Greek Tzatziki

Everyone in my family loves tzatziki. This version incorporates red wine vinegar rather than lemon juice, which is apparently the way it is typically prepared in Greece. I normally use chopped cucumbers but really enjoyed the texture of the grated cucumbers in this dish.

We ate it with warm naan and grillled chicken kebabs. A perfect summer dinner! This recipe was adapted from Milk Street, contributed by Courtney Hill. I modified the proportions. I also prepared the tzatziki in advance and kept it chilled in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Wonderful.

Yield: about 2 cups

  • 1 European seedless cucumber, halved crosswise
  • coarse salt
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk or low-fat Greek yogurt (I used 2 percent Greek yogurt)(see Tip)
  • 4 T (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 medium to large garlic cloves, finely grated or pushed through a garlic press
  • 1 T chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
  • 2 T chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  1. Set a colander in a medium bowl, then set a box grater in the colander.
  2. Grate the cucumber halves on the grater’s large holes, rotating and grating only down to the seedy core. Discard the cores. (Make sure that you don’t shred the cores as the seeds are watery and have a slight bitterness and unappealing texture.)
  3. Sprinkle the shredded cucumber with 1 teaspoon salt and toss. Set aside to drain for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the yogurt, oil, garlic, mint, dill and vinegar.
  5. A handful at a time, squeeze the shredded cucumber to remove as much liquid as possible, then set on a cutting board; reserve 1 teaspoons of the cucumber liquid.
  6. Finely chop the squeezed cucumber, then stir into the yogurt mixture.
  7. Stir in the reserved cucumber liquid and 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt.
  8. Transfer to a serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with additional mint and dill, as desired.

Tip: Don’t use nonfat Greek yogurt. Without any fat, the flavor of the tzatziki is weak and thin.

Creamy Ricotta & Herb Pasta

This quick summer dish gobbled up the cilantro from my CSA share. The sauce was silky and fresh.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I reduced the oil and modified the method. Next time I may add some lemon zest and/or toasted pine nuts. Easy and delicious!

  • salt
  • 1 pound short pasta, such as shells, cavatappi, chiocciole, farfalle, ditali or wagon wheels (I used cascatelli)
  • about 12 ounces fresh, whole-milk ricotta (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 4 T (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
  • 2 1/2 cups soft herbs, packed, such as cilantro, basil, chives, fennel fronds, parsley, mint, tarragon, chervil or dill (try for a combination of at least 3 kinds), coarsely chopped (I used a food processor)
  • lemon zest, optional
  • handful of toasted pine nuts, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package instructions. Reserve 2 cups pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  2. In the same pot, make the sauce: Add ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, pepper and a large pinch or two of coarse salt, and stir until well combined.
  3. Add 1 cup pasta water to the sauce and stir until smooth.
  4. Coarsely chop the herbs with a food processor, if desired. (I used 1 cup dill, 1 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup parsley, and 1/4 cup basil.)
  5. Add the cooked pasta and herbs, and continue to stir vigorously until the noodles are well coated. Add more pasta water as needed for a smooth, soupy sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.
  6. Incorporate lemon zest and/or pine nuts, if using.
  7. To serve, spoon the pasta into a serving bowl or individual bowls and finish with more Parmesan, drizzle of olive oil and more pepper, as desired.

Lemony Greek Meatball Soup (Youvarlakia Avgolemono)

My mom and I absolutely love Greek avgolemono soup. Recently, I made this meatball version when she was visiting. Springtime in a bowl! Light, bright and fresh.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used homemade stock and modified the method.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1 pound ground chicken, ground turkey, or beef, very cold
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley, plus more for garnish, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated yellow onion (from about 1 small onion)
  • 1/4 cup grated carrot (from about 1 carrot)
  • 1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice, such as Basmati or Carolina, well rinsed and drained
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated, pushed through a garlic press, or minced
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 6 cups chicken stock (I used 4 cups homemade turkey stock + 2 cups chicken stock)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • freshly grated nutmeg, for serving, optional
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground chicken, 1/4 cup dill, onion, carrot, rice, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest. Gently mix with your hands until well combined.
  2. Gently form the mixture into 24 to 30 meatballs, each about 1 1/4 inches in diameter, placing them on a plate or baking pan. (I used a cookie scoop to evenly ration the meat mixture.)
  3. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes or up to 24 hours. This helps the meatballs keep their shape while cooking.
  4. In a large pot, bring stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium and use a slotted spoon to carefully add meatballs to the pot. The broth should cover the tops of the meatballs by about 1/2 inch. If not, add a little water. Simmer gently, adjusting the heat so the broth doesn’t boil, until meatballs are cooked through and rice is tender, 25 to 35 minutes. (You can break open a meatball to test it.) Remove pot from heat.
  5. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and lemon juice until just mixed. Slowly add a ladle of warm broth to egg-lemon mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in another two ladles of broth to temper the egg mixture.
  6. Slowly drizzle the egg-lemon mixture back into the pot with the meatballs, stirring gently so you don’t break apart the meatballs.
  7. Return the pot to medium-low heat until it just starts to simmer. (Wait for a bubble or two to appear, but don’t let the pot boil.) The broth should be silky.
  8. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 1/2 cup dill. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. (It may need quite a bit of salt if you are starting with unsalted broth.)
  9. Garnish with nutmeg, if you like, and dill, and serve.

