Diane Kochilas Glorious Greek Cooking

Diane Kochilas Glorious Greek Cooking
Greek cooking is for health and pleasure.

Healthy Greek Recipes for Everyday by Diane Kochilas

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Okra: Love it, Or Hate It?

Greeks love it and we cook it up in really tasty ways.

When it comes to okra, most people either love it or hate it. Most people also associate okra with the cooking of the American South and with African cuisine. Greece is one of the few European countries where okra is held in high esteem, at least among those who love it.
Right now, there is plenty of it growing in my garden on Ikaria, that Blue-Zone island in the northern Aegean where people live long thanks in great part to their simple, healthy diet—dishes based on seasonal vegetables with plenty of olive oil.
There are dozens of regional recipes calling okra. The simplest is a pan-Hellenic okra stew, with summer tomatoes, garlic, onions, and olive oil. In Greek that’s called bamies yiahni.  The best regional Greek okra dishes are found in Macedonia, specifically in Naoussa, one of Greece’s premier wine-making regions. There, okra is stewed but married with verjuice, the puckish juice of unripe grapes, which happens to be in season right around the time okra is, before the grapes ripen and sweeten on the vines.
But okra really shines in the cooking of Crete. There, okra is roasted with whole or filleted fish, usually some sort of bass, and it’s braised with the island’s sour, pebbly xinohondro, a granular wheat-based product that is made by coooking cracked wheat and yogurt or buttermilk, drying it out in the sun at the end of August, then breaking it up into hard, bite-sized pieces. Okra is also married with meat, especially lamb and goat, and  with chicken in slow-braised dishes that call for lots of excellent Greek olive oil.
I am sharing with you two of my favorite okra recipes.
Caveat: Most people who dislike okra dislike it because of its slimy texture. Greeks remedy this with a dose of vinegar. Use a sharp paring knife and trim the ring around the top of the okra, just under its stubby stem. Rinse and drain, then place the okra in a basin and sprinkle generously with red wine vinegar. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, rinse, drain and cook according to specific recipes.
Note: If you’re buying fresh okra, look for small pieces; large okra is woody.

Naoussa Style Okra with Verjuice

From my book: The Northern Greek Wine-Roads Cookbook
Verjuice—the tart but fruity juice of unripe grapes—was a substitute for lemons when the fruit was out of season in the wine-growing regions of northern Greece, and especially in Naoussa, where this lovely, old, unusual recipe is from. You may, of course, substitute lemon juice or even a little northern Greek vinegar, to achieve the desired acidity, although both are a little harsher on the palate than agourida, as verjuice is called in Greek.

6 to 8 servings

1 ½ kilos (3 lbs.) small, fresh okra
1 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin northern Greek olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ kilo (1 lb.) firm ripe tomatoes, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼-1/3 cup verjuice
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Trim the okra by cutting away the tough rim at the top. Wash and drain. Place the okra in a large bowl and toss with the vinegar. This helps firm up its slippery texture. Set aside for 1 hour, then drain.
2. In a large skillet heat one-third cup of the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, stirring until wilted. Add the okra and grated tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add enough water just to come up level with the okra. Cover and simmer over low heat about 1 hour, until the okra is very soft. About 10 minutes before removing from the heat, add the verjuice and parsley, and season with pepper and additional salt if necessary. Just before serving pour on remaining olive oil.

