Greek recipes to keep the celebration going at home

Moussaka, a layered dish of lamb, eggplants, and potatoes topped with a bechamel sauce, is photographed in the Post-Dispatch studio Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Ryan Michalesko/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Credit: Ryan Michalesko

Credit: Ryan Michalesko

The Dayton Greek Festival benefiting the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church may be over, but the flavors don’t have to end with it.

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Greek food boasts some of the most delicious, timeless dishes out there. Here are three of my favorites from the cradle of civilization that are always a great treat and true staples. Whether you made it to Greek fest or not, these are dishes that will impress from start to finish and are a joy to make in the kitchen.

Avgolemono is a traditional Greek chicken soup with orzo pasta, eggs and lemon.

Greek Egg and Lemon Soup (Avgolemono)

Recipe from www.thekitchn.com

Author Meghan Splawn noticed that when it came to this very well-known soup, there were lots and lots of variations. She turned to Greek cookbook author Aglaia Kremezi to help with the recipe.

Recipe serves 6, makes about 9 cups

SOUP INGREDIENTS

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

8 cups cold water

1 large unpeeled yellow onion, quartered

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1/2 cup dried orzo

4 large eggs

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)

FOR SERVING

1/2 medium lemon, thinly sliced

Fresh dill or oregano

Freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Cook chicken and make stock.

Place the chicken, water, onion, peppercorns, and salt in a 5-quart or larger Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. If any white foam forms, use a slotted spoon to skim off and discard.

Strain the broth. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof bowl and discard the solids. If there is an abundance of fat rendered from the chicken, skim it off it with a spoon or use fat separator.

Reserve 2 cups of the stock in a measuring cup. Return the remaining stock to the Dutch oven and keep warm over low heat.

Shred the chicken. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, use your hands to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces; set aside. Discard the skin and bones.

Cook the orzo in the broth. Bring the stock back to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and cook until al dente, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the reserved shredded chicken. Reduce the heat to low.

Make the avgolemono. Place the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes. While whisking, slowly pour in the lemon juice. While still whisking, temper in the eggs by slowly drizzling the reserved 2 cups of warm stock into the egg-lemon mixture. This warms the eggs just enough so that they do not curdle when added to the hot soup.

Thicken the soup. Add the avgolemono back into the pot with the chicken and orzo and stir to combine. Cook until the soup thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes, but do not let it come to a boil.

Serve the soup. Pour the soup into serving bowls and serve with lemon slices, fresh chopped dill or oregano, and freshly ground black pepper.

RECIPE NOTES

Gluten-free: To make this soup gluten-free, use white rice instead of the orzo.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Reheat on the stove over low heat, making sure not to boil the soup. If you expect that you’ll have an excessive amount left over, simply halve the recipe.

Make ahead: The chicken and stock can be prepared 2 days in advance. Shred the chicken and refrigerate separately. Strain the stock and refrigerate. The lemon can be juiced ahead of time as well

Tempering the Egg and Lemon Mixture: So, you’ve simmered and shredded the chicken thighs. You’ve got the broth from making the chicken, and cooked the orzo in its wake. Now you’ve come to the only challenging part of making Greek lemon and egg soup: adding raw eggs to hot broth without scrambling the eggs. No, no, don’t worry — tempering to the rescue! Tempering is the process of adding a small amount of the hot broth to the eggs while whisking vigorously. You’ll slowly raise the temperature of the eggs enough to add them to the soup without the eggs curdling. Remove the soup from the heat before you begin tempering, and never bring the soup back to a boil once the eggs have been added.

Shortcut: I want to tell you a secret shortcut for those nights when you just can’t make broth from scratch. Buy your favorite carton of chicken broth and reduce it by half. This will take about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, shred the meat from a rotisserie chicken and then start this recipe from step four. It will still be really, really satisfying in about half the time.

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Moussaka, the classic Greek comfort dish.

Moussaka

Recipe from www.themediterraneandish.com

This dish is Greek comfort food at its finest. It’s a hearty eggplant-based casserole that is like a Greek lasagna. Variations in Moussaka abound, including the use of different vegetables.

INGREDIENTS

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch-thick slices, end slices discarded

Salt

Extra virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

1 lb ground lamb (or beef)

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp paprika or hot paprika

1/2 cup red wine

1 14 oz can diced tomato

1 tsp sugar

1/2 cup hot beef broth

2 large russet potatoes, peeled, very thinly sliced lengthwise

water

4 tbsp dried bread crumbs

CHEESE TOPPING

3/4 cup fat-free Greek yogurt

3 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten

1 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 cup reduced fat ricotta (cream cheese would work if you prefer)

3 oz crumbled feta cheese

INSTRUCTIONS

Spread the eggplant slices in one layer and sprinkle with salt. Let set for 30 minutes to “sweat out” its bitterness. Pat the eggplant slices dry and assemble in one layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Drizzle generously with olive oil.

