GREEK EGGPLANT DIP & AN EXCERPT FROM WAITING FOR AEGINA:BOOK TWO IN THE GIFT SAGA

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This past Monday, the Great Lent began or as the Greeks say, Megali Sarakosti. During this 40 day period meat, dairy or any animal products should not be consumed. Many, like my father, who by the way is 94, adheres to this strict fast for its duration. Some choose to abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays, and others only follow the fast during Holy Week.

Finding new foods to offer my family had been a challenge over the years, but I found that many of the tried and true traditional recipes that generations of faithful before me ate were some of my best choices. In many ways it is a much healthier way to eat. As we take the focus off our gluttony and on to more spiritual thoughts, we also cleanse our body from the impurities in many of the foods we eat.

As some of you know I recently released the second book in my Greek heritage inspired saga. Enjoy an excerpt from Waiting For Aegina, along with a recipe from one of the foods the characters enjoy as they look out onto the clear blue waters of Greece.

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Summer 1978

 

        For Amy, the three weeks that she and Sophia had spent in Greece together proved to be a perfect escape, and a place where she made some very important decisions.

They were in Aegina, seated on the elevated front porch of the Fotopoulos beach house overlooking the clear blue water as sunbeams reflected off its gentle waves. Fuchsia bougainvillea spilled over the sides of the whitewashed walls and down the stone steps that led to the golden sand. Amy picked a flower off the vine and brought it up to her nose. For all its delicate, paper-like beauty, it did not have a determinable scent. But the vibrant color and the abundance in which they grew were stunning in contrast to the white homes and the blue sky.

They sat contemplatively and ate a simple lunch. Plump red tomatoes, chunks of cucumber and slabs of feta cheese filled their plates. Sophia ripped a small piece of bread from a crusty loaf and spooned some melitzanosalata onto it. The eggplant dip was one of her favorites, and her yiayiá had given her some to take back to the beach house when they visited her in Athens the day before.

The girls spent most of their time on the island, exploring the tiny shops, tavernas and markets on the main street of the waterfront. They’d wander ancient ruins and sometimes offer to take a photo or two for a group of tourists. And Sophia even took Amy to Agios Nektarios, the holy monastery where tens of thousands went each year to pray to the patron saint for a miracle.

Melitzanosalata

3 Large eggplants

1 Head of garlic

¼ Cup seasoned breadcrumbs

½ Cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Juice from ½ of a large lemon

3 Tablespoons freshly snipped dill

1 Teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon paprika

Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Pre-heat oven to 400º

Place the eggplant on the rack of the baking dish. Puncture each eggplant in several places so that excess water will drain as it roasts.

Place a head of garlic on aluminum foil. Slice off the top and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil around the garlic and place it in the same baking pan as the eggplant.

Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 45 minutes to an hour.

Peel away the skin of the eggplant and remove as much of the seeds as possible. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the skin.

In a food processor, pulse together the eggplant, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, dill, sugar, cayenne (if using), paprika, salt, and pepper, until fully blended.

*Keep in mind that each eggplant is different in size and water content. You may need to adjust the amount of oil or breadcrumbs to achieve the consistency you desire.

Serve on crostini, crackers, pita, or crusty bread.

 

 

MELITZANOSALATA – GREEK EGGPLANT DIP

 

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Happy autumn! It’s been a busy but wonderful summer and I’m sorry to see it go. I’d love to rewind and do it all over again. I’ve neglected this blog a bit, but for good reason. But I’m back now and I have a few announcements to share with all of you!

At the end of June we went to Disneyworld. Now that isn’t uncommon for our family, but we went with my husband’s nephew and his family who had never been there before. The children, 7-year-old Sophia and 3-year-old Ryan had a truly magical experience—we did too, watching them enjoy every moment.

Between boat rides on the Long Island Sound, backyard gatherings by our pool with friends and family, day trips out East to wineries and the Hamptons, and the many Greek festivals we attended, it was easy to get distracted from finishing Book II in The Gift Saga. But I was rooted to the computer every evening and late into the night until it was time to leave for a long awaited trip to Greece.

We flew into Venice, Italy and stayed there until we boarded a cruise ship, which would take us to several Greek locations. Venice was so unique and beautiful, and the food was delicious. Our first stop was Montenegro—a country I never would have thought to visit, but I’m so happy I had the opportunity to experience it. It had so much history and the towns were charming. The food was similar to Greek and Italian food, but with their own unique spin. Again – delicious. Let me just say now that everyplace we went, the food was amazing. The next day was charming Corfu and the next was Athens, birthplace of my mother. Mykonos was heaven on earth – the food, the town – the beaches. Kefalonia was the last stop before heading back to Venice. That was a place I wanted to visit my entire life. It was where my grandfather was from. He would take my mother there every summer when she was a girl. Finally, we got to see all the places we had only known of only from her memories.

