Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day 41: Baked Chick Peas from Syfnos - Ρεβύθια από την Σίφνο - April 12, 2014

This recipe is really a two day project.  One day is needed for soaking the dried legumes, and the next day is needed for baking the soaked, seasoned dish.  If we lived in a smaller village in Greece, this would likely not be an issue.  We would then have two days to visit with the neighbours as we all gather around the community oven with our pots in hand, not just once, but twice!  We would start our visit when we dropped off the pots, and then, knowing htat the pot would bake for several hours, we would go opff to do whatever we needed, only to return after those hours and continue to visit while picking up the finished (cooked) dish.  That would be a lovely way to pass a day.  Too bad for us we do not live in a samll Greek village right now, and we had to do this by ourselves.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

2 cups dried chick peas
1 onion, chopped
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon flour
4 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste

So, we started on the first day by soaking the chick peas in 4 cups of water and 1 Tablespoon of flour.  The flour helps to keep the skins in place during the cooking process.  This small amount of flour is not mixed into the recipe, it is there just for the soaking process.

After a day of soaking has passed, drain the water from the chick peas.  You can see that the flour we added to the water has settled at the bottom of the container.  Do not add this to the recipe.  Also, please do not rinse the chick peas.  Leave them strained from the water, but do not rinse anything to disturb the skins.  Once the chick peas are drained, put them in a pot (preferably one with a lid).  Add to the pot only these other ingredients: the bay leaves, onion, oil, and water.  Notice there is no salt and pepper in this step.  Those are added much later in the directions, so they do not interfere with the cooking process of hte chick peas.  Cover the pot and put it in a 400º F oven for 2 hours.

The timer buzzed and the first two hours are done, take the chick peas out of the oven.  Stir them once or twice, just to make suire that everything still moves.  Add the salt and pepper to your liking.  We added about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.  You can taste the cooking liquid to decide if you have added enough salt and/or pepper.

Now, cover the pot again and put it back in the oven.  This time, turn the heat down to 350º F, and let the chickpeas cook undisturbed for another 2  hours.  When the timer buzzes again, turn off the oven and let the chick peas stay there in the oven, undisturbed, for another 1 hour.  This allows all the ingredeitns to settleg and conjeal into one amazing dish.  Adjust the salt and pepper before serving.

See how all the components blended together, and the onions started to carmelize in the pot.  The bay leaves have brought so much flavour -- you can tell by the aroma that is travelling through the kitchen while we stir this.  And, at the bottom of the pot, you see the flavourful oil that is just waiting for a piece of crusty bread!  This with a little bread would make a perfect meal.

Serve this warm or tepid.  It is a perfect dish to set in the oven and do all the other things you have to becasue it will take a while!  Or, pretend that you are in the Greek village and have a coffee visit with a friend!  Either way, you will build your appetite for this healthy, delicious meal that is simple, clean, and authentically Greek!

"The Lord, before His Incarnation, let mankind experience all the bitterness of sin, all their powerlessness to eradicate it; and when all longed for a Deliverer, then He appeared, the most wise, all-powerful Physician and Helper. When men hungered and thirsted after righteousness, as it grew weaker, then the everlasting righteousness came."

From St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ:Part 1, Holy Trinity Monastery pg. 266)
Source of quote:

Friday, 11 April 2014

Day 40: Delicious Sweet Sesame Pita from Vefa's Book - Σουσαμόπιτα από το βιβλίο της Βέφας - April 11, 2014

Sesame pita?  Sure, why not?  We believe that we could put any sweet item in phyllo, bake it and coat it with syrup and it would be tasty.  Actually, you could put any savoury food in phyllo dough and bake it and it would be tasty.  But sesame falls between the two categories of sweet and savoury.  Do you put it with syrup or make it savoury with something else like cheese?  When we saw that sesame became a sweet, we became curiously excited.  What reassured us that this recipe was going to be good is that it was taken from one of our main cookbooks, Vefa's Kitchen.  We rely on the same five or six cookbooks through the duration of Great Lent, knowing that whatever we make out of these books will typically turn out pretty well, will be tasty, and will be fasting appropriate.  Of course, there are other resources from where we get our recipes, and we spend a lot of time reading!  There is this one blog we especially like … it's called Great Lent Gourmet… (hee hee hee). Another blog we really love to read very often is

For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients:

1 package Phyllo sheets
Oil or pan spray for in between the sheets of phyllo

Filling: 2 1/4 cups sesame seeds
            1 cup sugar
            1 tsp cinnamon
            1 tsp ground cloves

For the syrup:  (We would like to note that we had some syrup from making another sweet from three days ago, and we used that syrup for this recipe.  If you have any leftover syrup, please consider using that, provided it has no super-strong flavours to alter the taste of the sesame pie)

     5 cups sugar
     1 cinnamon stick
     2 teaspoons lemon juice
     3 cups water

Start by making the syrup, if you don't have any.  It will take about 45 minutes to simmer on the stove, so that can simmer while you make the filling and assemble the pita. Mix all the ingredients for the syrup in a small pot and let it simmer on a medium low heat for 45 minutes.  It should get slightly thicker and will turn a light golden colour.  Allow this to continue to simmer on low heat until you are ready to use it.  We heated our syrup in a pan and left it on low heat for the duration of making the pita.

