Wednesday, 19 March 2008

How To Dye Red Eggs with Onion Skins for Greek Easter

Red eggs (in Greek: kokkina avga, κόκκινα αυγά, pronounced KOH-kee-nah ahv-GHAH) are perhaps the brightest symbol of Greek Easter, representing the blood of Christ and rebirth. We also dye eggs other colors, but rarely will a Greek Easter be celebrated without lots of red eggs. Commercial dyes are available, but this old-fashioned natural method creates red eggs with a deep rich color. The following is for one dozen red eggs. Note: It may sound counterintuitive, but the skins of yellow onions work wonderfully!

Time Required: 50 minutes + 2 hours cooling

Here's How:
1. Start with 12 medium-to-small eggs.
2. Carefully remove any material clinging to the surface of the eggs.
3. Make the dye with the onion skins: In a stainless saucepan, place skins of 15 yellow (Spanish) onions and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in 4 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
4. Strain dye into a glass bowl, and let cool to room temperature. (Don't be fooled by the orange color.)
5. In a stainless saucepan (around 8 1/4 inches in diameter), add the cooled strained dye and eggs at room temperature (up to 1 dozen). The eggs should be in one layer and covered by the dye.
6. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer.
7. Dyeing time will be affected by the color of the eggs. Start checking for color at 12-15 minutes. Do not simmer longer than 20 minutes (see step 9 if they aren't red enough).
8. When eggs are the right color, proceed to step 10.
9. If eggs are not a red enough color after 20 minutes, leave in the pot and remove from heat. When the pot as cooled enough, place in refrigerator and let sit until desired color is reached.
10. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and cool on racks.
11. When they can be handled, coat lightly with olive (or other edible) oil and polish with paper toweling.
12. Refrigerate until time to use.

1. Save onion skins in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. Do not use any porous (wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.) materials as they can be colored by the dye.
3. If stainless cookware and utensils get colored by the dye, wash with regular detergent and a small amount of chlorine. Rinse very well.

What You Need:
* Fresh uncooked eggs at room temperature
* Skins from yellow (Spanish) onions
* White vinegar
* Saucepan
* Strainer
* Bowl
* Slotted spoon
* Paper towels
* Cooling racks
* Olive (or other edible) oil for polishing

Omeleta me Aginares: Artichoke Omelet

Ιn Greek: ομελέτα με αγκινάρες, pronounced oh-meh-LEH-tah meh ahg-ee-NAH-ress

April is peak season for fresh artichokes, making this a springtime favorite, but this omelet is delicious with frozen artichoke hearts as well. This is a Greek country omelet, which means that it's a hearty pie-type omelet, packed with vegetables, and makes a filling main dish.

* 2 pounds of artichoke hearts, fresh or frozen (requires about 4 - 4 1/4 pounds of fresh artichokes before trimming)
* 4 cups of salted water
* juice of 1 lemon
* 3 tablespoons of olive oil
* 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon of sea salt
* 6 eggs + 1 tablespoon of water, beaten with a fork

To prepare fresh artichokes: Remove the coarse outer leaves and stem. Cut off the top (down to just above the choke) and scoop out the choke with a spoon. Trim off remaining leaves around the sides to leave just the pale colored heart.
Rub the artichoke hearts with lemon as soon as each is cleaned and place immediately in a bowl of cold water with half the lemon juice (to prevent them from turning black) and set aside until ready to use.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add artichoke hearts and lemon juice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain well, and cut hearts into quarters.
In a 8-9 inch nonstick frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and salt, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until very soft. Pour beaten eggs over the artichoke hearts and distribute evenly in the pan. Cook for 1 minute, turn, cook for 1 minute, and turn again.

To turn: Run a spatula under the sides and bottom of the omelet to loosen. Put a plate over the top of the pan and turn the omelet out onto the plate. Slide the omelet back into the pan to cook the other side.
With a fork, spread the middle of the omelet to check for doneness. Serve hot.