Now that the beautiful summer is over, it’s time to get back to work. I’m putting the finishing touches on the book while the editor has her finger on it. For those of you who read Evanthia’s Gift, you know that I added recipes between some of the chapters. I am currently gathering the recipes to place in Book II.

There’s a chapter that takes Sophia and Amy back to 1978 when they are at Sophia’s grandparents’ beach house in Aegina. They are sitting outside, enjoying the sunshine and snacking on melitzanosalata – a traditional eggplant dip. I’ve come up with my own recipe for this easy to make and delicious dip. I’m sharing it will all of you before it is even published in the book.

I invite you to check out my author Facebook page – Effie Kammenou – and my instagram –cheffieskitchen – if you’d like to see some of the pictures from my trip to Greece and Venice. It’s also a great place to keep updated on future events and promotions.

I’m announcing the title of the book here first:

 

Waiting for Aegina

Book II in The Gift Saga

 

Release date to be announced at a later time (fingers crossed – by Thanksgiving)

 

Melitzanosalata

3 Large eggplants

1 Head of garlic

¼ Cup seasoned breadcrumbs

½ Cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Juice from ½ of a large lemon

3 Tablespoons freshly snipped dill

1 Teaspoon sugar

1 Tablespoon paprika

Dash of cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

 

Pre-heat oven to 400º

Place the eggplant on the rack of the baking dish. Puncture each eggplant in several places so that excess water will drain as it roasts.

Place a head of garlic on aluminum foil. Slice off the top and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil around the garlic and place it in the same baking pan as the eggplant.

Roast for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool for 45 minutes to an hour.

Peel away the skin of the eggplant and remove as much of the seeds as possible. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the skin.

In a food processor, pulse together the eggplant, garlic, breadcrumbs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon, dill, sugar, cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper, until fully blended.

*Keep in mind that each eggplant is different in size and water content. You may need to adjust the amount of oil or breadcrumbs to achieve the consistency you desire.

Serve on crostini, with crackers, pita, or with crusty bread.

 

CHICKPEA & CAULIFLOWER PATTIES WITH SPINACH PESTO

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Chickpea & Cauliflower Patties

1 – 29 ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

2 cups cooked cauliflower, pureed

2 cloves garlic

½ cup fresh basil

1 cup flour

1 large egg (for vegan recipe omit egg and add an additional ½ cup flour)

¼ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh dill

Salt & pepper to taste

3 cups Panko breadcrumbs

*Oil for frying

In a food processor blend together the chick peas, garlic, basil, egg, olive oil, and flour. The result will form a pasty texture. Transfer to a large bowl.

Puree cooked cauliflower in food processor and add to the chickpea mixture. Add dill, salt & pepper and mix until thoroughly blended.

Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Pour panko breadcrumbs into a dipping tray. Using a small ice cream scoop (or a large melon baller) form balls and drop into panko, rolling carefully to coat. Pan fry in oil, approximately 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

*Use the oil of your choice. Olive oil is too heavy. Coconut oil works very well. I find myself using more and more.

Spinach Pesto

 5 ounces fresh baby spinach

2 cloves garlic

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a food processor until blended into a pasty puree. If you desire a thinner pesto, add a bit of water or a little more olive oil.

You may also want to try the patties with tzatziki sauce or a marinara.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR! HEALTHY AVOCADO TOASTS

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New Years—a time for renewal, clean slates and fresh starts. During the holidays, I bombarded you with decadent desserts, tempting your taste buds and torturing your mind with fear of climbing onto the scale.

But the truth is, every day can be a fresh start. There’s no need to wait for the beginning of a year or a certain month. Simply take your resolution of healthy eating day by day. I say healthy eating and not the dreaded word diet. Once that word is used, you are doomed to failure.

The notion is that once the diet is completed and the goal is reached, you can resume eating “normally.” “Normally” is what created the need for the diet in the first place. Too much food and the wrong foods have been accepted as the norm.

Aside from being the country with the biggest obesity problem, we also have the highest incidence of diabetes and high cholesterol. Why do you think this is? It’s simple, really. Our portions are way too large. The concept of supersizing meals or “all you can eat,” is foreign to people from other countries. Another factor is the processed foods that we eat. I’m telling you, they are not only making you gain weight, but also affecting your health. Our bodies are not hard-wired to understand how to digest the chemicals in the foods that come out of a box. Should I even mention how much cancer we are dealing with in this country?

I’ve said it many times—BUY INGREDIENTS NOT PRODUCTS!!!

One of the reasons I started this blog was to show people how quick and easy cooking can be. Sharing my Greek heritage through my food and stories is something that I love to do, but I also want to showcase other, easier recipes that readers can make in a pinch after a day at work.

