HAPPY OCTOBER! A COMFORT FOOD DISH – YOUVARLAKIA

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Happy October! Once I begin to feel a chill in the air, I yearn for comfort food. One of my favorite meals is a bowl of Youvarlakia. These meatballs are different than the type you would eat with spaghetti. Instead of breadcrumbs and grated cheese, these are filled with rice and herbs.

My mother would make them one of two ways – either in a simple tomato sauce that took on the flavors of the meatballs or in avgolemono sauce – my favorite.

Youvarlakia is one of the recipes included in my upcoming novel, “Waiting for Aegina: Book Two in The Gift Saga.”

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read “Evanthia’s Gift” yet, this would be a good time. For food lovers, there are several recipes between the chapters, and for readers who enjoy a good love story that spans decades, this is the book for you. It was recently named a finalist in the Reader’s Favorites Awards.

Here’s how to make this comfort dish. When it’s ready, get cozy on the couch with a good read and a bowl of youvarlakia.

 Youvarlakia

2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

2 tablespoons dill

2 teaspoons salt

1 generous pinch of nutmeg

1 or 2 pinches of ground black pepper

Mix all the above ingredients together to form meatballs. I suggest a size a little larger than a golf ball. Place the meatballs in the refrigerator to set for 20-30 minutes. This way the meatballs will not fall apart when you drop them in the boiling liquid.

In a pot, add:

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth (optional)

2 cups water

* If you don’t use the chicken broth then double the water to 4 cups.

Bring the liquids to a boil. Turn down the heat to a high simmer and carefully drop in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 25- 30 minutes. My mother would lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. This is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish, both with good results.

Avgolemono Sauce

There are a few variations on the method to making this sauce. Basically, it consists of lemon juice and eggs, beaten together. Some cooks add a tablespoon of flour to thicken it. Others separate the egg whites and whip them until they are frothy, and then add it to the egg yolk and lemon mixture. I do it the way my mother made it.

3 eggs

Juice of one lemon (2 if you like the sauce extra lemony)

Put the eggs and lemon juice in a blender and run on medium speed until frothy. Take about one cup of the liquid from the meatballs and slowly add it to the egg-lemon mixture while the blender is still running. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble.

Remove the meatballs from the heat and pour the avgolemono over the meatballs. Cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!

 

 

YIAYIA’S LEMON CHICKEN AND POTATOES

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Comfort food—nothing soothes the soul better. For me, comfort food is anything my mom made for me growing up when I was under the weather, or needed warmth. For my children, it was the same—Yiayia’s cooking was what they craved. Yiayia is no longer with us, but her spirit lives on in her wise words, the traditions she taught us, the advice that still rings in our ears, and in her delectable food.

This lemon chicken and potato meal has always been one that I’ve made in my home, just as my mom had. Yet, when my children would have it at her home, they would savor every bite. I think this might have been for two reasons. First reason – her gas stove. Even though I would cook the food exactly the way she did, it never came out quite the same. The natural juices came out pulpier when she made it. She never used chicken broth – only water. I add the chicken broth in hopes of replicating the flavor she achieved with her gas stove. Don’t get me wrong. Mine comes out tasty. We all enjoy it. But it’s not exactly like my mom’s. Which brings me to the second reason. I call it the Yiayia Effect. Everything she did or made was special to her grandchildren—even more so now that they only have their memories to draw on. And I suppose this is why certain foods are comfort foods. Not only for the delicious flavor but also for how they make us feel inside.

Yiayia’s Chicken and Potatoes

4 split chicken breasts, bone in

3 pounds of medium sized potatoes, quartered

1½ cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

5-6 cloves garlic, sliced

2 large lemons

2 tablespoons dried oregano

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven – 350º

Place the chicken breasts in a roasting pan. Pour the chicken broth in the pan and arrange the quartered potatoes around the chicken. Drizzle the olive oil over the chicken and potatoes, and add a pat of butter on top of each breast. Squeeze the juice from 1½ lemon over the chicken and potatoes, reserving ½ to be sliced and placed over the dish before going into the oven. Sprinkle the garlic, salt, pepper and oregano evenly and place in the oven. Bake until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are crisp, about 1½ hours. Flip the chicken over once or twice during while roasting for optimal moistness.

YOUVARLAKIA – GREEK MEATBALLS IN EGG-LEMON SAUCE

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In honor of Greek Independence Day, I thought I would post a dish my mom made when I lived at home. All these years it wasn’t a meal I thought to make for my own family, but recently, I’d been craving it. Mom never used recipes. Herbs and spices were sprinkled into the pot, not measured out in exact amounts. If I asked her how much rice goes in this, or how much breadcrumbs goes in that, her answer would be, “about a handful.” That is the way I learned how to cook. “Add and taste,” she would say. But most of all she told me you have to hug and kiss your food. You love it and care for it like a child. And never, never rush it. So, here I am, writing recipes for meals I have never been given measurements for. But that is a good thing, because when my children ask me how to make one of their yiayiá’s recipes, I will have it on hand for them.

Some people think of youvarlakia as a Greek meatball soup. I never thought of it that way. To me, they are fluffy, delicate meatballs covered in avgolemono sauce. (Egg-lemon sauce) Unlike the hearty, dense Italian meatballs that are cooked in sauce, these are lighter and mixed with rice. As a variation, my mom would add them to a plain tomato sauce made from tomato paste, water and a little olive oil. The sauce became infused with the flavors from the meatballs, giving them a delicious taste – great for sopping up with crusty bread. I made a pot of each and let everyone choose the sauce they wanted.

Youvarlakia

 2 pounds of ground beef

½ cup rice (not cooked)

½ cup fresh parsley

1 large onion, grated

1 egg

2 tablespoons dill

2 teaspoons salt

1 generous pinch of nutmeg

1 or 2 pinches of ground black pepper

Mix all the above ingredients together to form meatballs. I suggest a size a little larger than a golf ball. Place the meatballs in the fridge to set for 20-30 minutes. This way the meatballs will not fall apart when you drop them in the boiling liquid.

In a pot, add:

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth (optional)

2 cups water

* If you don’t use the chicken broth then double the water to 4 cups.

Bring the liquids to a boil. Turn down the heat to a high simmer and carefully drop in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 25- 30 minutes. My mom used to lay a dish directly on the meatballs to hold them down and keep them from falling apart. It is up to you. I’ve done it with and without the dish with good results.

Avgolemono Sauce

I’ve seen many ways to make this sauce. Basically it is lemon juice and eggs, which are beaten together. Some people add a tablespoon of flour to thicken it. Others separate the egg whites and whip them until they are frothy, and then add it to the egg yolk and lemon mixture. I do it the way my mom made it. Either way, don’t forget to temper the mixture.

3 eggs

Juice of one lemon (2 if you like the sauce extra lemony)

Put the eggs and lemon juice in a blender and run on medium speed until frothy. Take about one cup of the liquid from the meatball and slowly add it to the egg-lemon mixture while the blender is still running. This will temper the eggs so they do not scramble.

Remove the meatballs from the heat and pour the avgolemono over the meatballs. Cover the pot and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Kali orexi!

Good appetite!