skordalia | Greek garlic dip

Skordalia has been the source of embarrassment to me on two occasions.

First, because I was berated by an elderly Greek cook for ordering skordalia without also ordering fish (traditionally the dip is served along with fish, often bakaliaros (cod) battered and fried).  I, like thousands of visitors to Greece before and after me, liked dipping my bread in it and could eat it every day if I weren’t concerned about the attendant ‘fragrance.’

Secondly, because I tried to make it for a party once back home, and following the directions from some random Greek cookbook, put just-boiled potatoes into my mother’s Cuisinart food processor, and promptly turned the entire batch into something resembling caulk.  I had to tell my guests – to whom I had talked up this particular dish – that unless they were in the mood to eat glue, they were going to have to do without skordalia.

Despite these unpleasant beginnings, skordalia is both easy and fast to make, and delicious with anything (not just fish).  You can eat it like a southern Greek – as a sauce for fish, like a tourist – slathered on bread, or like a northern Greek – forkfuls by itself.  However you eat it, you will agree that it’s absolutely heavenly, and since it won’t take five minutes out of your day, and you probably have all the ingredients on hand, don’t be put off by my past experiences.  I went through that so you don’t have to!

Skordalia gets its name from the Greek word for garlic (skordo / σκόρδο).  The ingredients are few, and several substitutions can be made.  I recommend my original recipe of course, but if you need to substitute, you will still love it.

This recipe makes the appropriate amount for two people.  If you have any sense, you’ll at least double it.  Because we are supposedly watching our waistlines (damn!), I didn’t (and of course regretted it).

Start with three pieces of plain old sliced bread; if it’s stale, that’s even better.  I used the cheap supermarket sliced white sandwich bread that had been sitting in my fridge since they last had a sale on it (a long time ago).  To keep it more frugal, I used the whole piece of bread.  However, if you are using a bread with a crispy crust, cut off the crust and use it in some other recipe (or just put it on the table and dip it into your skordalia!).  You can use any kind of bread (white, whole wheat, sandwich, French, Italian, etc.) as long as it doesn’t have seeds or other toppings/inclusions.

Put some water in a bowl.  Drop each slice into the water quickly, flip, take it out; repeat with all the slices.  When they’ve all been through once, put them through the water again the same way (you might need to add more water to your bowl).

Squeeze each piece of bread to remove the water.  You don’t have to go nuts with this, one or two squeezes per slice is fine.

Put the bread into your food processor.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a very large mortar and pestle (which of course is the traditional way), ideally one with a wooden pestle.  (Do you know which one is the mortar and which one is the pestle?  Heh.)  Add a tablespoon of garlic olive oil (or plain olive oil if you don’t have garlic olive oil) and run for just a few seconds.

Add in the walnuts with another tablespoon of garlic olive oil.  Run a few more seconds.

Add in the garlic (pressed) and the vinegar; process briefly.

Finally, add another tablespoon of garlic olive oil.

Run for about twenty seconds or until it’s really well combined and smooth.

Put it on a flat plate and put an olive in the middle, Greek-taverna-style.   (I know that looks like a date, but it’s really an olive.)

So what’s the deal with the potato I was talking about before?  Many recipes for skordalia use either all potato (instead of bread), or some of each.  Most restaurant recipes use potato and leave out the walnuts.  I prefer to use bread instead of potato because it’s much faster, there’s no risk of it turning into glue, and I think it tastes better (bread tends to hold onto its flavor better than potato against the other strong ingredients in the recipe).

I urge you not to leave out the walnuts, even though it about triples the cost of making it, because it absolutely makes the dish.  And if you find a restaurant that does use walnuts in their skordalia, eat there, because it’s probably a good restaurant!

Serve it with fish if you like.  I made it as part of a lavish spread for Greek Independence Day. My in laws have a lavraki connection (lavraki = European sea bass) and were able to get three of them for us for free, fresh!  This is my favorite Greek fish but only when I make it myself:  I bake it under the broiler at 180 degrees Celsius for exactly 25 minutes and no longer.  The Greek way of cooking this fish is to cook it until its done, and then cook it for another half hour or so.  But lavraki is best when it’s barely not raw.  The flesh is buttery, soft, and actually sweet.  It has a lot of little razor-sharp bones, but it’s worth it

The other things on the table were boiled poppy leaves (pictured above), bread, local olives, and of course skordalia.  It was a meal that would have cost at least €30 ($40) in a restaurant; it cost us about €2.  I would show you the whole thing but while looking at my photos, discovered some embarrassing crumbs on the table, so you’ll have to imagine it!

Serves 2

3 slices plain stale white sandwich bread (or equivalent of other non-seeded bread, crispy crusts removed)
3 tbsp garlic olive oil (or regular olive oil)
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup walnuts
3-5 garlic cloves, pressed

1.  Soak each slice of bread briefly on both sides in water; repeat; squeeze water out with hands.

2.  In a food processor, put in bread with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Pulse briefly.  Add walnuts and another tbsp olive oil; pulse briefly.  Add garlic and vinegar; pulse briefly.  Add final tbsp olive oil.  Process til smooth.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/2 of the total recipe:

383 calories
31g fat (4g saturated, 27g unsaturated)
22g carbohydrate
6g protein
2g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol (0% DV)
194mg sodium (8% DV)
140mg potassium (4% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
thiamin, phosphorus, selenium, iron, folate, manganese, and copper.

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