So if you make any resolution to go on a diet, please change your mindset and think about permanently altering your eating habits just enough to be a little healthier and safer, and I promise you, the pounds will come off as a bonus.

This avocado toast recipe could not be any easier. I’ve watched my daughter make it in a matter of five minutes. Alexa is a graphic designer and when they are on photo shoots for the magazine she works for, they order food for the creative team. This is her favorite thing to have for breakfast, but I think it makes nice lunch as well. It’s entirely up to you.

*Did You Know?

Avocado is a superfood and contains 20 different vitamins and minerals.

Avocados do not contain cholesterol and are low in saturated fat.

Avocados contain more potassium than bananas.

Avocados are heart-healthy, loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids.

Avocados are loaded with fiber.

Avocado Toasts

 1 avocado, mashed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice from ½ lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Brick oven or chiabatta bread, toasted

Mix all the ingredients together. Spread onto toasted bread and serve immediately.

 

 

KEFTETHES & TZATZIKI SAUCE, AND AN EXCERPT FROM EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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IN THIS CHAPTER OF EVANTHIA’S GIFT, ANASTACIA IS VENTING TO HER MOTHER ABOUT HER JOB, AND NOT BEING OFFERED THE POSITION SHE WAS TRAINED FOR.

Anastacia added spices to the chopped meat as Yiayiá grated onions into a bowl.

“I wouldn’t know about these things. I never worked. My work was my children. That was enough for me.” She added the onions to the meat mixture, the strong odor wafting up and causing tears to well in the corners of her eyes. Ignoring the sting, Yiayiá added two eggs and dug her hands into the meat, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. She walked to the sink, washed her hands and turned around to face her daughter.

“Ana,” she said hesitaantly, worried to bring up the subject. “I spoke to Irini, right before your babá and I came to see you. She asked about her niece.”

Ana gave her mother a hard, stern look. “Mamá, we’ve been over this. I know you want to fix everything — make all the problems disappear as if there weren’t any to begin with. But that is not possible. Do you really think she cares about Sophia? She only cares about one person, herself and how to get what she wants. I understand that she’s your daughter, and that you hope that she will somehow become a better person, but she won’t. You are always making excuses for her. She’s the younger one. She has always been different from you. She doesn’t mean what she says. I won’t hear it anymore.”

“She came from me too. She’s my child. What can I do but love her and hope?”

“I’m sorry, Mamá. I am. I know this is hard on you, but she is not welcome here. She needs to pay for her actions.”

“The past is past. Start fresh. It is no good to have hate in your heart,” her mother cried.

“I don’t want to hate her. But I am angry and hurt. She will never change. I begged you and Babá not to let her stay in the States. You know she needs to be watched closely and Uncle Tasso had no idea what he was getting himself into when he agreed to let her stay. Babá can’t even control her himself.”

Yiayiá knew her daughter would not change her mind and she couldn’t blame her. Ana was a kind and giving person, loved by all who knew her. She never uttered a harsh word to a soul, even if they treated her unfairly, but Irini had pushed her too far. Anastacia cut her sister out of her life, plain and simple. It was self-preservation. Aside from their difference of opinion over Irini, Ana and Yiayiá treasured the time they spent together and would miss each other terribly when she returned to Greece. They continued to roll and fry the keftethes in silence, both of them too stubborn for further conversation.

Keftethes

1 pound chopped meat

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, grated

4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 tablespoons of fresh

¼ cup of fresh mint or basil or combination of both

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Form each ball to the size of a golf ball. Roll in flour and press down gently. Fry in a combination of half vegetable oil and half olive oil until brown on each side. Serve with tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 cups Greek yogurt                                                3 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 Tbs. white wine vinegar                                    2 Tbs. fresh dill or 1Tbs. dried

3 Tbs. olive oil                                                            salt and pepper to taste

½ tsp. paprika                                                            1 tsp. sugar

2 cucumbers- peeled, cored from seeds and finely grated. Press through strainer to dry. The cucumber will make the sauce loose and runny if you skip this step.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk. Chill before serving. Serve with souvlaki or keftethes. It also makes a refreshing dip. Make this a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

SOUVLAKI & TZATZIKI SAUCE

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Summer can never come quick enough for me. With the first warm weekend, I couldn’t get the patio furniture out fast enough and I had the grill fired up and ready for a long-awaited season of backyard cooking. I’m looking forward to sharing all my favorite grilling recipes!

