cucumber gazpacho

It’s still too hot to cook, so today I made one of my favorite soups:  cold cucumber gazpacho.  It’s very easy, and no heat is involved in the preparation.

Trim and peel the cucumbers.  Slice in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.  Cut into cubes.

In a food processor, combine the cubed cucumber, the vinegar, garlic olive oil, milk, 3-4 basil leaves, salt, and pepper.  Puree.

Divide into two bowls.

Dice the feta and tomato; slice the basil.  Sprinkle over the soup and add a few pieces of pepper.  Serve with barley rusks or crusty bread.  (Note:  the pine nuts are a good addition, but they are not very frugal so I left them off, and it was delicious without them also.)

Cucumber Gazpacho
serves 2

500-600g cucumbers, trimmed, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp garlic olive oil (or 2 tbsp olive oil + 1 pressed garlic clove)
2 tbsp milk (any fat content)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper, ground
4 basil leaves

For garnish:
1/2 medium tomato or 1 small tomato, diced
6 slices bell pepper, any color
30g feta cheese, diced
2 basil leaves, sliced
Optional:  1 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts

1.  In a food processor, puree together cucumber, vinegar, olive oil, milk, four basil leaves, salt, and pepper.  Divide into bowls.

2.  Top with the tomato, feta, and basil.  If using, sprinkle the pine nuts on top.

3.  Serve cold with barley rusks or crusty bread.

You might also like:
Greek lentil soup
Peas, Greek style


Israeli food is good for heat waves

It’s hot here in Greece.  Yes, I knew it would be hot when I moved here.  But… honestly, it’s hotter than I bargained for.  It’s been so hot that I’ve already been swimming in the sea six times.  (If you know me, you might know that I never swim before the end of July because the water is too cold.)  It took me 13 years before I finally broke down and started wearing shorts here in Greece (Greek women don’t usually wear shorts because “shorts are for 8 year old boys” and since Greek women are my style icons, I stuck to this rule) but this past week, I’ve been wearing shorts every day.  Shorts I stole from my husband, of course.

And I just hate cooking in the heat.  I even hate eating in the heat, and that’s really saying something.  But we invited some friends over for dinner, and that meant that I had to make something for them to eat.  Considering the fact that lately we’ve been eating tomatoes and cucumbers while fanning each other, I knew I had to make some food that wouldn’t heat up the house, or me, or the people eating it.  So I decided on Israeli food.

Israeli food is perfect for Greece because it uses ingredients that are readily available and cheap in Greece – both are eastern Mediterranean countries so they have similar crops – and Israel is hot too.  (None of these dishes are particular to Israel, by the way.  I’m calling them Israeli because I learned them from Israeli people, sites, and books.)

I decided to stick to the big classics for two reasons:  our guests are very new to Israeli food, and we had all the ingredients for all this stuff on hand.  (That’s an extremely important consideration for me at the moment.)  I made a classic tabouleh, which is great because at no point is any part of it cooked, and it’s served cold.  It’s a refreshing and cooling food perfect for heat waves.  I made classic Israeli hummus, which we all love so much – really, is there anyone who doesn’t love homemade hummus?  And of course my pillowy pita bread which was taught to me by an Israeli friend.  And finally a couscous and chickpea salad.  A great thing about couscous is that it also barely needs to be cooked.  I cooked the chickpeas for the hummus and the salad at the same time in the pressure cooker – quick and very little heat in the kitchen.  If you have canned chickpeas, you can avoid cooking altogether – except for the pitas.  There’s no way around that one.  The pitas need to be in the oven.  Sorry.

Our guests loved these dishes, and they’re so simple that you can make this spread on a weeknight – even the pita isn’t that time consuming because, if it’s hot outside, you can put the dough outside to rise and it only takes half the time!

First, soak the chickpeas.  This whole spread is to feed four people, but I made a lot of everything so that we could eat leftovers for a few days.  This will make a lot of food.  I used 500g of chickpeas.  Just put the chickpeas in a bowl with water in the morning before you go to work and when you come home, they’ll be ready.