Most recipes that call for a syrup on top of a food ask for one item to be hot and the other to be cold -- usually it is a hot food and a cold syrup.  But, this recipe is a little different where both parts have to be hot.  That is so the pie does not absorb too much syrup, and the syrup stays thin enough to coat the entire pie.

Now that the syrup is simmering, it is time to make the filling.  You will need a food processor for this.

First, grind the sesame seeds to a fine powder, almost a paste.  It will be a rough paste, not like tahini which is smooth and thick, you want less smooth than that.  To the sesame seeds, add the sugar, cinnamon, and cloves.  Blend this together until the mixture is well combined and becomes a little cohesive.

Now, prepare the phyllo sheets.  On the countertop, lay out one sheet of the phyllo dough and coat it with oil.  You can use a pastry brush to "paint" the oil onto the phyllo, or you can use a vegetable oil based pan spray (like we did).  Coat the entire sheet of phyllo.

Lay the second layer of phyllo on top of the first.  Make sure the corners line up and are as flush as possible.  You want the two sheets to look like one -- one thick sheet.  You will do this one more time and total three sheets of phyllo.  Make sure the third layer is fully coated with the oil or the pan spray.

Take the filling that you made and lay out one row of filling along the long side of the sheet of phyllo.  You are going to roll this into a cigar-shaped log, so make a thin row of the filling.  You can use your hands or fingers to try to straighten the filling, but you will also do that with the phyllo, so do not overthink this.

Now, it is time to roll the log.

First, make sure the filling is tightly wrapped in that first inch of phyllo.  If you overlap the edge of the phyllo on top of the filling, and tuck in the edge under the filling, and pull the phyllo roll back toward you, you will get a snug cigar shape.  Then, you can roll the rest of the way.  Now, watching carefully so that you keep the log straight and even, start to roll the phyllo into a long cylinder.  About half way through the rolling, pinch the edges closed so that the filling does not ooze out while the log bakes.  This is especially important for softer or juicier fillings.

Once you have the entire cylinder rolled, it is time to twist this log into a spiral shape.  Although we were not greatly successful with this step, our spirals looked acceptable.  Hold the one end of the log, and pick up the other end.  Carry the second end around the first and go round and round until you run out of log.  It should look like a spiral.

Brush the top of the spiral with oil (or spray it) and set it on a paper lined or greased cookie sheet.  We used the silicone baking mat as we usually do.  As long as there is something between the bottom phyllo and the actual metal of the cookie sheet, you will be fine.  Phyllo is rather forgiving that way.  It is not forgiving, however, when rolling the spirals.  You can see in our photograph that the phyllo cracked.  We think that is because the phyllo was a little cold, as was the kitchen, so the dough was not as pliable as when it is actually room temperature.

Notice the crack in our spiral. Nevertheless, the final product turned out really well!

Bake the spirals for about 45 minutes at 350º F (175º C).  You want them to be golden brown and firm.  The spirals should move freely on the baking sheet.

Now for the fun part!  Take that hot pita spiral and put it in the hot syrup.  Make sure that the syrup should be at a medium low heat so that the syrup is hot.  The pita just came out of the oven so we know that is hot, too.  Ours is a little dark in colour, but it was hot out of the oven!  

Fully submerge the pita in the syrup and hold it down for about 45 seconds.  This gives ample time for the syrup to sink into the sesame filling and through the middle of the spiral.

Allow the excess syrup to drip off the pita, and set it back on the cookie sheet and allow it to cool.  If it looks dry, spoon some more syrup on top of the pita.  You want it wet, but not soaked.  The spiral should shine and drip a little without being gooey.  

To serve these, either serve them as entire spirals, which would be great if they were small; alternatively, you can cut each spiral into smaller pieces and serve as bite-sized bits.  We chose the bite sized bits.  And, sometimes one bite is all you really want or need.

"No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us."