Souvlaki marinade

 4 pounds of lamb, pork tenderloin, chicken, or beef

1 cup olive oil

4 cloves crushed garlic

1 tablespoon dried oregano, or 3 tablespoons fresh oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil or ¼ cup shredded fresh basil

1 teaspoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh dill

Zest and juice of 3 lemons

¼ cup Dijon mustard

½ tsp. black pepper

* Please note- all measurements on herbs are estimated and up to your personal taste. If you like the flavor of one over another, add more or less, or delete the one you don’t like.

Cut meat in 1½-inch cubes and marinate overnight. I often marinate the lamb or beef for two day, but the chicken and pork should not be marinated for more than one day. I choose to make the cubes smaller than usual. Since I am alternating veggies and meat on the same skewer I don’t want the veggies to burn and for the meat to not be cooked through. If you want larger cubes of meat I suggest making separate veggie skewers. I use onions and peppers. Mushrooms and cherry tomatoes are a nice addition as well. Do not marinate the veggies until the last minute. Grill and enjoy!

* For extra moistness and flavor, make a little extra marinade and reserve. When the souvlaki comes off the grill, baste with the reserve.

 Tzatziki Sauce

 2 cups Greek yogurt*

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2-3 large cucumbers

* Opt for the fresh dill if you can.

** Prep- Peel and core the cucumbers from the seeds, and finely grate. Press through a mesh strainer to expel the water. The cucumber will make the sauce loose and runny if you skip this step.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk. Chill before serving. Serve with souvlaki. Tzatziki also makes a refreshing dip. Prepare it a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

*Greek yogurt is thicker than other yogurts. If you use any other yogurt, you must strain before making sauce.

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Keftethes & Tzatziki Sauce

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A few weeks ago I had written about my recent trip to the local Farmer’s Market. I came home with fresh pastas, cheese, bread and of course locally grown vegetables. As I also mentioned, I purchased Greek yogurt packed in terracotta pots. Today, it seems, every company claims to have a Greek yogurt product, but few even come close to what you would be served in Europe. But Kalypso Greek yogurt, sold at Farmer’s Markets, is the real deal. The true test was giving a pot of the plain yogurt for my dad to try. He would always say that none of the yogurts in the supermarket were like the ones he had in Greece. “Just because they say it’s Greek doesn’t make it Greek,” he would say. But when he tried the Kalypso, he said, “ This is like what I ate in Greece.”

So what is the difference between the various yogurts? A few things. Regular yogurt is looser and very watery. Greek yogurt is thicker and shouldn’t need to be drained. I suggest the Fage brand if you buy it from the supermarket. Real authentic Greek yogurt is very thick. Scoop the Kalypso out with a spoon and turn it upside down—the yogurt will stay on the spoon. Also, all natural ingredients must be used. No preservatives—no hormone and antibiotic infested milk. It does make a difference. Kalypso has taken pains to not only make the recipe authentic, but to also package their product in a manner that keeps with tradition. Each serving comes in a reusable terracotta pot. No worries about plastic leaching, or the taste of plastic tainting the freshness of the yogurt. If you don’t have a Farmer’s Market nearby, you can go on to kalypso.com to find the nearest market to purchase their product.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve gained a collection of these little clay pots. There are so many things I can think of to do with them. They are great to fill with salsa or dip and put out with chips. A mini herb garden on my windowsill in the winter would be an ideal use. Or insert a citronella votive candle inside and scatter around the patio tables. I have an idea for Thanksgiving that will be perfect for the terracotta pots—you’ll have to wait until then to find out what it is.

In the meantime…here is a recipe for Keftethes (Greek meatballs) and Tzatziki Sauce (yogurt-cucumber sauce)

Keftethes

1 pound chopped meat

1 egg

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, grated

4 slices of white bread, dampened in water (no crust)

¼ cup olive oil

1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 2 tablespoons fresh

2 tablespoons of dried mint or basil or combination of both, or 1/4 cup of fresh mint or basil

Splash of milk

Salt and pepper to taste

* Use fresh herbs whenever possible. The difference in taste is noticeable.

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Form each ball to the size of a golf ball. Roll in flour and press down gently. Fry in a combination of vegetable oil and olive oil until brown on each side. Serve with tzatziki sauce on the side. The meatballs can be served warm or cold.

Tzatziki Sauce

 2 cups Greek yogurt*

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons fresh dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill

½ teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2-3 large cucumbers

* Opt for the fresh dill if you can.

** Prep- Peel and core the cucumbers from the seeds, and finely grate. Press through a mesh strainer to expel the water. The cucumber will make the sauce loose and runny if you skip this step.

Mix all ingredients together with a whisk. Chill before serving. Serve with  keftethes or souvlaki. Tzatziki also makes a refreshing dip. Prepare it a day ahead and the flavors will intensify.

*Greek yogurt is thicker than other yogurts. If you use any other yogurt, you must strain before making sauce.

*Preferably Kalypso brand Greek yogurt

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