The Villagers’ Grilled Lamb

Fresh and fragrant country herbs, perfumed lemons, and tender lean meat are the essence of this simple classic dish. Since the cooking is fast, the lamb benefits from the tenderizing and flavouring of a sharp marinade of lemon juice, pepper, and pungent bay leaves. The flavourful pan juices, to which a liberal amount of rigani is added, make a delicious sauce and aubergine or bean dishes are the perfect accompaniment.

Method Trim off most of the fat from the chops and carefully wipe them to remove any bone splinters. Place in a glass or china bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, pepper, and the bay leaves, cover, and set aside for 3-4 hours, turning the chops occasionally.

Prepare the fire. Set a grill rack 10 cm/4 inches above hot coals. Lightly brush the grill and the chops with the olive oil, and add the remaining oil to any marinade left in the bowl. Discard the bay leaves. Pierce the lemon half with a skewer and use this as a 'baster'.

Grill the lamb until browned on both sides, basting frequently with the marinade and catching the juices in a pan. Raise the grill 5 cm/2 inches and grill about 5 minutes longer for rare meat, 15 minutes longer for well done. A few minutes before the chops are done, add salt, pepper, and half the rigani to the marinade, and baste the chops several times.

Add 2 or 3 tablespoons water to the pan juices, stir to mix, and heat; strain this sauce. Arrange the chops on a warm platter and pour over enough sauce to moisten. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the remaining rigani and surround with the lemon wedges. Serve the remaining sauce separately.

© Flavours of Greece

Serves 4

8 small loin or rib lamb chops

Juice of 1 large lemon (reserve 1 juiced lemon half)

Cracked black pepper to taste

4 bay leaves

4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (to taste)

Coarse-grain sea salt

2 tablespoons dried rigani, briefly pounded in a mortar, or 1 tablespoon dried thyme or rosemary, crumbled

For serving

Lemon wedges

Pilaf with Currants and Pine Nuts

The strong clove, fresh ginger root, and orange zest flavourings reveal the Eastern influences behind this spicy pilaf. Currants and pine nuts are traditional additions sometimes cooked with the rice, sometimes added at the last minute. Adding them after the rice has absorbed all the liquid is the best way to preserve their textures and distinctive flavours. Always served cold, this pilaf is especially good with game.

Method Heat half the olive oil in a heavy saucepan, add the rice, and stir over low heat until the grains whiten, about 2 minutes. Add the cloves, fresh ginger root, bouquet garni, orange zest, stock, and salt. Raise the heat to medium and boil uncovered, without stirring, until the liquid has disappeared and holes appear in the surface of the rice, about 10 minutes. Stir in the currants and pine nuts with a fork and remove from the heat. Cover with a clean tea towel and a tight-fitting lid and set aside 30-40 minutes in a warm spot such as the back of the stove.

Discard the ginger root, bouquet garni, and orange zest, and turn the pilaf out onto a platter. Lightly separate the grains with a fork and set aside to cool. To serve, sprinkle with the lemon juice, onion, parsley, Preserved Lemon, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil.

© Flavours of Greece

Serves 4

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

350 g/12 oz long-grain rice, such as Carolina or Patna

4 cloves

2.5 cm/1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled

1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of parsley, and 1 sprig of thyme, tied together)

5 cm/2 inch strip of orange zest

700 ml/11/4 pints hot chicken stock or water

1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

115 g/4 oz currants, soaked in 2 tablespoons Mavrodaphne wine or warm water for 1 hour

50 g/2 oz lightly toasted pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts

For serving

Juice of 1 small lemon

½ small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley or coarsely chopped fresh coriander

1 tablespoon finely chopped Preserved Lemon, optional

Cracked black pepper to taste

Tiny Tomatoes with Green Olive Sauce

Santorini Islanders make this meze with their local, crimson tomatoes that are tiny, sweet, and packed with flavor from the island’s mineral-rich, volcanic-ash soil. The pungent country sauce features green olives, capers, a hint of garlic, and olive oil sharpened with vinegar. The sauce is also good with Siphnos Shrimp Kephtedes.

Method In a small, heavy skillet over very low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, cover, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until their skins split. Set aside in the skillet to cool.

