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
Melitzanosalata
Peas, Greek style

potato & herb bake

When the Potato Movement spread to our town, I was thrilled to pick up 10 kgs (22 lbs) of small potatoes for €3.00.  (I love small potatoes – and they are cheaper than regular potatoes in Greece, probably because they are less popular.  The most common way to prepare potatoes in Greece is to peel them and then fry them, which is hard to do with small or new potatoes.  I never peel or fry them, so they are perfect for me!)  As it turns out, 10 kilos is a lot of kilos.  I came up with this recipe in an attempt to get rid of some of the potatoes, and we loved it.  And it’s as simple as can be.

I used a combination of dried and fresh herbs.  It’s still early in the season and the herbs on my balcony are pretty small, and I didn’t want to over-pick them.  You can use all dried, all fresh, or a combination like I did.  The fresh herbs I used are rosemary, oregano, thyme, and lemon thyme.

The dried herbs are oregano, rosemary, and thyme; there’s also flake salt.

Wash the potatoes.  Use a combination of white potatoes and orange sweetpotatoes.  I used one medium sweetpotato with a kilo of white potatoes, and that worked just fine; do try to include at least one sweetpotato.  It adds sweetness, and of course color and vitamins.

Put them in a pressure cooker and cover just barely with water.  Cook under pressure.  As soon as the pot reaches pressure, turn off the heat and let the pressure reduce naturally.  When the pot allows you to open it, drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water.  Slice them into rounds (because I used new potatoes, I sliced them on the long side; if you use regular potatoes, you can just slice them into regular rounds).

While the potatoes are cooking, slice the onions sideways.

Add two tablespoons of the garlic olive oil to the potatoes, and mix with a wooden spoon.  Add in all the dried herbs and salt, and half the fresh herbs.  If you are using all dried herbs, use all of them.  If you’re using all fresh herbs, add in about 3/4 of them.  Add in about half of the sliced onions as well.  Mix everything well and put into an ovensafe dish.

Sprinkle the remaining onions over the top, and drizzle another two tablespoons of garlic olive oil over the dish.  Bake and…

When the onions on top have started to blacken a bit, stir everything up and top with the crumbled cheese.  Bake again and…

Serve with another tablespoon of olive oil per plate.

Potato & herb bake
makes 4 servings (8 if a side dish)

1,000g mix of white potatoes and sweetpotatoes
150g onions, sliced sideways
1/2 cup garlic olive oil, divided
2 tsp dried oregano + 1 tsp fresh oregano or 3 tsp dried oregano or 3 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp dried thyme + 2 tsp fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried thyme or 4 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary + 2 tsp fresh or 2 tsp dried rosemary or 1 tbsp fresh rosemary
2 tsp fresh lemon thyme
1 tsp flake salt
200g anthotyro or other white Greek cheese (like feta or manouri), or dry ricotta

1.  Parboil potatoes and sweetpotatoes, barely covered in water, in a pressure cooker:  allow to come to pressure, then shut off heat and allow to release pressure naturally.  Drain and slice into rounds.

2.  Preheat oven to 200 C / 400 F.  In a large bowl, combine sliced potatoes with 2 tbsp oil, all dried herbs, and half fresh herbs (3/4 fresh herbs if using all fresh herbs), salt, and half the onions.  Stir together.  Place in an ovensafe dish.

3.  Sprinkle the remaining onions on top.  Drizzle 2 tbsp oil over the dish.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

4.  Stir everything together.  Top with the cheese, crumbled.  Bake, uncovered, another 10 minutes.

5.  Serve; top with another 1 tbsp oil per plate if desired.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/4 of total recipe

534 calories
33g fat (7g saturated, 26g unsaturated)
51g carbohydrate
10g protein
8g dietary fiber
21mg cholesterol (7% DV)
364mg sodium (15% DV)
1,036mg potassium (30% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV)  of the following:
vitamin A (258%), calcium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, food folate, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Smashed Horseradish Potatoes with Caramelized Onions
Olive bread
Greek lentil soup 

the pie trio, part 3: pumpkin and cheese pie

And now we come to our final pie option… pumpkin and cheese!  This one is a little sweet and is great for breakfast or a snack at any time during the day.