Cretan-Style Fish Baked with Okra

4 servings

1 ½ pounds fresh small okra
1 ¼ cups red wine vinegar
One 2 ½ - 3-pound sea bream, sea bass, or snapper, cleaned, gutted, and scaled
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8-10 Santorini plum tomatoes, to taste, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped (canned are fine)
½ cup dry white wine
1 bunch fresh dill, snipped

1. Trim the okra: Remove the tough upper rims and a bit of the stems. Rinse, drain, and marinate in the vinegar in a large bowl for 30 min.
2. Season the fish inside and out with the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the onions, stirring, until wilted, 7-8 min. Add the garlic, then the okra, stirring gently to combine. Pour in the tomatoes and wine, cover the pot, and simmer over medium-low heat until the okra is tender but al dente, 35-40 min. About 5 min. before removing from the heat, add the dill.
4. Spread half the okra evenly on the bottom of a baking pan large enough to hold the okra and fish. Place the fish over it and spread the remaining okra around and over the fish. Bake, covered, until the fish is flaky, about 25 min. Serve hot.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Meatless Monday - Salmon & Greens Avgolemono

Salmon & Greens Avgolemono

This dish is a version of the classic Greek fricasse, which is basically protein (usually lamb, pork, goat or fish) cooked with greens and married with avgolemono.

4 servings

2 lbs./1 kilo chard, trimmed, coarsely chopped, washed, and drained
1 cup Greek extra-virgin olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed, chopped, washed and drained
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups fish stock or water
2 large eggs, large, separated
4-6 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried Greek oregano
2 lbs. (1 kilo) salmon steaks
Parsley, chopped, for garnish
Raw olive oil and a little extra lemon juice

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the chard for one minute; drain and wring dry. *

Heat 150 ml olive oil in a wide pot and sauté the leeks and spring onion over medium heat until soft, about 8 - 10 minutes, stirring. Add the wine. As soon as it steams up, add the chard. Sauté all together for 2-3 minutes. Add 2 cups of stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the lemon juice.

Preheat the oven to 190˚C (400˚F).

Make the avgolemono sauce, which is basically an egg-lemon-broth liaison: Whisk the egg white to a stiff meringue. Beat the yolks separately until just blended and slowly add the meringue, whisking gently. Using a ladle, add the reduced (hot pot) juice to the whipped egg, pouring the liquid in a slow steady stream and whisking all the while. Pour the avgolemono back into the pot, tilt from side to side to spread evenly and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil a shallow baking pan and add the salmon steaks, remaining stock, salt, pepper, oregano and 2 tablespoons more of lemon juice. Bake for about 10 - 12 minutes, or until fork tender and flaky.

To serve: Place a few spoonfuls of the greens (chard) and avgolemono in deep, rimmed dishes. Place 1 salmon steak on top. Take whatever remaining liquid is still in baking pan and pulse it at high speed in a food processor. Drizzle this, together with raw olive oil, over the fish. Garnish with parsley and serve.

* Here's a restaurant tip for getting as much liquid as possible out of the blanched greens: Place all the blanched greens in a kitchen towel and pull the ends together like a satchel. Wring dry over the sink.

Note: As for the greens, you can use any combination of sweet greens, including spinach. You can also add thinly sliced fennel bulb, dill, parsley, shallots, onions, and/or scallions to the greens and saute.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Clean Monday, March 7th this year, is the start of Greek Lent, the 49-day period of abstention from animal products that also happens to be the time of year when some of the tastiest Greek foods are made. 
One of them, a classic of the Lenten table, is taramosalata. This is the spread made with cod or carp roe. Recipes vary from region to region, but basically a base of either stale bread, potato or blanched almonds is whipped with the fish roe, olive oil, and lemon juice until the mixture emulsifies and becomes smooth and creamy. You can add garlic, scallions, and a pickled pepper or two. You can also make it light and airy by whipping a little water or seltzer into the mixture. 
In Greece you can find two basic types of tarama: white and pink. The former contains no food coloring, while the pink stuff has been dyed to make it more "attractive" to the average consumer. White tarama is more expensive. In the U.S. I have  only seen the pink stuff. 
Serve taramosalata with warm pita triangles, roasted or boiled beets, seafood, and raw vegetables. It's also tasty dolloped on top of a bowl of simple chick pea soup. My friend Argyro Barbarigou of Papadakis restaurant serves her chick pea soup that way. 


