Saturday, April 26, 2008

Greek Easter

Sunday April 27th is Greek Easter also know as the Orthodox Easter. For my family this has always been a day of laughter, traditional Greek foods, and togetherness. We meet at the Parthenon restaurant in Chicago's very own Greek town. The usual suspects are my godmother, mother and at least five of my closest funny friends. The celebration starts about two o'clock and ends at 9:00, if we are lucky. Over the years we have created many unforgettable memories, these include restaurant hopping, backgammon, and lots of red egg cracking. The Greek Easter feast is amazing!

When we arrive, we request our favorite table and waiter. We begin with wine, toasted Greek bread, and fine Greek olive oil for dipping. Then we start ordering the best hot and cold mezas (small plates), these include saganaki (flaming cheese with brandy), the good large olives (gotten only by special reguest or you will have tiny oilves), tzatziki, Lima beans cooked with tomatoes and garlic, and cold rice stuffed grape leaves with lemon wedges. After some laughs we will move to the Greek salad with lots of feta cheese, onions, and cucumbers. One of my favorite parts of the meal involves the lamb. A delicious spring lamb cooked on the front window rotisserie, is paraded around the restaurant with sparklers almost every hour. I always order the lamb, the shoulder of course, my sides of choice are okra and rice with red sauce. With joy we finish the meal with baklava and Greek coffee.

Greek coffee is a strong brew, served with foam on top (Kai-maki) and the coffee grounds on the bottom. My talented godmother reads the exciting ground coffee fortunes in our small coffee cups. With a tiny little bit of coffee and lots of coffee grinds still left in your cup, put your coffee cup holder on top of your coffee cup, make three horizontal circles with your cup, and then with a quick movement turn the coffee cup with the cup holder upside down. This will slowly bring down the coffee grinds along the coffee cup down to the coffee holder, but in the meantime will form all the patterns that the coffee grind reader needs to tell you about your future. After wallowing in my fortunes of success and great love, I walk over to the best Greek bakery, (Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop - 322 S. Halsted Street (312) 454-1886) and stock up on my favorite cookies, the Melomakarona, pronounced meh-loh-mah-KAH-ro-nah . Oh so good!
Below is my personal Baklava recipe that you must make soon! I enjoy using olive oil insted of butter in the phyllo layers. Kalo Pashcha! or "Beautiful Easter (to you)!

Be well and keep in touch!


Preheat: 325ยบ
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes: One 10” by 13” rectangular baking dish

1 cup Honey
1 1/3 cups Water
½ Lemon, lightly squeezed and placed in syrup mixture
2 Cloves, whole (plus extra for topping)
2 tablespoons Ouzo (optional)
1 orange Zested

1 pound Walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon, ground
3 tablespoons Sugar

1 pound Filo dough, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
½ pound (2 sticks) Unsalted butter, melted or 1 cup olive oil

1. Cook syrup:
-Combine all syrup ingredients except the ouzo in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil.
-Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.
-Remove from heat, add ouzo and allow to cool.
-Remove lemon and cloves.

2. Create filling:
-Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
-Pulse several times until nuts are finely chopped.

3. Assemble baklava:
-Butter a 10” by 13” rectangular baking dish.
-Unfold filo from package and cut dough in half (each half sheet should then fit in baking dish).
-Layer 2 sheets of filo into dish, keeping unused filo covered with a slightly damp towel.
-Brush layer with melted butter.
-Continue until 10 sheets have been used.
-Spread 1/3rd of the filling over the top.
-Continue making 2 more 10 sheet layers, similar to above, placing nuts between the layers and on top.
-Drizzle top with remaining butter.

4. Bake:
-Trim away excess filo from edges of pan as necessary and cut into small squares or diamonds before baking. Pierce each diamond with a whole clove.
-Bake until pastry is golden brown and crispy, about 1 hour.
-Remove and let cool for 30 minutes.

5. Finish and serve:
-Pour cooled syrup over warm pastry and allow to soak in.
-Cool and serve at room temperature.