5 of 5 spoons
When I was contacted about possibly reviewing this cookbook and participating in the blog tour, I jumped at the chance. I have absolutely loved every Greek dish I've ever tried, so I knew I really wanted a part of this! As soon as the book arrived, I took a break from everything and spent the next hour curled up on the couch reading and browsing through the book. My list of things I want to make finally just got tossed as it was half the book!
I homeschool my girls and we are currently studying ancient history. One of their assignments was to make lentil stew, a dish very common to that time. They were very excited to find a recipe in "It's All Greek to Me", and set out to make it. Now, they are not exactly fans of lentils. I make them semi-regularly as they are a cheap, healthy dish, but it's definitely not one of their favorites. However, they all actually enjoyed this version which includes carrots, celery and more.
Many of my favorites are in this book from Spanokopita to Tomato, Cumumber and Red Onion Salad, Greek Meatball Soup and of course, there's always Baklava!! Oh, my! Definitely my favorite Greek dessert, I am very pleased to be able to share Debbie's recipe with you!!
Here is my family’s secret recipe for the best Baklava ever. Rolling it this way, as opposed to baking it in a flat pan, ensures a light flakiness and just the right amount of the honey syrup running throughout. Around the holiday season, when I was growing up, my mom would make big batches of this so that my sister, my brother, and I could give platters of it to our teachers. Needless to say, every new school year, teachers were very excited to see one of the Matenopoulos kids on their class rosters!
YIELDS APPROXIMATELY 39 PIECES
FOR THE BAKLAVA
11/4 pounds walnuts (about 5 cups), finely chopped
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 (1-pound) package phyllo dough sheets
(13 × 18 inches), thawed (see tip, page 112)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
FOR THE SYRUP
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup honey
1 (2-inch-wide) piece fresh lemon peel
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the walnuts, sugar, and cinnamon, and set aside.
Working quickly, and keeping the unused phyllo sheets covered, lay out 1 sheet of phyllo on a clean flat surface. Lightly brush the phyllo sheet with the melted butter. Cover with a second phyllo sheet and butter. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the top sheet. Repeat this process with 2 more sheets of phyllo and another 1/2 cup of the nut mixture, then again with last 2 phyllo sheets and a final ½ cup of the nut mixture. You will have used 6 sheets of phyllo and 11/2 cups of the nut mixture (3 layers). Starting at the long end (the 18-inch side), gently roll the layered phyllo sheets up into a tight, fat roll. Brush the seam with butter to seal. Repeat the entire process twice more. One package will make 3 rolls.
Using a large, very sharp knife, cut the rolls into 1-inch pieces. Lay the pieces cut side down on 2 large ungreased rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, and, using a large spatula or tongs, quickly flip the baklava over. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes more or until cooked through, golden and flaky.
While the baklava is baking, make the syrup. Combine all of the syrup ingredients except the lemon juice in a medium, nonreactive saucepan. Set it over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 12 minutes, stir in the lemon juice, and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and carefully remove and discard the lemon peel. Let the syrup cool slightly.
Remove the baklava from the oven and slowly pour the warm syrup over pieces on the baking sheets. Let stand 1 hour to soak up the syrup. Transfer to individual cupcake wrappers, if desired, and serve. The baklava will keep, covered loosely, at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Debbie’s Tip: To make a vegan baklava, substitute a vegan butter (like Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) for the dairy butter, use maple sugar or organic (vegan) sugar, and omit the honey, if desired.
I was also able to get a Q&A from Debbie Matenopoulos to share with you all!
“Fall for Greek with Debbie Matenopoulos” Blog Tour Q&A
What was your favorite part about putting this book together? Most challenging?
My favorite part about putting this cookbook together was gathering all of the recipes from my family and translating them into English. There is so much history in these recipes. It was very nostalgic. My mother gave me my grandmother’s hand written recipe books that were written in Greek along with her own. There were pages that were coming out that were obviously worn by the years of being referenced time and time again. I felt as if I was holding our most valuable family heirlooms in my hands. I feel very honored that my entire family was willing to share their treasured recipes with me and allow me to share them with the world.
The most challenging part of writing this cookbook was translating the measurements from the metric system. That was no easy task. As opposed to just going by a chart, I chose to personally re-measure everything just to be certain. I have to admit that this was the one time in my life I wished they had taught us more of the metric system in school. ;)
What 5 items are a must in a well-stocked Greek pantry?
A Greek pantry is NOT a Greek pantry without some very key ingredients. I know you've asked for 5, but there are actually 7 that every Greek kitchen should be stocked with. They are Greek extra virgin olive oil, dried Greek oregano, fresh lemons, fresh flat leaf parsley, fresh tomatoes, and onions. Combined, those ingredients and you have the base of a lot of Greek dishes.
The Mediterranean Diet is high in healthy fats. How do you incorporate heart-healthy oils into your recipes?
It has been proven time and time again that extra virgin olive oil is the most heart healthy of all oils. It is all I have ever used and it is all that my family ever used growing up. Although the smoke point is much lower than it is on other oils, in my opinion, it is still the best way to go when cooking or flavoring any dish. I wouldn't consider cooking with anything else. Extra virgin olive oil has been proven to lower cholesterol and fight heart disease. As a matter of fact, one of the leading cardiologists in the country, Dr. Michael Ozner, wrote the forward to my book and in it, he discusses this very issue. That's why he too believes that the Mediterranean way of eating that I describe in my book is the most healthy way of eating on the planet.
What is your earliest memory of cooking/preparing Greek food?
My earliest memories of cooking are from when I was about 4 years old and are of me being in the kitchen with my mom. I was helping her stir the bechamel for the pastichio or moussaka over the stovetop to make sure it didn’t get too thick. She would pull up a stool for me to stand on and make sure to let me know that my job was very important. She would tell me that getting the pastichio or moussaka exactly right all depended on me making sure I didn't let the bechamel thicken too much. That responsibility made me feel so important and made me so proud when we all sat down to dinner. It truly made me feel like I was an integral part in making this delicious meal. I think that's when I fell in love with cooking.
What message would you like to resonate with your readers/home cooks?
I would like the readers of this blog and the home cooks to not only enjoy the amazing flavors of the Mediterranean cuisine of my ancestors, but also the immeasurable health benefits. And, I’d like them to enjoy this food with their family and loved ones, because after all, food is more than just food to Greeks. To Greeks, food represents love and family. So here’s to you enjoying the deliciousness of this cookbook with your family!! ;)
This book is gorgeous and filled with such lovely recipes that I can highly recommend it to anyone. I am happy to host a giveaway for your own copy of this beautiful cookbook! Enter on the Rafflecopter! (I do apologize that I wasn't able to get it up in time, so it doesn't start until midnight tonight.) Enjoy!
I received a copy of this book from BenBella Books for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.