Tag Archives: greek food

{8} Kourabiedes

Kourabiedes are a traditional cookie from Greece. And that should set some alarm bells ringing…

I always approach making traditional cookies with a little bit of trepidation. In this case, I have visions of Greek mothers and grandmothers raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes. In my head, there is this Greek chorus of collective tutting as an entire people just know that their version is clearly superior to my attempt. And that their recipe is obviously better than everyone else’s attempts as well…

kourabiedes1
With that disclaimer out there, I still think that my attempt is pretty decent. I mean, with all that icing sugar on them they look like they are made of snow!

In fact, they are part of a family of similar cookies – polvorones in Spain, Russian tea cakes or Mexican wedding cakes, or Austrian vanilla crescents. What they have in common is a sweet, crumbly pastry with chopped nuts, with the whole cookies dredged in icing sugar to provide even more sweetness.

kourabiedes2
This is a very easy recipe to make. You just need to whip up the butter to get it nice and soft, then whip lots of air in as you add the sugar, egg yolk and various flavours. I’ve used vanilla as a background flavour, and combined it with brandy and orange blossom water. It is also important to use toasted nuts in this recipe – the nuts all some crunch to contrast to the soft, crumbly texture of the biscuit, but toasting them means the cookies had a richer flavour.

Shaping them is a doddle too – I found that it was worth chilling the dough slightly before shaping, as it made it a little easier to handle, but otherwise just scoop up spoonfuls of the mixture and roll them in your hands. However, I would not recommend my usual roll-into-a-sausage-and-cut-into-slices approach, as the mixture is a bit too soft for that. Tablespoons all the way!

Once you have baked the kourabiedes, you get another chance to add more flavour. I’ve seen recipes where Greek matriarchs liberally sprinkle ouzo over the hot cookies, which might be the way to go if you like aniseed flavours. I went for a less adventurous option and brushed them with some brandy cut with a little rosewater. There was a little sizzle, a puff of steam and a lovely aroma!

While the kourabiedes are still warm, you also need to get them into a dish full of icing sugar. They will still be fragile, so handle them with care. The icing sugar will combine with the butter in the cookies to form a sweet coating, then move them to a cooling rack and use a sieve to give them another coating of icing sugar. Get into the festive mood by imagining that this is snow. Then leave them to cool, and pile them high on a plate to serve alongside good strong coffee, or perhaps that herbal tea you picked up on holiday in Greece.

Καλά Χριστούγεννα (Kala Hristouyienna, Greek for Merry Christmas)!

kourabiedes3

To make Kourabiedes (makes around 30)

For the dough:

• 250g unsalted butter
• 125g icing sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tablespoon brandy

• 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 75g toasted almonds, ground
• 75g toasted almonds, chopped
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 300g plain flour
• pinch of salt

To finish:

• 1 tablespoon brandy
• 1/4 teaspoon rosewater
• icing sugar, to cover

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the butter in a bowl and beat well until light and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and egg yolk, and beat for another couple of minutes. Mix in the brandy, orange blossom water and vanilla and give it another good whip, then fold in the ground almonds.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the chopped almonds, flour, baking powder and salt. Fold into the butter mixture and mix until it all comes together. You might need to use your hands at the end. Pop in the fridge to chill for 10 minutes.

4. Take generous spoonfuls of the dough. Roll half of them into balls, transfer to a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Roll the other pieces of dough into balls, then shape them into crescent shapes and transfer a baking sheet.

5. Bake the cookies in batches of 12 for around 15 until just golden, turning them half-way to get an even bake. In the meantime, mix the brandy and rosewater in a dish.

6. Once baked, remove from the oven and brush immediately with the brandy-rosewater mixture. Allow to cool for a moment, then roll them in icing sugar. Transfer to a cooking rack, and dust generously with more icing sugar and leave to cool.

2 Comments

Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Watermelon and Feta Salad

So we’re still in the middle of a heatwave…so today I’ve got a suggestion for a salad that is part tasty feta, olives and herbs, and part refreshing, juicy watermelon. It’s a funny old time of year. The things I usually love to eat – pasty, pastry, curry or warm lentils – are all just too, too heavy to enjoy when it’s hot by day and still warm by night. This has been driving me to try some new ideas, and this classic Greek combination has been part of my attempts to eat well while still also staying cool.

watermelonfeta2

Most recipes for watermelon and feta salad seem to be fairly simple – just add some dressing and a few black olives, with perhaps a dash of mint. However, I have a garden and windowsill that have really taken off in the heat, so I was able to pick a selection of baby herb leaves to add to the salad which added some aromatic flavour to the dish. Baby basil, rocket micro-leaves, thyme, oregano and parsley. There would have been dill in there too, but my plant had wilted, but I think it would also make a nice addition. The overall effect of deep pink fruit, white feta, black olived and bright green leaves is really quite stunning on the table.

One little tip – I am normally an advocate for taking fruit out of the fridge well ahead of serving to allow it to come up to room temperature – the flavour is so much better. However, in this dish, you really want the watermelon to be chilled, and if it’s ripe, you’ll still be able to enjoy the flavour of sweet melon with the salt of the feta. One of those dishes that sounds strange, shouldn’t work, but does, and works really well!

watermelonfeta1

To make a Watermelon and Feta salad:

• 1/2 medium watermelon, peeled and cubed
• 1/2 red onion, finely sliced
• 200g feta
• 70g black olives, quartered
• 2 limes, juice only
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• handful of mint leaves, finely shredded

• 2 handfuls of other herb leaves (depending on what is to hand)

1. Make the dressing – put the lime juice and olive oil in a jam jar. Shake vigorously. Add the red onions and leave to sit for 15 minutes.