To make the sauce: Blanch the olives in boiling water for 5 seconds. Drain, pit, and chop. In a food processor, combine the olives, capers, and garlic. Process until well mixed. With the machine running, add the vinegar, drop by drop, then the olive oil (to taste) in a steady stream.

Spread the sauce over a small platter. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the platter. Garnish with fennel or parsley. Cut the crusts from the toast and cut each slice into 4 triangles. Sprinkle the bread with the liquid remaining in the tomato pan.

Variation: Although it takes more work, this dish is at its traditional best when the olives, capers, and garlic are mashed in a mortar or bowl before you add the vinegar and olive oil. The sauce texture will be coarser, but its flavor will be more refined.

© Meze: Small Bites, Big Flavors from the Greek Table

Makes 8 meze servings or serves 4 as a first course.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

24 cherry tomatoes

Green Olive Sauce:

1 cup Greek cracked green or Nafplion olives, or other brine-packed, pit-in, green olives

1 1/2 tablespoons salt-packed capers, soaked, rinsed, and patted dry

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh fennel fronds or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

2 slices whole-wheat or country-style bread, toasted

Sweet and Sour Shallots

Long, slow cooking is the secret of this rich, aromatic meze with its origins in ancient recipes for dishes of wild bulbs and leeks. Gently baked with bay leaves, olive oil, wine, red wine vinegar, currants, and honey, the shallots are meltingly soft and mellow and the sauce thick and tangy. Small onions, plump green onions, young leeks, or tiny carrots may be substituted for the shallots.

Serve on a meze table with bean dishes, khorta, olives, slices of aged graviera or kephalotyri or feta cheese, or as a side dish to preserved meats; grilled pork, chicken, or game; or roasted beets.

Method Neatly trim off the shallot root ends, and remove a very thin slice from each stem end. In a medium saucepan of boiling water, cook the shallots for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.

Choose a heavy, shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the shallots in a single layer. Place in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove the shallot skins with a paring knife. Pour the olive oil into the baking dish. Add the shallots, turn in the oil, and tuck the bay leaves among them. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, or vinegar and water, and currants or raisins in a small bowl and set aside.

Stir the honey into the currant or raisin mixture and add this sauce and the wine to the shallots. Baste the shallots and continue baking for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until the sauce is syrupy. Baste occasionally; if the dish appears dry, add a few tablespoons of water and lightly cover with aluminum foil.

Transfer the shallots to a serving platter or shallow bowl and pour the sauce and bay leaves over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

© Meze: Small Bites, Big Flavors from the Greek Table

Makes 8 meze servings or serves 3 as a side dish.

24 shallots (about 14 ounces)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

4 bay leaves

1/4 cup red wine vinegar, or 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1/4 cup dried currants or small, dark, seedless raisins

2 tablespoons Hymettus or other strongly flavored honey

1/4 cup Mavrodaphne, Madeira, or port wine

Coarse sea salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

Wild Greens Salad

The combination of bitter greens, mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt creates a delicious explosion of flavours in this salad. Choose only fresh young tender leaves and tear them into pieces or sprigs, rather than chopping, to preserve as much vitamin C as possible. Cast-iron pots produce an unpleasant flavour in khorta and also reduce the valuable vitamin content, so always cook them in a stainless steel or enamel-lined saucepan; wild greens do not shrink in cooking as much as cultivated greens.

Method Rinse the greens in several changes of cold water. Remove any tough stalks from the turnip greens and radish tops and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Break off the tender sprigs of leaves from the amaranth greens, water spinach, or mustard greens and discard any tougher stalks.

Steam the greens, or place in a saucepan, add 4 tablespoons boiling water, and cook, stirring once or twice with a fork: Amaranth greens and young ruby chard take only 1-2 minutes, turnip greens and radish tops take 3-4 minutes, and water spinach and mustard around 5 minutes – take care not to overcook. Drain well in a colander, gently pressing the greens against the sides with a wooden spoon. Transfer to a platter.

