Hellas Yeah!

14 Jan

I love Greek food.

For a brief, shining period, my work lunches were blissfully delicious. One day, *poof* a Greek restaurant appeared a few blocks away from my office.

On the bridge, heading home

I went in for a Greek salad. I got back to the office and figured there had to be some mistake. There was no lettuce. The next time I went back I told the guy behind the counter. He laughed. “That’s a real Greek salad,” he said, “no lettuce. Never any lettuce.” It wasn’t my thing. So I tried another of their salads, this time with lettuce, and scallions and dill and olives and feta cheese and the world’s most tender, fragrant grilled chicken. I was in love.

But woman cannot live on salad alone. So I ventured into Greek soups. Avgolemono. Chicken, rice, eggs, lemon… What’s not to love? And it was. Love. I became a Seinfeld-esque regular. I didn’t even have to voice my order. I’d walk in, and they’d already be preparing my soup and salad.

It was so good I even violated my cardinal rule of work lunch places: Never go there on the weekends. I had to take Isaac. He had to have the salad, and the soup, and all the other lovely, fresh, delicious things they cooked there. He loved it as much as I did.

And then, one day *poof* Greek Village was gone.

Paper Whites at home

I went to get lunch, and the grate was down. The equipment was gone. I had been there the week before! I rattled the grate, looked to the heavens and wailed, “Why God? Why!?!” Okay, maybe it wasn’t that traumatic, but it is true. My work lunches have never been the same, so it’s been a nice surprise to discover a place out here in Bay Ridge that is just as good, but with a twist.

It’s called Pegasus and is known for its breakfasts; for pancakes and eggs and bacon, a concept I will never understand. But perhaps that’s just because I don’t care for breakfast foods in a breakfast context. I’d much rather break my fast on a salad, or sushi, or a sandwich or, heck, even leftover pasta.

Football Mums, at home

But I digress…. What Pegasus should be known for is the dishes the owner has put on the menu that remind him of his homeland, Cyprus. When we moved here last winter we became addicted to his avgolemono which he promptly stopped serving the minute the weather turned warm (the menu states that it is not served in summer).

Nonetheless it was heartbreaking. So we went back the first weekend of autumn. But alas, it was still too hot. And then for no known reason, we stopped trying. Until a few weeks ago. It was chilly and we were hungry, so rather than wait for a table we sat at the counter. I looked at the menu, it was different… And there, under the panini section was one of the most beautiful words in the culinary lexicon, “Halloumi.”

Salad

As Isaac and I dived into our bowls of lemony, creamy chicken soup the owner wandered over and peered into our bowls. “How do you know Greek soup?” he asked. Between slurps I got out a version of my tale of woe. “Oh, if you like Greek food, you must try panini number 5,” he said. I set my spoon down with a contented sigh and replied, “That’s what I ordered! I love halloumi!” I swear I saw a tear sparkle in the old man’s eye. “You know halloumi? It is the cheese of my homeland!”

And so we chatted between bites about authenticity and pancakes and cheese. At the end of our meal, the owner slipped away and returned with a shy smile and a plate of cheese. Special cheese. Drizzled in olive oil and dusted with oregano. “The very best feta in the world!” he beamed, “My personal supply, imported from Greece. Try it!” And so we did. It was the most fantastic feta I’ve ever eaten. Simultaneously creamy, and yet old, with hints of the barnyard and the very best Vermont aged cheddar. We rolled out vowing to go back as soon as possible.

Greekesque Spinach Pie

Which turned out to be yesterday. It was a struggle. Our new mattress came an hour and a half early, so it took two tries to get a chance to sit down and eat. But we did. Avgolemono and halloumi, more friendly banter and a deeper understanding of why making avgolemono in summer is a bad idea (so much whisking). In fact, the food was so good, it wasn’t enough.

After lunch we walked around the corner to the Greek imports place and bought the fixings for dinner. Basically anything that struck our fancies. Phyllo. Olives. Cheeses. Olive Oil. Almonds. I caramelized some onions and garlic, olives and a hot dried chile, added spinach, threw in slivered almonds and crumbles of a hard Bulgarian goat’s milk feta or sirene then wrapped it all in layers of phyllo and baked until golden and delicious. My only regret is that I didn’t throw in a handful of raisins.

Radish, by the dining room light

Isaac concocted a salad of lettuce, radishes and dill (the radish/dill combo may be my new favorite flavor in the world). The meal was a riff on everything that is delicious about the cooking of the Aegean. So many people think only of 50s era diner food when they think about Greek food (including some elder members of my family, you know who you are) which is a shame.

Greek food is just as sophisticated, nuanced and delicious as Italian or Turkish food. If it’s been awhile since you tried some, go on, give Greece a chance.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Greekesque Spinach Pie.