Place the baking sheet on the top oven rack and broil briefly, turning over so that both sides of the eggplant are softened and golden brown (do not worry if parts of the eggplant are slightly charred, but watch carefully so it doesn’t burn). Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet. Cook the onions on medium heat until they turn slightly golden brown, stirring regularly (about 5 minutes). Now add the ground lamb. Cook the lamb until fully browned, tossing regularly. Drain the lamb from any excess fat and return back to the skillet. Now add the dried oregano, ground cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and hot paprika. Stir to coat the meat with the spices.

Add the wine and boil for 1 minute to reduce. Stir in the canned tomatoes, sugar and broth. Simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the meantime, boil the sliced potatoes in plenty of water until they are completely soft and easily breakable (about 5-7 minutes). Drain the water and set the potatoes aside briefly.

To prepare the cheese topping, whisk the Greek yogurt with the eggs and flour. Add the ricotta and feta cheese and whisk again to combine. When ready, lightly oil a 9 1/2″ x 13″ oven-safe baking pan. Layer the eggplant slices on the bottom. Add the meat sauce and spread to cover the eggplant. Layer the potato slices to cover the meat sauce and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Finally spread the cheese topping to thinly cover the potatoes.

Bake in the 350 F degree-heated oven for 45 minutes. If you need to, transfer the baking pan to the top rack and broil briefly so that the top of the moussaka gains a nice golden brown color (watch carefully). Remove from the heat and let sit 5-7 minutes before cutting through into squares to serve.

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Dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves

Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves)

Recipe from www.themediterraneandish.com

If I was going to choose my desert island dishes, this would make it to my list. I love dolmades for breakfast, lunch and dinner and snack time in between. The bitter grape leaves are stuffed with savory mixture of meat, rice and spices and cooked up in a lemon broth that adds zip and plays off the other flavors.

1 16-oz jar grape leaves in brine (about 60 to 70 leaves)

1 1/2 cup short grain rice, soaked in plenty of water for 15 minutes, then drained

Extra virgin olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 12 oz lean ground beef

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 cup each of chopped fresh parsley, fresh dill, and fresh mint

1 to 2 tomatoes sliced into rounds

About 4 cups or more low-sodium chicken broth or water

Juice of 2 lemons

INSTRUCTIONS

Prepare the Grape Leaves

If using jarred grape leaves as I am here, remove them from the jar and discard the brine. Rinse the grape leaves well and place them in a colander to drain. (Later in the process, you’ll remove the stems before stuffing.) (See notes if using fresh grape leaves)

Prepare the Stuffing

Soak the rice in plenty of water for about 15 to 20 minutes or until you are able to break one grain of rice easily. Drain well. While the rice is soaking, cook the meat. Heat 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook briefly, about 2 minutes or so, tossing until translucent. Add the meat and cook till fully browned, tossing occasionally. Drain any excess fat, then season the meat with kosher salt, pepper, and spices. Toss to combine. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the meat, drained rice, and fresh herbs. Season lightly with kosher salt. Add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and mix so that everything is well-incorporated.

Stuff Grape Leaves, Assemble, and Cook

Prepare a heavy cooking pot and lightly brush the bottom with extra virgin olive oil. Arrange a few grape leaves in the bottom. Top with sliced tomatoes. To stuff the grape leaves, you will work one leaf at a time. Place one grape leaf on a cutting board the textured/rough side facing you. Take 1 heaping teaspoon of the filling and place in the center of the leave, then fold the sides over the filling and roll (think about this like rolling spring rolls or cigars.) Repeat with the remaining grape leaves or until you’re out of stuffing.

Neatly arrange the grape leaves in row, seam side down, in your prepared pot, covering the circumference of the pot. Then place a small plate inverted on top. Boil the broth or water and pour over the grape leaves, arriving at the top layer and somewhat covering (about 4 cups liquid, maybe a little more.) Now cover the pot with the lid and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. Uncover and remove the plate, then pour juice of 2 lemons. Cover again with the lid (no need for the plate at this point), cook on low heat for 30 to 45 more minutes or until fully cooked.

To serve

Remove grape leaves from heat. Allow to rest uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Add a generous drizzle of quality extra virgin olive oil, and transfer to a serving platter. Serve with a side of Greek Tzatziki sauce or plain yogurt and wedges of lemon.

Recipe notes

Be sure to soak the rice before using, this allows it to cook more evenly.

Roll the grape leaves tightly enough so they don’t unravel or become undone while cooking, BUT again, remember rice will expand as it cooks, so don’t fold too tightly or the rice won’t cook properly.

Adding a small inverted plate on top of assembled grape leaves in the pot helps keep them intact and in place and prevents them from floating while cooking. Once the liquid has been absorbed, you can remove the plate to finish cooking as instructed.

Once cooked, allow the grape leaves to rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that any remaining liquids are absorbed and the leaves set nicely.

Contact this contributing writer at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com.

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