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Red Wine Adds Flavor to Lentil Soup


Lentils are the basis of this Greek soup.

“Like all starch-based soups, this one will thicken as it cools,” writes Michael Psilakis in “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking” (Little, Brown and Co., $35). “If you make it the day before, hold on to any reserved cooking liquid so you can thin the soup when you reheat, if it’s too thick. You can always use the liquid in another soup or a braise, as it’s really a lentil stock, full of flavor from all the vegetables and aromatics.”

Lentil Soup (Fakes)

2 smoked ham hocks
Water, as needed
2 tablespoons blended oil (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive)
2 Spanish or sweet onions, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 Idaho potato, peeled and finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves or 3 dried bay leaves
3 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound brown lentils
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup grated kefalotiri cheese (or Parmesan, if you must) (see note)
2 scallions, green part only, sliced on the diagonal
Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large pot, cover the ham hocks with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside, discarding the water.

In a large pot, warm the blended oil over medium-high heat. Add all the vegetables, including the garlic, as well as the bay leaves and thyme, and cook 3 to 5 minutes to soften without browning. Add the lentils and stir for 1 minute, then deglaze the pot with the red wine and sherry vinegar. Simmer until the wine is completely evaporated; then add the ham hocks and enough water to cover everything by a good inch. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and vegetables, reserving all the liquid in a large measuring jug. Return the solids to the empty cooking pot.

In a food processor, combine about a third of the lentil mixture with 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Purée until completely smooth. Return this puréed mixture to the pot with the remaining lentils and mix. Add enough of the cooking liquid to get the desired consistency – again, I am partial to a hearty style, but you may prefer it with a little more liquid. Taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and top with a big pinch of kefalotiri, some sliced scallion greens and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Optional variations:

  • If you want the meat from the ham hock in the soup, you’ll have to simmer it far longer than it takes the lentils to cook: Sauté a mirepoix of 1 carrot, 3 ribs celery, 1 large onion, 2 fresh bay leaves, and 6 smashed cloves of garlic until tender. Add the ham hocks, cover with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is tender. Pull out the ham hocks. Strain the braising liquid, discarding the vegetables and bay leaves. Reserve the liquid and use for cooking the lentils, instead of the water. Pick off the meat from the ham hocks, discarding bones and tough cartilage. Add the meat with the puréed lentils.
  • Cook 1/2 cup of orzo according to the package instructions and stir in just before serving.
  • Serve with slices of day-old baguette, toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
  • Use any lentils of your choice; French green lentils and black beluga lentils will take a bit longer to cook.
  • Reduce the soup until it is very thick; then use it as a bed under a nice piece of fried fish. If you prefer it smooth rather than chunky, purée all the lentils. It will be almost like refried beans. Top this with a little strained Greek yogurt for coolness and tang; then throw on some torn fresh green herbs.
  • For extra pork flavor without cooking the ham hock ahead of time, as above, sauté a few ounces of finely diced smoked slab bacon with the mirepoix.

Note: Kefalotiri is a Greek cheese traditionally made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is hard and dry, and is occasionally referred to as the Greek Parmesan. It can be found at some ethnic markets and supermarkets with extensive cheese sections.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Adapted from “How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking” by Michael Psilakis

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Warm Feta With Tomato, Olive and Pepper Salad


“This super-easy and fast dish is a play on saganaki, a typical tavern dish where you melt cheese by grilling, broiling or pan-frying,” says Michael Psilakis in “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking.” Omit the optional sardines and it’s purely vegetarian.

Warm Feta With Tomato, Olive and Pepper Salad

1 small Spanish or sweet onion, thickly sliced
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
9 caperberries, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons capers
9 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
9 cracked green olives, pitted and torn
9 Kalamata olives, pitted and torn
1 small red onion, roughly chopped
2 fire-roasted red bell peppers, home-roasted or store-bought, roughly chopped
9 Greek sardines or white anchovies, diced (optional)
9 small, picked sprigs dill
9 small, picked sprigs parsley
9 leaves fresh basil
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry Greek oregano
12 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 warmed or toasted pita breads, cut into wedges

Brush the onion slices with a little olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper. On a hot grill pan or in a cast-iron skillet, grill the onion until tender and slightly char-marked. Separate into rings.