Yield: serves 4

Aphrodisiacs in Ancient Greece

There were many foods and beverages consumed in ancient Greece that we might not be anxious to try today, like cheese and garlic added to wine, but no more unusual than at least one of the foods that were considered to be aphrodisiacs. When we think of bulbs, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't "aphrodisiac;" yet, they were highly prized for their reputed positive effect on the libido.
An aphrodisiac is defined as something (like a drug or food) that arouses or intensifies sexual desire. The name is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
From ancient times, there have been foods that were believed to increase sexual prowess and desire, and food historians tell us that ancient Greeks were not immune to promises of improved performance and stamina, and heightened pleasure.

Hippocrates (c.460-377 B.C.E.), the father of medicine, is reported to have recommended lentils to keep a man virile well into old age, a practice followed by the Greek philosopher Artistotle (384-322 B.C.E.), who cooked them with saffron. Plutarch (c.46-122 C.E.) suggested fassolatha (a bean soup, the national dish of Greece) as the way to a strong libido, and others believed that artichokes were not only aphrodisiacs but also ensured the birth of sons.
The Aphrodisiacs

In her book "Πολύτιμες Αρχαίες Αφροδισιακές Συνταγές" (Prized Ancient Recipes for Aphrodisiacs), author Lena Terkesithou sheds light on the ancient Greek quest for virility (since the earliest references to aphrodisiacs were for men). Among the foods noted as aphrodisiacs of the times are:

Edible bulbs: Ancient Greeks believed that certain bitter edible bulbs stimulated passion. They were cooked in various ways, and eaten with “aphrodisiac salads” containing honey and sesame seeds – two other foods considered libido-boosters. Perhaps the ancient recipe was similar to this recipe for marinated bulbs that we make today.

Garlic: From the most ancient of times, garlic was believed to have magical and therapeutic properties, and was also considered an aphrodisiac. In the times of Homer, Greeks ate garlic daily - with bread, as a condiment, or added to salads. It was the main ingredient in a garlic paste (a forerunner of today’s skordalia?) containing cheese, garlic, eggs, honey, and oil.

Leeks: Ancient Greeks considered leeks to be aphrodisiac, probably because of their phallic shape. (They were also used as a diuretic and laxative.)

Mushrooms: Truffles were considered exceptional aphrodisiacs. They grew below the surface on sandy shorelines, and were rare and very expensive (just as they are today).

Onions: Like garlic, the ancients ate onions regularly. In addition to their perceived therapeutic benefits, onions were believed to be an aphrodisiac.

Satirio: Satirio is a type of wild orchid and was referenced as an excellent aphrodisiac by Dioscorides (c.40-90 C.E.), the 1st century founder of pharmacology, as well as by Plutarch in his Precepts of Health (Υγιεινά Παραγγέλματα).

Stafylinos: This was a plant that grew from seed in the wild that was believed to heighten sexual desire, so much so that it was known as a "sex potion."

Is It or Isn't It?

Mint: Hippocrates believed that frequent eating of mint diluted sperm, hindered erection, and tired the body. There was, however, the diametrically opposed opinion that mint was a very effective aphrodisiac. It is reported that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great (c.356-323 B.C.E.) not to allow his soldiers to drink mint tea during campaigns because he believed it to be an aphrodisiac.

Fassolakia Freska me Domata: Green Bean Casserole with Tomato

In Greek: φασολάκια φρέσκα με ντομάτα, pronounced fah-soh-LAHK-yah FRES-kah meh doh-MAH-tah

This Theban version of a classic Greek recipe is deceptively simple to fix, combining fresh green beans with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley, and delivers a sophisticated taste. It can be served as a main dish, or as a side.

Note: This dish works well with all kinds of "string" beans, depending on which type is freshly available.

* 2 pounds of fresh green beans or other long "string" bean
* 2 cups of tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
* 2 onions, finely chopped
* 1 cup of olive oil
* 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
* 1 small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
* 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
* 1/4 cup of water
* sea salt
* fresh ground pepper

Wash the beans, cut off the tips and remove the stringy piece of fiber along the seam. Rinse the beans.
In a soup pot, sauté the onions in olive oil with a wooden spoon until they turn translucent.
Stir in the garlic and sauté a few minutes more. Add all the remaining ingredients and the water. Stir well, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 50 minutes or until the beans are tender. (Add more water if needed during cooking - boiling water.)