Greekesque Spinach Pie

prep time: 15 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour (most inactive)

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, sliced
  • a few cloves of Garlic, minced (to taste)
  • 18 Greek Olives, a mix of flavors and colors is best
  • 1 hot dried Chile, chopped
  • 3 bunches of Spinach (enough to tightly pack a large colander) washed, dried and torn into pieces
  • a small handful of Slivered Almonds
  • 1/2 a block of Bulgarian Goat’s Milk Feta, cut into small chunks
  • Salt & Pepper
  • dried Oregano
  • thawed country-style Phyllo

Cook’s Note: I would highly recommend adding a handful of raisins to this recipe. I know I wish I had. The pie will be delicious without them, but perfect with them.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a deep sautée pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for a few minutes then add the garlic, olives and chile. Cook, stirring frequently until the ingredients begin to catch on the bottom of the pan, 15-20 minutes (or more, it all depends on your stove).

Add some spinach to the pan until it comes to the top, then clamp the lid on and cook until the leaves have wilted. Mix them spinach into into the onion mixture, scraping up the delicious brown bits on the bottom of the pan until fully incorporated. Add more spinach and repeat the process, wilting and stirring until all the spinach is in the pan. Turn off the heat.

Add the almonds and feta (and the raisins if you’re using them). Mix to incorporate and set aside.

Lay out a length of plastic wrap and a cotton kitchen towel on a dry, flat surface. Carefully unroll the phyllo on top of the plastic wrap. Carefully seperate out a few sheets (4-6) of phyllo and set aside on the towel. Roll the remaining phyllo back up and wrap tightly in the plastic wrap. Stash in the freezer.

Quickly coat each layer of phyllo with oil or melted butter then stack the next sheet on top. When done place on an un-oiled baking sheet, spoon the spinach mixture into the middle and fold the phyllo into an “envelope” sealing the edges with water. Brush the surface with melted butter or olive oil (the olive oil will nor provide a shiny, golden crust, but works just fine) and place in the oven to bake until golden(-ish) brown and delicious, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve with a salad and a fruity rose or white wine. Enjoy!

20 Responses to “Hellas Yeah!”

  1. Ann January 14, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Mmmm…! I love Greek food too! We have a semi-new place in the burg that we really like. Must drop by again soon.

    Your spinach pie looks fabulous.

  2. Toni January 14, 2008 at 11:17 am #

    I adore Greek food, and I love your take on it. I had forgotten about these lovely phyllo “empanadas” – so versatile, so delicious! I know the direction of my next cooking adventure!
    BTW, they really don’t make salad with lettuce in Greece. Or Turkey, for that matter. They’re into composed salads, and when it’s super hot in the summertime, and all the veggies are fresh and local, they are a real treat!

  3. Lydia January 14, 2008 at 11:48 am #

    Oh, I am with you 1000 percent — Greek food is wonderful! You are so lucky to have a good Greek restaurant nearby, with an owner who truly cares about his food. I’m lucky to have a Greek friend nearby, who truly loves to cook and share his food!

  4. Jennifer Hess January 14, 2008 at 11:51 am #

    My hometown of Detroit has a plethora of good Greek restaurants, and I miss them so. This all sounds wonderful!

  5. clumsy January 14, 2008 at 12:53 pm #

    Oh I love Greek food too!! I was lucky to have a close Greek friend when I was younger—so I never underestimated it. Haven’t had any in a while though, I’ll have to make this spinach pie. My family has a similar Italian recipe and it’s interesting to see the little nuances that make them different–parm instead of feta, mushrooms instead of olive, etc. :)

  6. French Laundry At Home January 14, 2008 at 8:43 pm #

    Radishes and dill (with sea salt) is one of my favorite snacks. Now you’re making me crave Greek food and the best place to get it in DC is 30 minutes from my house. Add that to the to-do list for tomorrow….

  7. Mary January 14, 2008 at 9:14 pm #

    Did you tell the man that you make your own feta? You probably would have been worshipped as a goddess.

  8. Marusya January 14, 2008 at 10:43 pm #

    ha ha! Give Greece a chance! Lovely story, movingly written. Will you post the filo thingy recipe? (or did you, and I just missed it)?

  9. Marusya January 14, 2008 at 10:45 pm #

    Oh OK I just scrolled up and saw the recipe – can’t wait to try it…am inspired by the creativity of dreaming up something like that. I am always intimidated by phyllo.

  10. ann January 15, 2008 at 7:56 am #

    Ann — I really should hang out in Williamsburg more often… There’s so much cool stuff there…

    Toni — Oh! That is good to know! I thought he was telling the truth, but I was just so confused :-) I love composed salads too. The Aegean is full of culinary wonders!

    Lydia — I’d take the friend over the restaurant any day :-)

    Jennifer — Detroit has a large Greek population? Hey! I learned something today, thanks!

    Clumsy — Mmmmmm… Your Italian recipe sounds wonderful. Now that I’ve got all this phyllo hanging around, I’m planning to use it. Maybe I’ll do a riff on your recipe soon.

    FLAH — That’s what I’m here for… To help people add to their to-do lists! You knew that was my secret motive, didn’t you?

    Mary — We’re not that close yet ;-) I figure I’ll bring him some the next time I make some. I bet he’d appreciate that!

    Marusya — Thanks! I’m glad someone found my stupid pun funny :-) I’ve always been intimidated by phyllo too, but it really wasn’t that difficult, you just need a good amount of open space.

