more mins. Towards the end, you add in the vinegar. Then cook them for 2 mins more and they are done. The snails are done when they are chewy and juicy (but not too chewy).

 

Don’t overcook them, because it will be harder to take them out of the shell. You can check their doneness by taking a fork with long tines and first tap them at the back of the shell and break it just a bit. Then turn the shell around looking at its opening. Pierce the fleshy part straight through and down a little. And then pull the flesh out towards you, turning your hand clockwise. Good luck!

Serve them in a plate with their juices.

 

Escargot with Rosemary

Escargot cooked with rosemary are a local delicacy in Crete. Consumed since antiquity on the island, they are a staple summer dish. Nevertheless, extremely rewarding for the wild ones that like to try new things.

  • 1.5 pounds (700 g) edible land snails or escargot
  • salt
  • 1 + 1/3 cup water
  • 1.5 cup olive oil
  • 6-7 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 100 ml (7 tbsps) red wine vinegar
  1. Soak the snails for 4-5 mins. With a toothy knife, remove the layer over the shell opening and scrub the dirt off the shell all around.

  2. Thereafter, sprinkle some salt straight on the bottom of a wide frying pan. The fire should be medium-high.  Tuck the snails all in tightly and face down. Cook them for 3 mins. 

  3. Add a cup of water and cook them for 15-20 mins. You’ll see a greenish-yellow foam forming on the top. Remove as much as you can with spoon. 

  4. Add the olive oil. Taste the salt and adjust.

  5. At this point, you probably want to add some extra water to make them extra juicy, about 1/3 cup.

  6. Cook for 5-6 more mins. Towards the end, add in the vinegar. Cook them for 2 mins. The snails are done when they are chewy and juicy (but not too chewy).

Don’t overcook them, because it will be harder to take them out of the shell. You can check their doneness by taking a fork with long tines and first tap them at the back of the shell and break it just a bit. Then turn the shell around looking at its opening. Pierce the fleshy part straight through and down a little. And then pull the flesh out towards you, turning your hand clockwise. 

Tomato fritters – Ntomatokeftedes

It can’t be a summer without sweet, fleshy, delicious tomatoes. And in this dish, they are the centerpiece. Because tomatoes are so crucial, please please use extra good quality ones. My grandmother typically made this ntomatokeftedes (tomato fritters) in the summer when tomatoes are at their peak. Big and red and irregularly shaped, they should be soft to the touch, but extremely beafy inside. So much so that when you grab one in your hand and poke it with your thumb, you feel the flesh merely squeezing in and only underneath your thumb, the rest of the tomato is intact.

In my father’s vegetable garden in Greece, when I want to make a salad I just cut the tomatoes straight from the plant. Then slice them up on a plate with olive oil, feta cheese and oregano and I have the perfect lunch. Right there on the patio, next to the mesmerizing vegetable plants. It doesn’t get much fresher and simpler than that! I think it’s that simplicity that actually allows you to connect and savor the food all the more.

How to make the mixture

If you love tomatoes as much as I do, you will love ntomatokeftedes. Basically they are tomato fritters. That’s it, simple. So you take your tomatoes and chop up half of them. The other half you grate by hand. I find that this half/half way of prep makes the fritters juicier.

So put the tomatoes in a bowl. Throw in your beaten egg, grated onion, strong oregano and dried thyme. Now chop up your mint and add it together with the crumbled feta. Put in salt and pepper. Next, you add the flour tbsp by tbsp mixing lightly each time. The consistency should be just thick enough to be spooned out and into the frying pan. The batter should stick together, but not too thick.  If it is too thick, the taste will be “floury”.

To fry the ntomatokeftedes

Heat up some olive oil over medium low fire. Use a tablespoon to spoon the mixture into the frying pan. Fry each side for 2-3 mins. I repeat medium to low fire here because it’s important to not overcook them. They should be golden brown and crispy outside but slightly raw inside.