This is the third of the three kinds of pie that I made with my single package of phyllo dough. If you do the same, be sure to make all three fillings before you even take your phyllo out of the fridge.

For this I used frozen chunks of orange winter squash (the Greek word kolokytha is usually translated pumpkin, but it’s basically butternut squash or something along those lines)  that I had bought at the farmers’ market back in the fall, and kept in the freezer until now.  Whether you use fresh (unlikely at this time of year) or frozen, put it in a saucepan to soften up.

Transfer the cooked pumpkin to a food processor.

Process for a few seconds until it breaks down.

Transfer to a colander and squeeze it gently to drain off the excess water.

Measure out your spices:  left to right, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and maple extract (optional).

In a clean bowl, combine the pumpkin with the spices and the remaining one third of the cheese.

Now we’ll make the phyllo triangles.  These will be large triangles; if you want, you can make smaller ones by cutting the phyllo in half lengthwise once again.

Put 1/8 of the filling at one end of the phyllo strip.

Fold the phyllo over itself to form a triangle.

Continue folding, keeping the triangle shape.

When you reach the end, spritz the end with olive oil to make it stick and place it on your oiled wax paper-lined baking sheet.

When they’re all ready, spray them again with olive oil and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.

Kolokythotyropitakia | Pumpkin and cheese triangles
makes 8 small pies

3 cups pumpkin or winter squash, cubed
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp maple extract (optional)
1/3 package phyllo dough
1/3 cheese for pies (see below)
olive oil for spraying

1.  Soften pumpkin by heating in a saucepan over medium heat for several minutes.

2.  Transfer to a food processor and process for a few seconds until broken down.  Transfer to a colander.  Squeeze gently to release excess water.

3.  Combine pumpkin, spices, and cheese in a bowl.

4.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper and spray with oil.  Make phyllo triangles:  put 1/8 of filling on one end of the phyllo sheet, which has been cut in half lengthwise.  Fold phyllo with filling over itself to form a triangle.  Repeat this folding motion, making a triangle with each fold.  When the phyllo is all folded, spray with olive oil to adhere the last layer of phyllo to the triangle.  Place on wax paper.  Repeat with the rest of the filling and phyllo.

5.  Bake at 180 C / 350 F for 20 minutes or until a golden brown color and crispy.

Cheese for pies
makes enough for 24 small pies

140g feta cheese or lefko tyri
160g anthotyro or ricotta cheese
40g shredded parmesan or myzithra cheese
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)

To make cheese sauce, combine all ingredients and mash together.

Note:  if you aren’t also making other kinds of pies at the same time, triple the pumpkin and spices, and use all the phyllo and cheese.

Nutritional Information
per piece, i.e., 1/8 of total recipe, including cheese

117 calories
3g fat (2g saturated, 1g unsaturated)
7g carbohydrate
3g protein
0g dietary fiber
9mg cholesterol (3% DV)
104mg sodium (4% DV)
202mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains 83% DV Vitamin A and 18% DV Vitamin C

See the other recipes here:
Leek and Cheese Pie
Spinach and Cheese Pie 

the pie trio, part 2: spinach and cheese pie

We’ve made leek and cheese pie already; we’ll make the spinach filling today.

You can use either fresh or frozen spinach.  I had frozen so that’s what I used, but the method is the same either way.

Put the spinach in a nonstick pan with a little spritz of olive oil and let it soften.

Transfer the cooked spinach to a colander to drain.  Sprinkle the salt on the spinach and let it rest for about ten minutes.   The salt will help draw excess water out of the spinach.

Squeeze the spinach outside the colander into the sink, allowing the water to run out of your hands.  The volume of the spinach should reduce by over half.  It’s important to do this to avoid soggy spinach pie.

In a clean bowl, combine the spinach, dill, and cheeses.

Stir to incorporate everything.

Form the phyllo spirals following the instructions on the leek and cheese pie post.

Bake them for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cripsy!

Spanakotyropitakia Strifta | Spiral spinach and cheese pies
makes 8 small pies

4 cups spinach, fresh or frozen, stemmed, washed
1 tsp table salt
1 tbsp dried dill or 1/4 cup fresh dill
1/3 cheese for pies (see below)
1/3 package phyllo dough
olive oil for spraying

1.  Spray a non-stick pan with olive oil lightly.  Add spinach leaves.  Allow to soften.  Drain in colander.   Sprinkle with salt and allow to rest 10 minutes.

