A few weeks back, I submitted a diary comprised of Greek home cooking recipes, most courtesy of my Greek immigrant in-laws. Since that diary was well-received, I decided to follow it up with one devoted to Greek sauces and spreads, the sort you might find on an appetizer platter in a Greek restaurant. Here, however, I cannot in good conscience call it "home cooking," because the dirty little secret of Greek-American kitchens is that almost no one prepares these at home any more. Too much work, too little time. Instead, they buy pre-made items at the local Greek grocery store. Even my mother-in-law, a real stickler in most things culinary, admitted she hasn't made any of these for 20 years or more. She sends my father-in-law out to buy them at The Greek Store in Kenilworth, NJ, which has one of the better selections of Greek products to be found outside of Astoria, Queens, for decades the leading Greek settlement in the U.S.
As a result, I obtained most of these recipes from cookbooks, primarily The Foods of Greece, by Aglaia Kremezi, and How to Roast a Lamb, by noted NYC chef Michael Psilakis. I don't know if the former, published 15-20 years ago, is in print anymore, but the latter is easily available, and a good read besides. I have prepared most, but not all of these at home, and you can, too. So let's begin with a sauce familiar to anyone who's ever ordered a gyro or souvlaki in a diner, Tzatziki Sauce. This is based on Greek yogurt and English, or hothouse, cucumbers: the long, skinny ones that are usually wrapped in cellophane and described as "seedless," although they do in fact have some seeds.
Tzatziki SauceNext, Skordalia or Skorthalia, a garlicky, potato-based cold sauce that is fabulous with roast chicken or lamb, and maybe even better with leftover poultry and meat. Some versions add slivered almonds, but as much as I like almonds, I don't think Skordalia should be crunchy.
1 English cucumber, peeled
10 cloves of garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 cup white vinegar
4 shallots, thickly sliced
1 cup dill sprigs, thicker stems removed
2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Quarter the cucumber lengthwise and trim off the wedge of seeds. Finely dice the cucumber and place in a large mixing bowl.
Put the garlic, vinegar, shallots and dill in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not pureed. Add this mixture to the cucumbers, then add the yogurt and fold everything together with a spatula. Fold in the olive oil and lemon juice. Add 1/2 tbsp. of salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper, fold in, taste and adjust if you need more salt, pepper, and/or lemon juice. Use immediately or cover tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
SkordaliaNext, Melintzanosalata, or eggplant spread, which is superb with pita wedges or slices of baguette. Kremezi specifies roasting the eggplant as you might do with a red pepper, insisting that the resulting smoky flavor is essential to the dish. If that seems too intimidating or you do not actually like smoky flavors, feel free to simply bake the eggplant in a 400 degree oven until soft.
3 large Idaho baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
8 sliced cloves of garlic
3/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
Cook the potatoes in boiling water until very soft. Meanwhile, puree the garlic and vinegar in a food processor until very smooth. Put the potatoes through a ricer into a bowl, or thoroughly mash them with a slotted masher utensil. Stir in the garlic and vinegar, then stir in the olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce should not be too thick; think applesauce rather than yogurt. Serve at room temperature or cold, it should also keep in the refrigerator for at least a week.
MelintzanosalataFinally, a famous spread that may not be to everyone's taste, Taramosalata. This spread is based on tarama, or carp roe, which can be purchased in Greek groceries, and in most Middle Eastern groceries as well. Obviously, it has a strong fishy/salty taste, but if that appeals to you, try it with pita wedges or crackers.
3 medium eggplants, appx. 2 lbs. total
1 green bell pepper, roasted and peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
3 or 4 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 crushed cloves of garlic
sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Pierce the eggplants twice near the stem with a fork. Roast them over a grill until tender, or hold them over a gas flame with a fork (be careful!) until the skin is crisp, then bake in a 400 degree oven until tender, appx. 20-30 minutes.
Peel the eggplants while still warm, remove and discard most of the seeds (try as you might, you'll never get them all). Finely chop the flesh or run it through a food mill (I don't own one). Finely chop the green pepper and add it to the eggplant in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggplant and green pepper with a wooden spoon while adding the oil and most of the vinegar a little at a time. Once they are incorporated, add the garlic, pepper and parsley (if using) and keep beating. Taste, and add salt and the rest of the vinegar (if necessary) to adjust flavor. Refrigerate a few hours before serving; melintzanosalata is said to taste better on the day after it is made. It should also keep for about a week in the refrigerator.
TaramosalataI hope you get a chance to try these recipes, or at least order them the next time you visit a Greek restaurant. Now, what's for dinner at your house?
3 shallots, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 cup tarama
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
12 slices of white bread, crusts removed
1 1/4 cups milk
1 3/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups canola oil
Black pepper to taste
Place the shallots, garlic, mustard, half of the tarama, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor, pulse to create a smooth paste.
In a large bowl, soak the bread slices in the milk, turning them over several times. Squeeze the bread to remove most of the milk and add the bread to the food processor. Pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oils until emulsified, like mayonnaise. Transfer to a large bowl, add a generous amount of pepper, and fold in the rest of the tarama with a spatula. If it seems too thick, add a little milk. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.