From Peggy’s Greek kitchen


Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook : Peggy Fisher holds a pan of Greek dessert, Galaktoboureko, while posing in front of her olive tree.Special to the Coastal Point • Marie Cook : Peggy Fisher holds a pan of Greek dessert, Galaktoboureko, while posing in front of her olive tree.Peggy and Guy Fisher own a beautiful home in The Point in Dagsboro, but they also own a home on the mainland of Greece in the Peloponnese.

“Most folks have heard of the Kalamata olive,” Peggy said. “Our house is on the peninsula south of the town of Kalamata. Our area is called the Mani, and the locals are probably descendants of the Spartans.”

Peggy took the long road to owning a home in Greece. As a child, she grew up in Oregon, the daughter of a forest ranger. The family — she’s the oldest of seven children — lived in a remote location in the woods.

“I attended a two-room school,” she said, “and only one room when I was in the fourth to eighth grades. There were five to six of us. When I graduated from eighth grade, there were only two in my class.”

When she entered high school in 1964, she boarded with a family because the ranger station was more than two hours away on a logging road.

She credits her remote background with her urge to travel. She spent two of her college years at the University of Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia. Her area of study was Slavic linguistics and Balkan studies.

In 1978, she moved with her first husband and two daughters to Germany, where they lived for 24 years. Peggy worked for several German companies, in administration, and built her career in that field. She knows several foreign languages. Both of her daughters attended German schools and universities and feel quite German. Her eldest daughter married her German boyfriend and they now live in South Africa with their three children. Her other daughter lives in California.

Besides travel, Peggy enjoys quilting and genealogy.

“I just put a new quilt into the frame, and I am currently the vice president of the Sussex County Genealogical Society,” she said.

Peggy and Guy visit their Greek paradise twice a year, usually for six weeks a stay. Their home is an old stone house in a village above the Messinian Bay, which is part of the Mediterranean and the seaside town of Stoupa.

“We have the sea in front of us and the beautiful Tayegetos Mountains towering behind. Although very old, the house is finished inside to a very high standard, and life is quite comfortable there. We love living in a Greek village,” she said.

I’ve known this couple for several years; we are members of the same church — Bethany Beach Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, in downtown Bethany Beach across the street from the post office. It’s only right that I give our small, friendly, inclusive church a plug and invite you to check us out; services are at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

Until recently, I had no idea that Peggy was an amazing cook, specializing in Greek food. Once I latched on to that information, I wasted no time in asking her to be in my column. She readily agreed and invited my husband, Jim, and me, along with four others, to an awesome Greek feast. Life is good!

According to Peggy, the dishes served in Greece vary a bit from area to area. Her recipes are from the Mani, but not necessarily confined to the Mani.

“Olive oil is very important to most recipes, even desserts,” she said. She and Guy estimate that they use about 20 liters annually. (That converts to about 85 cups.) “Our olive oil is local and fresh and packed quite carefully into our suitcases to bring back to Delaware. We also purchase local sea salt and use that exclusively in seasoning food, as well as local dried oregano.” (Lucky me! Peggy gifted me with a bottle of their precious oil, as well as portions of both desserts.)

As is the traditional Greek custom, Peggy’s meal began with an assortment of starters — most served at room temperature (recipes follow).

“Starters are followed by a main dish, such as souvlaki (shish kabobs), grilled meat, moussaka, etc.,” she said. We were treated to scrumptious leg of lamb and potatoes and could smell the garlic even before reaching the steps to their home.

We learned that if you’re in a taverna or restaurant, no one pressures you to leave your table.

“You can sit there all night,” Peggy said, “and at the end of the meal, you are generally served a small dessert on the house. Because we are so far from Athens, a very good meal, including wine, will not cost us more than $15 per person.”

Greeks “eat in season.” No lettuce salads in winter. Instead, your salad consists of cabbage and carrots. I was delighted to learn that fresh foods are mostly grown without a lot of chemicals, pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). I’m a huge proponent of GMO labeling, and I put my money where my mouth is to fund organizations that are fighting the battle to make it so.

“The most common meats are lamb, goat, chicken and pork, which all taste amazing,” Peggy said. “Beef is pretty good, too, but less common.”

I could devote an entire column on what the Fishers have taught me about “real” olive oil, and especially the olives grown in their area. Their small village of 300 people has two olive presses.

