Ten popular Greek dishes

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family runs a landmark restaurant but realizes many of the Greek dishes they make at home are just too exotic for their clientele in southern Indiana, at least during most of the timespan of the story.

They do add roasted Greek potatoes as an option, but that’s about it.

Well, by the early ’80s, when they have a vegetarian line going, they might add dolmathes, the stuffed grape leaves, or vegetarian stuffed peppers to their offerings, perhaps along with tzatziki, the distinctive cucumber yogurt sauce distinguished by its dill and lemon.

Oh, but how much are the holding back on? Consider these ten options.

  1. Gyro. It’s a yummy handful, a wrap made of warm pita bread filled with strips of seasoned grilled lamb and beef with tzatziki and sliced tomatoes. (No onions on mine, please. They don’t agree with my system.)
  2. Souvlaki. Around here, it’s usually kabobs of char-broiled marinated pork, ordered by the skewer. “Give me two sticks, please,” is the way to order. Rounded out with things like rice pilaf, beans, and Greek salad on the plate. My favorite came from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Maine.
  3. Spanakopita. Or spinach pie, made of filo dough baked with layers of spinach and cheese.
  4. Loukaniko. Greek sausage made with orange peel, too. Great appetizer.
  5. Kolokythokeftedes. A Cretan vegetarian appetizer ball featuring feta cheese. (Feta is big in our house.)
  6. Lamb shank. This slow-baked, savory hunk o’ meat is one of the glories of our local Greek festival. Or, for those who want something a little less messy to eat, the slices of roast lamb are delightful, assuming you like lamb. If not, go for the lemon-pepper roast chicken. (Admittedly, I’m cheating in trying to keep this a Tendril. Just ten dishes? Oh, my, impossible!)
  7. Pastichio. Layers of baked macaroni with cheese and seasoned beef are a common entrees , as is Moussaka, made of layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.
  8. Keftethes. Meatballs. Bet you can’t eat just one.
  9. Baklava. This honey-infused filo is a heavenly dessert, but be warned, it has to be eaten while fresh. That honey can get sticky.
  10. Let’s not overlook Loukoumades. Bite-sized golden puffs of fried dough often sprinkled with syrup, walnuts, and cinnamon are another celestial way to round out the meal. I have heard some heated discussion, though, about whether the next generation can live up to the standards this one requires. The debate can be quite amusing, especially when the stand is being operated by closely supervised children.

Now, as for your Greek favorites?

 

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A taste of this and a taste of that

Hors d’œuvre or appetizers are food items served before the main courses of a meal, but the Greek meze table can also be a place of lingering. Here we mezethes of mozzarella cheese sprinkled with basilic flowers, black Greek olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian salami, and Spanish Serrano jamon. In the family in my novel What’s Left, Cassia may have had food like this. Photo by Bdieu via Wikimedia Commons.

 

‘Vegan Before 6’ for Great Lent

As Quakers, we’re not confined to a liturgical calendar or its requirements. Even so, through much of our history, members of the Society of Friends lived within the limitations of strict discipline, which included plain dress like the Amish and plain speech of the “thee” and “thou” sort.

These have greatly loosened up over the past century, which is not to say we don’t live out a distinct set of values – we’re just more flexible or forgiving. Non-violence and pacifism, equality, simplicity, social justice, and truthfulness remain forefront in our daily lives. Few Friends I know smoke, and in our circles, I suspect the majority now drive Priuses as a consequence of faith. Many, but by no means all, participate in vigils or social witness demonstrations.

But being Quaker doesn’t preclude us from what Douglas Steere coined “mutual irradiation,” acknowledging that we can learn from others’ religious practices and experiences and encourage them in their own. It’s not the same as a lowest-common-denominator ecumenism, but rather a willingness to be inspired and enlightened by our differences. It’s something I’ve been enjoying among the Greek-Orthodox where I live, and found with Mennonites and Brethren earlier. It’s also a principal reason I participate in the Dover Area Religious Leaders’ Association and our joint services.

Of course, remarrying has changed some of my perspectives. With children, especially, there was no way of downplaying Christmas, not in contemporary American society. (Historically, Friends were among those who considered it a pagan import.) I’ve previously posted about the revolutionary ways observing Advent has helped me cope with the commercial assault of that holiday.

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Eliminating a liturgical calendar also meant we also didn’t observe Easter. (Every day was to be holy.) And without Christmas or Easter, there would be no Advent or Lent.

Leap ahead.

There’s no way to totally ignore these, not when no longer live in close communities of our own and are often the only Quaker in our workplace. On top of that, many of us come from other faith traditions and carry within us many of those teachings and traditions, one way or another.

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All of this leads up to to a desire in our household to use Advent and Lent as times of renewal and rededication. We try to do a special reading together, at the least, and usually give up alcohol.

