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The Cookstr 10: Ten Great Greek Recipes

March 16, 2010

Every country or region has a palette of ingredients that it paints its quintessential dishes from. Most country’s staples make us hungry; Greece’s makes us ravenous. It’s not an enormous palette, more of a focused one. Oregano, feta cheese, olives, lamb, lemon, garlic, creamy béchamel-like sauces, eggplant, spinach, seafood, capers, phyllo…but no matter how these ingredients are combined, it works and it works beautifully.

Ruth Reichl's Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio

We are enchanted, and something about the impending spring makes all of these ingredients and the way they are used really sing to us at this time of year. And clearly they speak to a lot of Cookstr contributors, too, who may or may not be Greek themselves, but are speaking the language with their cooking.

Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner's Taramasalata

We all know the phrase “bon appétit,” but this week we’re clinking glasses of ouzo and nodding to each other, Kalí óreksi! And loving every bite.

1. Crescent Dragonwagon’s Artichoke Soup Avgolemono. Avgolemono is actually Greek for the words “egg” and “lemon,” and it is these two ingredients that are the core of this brightly flavored soup, served all over the country. The yolks lightly thicken the broth, giving it a velvety texture, and chopped artichokes are a somewhat unorthodox but inspired addition.

2. Ruth Reichl’s Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio. Make way for the lasagna of Greece! A layer of pasta tossed with a meaty sauce is topped by another layer of pasta tossed with (steady now) a creamy cheese sauce, making this one of the richest and most compulsively alluring dishes to hit the πίνακας in a long time (that’s table, in case your Greek is rusty).

3. Jim Botsacos and Judith Choate’s Shrimp Saganaki with Tomato and Feta. The word saganaki means “little frying pan” and refers to the two-handled skillet that various dishes are cooked and served in. And sometimes the term is also used to describe the dishes cooked in the pan, which often include tomatoes, onions, and feta cheese. Misplaced your saganaki pan? Don’t let that stop you. You will not want to miss this snappy and very attractive shrimp dish.

4. Susanna Hoffman’s Moussaka. Like all national dishes, moussaka is a lightening rod of contention, with everyone feeling strongly about the “right” way to make it. This version is very eggplant-centric; offers the choice between ground lamb or beef; and is seasoned with allspice, cinnamon, oregano, nutmeg and garlic. Finally, it’s topped off with a Greek version of béchamel sauce. You know how in cartoons, the curly white aroma swirl drifts in and hooks the hungry cat by the nose and he floats into the kitchen? Yeah, it’s like that.

5. Rick Rodgers’ Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce. Dips and sauces are a big part of Greek cuisine, often appearing as part of a meze, or appetizer platter. This cool cucumber number is known as tzatziki, and it is condiment, salad, and spread all at the same time. This recipe calls for dill, though mint is the other oft-used herb.

6. Terry Golson’s Greek Chicken Casserole. It’s always nice to find a casserole that is light and satisfying at the same time, not to mention pretty darn quick and easy. This Greek-inspired chicken dish has archetypal seasonings of oregano, garlic and a sprinkle of feta.

7. Sara Moulton’s Grilled Swordfish with Greek Salad Salsa. In Greece, Greek salads don’t actually contain lettuce, just ripe tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese, and salty olives. This salsa starts with those elements, and with a few extra add-ins becomes a crunchy topping for meaty swordfish steaks, or any fish or grilled meat or chicken.

8. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Taramasalata. Only in a country surrounded by ocean would a dish based on caviar be an everyday appetizer. Taramasalata, most often made from salted and cured cod or carp roe mixed with moistened bread crumbs, is a salty, creamy, homestyle mousse. You can find tarama, the cured roe, at Mediterranean markets.

9. Sarah Leah-Chase’s Lemony Leg of Lamb, Greek Style. Lamb holds the title of best-loved meat in Greece, and shows up in many forms. A gorgeous roast is maybe the most impressive, and this one–though simple to put together–permeates the kitchen with aromas of lemon, garlic, rosemary, and oregano. Be sure to let it sit before carving so that the meat can reabsorb the juices.

10. Elinor Klivans’ Three-Cheese, Spinach, and Onion Potpie. This is a party-size rendition of spanakopita, the traditional phyllo pastries stuffed with spinach and feta. Sometimes spanakopita are made in triangle-shaped bite size meze, and sometimes the filling is baked into a casserole and cut into squares. This three cheese, make-ahead recipe serves a happy crowd.

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