“When pressed,” Peggy said, “the oil is ready to use; no further processes needed. None of the Greeks we know would be able to imagine not having olive oil, and they pour it extensively onto everything. No wonder they live so long,” she added.

After enjoying a glass of wine and lively conversation, we gathered at the table. As Peggy served the appetizers, she described each one and explained the custom of passing plates and a basket that contained napkins and silverware.

I cannot choose a favorite recipe from this meal. Everything was delicious. Leg of Lamb is a favorite, and although Peggy’s recipe is so simple, it’s the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. I can’t wait to duplicate it.

We languished at the table enjoying food, friends and chatter. I have never been to Greece, but after listening to Peggy and Guy’s stories, I’m adding Greece to my bucket list.

Peggy rarely measures, so I send her a huge thank-you for keeping pen and pad by her side as she prepared our meal.

Baked Feta

Place a thick slice of feta in a dish. Add 2 tablespoons light cream. Place on top: thin slices of green, yellow and red bell peppers and 2 tomato slices. Pour on 3 tablespoons orange juice and sprinkle with dried oregano, sesame seeds and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave.

Zucchini Balls

Ingredients:

• 1-1/2 pounds zucchini, unpeeled

• 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

• Scant 1 cup breadcrumbs

• 2 eggs, lightly beaten

• Fresh parsley, finely chopped

• Salt and pepper

• 1 cup all-purpose flour

• Olive oil for frying

Method for Zucchini Balls:

Wash and grate the zucchini. Place into a colander and sprinkle with salt; allow to drain. Then place the grated zucchini in a bowl with the feta, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley and pepper. Mix to a paste and form into round fritters. Dip each in flour and fry in very hot oil.

Peggy’s stuffed grape leaves were the best I’ve ever eaten. The topping of Egg-Lemon Sauce really added pop.

Dolmades
(Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Ingredients:

• 60 vine leaves, drained and rinsed (available in jars like pickles)

• 1 cup olive oil, divided

• 2 onions, finely chopped

• 3/4 cup rice

• 1 cup warm water

• Juice of 2 lemons, divided

• Salt and pepper

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Method for Dolmades:

Rinse the vine leaves, remove the stems and leave them in a colander to drain.

Filling: Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; add 1/3 cup olive oil and the chopped onions. Sauté onions until translucent. Add the rice and sauté for 1 more minute. Pour in 1 cup warm water and half the lemon juice; simmer about 7 minutes until the rice absorbs all the water and is parboiled. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the herbs, remove from the stove and set aside to cool.

Layer the bottom of a large pot with some vine leaves (use the ones that are little bit torn) and start rolling the Dolmades. Place one vine leaf (shiny side down) on a flat surface and add 1 teaspoon filling at the bottom end (stem). Be careful not to overfill the Dolmades, as the rice will expand during cooking. Fold the lower section of the leaf over the filling towards the center; bring the two sides in towards the center and roll them up tightly. Place the stuffed vine leaves (fold side down) on the bottom of the pot and top in snugly layers. Be careful not to leave any gaps between the Dolmades to prevent them from cracking open when cooking. Drizzle the Dolmades with the rest of the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Place an inverted plate on top to hold them down when cooking. Then pour in enough water just to cover them. Place the lid on and simmer the Dolmades for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the Dolmades remain only with the oil. Remove the pot from the heat, remove the lid and plate and let the Dolmades cool for at least 30 minutes.

Egg-Lemon Sauce
For Dolmades

Ingredients:

• 3 egg yolks

• 1/3 cup lemon juice, strained

• 3/4 cup hot broth from cooking the Dolmades, or add more hot chicken broth as needed.

Method for Egg-Lemon Sauce for Dolmades:

In a small non-reactive saucepan, whisk the egg yolks until pale and frothy. Slowly add the lemon juice and whisk for another minute. Place over low heat and very slowly add all of the hot broth in a steady stream, constantly whisking. Take care not to get the pan and mixture too hot, as it will cause the eggs to curdle. When the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from heat and pour over the Dolmades, or serve on the side. (Peggy served ours on the side.)

Tzatziki is one of my favorite appetizers. I agree with Peggy, who said, “It is hard to believe how simple it is to make Tzatziki. The homemade version tastes so much better than any store-bought.”

Tzatziki

Ingredients:

• 2 cups Greek yogurt (Total is the best.)