For the record, by the late 19th century, most Quakers had banned alcohol altogether – it’s not uncommon to meet Friends who have never had a drink in their life. On the other hand, when I admitted to enjoying a glass of beer or wine, one old Friend replied, “Jnana, in thy occupation, we’d be surprised if thee didn’t.” Remember, I was a newspaper editor.

So, here we are in what the Eastern Orthodox call Great Lent, and I’m surviving without my daily martini or a glass of wine with dinner. Abstaining reminds me of just how habitual these things become. Besides, I believe saying “no” for a season can be strengthen one’s willpower for other decisions, too.

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One year, my wife and I went largely vegan for Advent. She had reviewed all of the Eastern Orthodox dietary rules for that observance and concluded they were essentially vegan with the additional elimination of olive oil and alcohol. Oh, and when she concluded that since olive oil would have been the only oil in the eastern Mediterrean, she extended the ban to all cooking oils.

It was a tough period, as I posted at the time. She did come up with some marvelous dishes all the same, but rather than being freed from considerations of food, she was spending more time trying to find ways to manage.

This year, for the period of Great Lent, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Remember, we’re not confined to the ancient regulations, we’re doing this voluntarily. (And, as I’ve learned, the Orthodox rules are only suggested, not required, of the faithful.) What we’re doing is inspired by food guru Mark Bittman’s book Eat Vegan Before 6:00. In short, we have more options when it comes to the evening meal – especially, as we’re applying this, on the weekends.

Since I’m already trying to observe a Healthy Heart diet, I’m not seeing a lot of change. The biggest challenge has involved my morning coffee, which is already down to a single cup a day, thanks to another medical restriction.

No, alas, there are no wonder substitutes for dairy.

Homemade almond milk comes closest – we find much of the commercial variety to be vile. But almonds are comparatively expensive, and soaking the nuts and grinding and straining take time.

Oat milk, made from oatmeal, starts cooking in hot liquid, leaving an unpleasant layer of sludge in the bottom of the mug.

Coconut milk tastes like coconut, which I find disconcerting.

Black coffee seems harsh on an empty stomach – a sliver of lemon helps a little, somehow.

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So I’m counting the days till Easter – the Orthodox version, which comes at the end of Passover, a full week later than the Western celebration.

Those dark-roasted coffee beans and the Cuisinart

The automatic coffeemaker came from a yard sale. A Cuisinart for, as I recall, five bucks or so. It even grinds its own beans at 4 in the morning, just like we ordered.

We like our brew with a Latin kick. Cuban roasted, for instance. Like espresso, which I turn au lait – or, in this case, Ole’!

Even curbing back my caffeine intake to a cup a day, as my doctor ordered, it’s heavenly.

Imagine rolling over in bed, hearing the grinder kick in downstairs, and then finding the pot freshly made.

What a way to say good morning to the world!

When a Chinese student stayed in our home

Last summer, we had a college student from China stay in our home while he worked an internship at the children’s museum in town.

We found it to be an enriching experience.

His big desire was to improve his English, which he did, but he also wanted to “eat American.” That meant, as we learned, that he really loved our homemade Mexican more than a Big Mac … and my fried rice more than the Chinese restaurant downtown. And don’t overlook the brownies and potato chips.

Lobster, on the other hand, required too much labor to dissect, as his friends agreed.

As a city boy, he was annoyed by the insects when we dined outdoors. Alas, we ate indoors a bit too often.

In return, we’ve been endowed with some of the best green tea in North America, along with some great memories.

His English was, shall we say, much better than my Spanish (my point of reference in trying to translate to another language), but our great discovery was of an effective way to translate when we got stuck on an interpretation. No, it wasn’t a dictionary. It was the ubiquitous cell phone.

Like when he wanted to buy some sleepers.

Pajamas?

No, sleepers.

After a few rounds of that, he pulled up the image online.

We were in the drug store.

Oh, flip-flops! Now I understood.

That is, slippers.

Made sense to me. An “i” can, after all, be pronounced as “ee.” It is in Spanish, for that matter.

We headed for the aisle behind him, found a suitable pair for under three bucks – made in China, actually. Small world?

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Carbohydrates in my dietary mix

Adapting to a Healthy Heart diet, which greatly limits my old fallback choices of cheese, eggs (with the yolks), and butter, has led to another shift in what I’m eating.

My carbohydrate intake has spiked. It’s bad news if I start to show indications of diabetes.

At least I don’t have to watch my salt levels, for now. That could be another whammy.

But I have decided that if I’m ever given a terminal prognosis, I’m going to go out with a bang. Load up on all that’s been curtailed, maybe start the day with bourbon or bubbly, that sort of thing.

Oh, who am I kidding. By then, I’ll probably have lost my taste for it all. Oh, shucky darn, right?