To serve, combine the Dijon mustard and lemon juice and whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the greens, lightly fork to separate the leaves, and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

© Flavours of Greece

Wild Greens Agria khorta

In Greece, khorta can mean green vegetables or wild greens, sometimes even grass; to compound the confusion wild greens are occasionally called wild herbs, and all these may be called salatika! For the sake of clarity, here khorta refers only to wild leaf greens such as amaranth, mustard, dandelions and chicory, and green leafy vegetables (such as beetroot and turnip greens and radish tops).

Young tender leaves may be used in fresh green salads but the most popular method of preparing khorta is to boil the greens and serve as a vegetable, warm or at room temperature, dressed with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. Crusty bread, yogurt, country cheeses, and olives are often accompaniments. Khorta is also a prized filling for pies and a delicious addition to casseroles.

After the first autumn rains wild greens grow in abundance on the hillsides and in the fields and the sight of village women picking their favourites for the family meal is common; during the season Greek markets also stock many different varieties of khorta. Among them is tender vlita, known here as amaranth greens and sometimes available in speciality shops and markets. Some Chinese markets offer purple or water spinach, which has a similar sweet/sour flavour and makes a delicious substitute for spinach in Cretan pies. Purslane, dandelion greens, radish tops, turnip and beetroot greens, ruby chard and sprouting broccoli are all occasionally available.

Wild greens continue to grow in Greece throughout the winter and short spring. Wild chicory (radikia), in particular, is at its best in March and April, just before its clear blue flowers appear, and a bowl of this bitter green has pride of place as an accompaniment to the Paschal lamb on the traditional Easter table. Come the early summer, however, the dry season and a shortage of water means the absence of the traditional and healthy khorta dishes from Greek tables until the autumn.

Serves 4

550 g/11/4lb wild greens such as turnip greens, radish tops, amaranth greens, water spinach, ruby chard or mustard greens (charlock)

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 small lemon or 2 tablespoons aged red wine vinegar (to taste)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

Coarse-grain sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Greek Yogurt

Both the texture and flavour of Greek yogurt is difficult to reproduce outside the countries of the Near East. I find that Channel Island milk gives a similar smooth, thick, and creamy consistency, but this may not appeal to dieters. Experiment with the milk you have available to find what works best for you. Yogurt added to cooked dishes or salads must be thick; thin yogurt can be strained for a few hours to remove excess water. Left longer to strain, it becomes a delicious creamy cheese.

Method Heat the milk to just under a boil and pour into a glass, china, or earthenware bowl. Let cool, uncovered, to about 43C/110F (you should be able to comfortably leave your finger in the milk for a count of 5). A skin will have formed on the surface (this makes a special treat later, with honey). To retain the skin, push a little of it to one side and spoon the yogurt into the milk. For yogurt with a textured crust, cover the bowl loosely, if at all; for yogurt without a crust, cover the bowl with a plate. Set aside for 10-12 hours in a warm draught-free spot, such as an oven with a pilot light, until thick and creamy. Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days. (Remember to make another batch of yogurt before finishing the bowl.)

Do not be put off if your first few attempts are disappointing. Your yogurt may not set – in which case make sure that the incubating spot is warm enough and the temperature is constant; if your yogurt still does not set, you need to begin again with a new starter. Or it may curdle – the most common causes of curdling are incubating yogurt in a place that is too warm or for too long a period.

Strained Yogurt

Line a sieve with two layers of muslin and set over a bowl. Pour in 1 litre/1¾ pints yogurt, pull up the sides of the muslin, and tie together to make a bag. Hang the bag over the bowl in a cool place and let drain for 3 hours. Do not drain the yogurt in the refrigerator or it will set firm rather than just thickening. Give the bag an occasional squeeze to remove as much water (whey) as possible. (You can use the whey in a soup or casserole.) Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days. (Makes about 700 ml/11/4 pints.)

Yogurt Cheese

Strain 1 litre/1¾ pints yogurt and return the bag to the sieve. Open the muslin and stir in 1/4-1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt if liked. Fold the muslin over the yogurt, place in a heavily weighted plate on top, and set aside for 2 hours. Transfer to the refrigerator and leave another 2 hours.

Dry the muslin bag with paper towels and, leaving the muslin in place, refrigerate the yogurt cheese in an airtight container for up to 4 days. For breakfast, serve with honey, fresh fruit, and crusty bread. For lunch, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, a little freshly ground pepper, and/or finely chopped fresh herbs such as parsley and oregano. (Makes about 275 g/10 oz.)