Serve warm. On the side, consider tzatziki or feta cheese, and certainly some great country bread.

Yield: 4 servings as a main dish, 6-8 as a side

Note: For a more substantial dish, add 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks.

A Brief Introduction to the History and Food of Crete

The food of contemporary Crete is founded on its history and what is locally produced. Crete lies in a strategic position in the Mediterranean, acting like a modern aircraft carrier in the southern Aegean. For this reason it has been a prime target of invaders for millennia. Crete was home to the Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age (3000 to 1100 BC) that built the Palace of Knossos that can be visited today. The Romans also ruled Crete, but the Crete of today began its formation with the Arab occupation that lasted from 824 to 961 AD. But unlike Arab rule in Spain and Sicily, little of lasting value was left in Crete by what amounted to a band of Arab adventurers. The island was restored to Byzantium in 961 and the Christian ruling class was strengthened. A slow decline, tethered to the decline of Byzantium in general, occurred and by 1204 Crete was sold to the Venetians who used the island as a source of grain, wine, hides, and wood for shipbuilding. More importantly Venice understood the strategic importance of Crete and secured the island for its excellent harbors. A feudal administration was established, but Venetian rule was vigorously confronted by the Cretan character and for centuries terrible revolts occurred that were ruthlessly suppressed. Venetian rule lasted until 1669 and by the end of their rule Crete was an amalgam of Cretan and Venetian influences. As Venetian power waned, a new force entered Crete. The Ottoman Turks took Crete in 1669 and ruled until 1898. In the beginning of Turkish rule there was great hardship and deprivation. Later there was ruthless discrimination against Christians and conversions to Islam were frequent. Greek and Cretan cultural traditions were preserved and protected throughout this period by monasteries and the Greek Orthodox church. Culinary traditions, too, were preserved in monasteries and in remote mountain villages that could resist occupation. But Crete is quite different than the rest of Greece, even though that may not be immediately evident to the casual visitor. Like other Mediterranean islands Crete is self-contained and isolated. And, like many of the other islands of the Mediterranean it is mountainous, meaning that life is not automatically associated around the sea which has always been dangerous because of invaders and pirates.

Today, the traveler is most likely to encounter Cretan food in tavernas where prepared food (etimo fayeto) is served at lunchtime from bain marie. One inspects the various dishes that the chef has prepared, sometimes up to 12 different dishes, and chooses what they want. Stuffed vegetables, tourta, savory pies, and dishes of pulses that are a kind of cross between soups and stews are made. In the evening one will be presented with a selection of meze, a variety of appetizing little dishes that might be the entirety of the meal. Other food, such as stifado (stew) or grilled meats will arrive at the table haphazardly as they are finished. Being an island, Crete is renowned for its fish dishes which are usually grilled or made into a stew.

Cretan food has a kind of mythic, legendary status among nutritionists because of studies showing that rates of chronic heart disease and other chronic diseases are quite low as a result of the diet and lifestyle of Cretans. Even so, Cretan food is actually quite simple, based on olive oil, olives, pulses and vegetables and fresh and dried fruits with very little meat and fish consumption. Crete also has deep traditions surrounding two food items that remain special on islands: bread and cheese. There are many breads, from votive breads to preserved rock-hard breads for times of famine. Like its other Mediterranean islands, Crete shares the same traditions when it comes to bread and a whole book could be written about them. So too with cheeses, many are still unnamed, just as in Corsica, called simply "cheese." Although when pressed, Cretans will tell you that you are eating kefalotyri, or malaka or a clotted cream-like product called staka. Each of Crete's invaders influenced the food. The ancient Greeks made sausages. The Byzantines salt and dry-cured meats and used honey in both sweet and savory dishes. With the Venetians wine production grew as did olive. Although many Cretan dishes have Italian names, they are not necessarily Italian in origin. The Turks brought the use of various spices such as sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander seed and certain other dishes such as the chicken liver and cinnamon pie called tzoulama. But there are other influences including Jewish.

Cretan food is simple food, but that does not mean it is bland food. It is food based on a foundation of basic native ingredients, olive oil, wild greens, lemons, oranges, lentils, beans, barley, and vegetables and a culinary structure emerges from the combinations created by cooks.