 

When my palate fills up with those semi raw tomatoes, I can feel that beachy, summery carefreeness. I am almost on that beach getting my feet wet! After all, isn’t that what makes food magic? It’s ability to bestow an experience upon us that can transport us from one feeling to the other. I think that’s pretty amazing!

Bon appetit!

Ntomatokeftedes – Tomato fritters

Ntomatokeftedes – Tomato fritters, is a quite popular dish in Greece. Hearty and juicy and full of summer and beaches and carefreeness.

  • 500 g good quality tomatoes (half chopped / half grated) (( abt 17.5 oz))
  • 12 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp strong oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 7 tbsp fresh mint, chppped
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 130 g feta, crumbled (4.5 oz)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Chop up half of your tomatoes and grate the other half. Put them in a bowl.

  2. Throw in your beaten egg, the grated onion, the oregano, the dried thyme, the mint and basil. Add in the feta cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

  3. Next, you add the flour tbsp by tbsp mixing lightly each time. The consistency should be just thick enough to be spooned out and into the frying pan. The batter should stick together but not too thick.

  4. Heat up some olive oil over medium low fire. Use a tablespoon to spoon out the mixture into the frying pan. Fry each side 2-3 mins or until golden brown. Don’t overfry them, you want them slightly raw on the inside. 

Super easy mini Cheese pies

Sometimes a girl needs her cheese pie. And because that particular day I had no extra time to spare, I came up with a really quick recipe for super easy mini cheese pies. I kid you not, it was 5 pm when I thought of making the pies and by 6 pm we had to leave for our afternoon swimming. Well not only did I make them, but they turned out to be a hit too! Especially with my 1.5 year old as you can see below.

If you ever find yourself in Greece, you have to have a cheese pie.

There are bakeries on every other corner baking bread, savory pies, cream filled fillo pastries and everything in between. In case you are an early riser all the better, just let your nose lead you there. My husband Rob is in love with those pies. Whenever we visit Greece, we are not going anywhere without stopping on the way (sometimes twice…) to get a cheese pie and a coffee. They are cheap, delicious and easy to devour on the go. This is why everyone loves them. Kids love them, and they make a great side addition on your party table. So lets make them!

Making the dough:

Depending on the flour you are using, you might need a little bit more or less to get the consistency right. So start by adding the 1 1/2 cup of the flour together with baking powder in a bowl. Right after add in the yogurt and melted butter.  Mix together by hand until well combined. Now start adding the rest of the flour bit by bit, while kneading. This dough requires very little kneading. When the flour is almost all in, form the dough in a big ball and lift it up with both hands. “Play” a bit with the ball, move it from hand to hand. Does it stick on your skin? If yes, it needs a bit more flour. If it is just at the point where it doesn’t stick, it’s ready! If you have 15 mins to spare, let it rest in the fridge.

To assemble the cheese pies:

First, line a tray with baking paper and grease it with butter.

Have ready a little plate with some flour in, just in case you need it.

Take a small piece of dough, the size of a whole walnut shell. Squeeze it down in between your hands so that it forms a little circle.

 

Forming the dough

 

Put in some feta cheese and squeeze in with your fingers a little bit more than you think it’s ok (some cheese will melt away while baking). So squeeze in with your index fingers and bring together the dough edges with your thumb and middle fingers. Press the dough so that it sticks nicely. Done!

Place the cheese pies on the tray and brush them with beaten egg. Don’t worry if the dough doesn’t look so smooth. Baking will take care of that!

Bake them for 20-25 mins at 190 C / 375 F, The color has to be light golden.

 

Super easy mini Cheesepies

Sometimes a girl needs her cheese pie. And because that particular day I had no extra time to spare, I came up with a really quick recipe for super easy mini cheese pies. Super easy and delicious!

  • 2 1/8 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 70 g butter ((2.5 oz))
  • 200 g greek yogurt ((7 oz))
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 300 g feta cheese ((10.5 oz))
  • 1 egg beaten
  1. Making the dough:

    Depending on the flour you are using, you might need a little bit more or less to get the consistency right. So start by adding the 1 1/2 cup of the flour together with baking powder in a bowl.