1 John 4:12-19

Source of quote:

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Day 39: Being Good Guests During Lent - Καλοί Μουσαφίρηδες Κατά την Διάρκεια της Σαρακοστής - April 10, 2014

File:Andrej Rublëv 001.jpg
This icon by the Russian iconographer St. Andrey Rublev (created sometime between 1408 and 1425) shows Abraham hosting the three angels at Mambré.
Last week, we visited some cousins.  This, in itself, is not that unusual, nor is it exciting for anyone reading this.  But, there is more to this entry than just that.  When we were invited, we scheduled our time together so we could have dinner together and then an evening of visiting, games, and some time together.  It is a typical evening together with cousins, so we didn't really think too much beyond going to see them and enjoying the company of family.  We never discussed fasting before our visit because these were cousins who practice Orthodoxy, so we thought that Lenten foods were a given.  They were not.  We were offered a lovely meal that had been made with love, but it was not Lenten.  What to do?

We follow the strict fast, allowing for olive oil and wine on weekends.  We know that many of our recipes call for oil, and you can use whatever oil you like, or with some of the recipes, you can omit the oil completely.  But, even if there was wine and oil, what happens when the host for your dinner invitation serves fish, because they do not think fish is prohibited during Lent?  There was no conversation before dinner to know that we are not eating any meat or fish, and it never occurred to us that they may not be fasting at all.  Is the right approach to not say anything or to speak up and state that you are fasting and cannot eat this?

So, we are now faced with a dilemma.  It seems to be a problem because we don't want to offend anyone, nor do we want to make ourselves un-invitable for half the year (since we fast about 180 days every year).  Do we speak up, or do we smile and eat a small bit of the non-Lenten foods?  Or, should we pick through the food being served, explaining to the host/hostess why you are not eating certain components.  Maybe it is best to eat what you are given and not say anything?

We often choose not to say anything.  Both of us were taught to be gracious guests.  That means that you enjoy what you are served, even if you don't like the food, you eat it regardless, say "thank you" to the host or hostess and enjoy the visit.  It is not polite to tell others that you do not like the things they are serving.  But, we know several people who are more verbal than we are.  These are the people who proclaim that they are fasting and cannot have the foods offered because the foods are not completely Lenten.  Those are the same people who will make you feel bad for them because they are "missing out" on something good.  There have been many times that we have had the conversation about fasting before accepting an invitation, but it did not happen this time.

The evening of March 25, we were served a lovely meal with Tsipoures (porgies), skordalia, rice, and bread.  It was appropriate for the day.  We all joked about  not having the traditional Bakaliaro (cod fish) with the skordalia as we picked through the bones of the Tsipoures, but ate fish none the less.  Then, we all started having a conversation about the special treat of having fish that day, since several of us were following a strict fast.  For those who were not, they explained that their health concerns may prevent them from fasting the traditional way.  Therefore, they follow different guidelines established through many conversations with their individual spiritual fathers.  For one, fish is a regular meal, but not on Wednesadays and Fridays.  Those days are kept for a bean/ legume based meal.  We have to wonder if they are doing the right thing because they spoke to their spiritual fathers, and should we discuss this with ours?

In the past, we have spoken casually with a few priests who have told us different things.  Many have said that we should keep the fast and just kindly explain that these foods are not permitted.  Yes, it seems like an issue for the host/hostess to prepare a different dish just for us, but we have to be true to who we are.  A couple of other priests have told us that it is more important to focus on the prayer than the food.  Does that mean that if we follow the dietary fast that we do not have to focus as much on the prayer?  With that, we disagree.  It is essential to our well-being, our happiness, and our overall health that prayer is a part of everything we do.  We do focus on our prayer daily, not just during Great Lent, as do many, but we also enjoy the aspect of fasting from the various foods.

Without having a definite answer, we chose to follow our hearts and spend our time with the family.   We had some fish, just a very small amount.  We were gracious guests and chose to not make anyone feel bad or feel guilty.  We know that we broke the fast for one meal, but that one action will not be the end of our fast, it will be a transitional point where we know that we need to focus more for the next couple of weeks and strongly ask for God to help us and forgive us.

In the practice of fasting, it is important to remember that we are not fasting simply for the sake of fasting.  Our observance of the fasting days and periods of the Church is for our spiritual growth and greater communion with God.  No matter how austere our fast may be with purely technical rules, it is void of faith and grace if we are not also committed to prayer and worship, study and growth in our knowledge of our Faith, and philanthropic and charitable acts.

From the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America's Faith and Life Series: Fasting in the Orthodox Church: 

"The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God." Mary and Bishop Kallistos Ware

"In its most basic sense, fasting is abstinence from food. But it is far more than that. It helps us to open our minds and souls to the guidance of the Spirit and to break away from our captivity to boldly appetites and selfish desires. Through fasting we overcome the burdens and pressures of physical gratification that are placed upon us in our world, and through our faith in Christ we are renewed and transformed into the holy people God created us to be."