I used 150g of bulgur wheat.  It’s a lot… trust me.  It might not look like much but once it plumps up, you get a huge bowl of tabouleh.  Cut the tomatoes directly into a large bowl.  This is important:  don’t use a cutting board!  Try to cut them into very small pieces.  It’s not easy because of the bowl but do the best you can.  The reason for this is to keep all the tomato juice in the bowl.  Stir in the bulgur and mix well.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the pita bread dough.  The reason I do it this way is so that the bulgur absorbs all the tomato juice.

The end result is that the bulgur is perfectly softened and there is no extra water.  (Many tabouleh recipes say to cook the bulgur or to soak it in hot water – this is not necessary if you do it this way.)

After about an hour, add the mint, lemon juice, onion, and parsley to a large bowl.  Stir in the tomato and bulgur mixture.  Add some salt and the olive oil.  Stir well and cover.  I don’t refrigerate it because I don’t like the taste of refrigerated tomatoes.  It’s cooling enough without being refrigerated.

To make the hummus, drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas.  Cook them in the pressure cooker covered by about an inch of water for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Reserve about a cup of the cooking water.  Drain and rinse. It’s not necessary to remove their skins.

In a food processor, combine 3/4 of the chickpeas (the other 1/4 will be used in the couscous salad) with the lemon juice, garlic, tahini, salt, and cumin.  Process until smooth.  Add a bit of the cooking water if it’s too thick.

(To reduce the calories drastically, you can omit the oil altogether and use PB2 peanut butter powder instead of the tahini.  You will probably need considerably more of the cooking water to reach the right consistency.  If you make it this way, it won’t be authentic and it’s not as good as the real thing (I’m just being honest!), but you can eat the hummus completely guilt free in pretty massive quantities.  I’ve been making low calorie hummus that way for years and years.)

Stir a few tablespoons of the remaining cooked chickpeas into the hummus and put on a plate.  Sprinkle fresh parsley over the top.

To make the couscous salad:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, quickly saute the onions, garlic, and curry until golden.  Add in the chickpeas and stir well.

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.  Stir in the couscous, rehydrated raisins (to rehydrate raisins, soak them in very hot water for about 10 minutes, then drain), and sundried tomatoes.  Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff the couscous with a fork, and stir in the contents of the frying pan, along with the lemon zest and mint.    Season with salt and pepper, and a bit of lemon juice.  This can be served cold or warm.

I love this couscous.  It was handmade by the 87 year old woman who lives in the house next-door to where S grew up.  Although no longer neighbors, he still drives out to see her at every possible opportunity.  She offered to teach my mother-in-law and me how to make it this summer.  I’m very excited about this!  It doesn’t sound easy.

And that’s your Israeli feast!  We enjoyed it quite a lot … for several days!

Classic Tabouleh

150g bulgur wheat
2 medium tomatoes
1 small onion (or 1 green onion, including green part), chopped
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, rinsed, chopped
2 tbsp fresh mint, rinsed, chopped – or 2 tsp dried mint
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
pinch cinnamon

1.  Working in a large bowl, cut the tomatoes into very small pieces.  Stir the bulgur into the tomato and its juice.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for an hour.

2.  Stir in the onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, and salt.  Cover again and set aside until ready to serve (at least half an hour).

Classic Israeli Hummus

300g dried chickpeas
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup garlic olive oil (or 1/4 cup olive oil + 4 garlic cloves, pressed)
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
several sprigs of parsley, chopped

1.  Soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours in water.  Drain and rinse.  Place in a pressure cooker and cover with 1″/2cm water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Reserve the cooking water.  Rinse chickpeas with cool water.

2.  In a food processor, combine almost all the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic olive oil, cumin, and salt.  Process, adding cooking water in small amounts as needed, to reach a smooth consistency.

3.  Stir in the reserved whole chickpeas.  Arrange on a serving plate.  Sprinkle the parsley over the top.  (Optional:  drizzle additional olive oil over the hummus.)  Serve warm or cool.