© Flavours of Greece

Greek Yogurt Yiaourti

Fresh milk, a controlled temperature, and the help of two friendly bacteria (lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus) are the essential requirements for making yogurt. A rich source of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin B, yogurt can also taste wonderful. The best deliciously thick and creamy versions have a refreshing taste and luxurious texture, totally different from the thin and lustreless product that too often passes as yogurt on our supermarket shelves.

Yogurt is used throughout the Balkan region and the Middle East as a tenderizer, to enrich stews, to make sauces, and in salads, desserts, and cakes. And the food-curious visitor to Greece very soon discovers what I consider to be the best snack in the world – a plate of thick white sheep’s milk yogurt covered with fragrant Hymettus honey.

The best yogurt I have ever tasted was made in the small Cretan village of Vrisses. It was sold in unglazed flat-bottomed bowls for which each customer paid a deposit; if you brought back the bowl all you had to pay for next time was the yogurt. That memorable yogurt was made from sheep’s milk but village yogurt is also made from goat’s milk which gives a different, less creamy, sharper flavour.

The easiest way to ensure that you have a good supply of flavourful yogurt is to make it yourself. Despite the complicated instructions often given for yogurt making, it’s really very simple. All you need is good-quality fresh milk, a few tablespoons of live yogurt starter, and a fairly warm (about 24-26C/75-80F) draught-free spot.

Live yogurt starter can be bought in Greek or health food shops. Once you have made your first batch, you save some of it to use as a starter for the second batch, and so on. The taste of your finished yogurt depends largely on this starter; 1- to 2-day-old starter will produce a mildly sweet version, 5- to 6-day-old starter a sharper, tarter one. Every month or two you will need a new starter (the bacteria gradually lose their potency). Taste is also affected by the length of time yogurt is incubated – the longer you leave it, the stronger the result.

Makes 1 litre/1.75 pints

1 litre/1.75 pints Channel Island milk or milk of choice

3 tablespoons live yogurt

Lemon Blossom Spoon Sweet

The perfumed blossoms of rose, orange and grapefruit can all be made into delectable spoon sweets, but the most exquisitely fragrant of them all is made from lemon blossom. For this recipe you need the flower petals only, so enlist a friend’s help to gather them. One of you holds a bag under a blossom-laden branch while the other gently shakes the flowers so that the petals fall into the bag. (Be sure to leave some blossom on the tree so that, in a few months' time, you can gather a harvest of perfumed juicy lemons!)

Method Thoroughly wash and sterilize three 275 ml/1/2 pint jars. Combine the petals with the sugar and set aside, uncovered, for 4-6 hours. With your fingers, toss the petals occasionally, gently rubbing them together so they bruise lightly. Your kitchen will smell wonderful!

Slowly bring 115 ml/4 fl oz water and half the lemon juice to a boil in a large heavy non-reactive saucepan. Add the petals and sugar, reduce the heat to very low, and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat, gently boil 20 minutes, and set aside to cool.

Strain through a sieve, preferably plastic, set over a bowl and discard the solids. Return the syrup to the rinsed-out pan, add the remaining lemon juice, and boil until the syrup reaches 114C/235F on a sugar thermometer (or a little syrup dropped onto a cold plate retains its shape). Let cool slightly. Fill the jars, let cool completely, and cover tightly. Store at room temperature for up to 3 months.

© Flavours of Greece

Spoon sweets Glyka tou koutaliou

Spoon sweets are a very Greek speciality. Preserving ripe fruits and nuts in honey was a technique much favoured by both the Minoans and the ancient Greeks. These honey-coated delicacies are a fundamental part of the Greek expression of friendship and welcome. A guest entering a Greek house is offered a lace-covered tray holding small silver bowls of spoon sweets along with a glass of iced water, a small cup of thick strong coffee, and a small glass of liqueur. The rims of the bowls are indented to hold long-handled spoons with which the visitor scoops up the mellifluous treat. In this ritual, the sweet offering is a traditional symbol of hospitality: It is impolite to refuse it.

