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.

 

FRESH CORN SALAD

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Last year, I posted a recipe for grilled corn salad, and it became one of my favorite side dishes to make for my backyard parties last summer. This recipe is exactly the same, but for one step. I didn’t grill the corn. Call it laziness or my unwillingness to stand outside in cold weather, but I wasn’t about to turn on the grill. So I boiled the corn instead, and the result was delicious. The combination of the lime juice and the fresh corn was refreshing. The grilled corn was flavored differently because of the char on the kernels, and was equally tasty but in a different way. The choice is always yours. And of course, you can try it both ways to see which you prefer. I love them both. The one thing I know for sure is that I am so happy to be cooking summer food and enjoying the warm weather at last!

FRESH CORN SALAD

12 ears of corn, husked

3 limes, juice and zest

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chives

½ cup sliced scallions

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup fresh basil, chiffonade

12- 14 mini kumato tomatoes, halved

Place the corn in boiling water for no longer than two minutes. Cool and remove kernels from the cob. In a bowl, add corn, scallions and tomatoes. Drizzle in the olive oil and add the zest and lime juice. Mix well. Add salt and pepper. Add chives and basil, mixing gently.

This is the crowd size portion, and can be made a day ahead. Smaller portions make a nice side dish for every day dinners.

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.

 

QUINOA BREAKFAST – DELICIOUS AND HEALTHY CHOICE FOR LENT OR VEGAN DIETS

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Today was the day the Christian Orthodox community begins Lent. For many of you, your Lenten season is about to end with Easter being less than two weeks away. The Greeks refer to this first day of our holy period, Kathara Deftera – Clean Monday.

During this forty-day period, many of us are searching for new meals to cook, which don’t include meat or dairy.

Whether you’re fasting for religious reasons or adhere to a vegan diet, many of the recipes I will be sharing in the weeks to come will hopefully spark some new ideas for menu options.

For me, fasting for long periods is very difficult because my protein options are limited. During this time meat and fish are not permitted, but seafood such as crab, lobster and clams are fine. Those of you, who are acquainted with me, know I do not eat fish or seafood of any kind. I don’t like the taste at all and I believe I am allergic to some seafood.

Finding protein in other sources has become easier over the years, though. Non-dairy milks such as soy or almond milk has given me options that I didn’t have years ago. Quinoa has proven to be a super food, containing five grams of protein in a single serving, as well as other important vitamins and minerals.

For a simple breakfast, quinoa is more filling and satisfying than most cereals. I cook a batch of quinoa according to the directions on the package and store it in the refrigerator. Here’s a simple recipe:

1 cup cooked quinoa

¼ cup chopped walnuts

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon sugar or brown sugar

Mix all the ingredients together. Heat in the microwave for thirty seconds. That’s it! It couldn’t be faster or easier.

*I reserve a little of the mixture I use to make baklava filling, and keep it on hand to mix into the quinoa.

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.

 

 

THANKSGIVING COUNTDOWN CONTINUES! ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND VEGETABLES

Photo credit to Alexa Speyer

Photo credit to Alexa Speyer

There are certain foods you make for holidays year after year. It may be something you only make once or twice a year, so your family and guests look forward to it. For instance, the stuffing recipe that I shared with you in my last post — if that didn’t make its way to my Thanksgiving table there would be a lot of unhappy faces and censure over breaking tradition. But as eating habits have changed over time, so must the menu.

The chestnut stuffing recipe makes no claims to be low fat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. So to balance it out, this year I’m taking out a very beloved cauliflower recipe I’d made for years with another healthier one.

The one I’d made before had butter, cream and Swiss cheese. If I was eating nothing else, I could eat a large plate of it. However, with all the other foods, particularly that stuffing, which I crave, I only could manage a taste.

This year, I will be roasting the cauliflower, and no one will miss the fatty cream and cheese because I am seasoning with flavorful herbs and spices. I know my daughters will be happy. They don’t enjoy the fatty foods and prefer the vegetables in their natural state, and not drowning in a creamy sauce.

Please, don’t limit yourself to cauliflower. There’s a world of delicious vegetables available. You can roast broccoli, peppers, carrots, or any other root vegetable. It’s so easy and there’s no fuss.

Roasted Vegetables

1 large head cauliflower

2 pounds multi-colored potatoes, or any variety

1 pound carrots

Or the vegetables of your choice

Seasoning

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ tsp shallot salt

1 tablespoon dried parsley

2 tablespoons dried chives

Mix together in a small bowl the sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, shallot salt, parsley, and chives.

*I doubled the seasoning recipe since I was making cauliflower and potato and carrots.

Using two separate large bowls, fill one with the cauliflower and the other with the carrots and potatoes. Drizzle each with olive oil and toss thoroughly to coat. If the cauliflower is extra large, you may need to add another tablespoon of olive oil to coat evenly. Do not saturate with oil. Sprinkle the seasoning into both bowls and toss to coat. Place on a shallow parchment lined baking dish or cookie sheet. Roast for 40 minutes at 400º

** For roasting beets – wash the beets, cutting the tips off each end. Drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on the beets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place in a baking pan. Bake at 400º for 40 minutes for medium size or one hour for large beets. After, unwrap the foil and cool. The skins will peel off easily.