2. Put the watermelon in a large serving dish. Add half the mint and half the other herbs, then toss lightly. Add the black olives and crumbled feta, trying to arrange them artfully on top (presentation is all!).

3. Pour the dressing over the salad, then sprinkle over the rest of the mint and the herbs, and serve right away.

Worth making? This salad is super-easy to make and fantastic as part of a casual lunch in the garden. It’s also very more-ish, and oh-so-easy to keep picking at pieces of feta and watermelon.

4 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Pumpkin Pita Pie

When it comes to selecting blogging themes and developing ideas, pretty much everything I do is based on ideas I have or some sort of national or international event (Olympics, Royal Wedding, Norwegian National Day), but from time to time it’s nice to get a suggestion of something new. And so it was then I was recently asked by the folk at Sunvil Supper Club if I wanted to try a recipe for pumpkin pita pie. It sounded rather nice, so I thought I’d give it a go and said yes.

At this point, I’ll share a learning from a now-wiser person – don’t agree to do anything when you are on holiday, as you will feel for a couple of weeks as if you have all the time in the world. Then you arrive back home in your blissed-out state, only to realise you’re up against the baking clock. Eek!

Anyway, this recipe is for a Greek savoury pie combining the sweetness of squash with the saltiness of feta, and enlivened with a dash of mint. It’s all quite easy to make, although I did come up against two little issues during my attempt.

First, the recipe wasn’t too clear about whether I should be using just tinned pumpkin puree, just mashed up butternut squash, or some combination. I think it was a choice, rather than both, and the fact I failed to read the recipe until I got home was a bit of a bummer. I had just come back from the United States, where the shelves were groaning under the weight of tinned pumpkin. But could I find it in Clapham? Nope. I had a look in a few stores, but wherever it was, it was hiding from me, and I just gave up (remember that jet lag?). I went instead for the idea of just mashing up a whole squash. That seemed the way that a Greek granny would do it, so I should do that too.

Feta_Pie_2

Feta_Pie_1

The second thing I grappled with a little bit was the way that the pie should be formed. I assumed you lined the tin with several layers of pastry, brushing with olive oil between each layer, then dump in the filling, then cover again with more filo. However, it was (inevitably) more complex than that, involving preparing sheets of pastry, brushing with oil, adding a little filling, rolling into a cigar shape, then lining them up in a coil in the pan. Once you know what you’re doing it’s a breeze, but I would advise you not to use a pastry brush for applying the olive oil. Just put the oil into a bowl and dip your palm in there. It’s more fun to do it this way, and your hands will end up nice and soft.

To finish off my pie, I took a bit more filo and tried to wrap it artfully into a sort of swirl on top, and when it came out the oven, it did indeed look golden and inviting. The flavour of the pie is superb – rich sweetness and sharp salt, topped with very crisp pastry, complemented by a green salad (as suggested in the original recipe). This pie is tasty while warm, but is also nice cold, so I’m looking forward to wedges of this over the next few days for lunch.

feta_pie_4

However, if I were to have another go at this recipe, I’d make one little tweak. Instead of the pie shape, I would instead make smaller fingers of the filling wrapped in filo, like mini savoury strudels. Christmas is just around the corner, and we’ve all the need for handy little recipes that we can use to wow our guests. This should be super-easy to make ahead of time, then just pop into the oven, serve with drinks and enjoy the kudos.

However, if you’re convinced the by the coiling approach, this is how it looks – rather nice, yes?

feta_pie_3

To make a Pumpkin Pita Pie (adapted, original recipe here):

• 1 large butternut squash (around 500g once peeled)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 onions
• 340g feta, crumbled
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
• 2 tablespoons uncooked rice or bulgar wheat
• freshly ground black pepper
• 400g filo pastry

Prepare the squash:

1. Peel the squash, remove seeds and chop into chunks. Place in a large bowl with a spoonful of olive oil and mix with your hands until the squash is coated. Put the squash chunks into an overproof dish, and roast in the oven at 200°C (400°F) for around 45 minutes until tender and the edges are just starting to brown. Turn off the heat, and leave the squash until cool (easiest to do this the night before, and leave to cool overnight).

Make the filling:

2. Chop the onions, and saute with two tablespoons of olive oil until they are lightly browned and translucent. Leave to cool.

3. Take the cooled squash and mash or puree as you prefer. I like chunks of squash, so prefer to mash and leave some texture.

4. In a bowl, combine the squash, feta, cooled onions, eggs, mint, black pepper and rice/bulgar wheat. Mix until combined, but make sure you still have visible pieces of feta.

To assemble to pie

5. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Get hold of a large springform pan (the recipe called for one that was 14 inches (35cm), mine was nearer 9).

6. Take a piece of filo pastry. Lay it lengthways in front of you, and brush olive oil on the lower half (or smear with your hands). Brush again with oil. Add a little of the filling along the middle of the strip, then roll into a cigar. Aim for 1 inch (2.5cm) diameter. Brush with olive oil, or rub with oily hands.

7. Repeat the process, placing each roll into the pan, start at the edge, to build up the pie. You should end up with some sort of spiral. To keep things neat, arrange the rolls with the seam underneath, and lay the coils in the tin as tightly as you can.

8. One all the filling has been used, brush the top of the pie with a little more olive oil, then bake for around 50 minutes until the top of the pie is a rich golden colour.

Worth making?This is a classic flavour combination, and works very well in a pie like this. The mint is a welcome addition. Highly recommended, either as a pie or as the basis for festive party food (just reduce the cooking time).

6 Comments

Filed under Recipe, Savoury