  2. Then add in the yogurt and melted butter. Mix together by hand until well combined.

  3. Add the rest of the flour bit by bit, while kneading. This dough requires very little kneading.

  4. When the flour is almost all in, form the dough in a big ball and lift it up with both hands. “Play” a bit with the ball, move it from hand to hand. If it sticks on your skin it needs a bit more flour. If it is just at the point where it doesn’t stick, it’s ready!

  5. Let it rest for 15 mins in the fridge (if you don’t have the time, you can omit this step)

  6. To assemble the cheese pies:

    Firstly, line a tray with baking paper and grease it with butter.

  7. Take a small piece of dough, the size of a whole walnut shell. Squeeze it down in between your hands so that it forms a little circle.

  8. Put in some feta cheese and squeeze in with your fingers a little bit more than you think it’s ok (some cheese will melt away while baking).

  9. Bring together the dough edges with your thumb and middle fingers. Press the dough so that it sticks well together.

  10. Place them on the tray and brush them with beaten egg.

    Bake them for 20-25 mins at 190 C / 375 F, The color has to be light golden.

Tomato Loaded Barley Rusks – Greek Dakos

If you want to impress your friends with a tasty Greek dish, you must try this one. It is super simple to put together and will more than satisfy your tastebuds. You really need to find good quality tomatoes, as this is the main ingredient. Here in Dubai the season for tomatoes is now, so you can find good ones. In my case though, tomatoes come from my back yard. Have planted both cherry and  beefsteak tomatoes. They are so juicy and full of flavor.

Barley Rusks have a great, strong earthy flavor. Barley, thought to have been domesticated in Southwestern Asia, has been consumed extensively throughout history. Mostly in the Mediterranean world, but also in ancient India and the Arab world (Source: “On Food and Cooking”, by Harold McGee). Barley contains lots of fiber, iron, magnesium and vitamins among other nutrients. It’s also thought to have cholesterol-lowering abilities (Source: “On Food and Cooking”, by Harold McGee) and to improve blood sugar circulation. You can find barley rusks in any Greek (or even generally Mediterranean) Deli. I remember, there were quite a few by Bayswater in London. I always loved taking the tube over there and spent hours picking ingredients, brainstorming recipes, maybe grabbing a bite to eat.

So back to the recipe 🙂 First thing to do is roughly chop your tomatoes and put them aside. If you are using, fleshy beef tomatoes, you can also grate them. Entirely up to you.

This time I used round rusks. Its basically one round rusk cut in two. So take each round disk and run it under cold water for literally 2-3 seconds. They tend to be hard but eventually the water will soak in and they become softer as they stay. Don’t over water them because they might become too soft and crumble. Remember olive oil and tomato will go on top thus providing even more moisture.

Right after, put them on a plate. Wait 1-2 min and then discard the water from the plate. Drizzle with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. Load your rusk with chopped tomatoes, salt to taste. Sprinkle some caper berries, crumbled feta and a bit of oregano (oregano gives it such an aroma!). And that’s it, ready to be devoured. This dish is perfect for sharing as a side or even as a light lunch.

 

Tomato Loaded Barley Rusks – Greek Dakos

This is ultimate tomato side dish that will bring a Greek touch on your table!

  • 1 double round Barley Rusk
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 300 g (11 oz) Tomatoes
  • 60 g (2 oz) Feta Cheese
  • 2 big caper berries
  • Oregano
  • seasalt
  1. Roughly chop your tomatoes and put them aside. If you are using, fleshy beefsteak tomatoes, you can grate them.

  2. Take each round disk and run it under cold water for literally 2-3 seconds and plate  them. Don’t over water them because they might become too soft and crumble.

  3. Drizzle with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

  4. Load your rusk with chopped tomatoes, salt to taste.

  5. Sprinkle some caper berries, crumbled feta and a bit of oregano.