Pillowy Pita Bread
click for recipe

Couscous & Chickpea Salad

170g couscous
200g dried chickpeas
1 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, pressed
24g raisins (or currants)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp dried mint or 1 tbsp fresh mint
2 slices sundried tomato, chopped
1 medium  onion, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice

1.   Soak chickpeas for about 8 hours in water.  Drain, rinse, and place in pressure cooker.  Cover by 1″/2cm with water.  Bring pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes or until chickpeas are soft.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a small saucepan, boil the chicken stock.  Stir in the couscous, raisins, sundried tomato, and mint.  Cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

3.  While the couscous is resting:  in a frying pan sprayed with olive oil, saute onion, garlic, curry powder, and turmeric briefly with the chickpeas.

4.  When the 5 minutes have passed, fluff the couscous with a fork and add it to the frying pan.  Stir well and move to a serving plate.  Drizzle on the lemon juice, toss, and serve.  Can be served warm or cool.

You might also like:
Afghani orange pilaf
Fennel seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita
Pork gyros with everything

Peas, Greek style

Until I moved to Greece, I never thought of peas as a main dish. They were always on the side of the plate, plain, and never the star. In Greece, peas are a main dish and they are absolutely delicious. I could eat these every day.

These are a great pantry dish – made with stuff you probably already have on hand: frozen peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, diced tomatoes.

In a pressure cooker or a regular pot, put in the peas, potatoes, carrots, and onions together. Add the tomatoes and cover with water by a few inches. Stir in the dried dill and parsley.

If you’re using a regular pot, cook covered for about 45 minutes, and don’t let the water cook off. In a pressure cooker, cook for about 10 minutes.

Serve and then garnish with green olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Serve with feta cheese and crusty bread.

I always make it this way; however, you can also add large chunks of beef and cook it as a stew.  And if you don’t have diced tomatoes but you have plain tomato sauce, you can substitute that; it works just fine.  You can use fresh herbs in place of dried; just triple the amounts.

Peas with Potatoes and Carrots
serves 2, very generously; or 4 with bread and cheese

500g frozen peas (or 1 lb)
300g potatoes, in large chunks
300g carrots, in rounds
2 medium or 1 large onion, diced
1 can (400g) diced tomatoes with their liquid
2 tbsp dried dill
2 tbsp dried parsley
salt, pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

1. In a large pot, combine peas, potatoes, carrots, onion, tomato sauce, dill, and parsley. Cover by 2 inches / 5 cm with water. Cover the pot. Cook for 45 minutes, or 10 minutes if a pressure cooker. Add water if necessary.

2. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a tablespoon of green olive oil over each serving.

Nutritional Information
per serving (i.e., 1/2 of total recipe)

535 calories
15g fat (2g saturated, 13g unsaturated)
85g carbohydrate
19g protein
23g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
357mg sodium (15% DV) – not counting what you add as seasoning
1792mg potassium (51% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A (890%), calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron (47%), riboflavin, food folate, manganese, and copper.

Crab risotto

I found some surimi in the supermarket freezer. Surimi, if you don’t know, is what used to be called “imitation crab.” It’s cheap fish that’s flavored and colored to look like crab (or lobster, or whatever else you want).

I like it because it’s quite low calorie and a good source of protein, without a high price. However, it won’t work in every crab recipe. I really liked the look of the Summer Crab Risotto on Brokeass Gourmet, which Gabi, the author, figures works out to $16.50 to serve 3-4 people. That’s a bit steep for me but I played around with it a bit, and managed to get it to fit our more frugal budget.

You can use any kind of rice you like. The rumor that you have to use arborio rice for risotto to work is just a rumor. I used to use brown rice all the time, but for frugality reasons, now I use standard medium grain white rice. Arborio is hard to find in Greece outside of the major cities; Carolina is the more popular Greek choice for risotto; it doesn’t make a very big difference.

Start by sauteing the green onions and garlic in an olive-oil sprayed nonstick pan. I used purple onions but it doesn’t matter. While you’re doing that, boil some water in a kettle and pour over a chicken bouillon cube (I break it up into powder first). You can use fresh chicken stock or canned if you have it, of course, but the cube is the cheapest way. You’ll need about 3-4 cups of stock.

