Greek Olive Paste

Greek Olive Paste

It doesn’t take long after coming home from vacation for the steady stream of daily to-do’s to wipe out my holiday induced calm. A couple of late nights at work, a family event or two, an overgrown lawn, and I’ve almost forgotten that I ever went to Greece.  Although it’s only been a few weeks, those lazy days on the Aegean sea seem like ages ago. If it weren’t for all of those lovely photos, I’d wonder if we even saw the Acropolis, or explored the mountains of Crete.

Greece Athens Acropolis temple of Athena

Does this happen to you? Does your habitual stress erase your vacation happiness?

In an effort to bring back those calm, sunny holiday hours, Jeff and I have been gravitating towards the food and drink of our vacation.  A tiny cup of Greek coffee in the afternoon, a few honeyed pistachios after dinner.  And most of all, this flavorful olive paste.  At almost every meal in Greece, we were served a big basket of country bread, a little dish of pungent olive oil, and a generous dollop of intense olive paste.  Even Jeff, a proclaimed olive hater, would slather this olive paste over crusty pieces of semolina bread.  Here at home, we’ve been devouring this olive paste as a snack, spread on sandwiches, tossed with grilled vegetables and drizzled over baked chicken.

Greek Olive Paste

In Crete, this olive paste is made with tiny black olives grown locally and used to produce some of the world’s best olive oil.  Here at home, I’ve been using kalamata olives, which give the olive paste a slightly creamier texture, but all in all produce a reasonably close copy of the Cretan staple. If you’re so inclined, it might be fun to experiment with different types of olives in this recipe.

Greek Olive Paste

makes a scant 1/2 cup

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

pinch of red pepper flakes

pinch of dried oregano

salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until mostly smooth, with a few small bits of olive remaining.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Serve with crusty bread or alongside grilled meats, on sandwiches, with a cheese plate, or tossed with fresh pasta.  The olive paste is best used right away, but will keep for a couple of days in the fridge in a covered container.

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Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm  Comments (5)  
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Change, Greek Coffee, and a Greek Frappé

greek boats crete

Life in Greece today is uncertain, to say the least.  And whatever happens in a few days at the national elections, change is afoot.  For better or worse, the landscape is shifting.  Only one thing is for sure – the status quo cannot be maintained.

This is not a political blog.  This is a place where we talk about cookies and soup, burgers and pie.  But sometimes food finds its way into politics.

crete eloundaThe economic crisis was more than evident during our wonderful holiday in Greece.  When we tore our eyes away from the sparkling azure sea, we saw plenty of vacant real estate and protest graffiti. But crisis or no crisis, daily life goes on.  And amid all the unknowns, there are a few things about Greek life that I can guess will never change.

Fishermen will catch firm, white fish to serve right from the boats, grilled and drizzled with buckets of olive oil and lemon juice. Fig trees will grow and flourish. Yogurt will be rich, creamy, and ubiquitous. Tavern proprietors will shout ‘Yiamas’ as they send their guests off with shots of raki. Street vendors will sell koulori (sesame coated bread rings) from shopping carts. Orange juice will be freshly squeezed by the glass. Children will collect honey from backyard beehives. Old ladies will bring their coffee to a boil exactly three times before serving. Old men will sip their dark, sweet coffee as they commiserate about the weather. University students will down their caffeine in icy, foamy frappés at sidewalk cafés.

In Greece, coffee is everywhere.  Sure, there is plenty of drip coffee being served these days.  But each and every cafe, snack bar, taverna, and restaurant offers a cup of the real deal.  Greek coffee is a tiny, sweet, intense shot of caffeine.  Slighty foamy, and a bit gritty, it’s not for everyone.  But if you can get past the grit, slowly sipping Greek coffee is a pretty fantastic time-honored tradition.

Greek Coffee

greek coffee

Greek coffee is made in a briki. This is a briki.

For Greek coffee add to the briki:

1/3 cup of water

1 heaping teaspoon of Greek espresso (ok, I cheated and used a good Italian brand, but you can find Greek brands like Venizelos online at a pretty reasonable price)

two teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)

Bring just to a boil, stirring constantly.  Remove from the heat right away until the foam subsides.  Return the briki to the heat and repeat this process two more times.  Serve in a demitasse cup, grounds and all. Let the coffee sit for a moment to allow the grounds to settle before drinking.

Greek Frappé

coffee frappe

A Greek frappé, unlike the traditional demitasse of Greek coffee, is a modern invention. Well, modern by Greek standards!  Rumor has it that the Greek frappé was invented at the 1957 International Trade Fair in Thesaloninki by a representative of Nestle. It’s vaguely like an iced latte.  But faster, easier, stronger, foamier, and more fun! It’s simply coffee, sugar, and milk shaken over ice.

insntant coffeeAs the Greeks do, I used Nescafé instant coffee for this particular frappé. But Starbucks Via Ready Brew actually works pretty well. You can try simply adding the instant coffee and cold water to a shaker, but I like my coffee and sugar to be fully dissolved, and find that the hot coffee works just fine.

For a Greek Frappé:

1 cup of very strong hot instant coffee

2 teaspoons (or more, if you like) sugar

ice

1/2 cup of evaporated milk (Yes, do try the scary canned stuff.  Trust me, you’ll like it).

Dissolve the sugar in the prepared hot coffee. Fill a small cocktail shaker with ice.  Add the milk to the shaker, along with the coffee.  Quickly put the top on and shake vigorously for about 30-40 seconds.  Pour the contents of the shaker into a glass, including the ice, and serve with a straw. And preferably a little plate of pistachio cookies.

Published in: on June 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm  Comments (5)  
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Greece

Greece beach sea view Lagnissi

Coming home is always nice.  No matter how long I have been away or where I have travelled, I love the moment of walking in the front door. But the bliss only lasts a moment before it all hits me.  The piles of unread mail, the suitcases full of dirty laundry, the dozens of unanswered voice messages.  And suddenly I want to run right back out that front door, hop back on the plane and find myself on a sunny Cretan beach.

Sadly, I’m here with my piles of laundry, already missing the Koulouria (sesame bread rings), mizythra (fresh Cretan goat cheese) and frappes (foamy iced coffee). But our trip to Greece was fantastic.  I can’t thank the people at FAGE USA enough for the adventures of the past week, especially for the tour of the FAGE factory in Athens.

Fage Greek Yogurt

While I can’t share all of the secrets of the FAGE yogurt-making process, I can tell you that it’s quite an amazing operation.  Did you know that it takes four litres of milk to make just one litre of FAGE Total yogurt? You never know when that random bit of knowledge might come up at trivia night! And I’ll share one other little tidbit: have you ever noticed faint bumps on the top of your FAGE Total yogurt?  Ever wondered what those bumps might be?  The folks at FAGE call them “the daisy” and they are imprints of the shape of the super high-tech device that pumps the yogurt into the waiting cups.  The end of the pump is shaped like a flower, and if you look closely at your next cup of FAGE Total, you might just notice the bumps in the shape of a daisy.

I’m off to do laundry, but I will be back soon with recipes from Greece.  In the meantime, I will continue to be thankful to the folks at FAGE for the memories of the past week, and for the fact that, of all the foods I miss from my time in Greece,  rich and creamy Greek yogurt doesn’t have to be one of them.

Sea Crete Greece

Published in: on June 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm  Comments (6)  
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