2.  Squeeze spinach with hands to remove as much water as possible.

3.  In a bowl, combine spinach with dill and cheese.

4.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  Cover a baking sheet with wax paper and spray with oil.  Form phyllo spirals:   cut phyllo in half lengthwise.  Put 1/8 of filling on each sheet along the bottom long edge, and roll up.  Coil the roll around itself to form a spiral.  Place spirals on wax paper and spray with olive oil.

5.  Bake at 180 C / 350 F for 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown in color and crispy.  Allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.

Note:  if not making other kinds of pies at the same time, triple the spinach and dill, double the salt, and use all the phyllo and cheese.

More detailed instructions on how to form phyllo spirals here.

Cheese for pies
makes enough for 24 small pies

140g feta cheese or lefko tyri
160g anthotyro or ricotta cheese
40g shredded parmesan or myzithra cheese
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)

To make cheese sauce, combine all ingredients and mash together.

Nutritional Information:
per serving, i.e., per 1/8 of this recipe including cheese

97 calories
3g fat (2g saturated, 1g unsaturated)
1g carbohydrate
3g protein
0g dietary fiber
9mg cholesterol (3% DV)
114mg sodium (5% DV)
113mg potassium (3% DV)
22% DV of vitamin A

the pie trio, part 1: leek and cheese pie

Now that we know how to make our own phyllo dough, we can go back to buying it out of the supermarket freezer (come on, who really has four hours every time they want to make a recipe?).  A package of phyllo dough is 450g (1 lb), and that’s a lot of dough.  So what I often do is make several different dishes with it.  However, once you defrost it, you really need to use it up the same day.  So I usually make several fillings for the phyllo and do them all at once.  You can triple the recipe (using all the phyllo) or use the given recipe for each of these three pies.  If you make your own phyllo, go with the tripled recipe.

This time, with my package of phyllo dough I made:  leek and cheese pie (prassotyropita), spinach and cheese pie (spanakotyropita), and pumpkin pie (kolokythopita).  The first two are savory; the third is sweet and savory at the same time (and makes a great breakfast).

This post will deal with the leek and cheese pie; we’ll do the others in the next two recipe posts.

If you’re using storebought phyllo dough, move it from your freezer to your refrigerator 24 hours before you’ll be using it.  Make the filling before you take the phyllo out of the fridge.

Leeks are great because when they’re available, they’re cheap as can be.  They’re easy and go into lots of recipes.  They pair well with white cheeses and have a sweeter, brighter flavor than regular green onions.

Start buy cutting them into rounds.

Leeks are among the dirtiest of vegetables.  I try to wash them before cutting them, but always wash them once they’re cut as well, because there is always dried mud hidden inside the fronds.

I wash sliced leeks the same way I wash spinach:  fill a large pot with cold water and a few tablespoons of vinegar.  Add the leeks, agitate them with my hands for a few minutes, and then lift them out of the water into a colander to drain.

Because I was only making filling for a third of the phyllo, I didn’t need to use all these leeks.  I put half of them in the freezer to use in other dishes later (leeks freeze well).

If you are only making leek pie, use a very full colander; otherwise, about half of a colander.

Start to sweat the leeks in your pan.  We want them to release some of their moisture and to take on a bit of a brown color in places, but still retain that bright green.

While the leeks are doing their thing, assemble the cheeses.  If you’re making this in the US or UK, you should use real Greek feta cheese (it’s easy to get anymore at any supermarket) with ricotta and parmesan.  If you’re in Greece, you can (as I did) use lefko tyri (feta-style cheese made with cow’s milk), anthotyro, and shredded myzithra.  I make these suggestions for Greek readers because these cheeses are much cheaper than the traditional Greek choices (real feta is now too expensive for many Greeks, including us – although I did make an exception and bought a box of real feta from our town just to remind us what it tastes like… oh, it was so good!).  The lefko tyri at my supermarket is about €3.80/kg.  The cheapest feta cheese is around €9.00/kg.  You can also leave the cheese out entirely.  Note that the eggs, traditionally used in this recipe, are omitted here, in an effort to reduce costs further.

Mash together the cheeses and pour in the milk.