Irish Ale Bread with Caraway & Herbs

Hope everyone had a Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Other than wearing green, we typically celebrate the holiday by having a festive meal. 🙂

This year, instead of making a new soda bread, I made this Irish version of beer bread. I loved the caraway seeds (which I also love in soda bread) and the flecks of green from the fresh herbs in the dough.

We ate it for dinner with shepherd’s chicken pot pie, roasted asparagus, and green salad. It would also be a perfect accompaniment to a traditional celebratory corned beef and cabbage meal.

The recipe was adapted from 177milkstreet.com. I modified the baking time to bake the loaf in a pullman loaf pan in a convection oven. The bread was delicious with and without salted butter.

Yield: one Pullman loaf or one 9-inch loaf

  • 260 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 60 g (1/2 cup) cake flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 T caraway seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 T honey
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted butter, melted, divided
  • 12 ounce bottle or can Irish lager, such as Harp
  1. Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the middle position. (I used the convection setting.)
  2. Mist a Pullman loaf pan or a 9×5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk both flours, the baking powder, baking soda, caraway, salt and pepper.
  4. Add the dill and chives, then toss well.
  5. Drizzle in the honey and 4 tablespoons of melted butter, then add the beer and whisk gently just until evenly moistened; do not over mix. The batter will be thick.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Brush the top with 1 tablespoon of the remaining melted butter.
  7. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted at the center comes out clean, 25 minutes in a Pullman pan on convection, or up to 40 to 45 minutes in a 9-inch pan in a standard oven.
  8. Remove from the oven and immediately brush the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter.
  9. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Turn the loaf right side up and cool to room temperature, about 1 1/2 hours.

Tip: Don’t slice the bread while it’s warm. Like all quick breads, this loaf slices more easily and cleanly at room temperature. Use a serrated knife and a sawing motion.

Oven-Baked Pearl Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Feta

I have served this flavorful dish as a vegetarian main dish served over baby spinach and as a side dish with rotisserie chicken, roasted cauliflower and green salad. So versatile! I also love that it is made in one pan.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend with Couscous with Quinoa, Orzo, and Garbanzo Beans and modified the proportions and method. Nice.

Yield: Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish

  • 1 pint (2 cups) grape tomatoes, halved (or a combination grape & small Campari- quartered)
  • 1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions, for garnish (about 2 large)
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 to 3 large garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
  • 3 oregano, rosemary or sage sprigs
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water (I used 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup water)
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, dill or parsley, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1/2 lemon)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8 ounces pearl couscous (1 1/2 cups)(I used Trader Joe’s Harvest Brain blend)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups feta, crumbled (about 6 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (1 1/2 ounces)( I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. In a 9×13-inch baking dish, cake pan or gratin dish (I used a ceramic 9×13 baking dish), toss together tomatoes, shallot, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and rosemary, oregano, or sage sprigs. Roast until tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. While tomatoes roast, heat the stock (or stock and water) until it boils, then stir in remaining 1 teaspoon salt, adding more to taste. (You want a well-seasoned broth here to flavor the couscous.)
  4. Stir in cilantro, lemon zest and cumin.
  5. Remove tomatoes from oven and fold in couscous, chickpeas and hot stock mixture. Cover pan tightly with foil, and return to oven for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove foil and fold in the Parmesan and about 3/4ths of the feta (save the rest for garnish). Bake uncovered until feta starts to melt, another 5 minutes.
  7. To serve, pull out and discard herb sprigs if you like, and spoon couscous into bowls. (I served it in the baking dish as a side dish.)
  8. Top with remaining feta, more Parmesan, scallions, more herbs, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as desired.