Makes 8-10 meze servings

2 one-inch thick slices of stale country-style white bread (not commercial sliced bread), crusts removed
½ cup blanched almonds
1 small garlic clove
150 gr. (5 oz.) tarama (carp or cod roe), preferably white

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



Mythology & Ancient History
•         Cheesemaking is an ancient art in Greece
•         According to Greek mythology, Apollo’s son Aristaios taught humans how to make cheese.
•         Ancient Greeks loved goat’s milk cheeses, sheep’s milk cheeses, soft, sharp cheeses like feta, and even cheese cakes!
•         Many of the cheeses Greeks enjoy today are remarkably similar to those mentioned in ancient literature

Geography and Greek Cheese
•         Greece, with its 2,000 islands and mountainous mainland, has been home to roaming shepherds since time immemorial.
•         Shepherds, of course, use their milk to make cheese…
•         Every region in Greece—sometimes individual villages, too—produces unique, local cheese.
•         Many of these regional cheeses are products of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)


Learn how to make a greens pie with commercial phyllo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZxpsjAUuMY

Learn how to make a leek and greens pie with homemade phyllo:


Phyllo scares people. Even the most skilled cooks think that the paper-thin dough is hard to master. True, the phyllo that comes in very, very thin sheets, packaged and sold either frozen or chilled, is, indeed, very difficult to make. Although it is basically just a combination of flour, water, and salt, it requires two sets of hands, a pastry table, and skill at pulling it until it is gossamer and silky. Leave that stuff to the masters. (New Yorkers--Poseidon Bakery on Ninth Avenue still makes fresh phyllo. Athenians: Phyllo workshops are a dying breed, but a few still exist. I will post the list soon.)

Most homemade phyllo is thicker and actually pretty easy to make. While it is, in my opinion, far superior to the commercial stuff, the packaged frozen or chilled phyllo is easy to use and very versatile.

Here are a few tips, followed by a recipe for homemade, rustic phyllo pastry. Recipes for savory pies follow. And, please take a look at two of my videos, one in which I use the commercial stuff and another where you can see the method for rolling out your own.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Meatless Monday: Northern Greek Braised Greens and Potatoes (Bonamatsi)


This dish is the whole Mediterranean in a pot. It’s a classic village dish, homey and healthy. In the original version there is typically no nutmeg and no lemon garnish, but both add depth and balance to the final dish.
For 4 to -6 servings

3 large, firm, ripe tomatoes
2/3 cup northern Greek extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried
8-10 small, preferably new, potatoes
½ kilo (1 lb.) fresh, young spinach, trimmed, washed, spun dry and coarsely chopped
½ cup snipped fresh dill
½ cup snipped fresh fennel
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grating of nutmeg
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1. Trim the base off the tomatoes. Place an upright cheese grater inside a large bowl and grate the tomatoes along the coarse holes until all you are left with is the flattened, circular tomato skin, which is discarded.
2. Heat 1/3 cup of olive oil in a medium sauce pan and sauté the onions until tender. Add the garlic and stir. Add the grated tomatoes, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Place in a sauce pan{1. Is that another, additional sauce pan? 2. Also: at which point are the grated tomatoes added?} with the olive oil, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Simmer over low heat, with lid ajarslightly covered, until the tomato mixture is thick, ickened, about 2015 minutes.
3. Peel the potatoes. Rinse and pat dry. In a large, deep, wide skillet or heavy-bottomed wide, shallow pot, heat the rest of the olive oil and brown the potatoes on all sides until lightly golden and about half cooked.
4. Add the spinach to potatoes to the tomato sauce  and toss in the spinach, in batches, until it loses most of its volume and is wilted. Add the  and the herbs. Toss gently to combine. Add the potatoes to the mixture. Toss again, careful not to break up the potatoes. Stir gently with the lid off until wilted. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until most of the liquid from the spinach has cooked off and the the contents of the pot are thick and the potatoes tender. Serve with lemon wedges if desired.