Cinco de Christos

My sidekick Alex and I decided to host another Greek Easter party this year, then noticed it fell on Cinco de Mayo.  So, in a typical stroke of utter brilliance, we threw a Cinco de Christos party!

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Alex, your host.

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And her amazing tzatziki.

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Eric, the grillmaster.

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Dolmas.

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The setting.

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Greek salad by Karen (Alex’s mom!).

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Melissa, Paola, and Karen.

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Hummus with carrots and pita crisps.

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The amazing Kris and Julie.

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Tsougrisma!

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Chips and queso. With sausage. Oh, yeah.

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The weather was practically Californian.  Not humid, for once!

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Melissa’s moussaka.  Unbelievable!

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Alex’s homemade baklava.  Heavenly.

Until next year!  Zapata anesti!

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Greek-Style Turkey Meatballs and Potatoes

We didn’t host a Greek Easter lunch this year, and I really felt like my week was missing some mint, yogurt, and roasted meats, so I whipped up this recipe last night based on the items we had on hand: potatoes, zucchini, tons of homegrown mint, and discount ground turkey (I cleaned out the Wheatsville meat case and put about ten pounds in the freezer!).

Adapted from Vefa Alexiadou’s beef meatballs and potatoes from Kozani, this recipe has quite a few steps, but is pretty easy, and packs a lot of flavor thanks to the fresh mint, pan-fried potatoes, dried herbs, beef stock, and onions.

1 cup olive oil
3 large potatoes, sliced
1 lb ground turkey
3 tsp paprika, halved
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 yellow onion, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 tsp each)
flour, for coating
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup beef stock
2 zucchini, sliced
1 cup grated parmesan

1. In a large skillet, warm half the olive oil over medium heat. Add the potatoes and cook until golden and a little crispy, about seven minutes, turning over occasionally. As the potatoes begin to cook, you can prep the other ingredients, including measuring herbs, chopping vegetables, and greasing a large roasting pan with a light layer of olive oil.

2. Next, in a medium mixing bowl, combine turkey, half the paprika, thyme, mint, eggs, grated onion, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. After washing your hands and removing any jewelry, knead the ingredients with your fingers until well mixed. You should be able to form meatballs easily in your palms. Make about nine or ten meatballs.

3. Once the potatoes are golden, remove them from the pan using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add the sliced onions to the pan and cook for a further five minutes or so, until they become translucent and fragrant.

4. Meanwhile, roll each meatball lightly in flour (I find it easiest to use a shallow dredging dish), and place them in the skillet with the onions. Drizzle a little more olive oil if necessary. Reduce heat to simmer, add beef broth, cover, and cook for a further 20 minutes.

5. Now preheat your oven to 400°. Meanwhile, line your roasting pan with the potatoes and (still raw) zucchini slices. After the meatballs and veggies have simmered for 20 minutes, carefully remove the meatballs from the skillet and place them on top of the potatoes in the roasting dish. Top with the onions and pan juices, then sprinkle the remaining paprika and chili powder over the whole mixture.

6. Pop in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until meatballs are done and nicely browned (I check one with a knife just to make sure). You want just-done zucchini, as well. Twenty minutes should be the maximum time needed.

7. Remove from oven, allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then serve with a large spoon, scooping up the meatballs carefully and generously doling out the potatoes, zucchini, onions, and pan juices. Top with the grated parmesan and any sauce you are using (here, I used freshly prepared Vefa’s Tzatziki, but plain sour cream would also be great).

Serves 4.

Greek Easter

Χριστός ἀνέστη! It’s Greek Easter!

Alex and I hosted a small but entertaining crowd poolside on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Greek (aka correct) Easter which, somewhat disappointingly, fell on the same date as Western Easter this year. We had a good time nonetheless, enjoying several Greek Easter staples such as lamb (we weren’t ambitious enough to roast an entire goat, sorry!) and red Easter eggs.

Due to the fact that I’ve just changed jobs and have a crazy work schedule, plus that I have a paper due tomorrow in the class I am taking for credit, I won’t be posting any recipes today. But check back later in the week! Or let me know in the comments which ones you’re most interested in making at home.

Greek Easter meze spread

Alex, your fearless host.

Pure Luck Farm Texas Feta, with homegrown basil, olive oil, and cracked pepper

Homemade hummus, using Vefa Alexiadou’s recipe.

Greek Easter eggs!

Lamb skewers with meat provided by Wheatsville Co-op, multi-colored bell peppers, onions, zucchini, and homegrown basil and mint, marinated in olive oil, 25 year aged balsamic vinegar, and garlic.

On the grill.

The cook.  He’s turning Texan!

Kabobs a’cookin’ – with two veggie ones for Eric.

Alex and her delicious Greek village salad.

Delicious charred kabobs.

The dessert table (detail).

Greek Easter cookiesexcellent with coffee.

Strawberries and home-whipped cream, from Mike and Laura (check out her Austin food blog!).  Mmm.

Ruffled milk pie.

Alex’s homemade baklava – made from scratch!  So sweet and delicious!