When the onions are soft and starting to take on a little color, stir in the rice for a few minutes – this will help develop its flavor a little further.

Pour in some stock while stirring constantly. The typical way to make risotto is to keep adding stock as it evaporates and is absorbed, while stirring the whole time, and that’s how I do it also. Keep adding stock so that the rice has a chance to cook.

Add the parsley if you’re using dried parsley, and the corn. If you’re using fresh parsley, add it at the end. I used canned corn; you can use frozen or fresh if you like.

Stir it all to incorporate, and add the crab.

Continue adding stock if at any point it dries out. I don’t like my risottos really wet but you don’t want it to be dry either. Use the stock and heat to find the right balance.

Stir in the cheese, and fresh parsley if using.

Crab Risotto
serves 2

2 green onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
200g rice
100g surimi (imitation crab), cut into small pieces
1/3 cup canned corn, rinsed
1 tbsp dried parsley or 3 tbsp fresh parsley
1 chicken bouillon cube, dissolved in 4 cups / 1 liter boiling water
2 tbsp grated myzithra or parmesan cheese

1. Saute the onions and garlic in a nonstick pan sprayed with a little olive oil.

2. Stir in the rice for several minutes. Pour in the chicken stock, a ladle-ful at a time, allowing it to absorb the water. Stir continuously. This should take about 10-15 minutes.

3. When the rice is soft, stir in the corn, dried parsley, and surimi. Stir for several more minutes, adding more stock as needed.

4. Stir in the parmesan and fresh parsley if using. Serve.

Nutritional Information
per serving (i.e., 1/2 of total recipe)

535 calories
3g fat (0g saturated, 3g unsaturated)
110g carbohydrate
16g protein
3g dietary fiber
10mg cholesterol (3% DV)
443mg sodium (18% DV)
286g potassium (8% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamin B-12, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Afghani orange pilaf
Sesame chicken
Lentils & rice

spaghetti con uovo

This is a very quick and frugal recipe that I had never seen before moving to Greece.  The exact recipe here is my invention, but it’s based on an international recipe, that for some reason is not popular in the US, at least not where I’ve lived.  So I thought I’d share it with you.  It fulfills my most important requirements:  cheap, made with ingredients that are easy to get, and reasonably healthy.

I strongly recommend whole wheat spaghettini or spaghetti for this, rather than white pasta.  The whole wheat pasta stands up much better to the egg yolk.

One egg per person.  I usually use small eggs, and those are fine; however we were given some large eggs as a gift so I used those for this recipe.

Boil the spaghetti al dente in lightly salted water.  While the pasta is boiling, spray a nonstick pan with olive oil and, on medium heat, cook the egg.  Season the egg with salt and pepper before the white sets.

To “fry” an egg without oil and without flipping it over, when the white is cooked on the bottom but still raw on top, cover the pan for a minute until the white on top sets also, but the yolk is still runny.

Drain the pasta.  Stir in a tablespoon of garlic olive oil (I make garlic olive oil with hot Thai peppers and a few other whole spices – this works perfectly here) and a tablespoon of shredded hard cheese (parmesan, myzithra, romano, etc.).

Simply place the egg on top of the pasta.  Sprinkle with fresh rosemary if available.

Spaghetti con uovo
serves 2

220g whole wheat spaghettini or spaghetti
2 chicken eggs, any size
2 tbsp garlic olive oil
2 tbsp shredded myzithra or parmesan
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil spray or nonstick spray

1. Boil pasta al dente in salted water. Drain.

2. “Fry” eggs in nonstick pan lightly sprayed with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Toss pasta with olive oil and cheese. Divide into two plates. Top each plate with an egg, and sprinkle with rosemary.

Nutritional Information
per serving (i.e., 1/2 of recipe), assuming large eggs

566 calories
23g fat (4g saturated, 19 unsaturated)
69g carbohydrate
22g protein
12g dietary fiber
216mg cholesterol (72% DV)
156mg sodium (7% DV)
68mg potassium (2% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
calcium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-12

You might also like:
Creamy lemon pasta
Lentils & rice
Greek lentil soup