Cookbook author Diane Kochilas has spent her professional life bringing healthy Greek food to a wide international audience. Inspired by her recent PBS travel/food series My Greek Table, we set out to explore this delightful cuisine ourselves - in an idyllic outdoor setting hosted by our very own Dianne.
On this culinary journey, we had the opportunity to experience some new and different flavors and cooking techniques: we tasted retsina (a traditional and popular white wine infused with pine resin); sour trahana (a Greek grain product originally created to preserve milk), grape leaves used in a Greek-inspired pesto – instead of being stuffed – and pine honey. Several of us used phyllo dough in a variety of ways: besides the traditional phyllo-crusted pies baked in rectangular pans, the paper-like dough sheets were formed into small savory triangle-shaped pastries; and most unusually, torn into strips and mixed with a batter made from Greek yogurt, eggs and lots of melted butter, then baked into an intriguing orange-perfumed bread pudding-like dessert.
Ten cooks took part in the gathering and we enjoyed eleven savory and three sweet dishes. Recipes were chosen from the PBS series, Kochilas' website, and several of her cookbooks (The Country Cooking of Greece, The Glorious Foods of Greece, The Greek Vegetarian and Ikaria).
We shared our experiences at the table. Sue brought two savory dishes with a definite onion theme: in fact she used 18 large red onions in her recipes! Kate was challenged to find a spanikopita recipe from our author which uses commercial phyllo, as her kitchen space is not dough-rolling friendly. Plus she was a bit overwhelmed with processing two pounds of spinach (she'll use frozen next time). Susie told us she always looks for easy and quick recipes and her scrambled egg/tomato/olive dish was certainly no exception (she even said next time she'd make it even easier and quicker using canned tomatoes). Jackie's delicious Caramelized Summer Vegetable Tart gave her a bit of a challenge as the recipe gave no specifics on how thinly to slice the potatoes (which formed the bottom crust of the tart). Adele was excited to use her pretty new baking pan for her unusual "kneaded" pie, but alas, the recipe turned out to be disappointing. The recipe for the trahana stuffing for my dish yielded far more stuffing than was needed for the dozen medium tomatoes (and I threw in an extra tomato for good measure). Our Greek desserts and coffee topped off the meal.
All in all, we enjoyed a lovely afternoon dining alfresco with friends. Special thanks to our gracious host Dianne (and her fearless kitties). See you for our October gathering!
Click here for photo gallery and recipe links.