Tsougrisma

Alex and I cracking each other’s Easter eggs to see who will have a lucky year!  The winner of each round continues with another person and their fresh egg, going all around the feast, until all the eggs are cracked but one – and the person left with a whole egg at the end is the winner.

The winner.

Kalo Pashcha! Καλό Πάσχα! Happy Easter!

Zucchini Fritters with Homemade Tzatziki

First, the tzatziki recipe. I am going to make an exception to my no-recipe-posting policy this time around, as this particular recipe is both very traditional and already all over the internet (it was one of the ones released to the media for promotional purposes at the time of publication).

Vefa’s Tzatziki

Excellent with bread, vegetable fritters, meatballs or crudités.

3 cups plain yogurt
1 long, thin cucumber, peeled chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ tsp salt
3-4 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill

1. Line a colander with cheesecloth (muslin) or a double thickness of paper towels and spoon the yogurt into it. Let drain over a bowl in the refrigerator for about 6 hours.

2. Transfer the strained yogurt from the strainer to a bowl. Stir in the cucumber, garlic, salt and oil. Cover and chill.

3. Serve in a shallow bowl, sprinkled with the dill.

This makes enough to serve a whole family, all week! I’ve been putting tzatziki on everything.

And now, a photo essay featuring Vefa’s easy and popular Zucchini Fritters. Eric loved these, and they were actually pretty easy to make. I used my fine hand grater to quickly turn four large zucchini into a pile of fresh, green zucchini “pasta” (turns out, that mandoline I bought for this purpose is totally unnecessary!):

Then I added the other usual suspects for any kind of fritter: flour, breadcrumbs, and eggs, plus Greek herbs and a little cheese.

After stirring that up and letting it sit in the fridge for a while, I fried the patties in a mixture of half butter and half olive oil. The recipe, like most in Vefa’s Kitchen, calls only for olive oil, but I prefer to cut the olive oil with butter do the former’s low smoke point, which makes it less than ideal for deep frying. As long as your olive oil isn’t smoking (and is therefore at less than about 320°F), it’s actually fine to fry in, but if you are more concerned about your budget than the cholesterol content of your meal, doing half and half is a good solution, all around.

Having had rather bad luck with most of my previous attempts at fritters and latkes, I was very pleased with these little guys! It was time consuming, considering I don’t have a deep fat fryer, but half the time was spent waiting on tzatziki to chill and the zucchini to drain, then solidify with the breadcrumbs, etc. Overall, this recipe was fun and easy, and felt like a real treat! And the tzatziki made it. I will definitely be making this again.

Review: Kismet Cafe

In honor of Greek Food Month, my coworker Alex and I decided to hop across the Drag to Kismet Cafe, a Mediterranean spot we’d been meaning to try for ages. Thought it was with some trepidation that I temporarily abandoned by standby, Flying Falafel, the trip was well worth it.

Due to the signage, we’d always assumed this was a Greek cafe; but all evidence points to it being, in fact, Jordianian! Not only is the menu heavy on the Middle Eastern fare, but the restaurant advertises its halal status and proudly displays a framed photo of King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Unfortunately, they didn’t have menssef on the menu; if they had, I would’ve ordered it! We decided to keep with the original, Greek theme, and ordered lamb gyros instead, with a side of hummus.

The hummus was absolutely delicious, though my companion thought it was a tad on the salty side. Topped with diced cucumbers, paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil, it was rich and fresh.

Alex, the expert, pronounced the gyro superior to Flying Falafel’s: a good portion of thinly sliced lamb meat, excellent homemade tzatziki, and a very generous amount of feta (for only 50 cents extra!). We decided to get the lunch combo special, as advertised on a sandwich board outside on 24th Street, which included the gyro, a side of serviceable fries, and a drink for $5.55. That’s a good deal. I don’t know if it was better than other gyros I’ve had around town, but it was definitely delicious.

Our only complaint was the extremely slow service. Granted, we arrived in the middle of the noon lunch rush, but it took over ten minutes (maybe fifteen, even) for our number to be called. Everyone else who had been in line behind us had already been served, and we were beginning to wonder if we’d been forgotten. For people on a short lunch break, this can be problematic (though, to be fair, this is my complaint at Flying Falafel, too!). I suspect that, on this occasion, someone in the kitchen forgot to put the fries in the deep fryer.

The restaurant atmosphere was standard for West Campus: plastic chairs, flashing flatscreen TVs (you just can’t get away from these things), and the hum of hungry students chattering, studying, and hanging out. There are also cute iron bistro tables on 24th Street, which is a fabulous people-watching location. And they’re open till 4:00am, seven days a week. Overall, the food was great, the price was right, and I will definitely be back, as it’s a stone’s throw from my new office. Though we were in a Greek mood this week, I look forward to trying some other menu items at Kismet, including the Vegetarian Sampler Plate, the Eggplant Gyro, and the Sheesh Tawooq! Luckily, I’ll still walk past Flying Falafel on my way home from work, so I’ll be stopping in there on Thursdays for the menssef special.

Kismet Cafe
411 West 24th St.
Austin, Texas, 78705
(512) 236-1811