Kale & Spinach Spanakopita Pie

This savory pie gobbled up all of the kale from my CSA box. Kale is more appetizing to my crowd when it’s paired with lots of salty cheese. 🙂 We ate it as a main course with sliced heirloom tomatoes and green salad on the side. It would be wonderful served for brunch or a special lunch too.

This recipe was adapted from The Washington Post, contributed by G. Daniela Galarza. I modified the method and incorporated my CSA purple kale and Toscano kale along with baby spinach. Swiss chard and/or collard greens could also be used in the filling.

The original recipe notes that sheep’s milk feta is traditional in spanakopita but any salty, crumbly or grated cheese such as cojita, chevre, extra-sharp white cheddar, paneer or pecorino would also work. The pie can also be made without the crust as a gluten-free option. Healthy and delicious.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 1 bunch (about 4 ounces) scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 8 to 10 cups (about 10 ounces) baby spinach (whole) and/or other greens (I used stemmed purple and Toscano kale, sliced into 1/4-inch ribbons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces phyllo dough, about half a box, defrosted
  • 1 bunch (about 1 heaping cup leaves) fresh dill or parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 6 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs, whisked well
  1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering. (I used a 14-inch stainless skillet.)
  2. Add the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the spinach/greens and salt, and cook until the greens wilt, release their liquid, and dry out, about 5 minutes.
  4. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and let it cool while you prep the other ingredients and prepare the crust.
  5. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to true convection.)
  6. Brush a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil or coat with cooking spray. (I used a ceramic deep dish pie plate.)
  7. Crumble the feta in a medium bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, black pepper, and chopped herbs. Set aside.
  8. Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl. Set aside.
  9. Unravel the phyllo dough onto a clean, dry work surface. (I cover the stack with damp paper towels, topped with plastic wrap to prevent the dough from drying out.)
  10. Working quickly, gently brush the top sheet of phyllo with some olive oil. There’s no need to oil every spot; the oil will spread as you work. Pick up the first three or four sheets of phyllo in a stack and lay them, oil side up, in the pan, allowing one narrow end to cover the bottom of the pan and the other end to climb up the side of the pie plate and hang over the edge. (I layered the sheets one by one but would group them next time!)
  11. Repeat, brushing the top of the remaining stack of phyllo sheets, and placing the next three or four sheets into the pan, oil side up. Continue oiling and fitting the oiled phyllo into the pie plate, rotating the pan so that the bottom is covered and a roughly even amount of phyllo is hanging over the circumference of the pie plate. This will not look perfect; if the phyllo tears, patch it and keep going. Set the pie plate aside.
  12. Add the chopped herbs, breadcrumbs, feta and black pepper to the cooled spinach, stirring to combine.
  13. Add the eggs, mixing well to combine.
  14. Pour the filling into the phyllo-lined pie plate and, using your fingers, crinkle the phyllo overhang partially over the top of the pie, leaving a 5- to 6-inch diameter in the center exposed. The more crinkled the top is, the nicer it will look once baked, so don’t worry about making this look neat.
  15. Lightly oil any dry spots of phyllo before baking, if needed.
  16. Bake for 22 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is set and the phyllo is deep brown in places, like the color of an almond skin. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: The filling can be made one day in advance.

White Borscht

Before I was introduced to this recipe, I thought that borscht was always a deep red, beet-based soup. I now know that borscht means “sour.” The sour tang in this soup comes from soaking sourdough bread in the broth, puréeing it, and incorporating it into the finished soup, along with crème fraiche which is stirred in just prior to serving.

I made my first homemade borscht (the beet-based version) for Christmas Eve, and my husband purchased pierogies at a Polish store for the same meal. Luckily, I saw this recipe and he was also able to buy house-made garlic kielbasa for this soup. The quality of the kielbasa is very important because it is used to create the broth for the base of this soup.

This recipe is from The New York Times, contributed by Gabrielle Hamilton.  I followed the recipe closely, but may decrease the amount of butter next time- I’m not sure it was necessary! (but it was quite delicious 😉 ) It was a creamy, indulgent, and delicious upgrade of potato-leek soup. Fabulous cold-weather comfort food.

Yield: 5 quarts, Serves 10 to 12

  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds full horseshoe link of high-quality smoked kielbasa
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 3 pounds leeks (6 long, lively leeks)
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (about 4)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 1 large yellow onion, small-diced (about 2 cups)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 (4-ounce) hunk of dense, very sour sourdough bread, crusts removed
  • 1 full tablespoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, woody stems removed, fronds minced

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