In a large bowl, combine the grilled onion, caperberries, capers, tomatoes, olives, red onion, roasted peppers, sardines or anchovies (if using), dill, parsley and basil. Drizzle with oil and lemon juice, season with kosher salt and pepper, sprinkle with oregano and toss the salad until evenly coated.

[amazon-product]0316041211[/amazon-product]Scatter the feta evently over the base of an ovenproof baking dish or gratin. Warm the feta until slightly softened, 30 seconds in a microwave or under a broiler for 3 minutes. Top with the salad and serve with pita wedges. Scoop feta and salad onto a wedge with a knife and eat out of hand.

Variations:

  • Grill a couple of sirloin steaks and after resting, scatter with some crumbled feta. Then make the salad as above and pile it on top of the steak.
  • Grill a pounded, seasoned chicken breast and top it with feta, broil to soften – but not melt – the feta, and top with this salad.

Makes 10 to 12 servings as a meze, or appetizer.

Adapted from “How to Roast a Lamb: New Classic Greek Cooking,” by Michael Psilakis

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Papouli’s: Greek Without Fuss


Falafal Pita
Falafel Pita Sandwich

Papouli’s Greek Grill has won fans since its opening several years ago for its simple yet savory Greek fare, ranging from dolmas, or stuffed grape leaves, to its creamy, eggplant-filled moussaka.

A recent lunch visit to the original Forum location showed that all was well in the kitchen in terms of freshness and flavor — and swiftness of service. Though the restaurant was full when we entered, our order at the counter was taken as quickly as possible, and the food appeared in a reasonable amount of time once we sat down.

A cup of Gypsy lentil soup topped with a sprinkle of feta cheese was a great way to begin the meal. Even in these hotter-than-hot days of late, a touch of warm soup can be welcome, especially one enlivened with a good sweet onion base and plenty of hearty lentils.

Food: 3.5
Value: 4

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

If you’d rather go with something cooler, try the Greek salad with its tart, oregano-seasoned dressing and crisp iceberg lettuce tossed with kalamata olives, peppers and tomato.

The Greco-Roman sandwich was stuffed with plenty of crispy-edged gyro meat (a combination of beef and lamb) and topped with a generous helping of garlicky tzatziki sauce. Wrapped around it was a warm, fluffy pita.

A friend scoffed when I ordered the Papouli burger, also wrapped in a pita. But one bite silenced him, thanks to the tangy feta cheese crumbles and acidic tomato slices that gave the burger an extra kick. This isn’t merely a dish for those who refuse to eat something more traditional; it’s a winner in its own right.

Greco-Roman Pita and Greek Salad
Greco-Roman Pita with Gyro and Greek Salad

The falafel sandwich also earned praise for its well-seasoned garbanzo bean patties, but not as much as the fries that accompanied each of the sandwiches. The thick strips of potato were crisp and not greasy in the least, merely full of solid potato flavor.  They disappeared quickly.

The only complaint the whole meal was reserved for the underwhelming couscous that was curiously bland when compared with the richness of the rest of the meal.

It’s easy to see why Papouli’s keeps people coming back for more. Our good impression of the Forum has been bolstered by more than a few enjoyable meals at the Huebner location.

By the way, if you’re pinching pennies, study the menu closely and you’ll find several bargains. During lunch, for example, you can get a small side and a drink for $3 added on to the price of your sandwich. A cup of soup by itself costs more than that.

Papouli’s Greek Grill
8250 Agora Parkway
(210) 659-2244

11224 Huebner Road
(210) 641-1313

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