  11. Amelia January 15, 2008 at 9:00 am #

    “It’s called Pegasus and is known for its breakfasts; for pancakes and eggs and bacon, a concept I will never understand. But perhaps that’s just because I don’t care for breakfast foods in a breakfast context. I’d much rather break my fast on a salad, or sushi, or a sandwich or, heck, even leftover pasta.”

    Exactly!!!! I have so many arguments about this! I like breakfast food, but it gets very old, very fast. That and I am starving after one bowl of cereal. Glad to see someone else who raids the fridge for breakfast.

  12. izzy's mama January 15, 2008 at 12:43 pm #

    Yum.. It all sounds marvelous though I must beg to differ about the breakfast issue, which I could eat all day!

  13. mary January 15, 2008 at 3:25 pm #

    I agree on the breakfast thing – I’d rather eat cold pizza than cold cereal any day of the week. I have been on a Saturday kick lately of going to this Turkish place by my house for their “Turkish breakfast” it’s got a tangle of spinach topped with a fried egg and some excellent feta (that creamy, sheep’s milk kind) and has a side of sliced tomato, cucumber, olives and a few stuffed grape leaves. This stuff is my kind of food. I’m so happy to be back near Detroit, the Greek town there has awesome restaurants (as Jennifer said above). So, I say we try making our own avgolemono, what do you say?

  14. Julie January 15, 2008 at 5:04 pm #

    I have so much to cover in my comments I am resorting to bullet points — or the nearest I can come to bullet points on WordPress.

    -Pegusus sounds like a great restaurant. Baltimore has a small Greek neighborhood called Greektown. I haven’t been in ages but your post reminds me that I should.

    -I’m interested to see so many other non-traditional-breakfast-eaters out there, although no one has mentioned leftover Chinese takeout eaten cold which is one of my favorite breakfasts.

    -Your new camera takes great pictures. Very nice.

    -The spinach pie looks good. I’ve never worked with phyllo so I think you’re very adventurous.

    -Love “Give Greece a chance” and also “hellas yeah!”

  15. Christina January 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm #

    Sounds great. My old neighbors were Greek, and I really miss their home cooking (as well as the two of them for that matter). I’m not sure one can find a much better nibble-food that really, really good feta. I love the description you give of the restaurant owner’s generous gift of feta.

    Have a great rest of your week.

  16. ann January 16, 2008 at 9:09 am #

    Amelia — Much like religion and politics, I’ve learned to stop fighting with people about breakfast. Too touchy, heated and prone to flare ups… That doesn’t mean however that I’ve stopped inserting well placed barbs on the topic ;-) Glad to have another ally in this fight!

    Izzy’s Mama — I love breakfast for dinner! Isn’t that strange?

    mary — Ooooh! That sounds amazing! We recently discovered an Israeli breakfast place that serves something similar, but instead of a tangle of spinach, it’s a tangle of some sort of fried dough with really spicy tomato sauce, eggs, pickles, labnah and harissa. You. Would. Love. It. Did you see that Lydia posted a recipe for Avgolemono the other day? I’m totally into making some!

    Julie — I love bullet points!! I’m honored ;-)

    – I’ve never eaten cold Chinese food out of the box. I bet I’d love that. I think Isaac has said that’s a favorite treat of his.

    – Thanks for noticing my sad attempts at Hellenic humour. I actually spurted out “Hellas Yeah! That was great!” as we were washing the dishes after dinner. I’m a massive Classics dork, obviously.

    Christina — Feta is amazing. I’m so happy there’s more left over. I’m planning on having it and some olives for dinner tomorrow night. It’s going to be great :-)

  17. Terry B January 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm #

    Ann—This sounds lovely as usual. Chicago’s Greektown is just touristy and annoying enough that we usually give it a skip. May have to seek out Greek food elsewhere here. At the risk of blaspheming [olives are practically a requirement of all Greek foods, I know], I might substitute some capers for the olives. Olives just seem to take over any dish you put them in, but the capers would add a nice, tart zing without that big olive flavor.

  18. nick January 17, 2008 at 2:18 pm #

    That is such a beautiful story. I just imagine myself there eating all that lovely food. Wow.

  19. K January 17, 2008 at 6:50 pm #

    But did you ever find out what happened to Greek Village? Inquiring minds and all that…

    I’m a sucker for moussaka, but it’s so hard to find good moussaka here in Houston. I’m afraid to learn to make it, because I fear that I’d never make anything else ever again and end up hideously bloated and yet also malnourished. :D

  20. ann January 18, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Terry — Oh! I don’t think that’s blaspheming at all! Capers would be a lovely substitution in this. I just happen to be an olive fiend. The more things that taste of olives in my life, the better!

    Nick — Thanks for stopping by.

    K — Ugh! I wish I knew! It makes me so sad that they’re gone. They were such a nice family too. And to be replaced by an expensive lingerie shop (you know, the kind where men go to buy stuff for women that are not their wives) is just insulting. That’s hilarious about moussaka. It is delicious and addictive. Best to protect yourself ;-)

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