Stir it all together to form a thick sauce.

At this point, get a clean bowl.  Combine in the bowl the leeks from the stove with one third of the cheese.  (If you’re making only leek pie, use all the cheese.)  Add dill to the bowl.

Stir everything together and set it aside while we prepare the phyllo dough.

To use storebought phyllo dough, if you’re not familiar with it, is easy but it needs a little kitchen preparation first.

First, turn on your oven.  Line a large baking sheet in wax paper and spray it liberally with olive oil.  Set aside.

You’ll need a fair amount of counter space.   You need space to lay out the phyllo and space to form the pies.  I cleared off the top of my washing machine in order to have space to lay out the phyllo.

First, cover your pie-forming space with plastic wrap completely.  Then, prepare your phyllo as follows:

Clockwise from top left:

1. Cover the space completely with plastic wrap.  Lay out the phyllo on the plastic wrap.
2. Cut the phyllo dough into strips with kitchen shears.  For this recipe, simply cut it in half the long way.  (Cut through all the layers of dough at once.)
3.  Cover the cut dough with plastic wrap completely.
4.  Moisten a kitchen towel in cold water, ring it out, and drape it over the top plastic wrap.

The plastic keeps the dough from drying out, and the wet towel keeps it cool.

To form each pie, first lay out one single sheet of cut phyllo on the counter.  Put some of the filling in a line along the long edge as in the photo.

Roll the phyllo uniformly up towards the top of the sheet.

When it’s all rolled up, spray the top with olive oil.  Turn it over and spray the bottom with oil too.

Then curl it around itself to form a spiral.  Put it on the baking sheet.  Continue until you run out of filling.

In Greece, a package of standard phyllo kroustas (the most common type of phyllo dough) usually has 12 sheets; since we cut these in half, we should get 24 pies.  I actually only made 21 pies (7 of each kind) but if you spread the filling out a little more, you can get 8 of each. I am pretty bad at guessing how much filling to put in each one to make it come out exactly the right number of pies.

When you’ve filled your baking sheet, put them in the oven for about 20 minutes or until a light golden brown and crispy.

Prassotyropitakia Strifta | Spiral leek-and-cheese pies
makes 8 small pies

4 leeks, sliced into rounds, and washed
1 tbsp dried dill, or 1/4 cup fresh dill
1/3 package phyllo dough
1/3 cheese for pies (see below)
olive oil in a sprayer

1. Spray a non-stick pan with olive oil. Over medium heat, sweat leek rounds for about 10 minutes until soft and brown in spots.

2. In a clean bowl, combine leeks, cheese, and dill.  Note:  if making other types of pies at the same time, make all fillings before moving on to step 3.

3. Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Cover a baking sheet in wax paper and spray with olive oil. Prepare phyllo: cover a large surface in plastic wrap. Lay out phyllo dough. Cut in half lengthwise with kitchen shears. Cover cut phyllo with plastic wrap and top with wet, wrung-out kitchen towel.

4. Lay a strip of phyllo dough on plastic wrap covered surface. Top with 1/8 of the filling, in a line along the bottom. Roll the phyllo up toward the top. Spray the top and bottom of the phyllo coil with olive oil, and twist into a spiral. Place on baking sheet.

5. When all the spirals are on the baking sheet, spray again with olive oil and bake at 180 C / 350 F for 20 minutes or until a light golden brown color, and crispy. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

If you are not also going to make other kinds of pies at the same time, use the whole package of phyllo, all the cheese, and triple the leeks and dill.

Cheese for pies
makes enough for 24 small pies

140g feta cheese or lefko tyri
160g anthotyro or ricotta cheese
40g shredded parmesan or myzithra cheese
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or skim is fine)

To make cheese sauce, combine all ingredients and mash together.

Nutritional Information
per pie, i.e., 1/8 of the recipe including the cheese

121 calories
3g fat (2g saturated, 1g unsaturated)
7g carbohydrate
3g protein
1g dietary fiber
9mg cholesterol (3% DV)
111mg sodium (5% DV)
110mg potassium (3% DV)
Contains significant amount (+10 DV) of the following:
calcium and manganese

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Handmade onion pie
Baked spanakoryzo
Fennel-seed kebabs with yogurt sauce on pita