The more birthdays that pass, the less I seem to remember about being a pre-teen. Even my teen years seem to be a long blur of events all squished together and it takes something like a photo or an old movie or song to remind me of a specific event. I’m not even that old yet!
There is one thing that I have noticed; of the events I can remember without a specific reminder, all of them seem to involve food. Maybe because food’s around me every day. Possibly. Probably. I could just be obsessed with food.
I remember my mom taking me to our favourite coffee shop after school for a slice of the most delicious carrot cake before heading home to start the homework and other mundane tasks.
I remember when my mom assigned the dinner salad-making to me, something that I felt was very grown-up.
I remember my mom teaching me the basics of baking, simple things I now do automatically but was a new concept to me, like remembering to pre-heat the oven.
Of all those memories, the most significant events were the massive feasts my mom would prepare for friends.
You see, my mom’s Greek and she definitely inherited the Greek cooking gene. She would start a few days ahead of the weekend-lunch; making tasty dips and salads, marinating meats, cleaning out fresh calamari and making sure there was an excessive amount of food ready to be shared with family and friends. I sometimes helped my mom with some of the preparations and would boast proudly to everyone that I’d made a certain dish by myself.
Those “Greek Lunches” were somewhat infamous in their circle of friends and no one left the table with even the space to eat one single sesame seed. Walking out the door, they’d already be asking when the next lunch would be.
Now I’m married and in my own home and those fantastic meals have imprinted themselves onto me. I don’t claim to be Greek, I can’t even speak the language, but one thing I definitely claim is the cooking! I look for any special event, made up or real, to plan and make a meal for our friends to enjoy with us. In my opinion, the enjoyment of sharing a good meal with friends is one of the best functions of food.
After my mom’s lovingly prepared feasts were eaten and the guests had gone home, we’d be left with a kitchen full of dirty dishes; but for me, the sight of that messy kitchen made me happy because I could still smell the medley of garlic, lemon and fragrant herbs or cooked meat, my tummy was full and content and we’d just spent a good 5 hours or so having fun! I also didn’t have to do the dishes (I <3 dishwashers )
With all that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite recipes from my mom’s well worn file and I hope that you enjoy eating and sharing these dishes with lots of friends and family around you.
The ever popular Tzatziki:
500g Plain Greek Style Yoghurt
1 English Cucumber
2 Large Cloves Garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp Fresh Dill or Mint, chopped
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt to taste
- Peel off a few strips of the cucumber skin
- Grate cucumber and allow to drain in a sieve, press out excess liquid and discard the juice
- Combine cucumber with yoghurt and remaining ingredients, season with salt and mix well
- Cover container and chill in fridge until ready to serve
The amount of garlic used depends on your taste. It definitely needs a good kick of garlic so don’t be too shy. Also remember that the garlic will develop and get stronger as it chills in the fridge.
The dill or mint is also to your preference, I enjoy using either herb.
I really do recommend using a Greek Style Yoghurt as it is thick and creamy with a lovely tang, but if you can’t find any, you can use 250g plain yoghurt + 250g thick sour cream, make sure to drain any excess liquid as you want this dip to be thick and creamy. Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a coffee filter then drain for 2 hours or more (even overnight in the fridge).
Can be prepared a day or two ahead and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.
Can be served chilled or at room temperature
Serve with warm pita bread, lemon potato wedges or succulent meat.
The fruity tasting Melitzanosalata:
1 Large Round Eggplant
1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Large Garlic Clove, crushed
- Pierce eggplant a couple times with a fork
- Bake whole eggplant on oven tray at 200°C/390°F for about 1 hour, charr slightly under the grill
- Over hot coals or open flame until the eggplant is soft and skin is blackened
- Remove from heat and allow to cool and drip on a cooling rack over a plate
- Tip: I like to cut a slit down the eggplant, open the eggplant slightly, place slit side down on the rack, then press out excess liquid so that the dip isn’t too wet
- Remove the stem from the brinjal and cut the brinjal into chunks
- Mash brinjal with a fork
- Pulse in a blender (but just enough to break it into small pieces but maintain some texture)
- Transfer brinjal to a bowl
- Slowly pour olive oil and lemon juice into the bowl, alternating between them, while stirring to combine until well mixed
- Stir in garlic and add salt to taste
- Cover and chill in the fridge
The seeds in eggplants can be very bitter, the aubergine in this recipe is cooked whole and so you can’t sweat out that nasty taste with salt. To remove any bitterness, add 1-2 tsp sugar.
Again, the amount of garlic is to your preference, I like to have just a hint so that it doesn’t overpower the fruitiness of the brinjal.
Cooking the aubergine over coals or flame gives it a fantastic smokey flavor so definitely give it a try if you can, otherwise cooking it in the oven is fine. After baking it in the oven, I like to charr it a bit with a kitchen torch.
I find this dip is best made a day or two before hand because the flavours develop while chilling in the fridge.
Can be served chilled or at room temperature.
And finally, a Lentil Salad with delicious flavors:
1 cup Brown Lentils
5 cups Water
5 Whole Cloves
1 Medium Onion
1 Bay Leaf
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup White Wine Vinegar
2 Spring Onions, chopped
2 sticks Celery, chopped
1 tsp Salt
- Wash lentils
- Press cloves into the onion
- In a large pot, combine onion, lentils, bay leaf, salt and water
- Bring to the boil and simmer until lentils are just tender, about 15-20mins
- Drain lentils and throw away bay leaf and onion, cool for about 5mins
- Put lentils, olive oil and vinegar in a bowl and mix till well combined
- Cover bowl and chill in the fridge until cold
- Stir in chopped spring onion and celery
Can be prepared a day or two ahead and kept covered in the fridge
This makes a tasty main dish too, add some juicy cherry tomatoes and crumbed feta and serve on a bed of lettuce
I’ll leave you with this:
I think it’s very important to take the effort to prepare a good meal for friends and family, not just at Christmas or for a birthday, because it shows you care and that you want to spend time with them. It’s also really good to take time out, life is busy enough, we need to remember to enjoy ourselves and what better way than with a feast! Hopefully it also becomes a good memory in your children’s past and something they carry on doing in their future.