Glyka tou koutaliou are probably best described as a cross between a jam and a preserve. They are mostly made with fruits, although young vegetables and nuts can also be used. Almost any fruit can be used to make spoon sweets, but those made with tiny whole fruits are the most treasured of all. Spoon sweets made from sour cherries and fragrant citrus blossoms are especially delectable. All of these sweets are excellent with ice cream, pancakes, and, surprising as it may sound, with pungent goat’s or sheep’s cheeses.

Makes approximately 700 ml/11/4 pints

175 g/6 oz lemon petals

450 g/1 lb sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Cinnamon-Cheese Pies

In traditional Cretan kitchens, the pastry for these plump pies is flavored with orange juice. The pies are either shaped into squares with the filling partly exposed and baked, or into closed squares and half moons and fried. The filling is fresh and feta cheeses flavored with honey and mint; after baking, the pies are dusted with sugar and cinnamon. A delightful snack anytime, especially with a bowl of honey and a sweet Samos wine, these pies are also good accompaniments to grilled pork or an eggplant dish, a salad of bitter (wild) greens, and a full-bodied rosé wine.

Method To make the pastry: Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until soft peaks form. Stir into the flour with the orange juice and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding up to 1 tablespoon more olive oil if needed to make an elastic dough. Be patient; for the first few minutes of kneading, the dough will appear dry. Tightly wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the filling: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Liberally brush a heavy baking sheet with olive oil. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, feta cheese, honey, and mint. Set aside.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide in half. Rewrap one portion and refrigerate it. Roll the dough out as thin as possible.

To make square pies with filling enclosed: Cut the pastry into four 4-by-2-inch rectangles or eight 3-by-1 1/2-inch rectangles. Place one-eighth (or one-sixteenth) of the filling in the center of one half of each rectangle. Dip your finger in cold water and run it along the pastry edges to lightly dampen. Fold over to make squares, and seal by crimping the edges with a pastry wheel or fork. To make square pies with a little filling exposed: Cut the pastry into four 3-by-3-inch squares, or eight 2-by-2-inch squares. Place one-eighth (or one-sixteenth) of the filling in the center of each square. Pull the corners of each square almost to the center and press the 4 edges up and together, leaving a little filling exposed.

Place the pies 1 inch apart on the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining pastry and filling. Liberally brush the pies with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes, or until the pastry is set. Whisk the water into the egg yolk and brush the pastries with this glaze. Bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until golden brown.

Just before serving, combine the confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon and dust the pies with this mixture.

© Meze: Small Bites, Big Flavors from the Greek Table

Makes 8 small or 16 tiny pies; makes 8 meze servings or serves 4 as a side dish


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar

1 egg white

1/4 cup strained fresh orange juice

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1 1/2 cups fresh cheese or small-curd cottage cheese, drained for 15 minutes

2/3 cup (4 ounces) grated feta cheese

1 tablespoon Hymettus or other strongly flavored honey

1 tablespoon dried mint, crumbled

Olive oil for brushing

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

Sweet-Baked Figs

Firm but not under-ripe figs are the kind to choose for this dish. They are baked whole in a honeyed orange juice syrup until they are soft, sweet, and shiny. Arranged on a white serving platter, sprinkled with syrup and fragrant orange flower water, they make an elegant and delicious dessert. Also try baking figs in Mavrodaphne or Samos wine instead of orange juice. Fresh myzithra cheese is the traditional accompaniment.

Method Heat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Rinse the figs and trim the stems. Arrange in a single layer, stem ends up, in a heavy baking dish.

Combine the honey, vanilla, and orange juice in a small saucepan and gently heat until the honey had dissolved. Pour over the figs, and add enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. Bake, uncovered, fifteen minutes and baste the figs with the juices in the dish. Bake small figs 40 minutes longer, large figs 1 hour longer, basting occasionally; add a few tablespoons water if necessary so there is always some liquid in the dish.

Transfer the figs to a platter, spoon over the syrup, sprinkle with the orange flower water, and serve.

© Flavours of Greece

Serves 4

12-16 small fresh figs or 8 large figs

4-5 tablespoons honey, preferably Hymettus, or caster sugar (to taste)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Strained juice of 1 large navel orange or 115 ml/4 fl oz Mavrodaphne or sweet Samos wine

For serving

2 tablespoons orange flower water, optional