• 1/2 cucumber (the long “English” variety), unpeeled

• 1 to 2 cloves of garlic

Method for Tzatziki:

Coarsely grate the cucumber into a sieve and sprinkle liberally with sea salt (approximately 1 tablespoon). Allow to drain for about 15 minutes. Rinse and squeeze out the moisture. Add cucumber to the yogurt. Using a garlic press, add the garlic to the yogurt, stir well and serve with nice crusty bread.

Beet Salad

Try to find beets with the tops on, because they add flavor to the salad. Wash beets and cut off tops; reserve tops. Boil beets until nearly tender (about 30 minutes) and add beet tops; cook 5 more minutes. Pour into a colander. Under running cold water, slip the skins off the beets. Cut beets and tops into pieces and place in serving bowl. Finely mince 1 to 2 garlic cloves. Pour olive oil liberally over the beets, tops and garlic. Season with lemon juice and salt. Mix well and serve at room temperature.

Saganaki (Fried Cheese)

You will need a firm Greek cheese, such as Kasseri, Graviera, Kefalograviera, Kefalotyri or Halloumi. I found Halloumi in the local grocery store.

Heat enough olive oil to just coat the bottom of a heavy-bottomed frying pan (an iron skillet works well) and heat until hot. Lay a slice of cheese, about 1/2-inch, in the pan. The cheese only needs about 1 minute on each side. Be careful, because the cheese can burn very quickly, so keep checking. Cook until the cheese turns a golden color and crisps slightly, then turn over and cook on the other side. Remove from pan, place on small plate, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the cheese and serve immediately.

Rocket Salad

“Rocket” is British for arugula; the Greeks call it roka.

Dump a bag of baby arugula into a large salad bowl or platter. Peel 2 large oranges and cut the sections into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle onto the arugula. Cut a chunk of feta cheese into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad. Douse the salad well with olive oil and toss gently. If desired, squeeze some orange juice and/or lemon juice over the salad.

Greek Salad

Real Greek salad does not contain lettuce. Use the freshest vegetables you can find. If the tomatoes are not in season, it helps to peel them for more flavor. Cut the following into nice chunks and place into serving bowl:

• Tomatoes, peeled for more flavor

• Green bell peppers (Be sure to remove all seeds.)

• Red onions

• Cucumbers (the long “English” variety)

• Olive oil

• Dried oregano

• Top the salad with a large chunk of feta cheese and Kalamata olives. Pour good olive oil over the top and sprinkle with dried oregano.

I have prepared Leg of Lamb many times, but Peggy’s method is the easiest ever and brings out the very best flavor. So in her recipe, less is more! Because I plan to duplicate her recipe, I’ve already purchased a big leg of lamb and tucked it into the freezer. You don’t even need a separate pot to cook the potatoes, because you place them in with the lamb for the last hour or so.

Roasted Lamb and Potatoes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Roast for approximately 3 to 4 hours while enjoying the wonderful aroma.

Ingredients:

• 1 leg of lamb

• 1 whole head of garlic

• Fresh rosemary

• Sea salt

• Olive oil

• Potatoes, peeled and cut in half

Method for Roasted Lamb and Potatoes:

Slice garlic cloves into thin slices. Starting on the underside of the leg and using a small sharp knife, make deep cuts and insert one slice of garlic into each cut. I insert garlic slices about one inch apart — in other words, lots of garlic. When you have finished the underside, rub with sea salt, rosemary and olive oil all over that side. Place the leg into the roasting pan, prepared side down and insert garlic slices all over the top. Again, rub liberally with sea salt, rosemary and olive oil. Roast, uncovered, at 350 degrees, for 3 or 4 hours until lamb is super-tender and nice and crispy on top. Baste often during cooking.

Place potato halves into a bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt; mix well. Add to roast for the last hour or so.

Peggy says that her Milk Pie is best eaten the same day it is made, but my husband had no complaints while enjoying pieces of our take-home for several days thereafter; heated in the microwave.

Galaktoboureko (Milk Pie)

This is a divine combination of creamy custard and flaky phyllo dough that is baked to golden perfection and then drenched with a lemon-and-orange-infused syrup. It is best eaten the same day it is made.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. F.

Ingredients:

Filling:

• 6 cups milk

• 1-1/4 cups fine semolina (you can substitute Farina)

• 6 egg yolks

• 1/2 cup granulated sugar

• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Method for Filling:

In a large saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until just boiling. Add the semolina and stir with a whisk. Lower the heat to medium-low.

Using a whisk beat the egg yolks with the sugar. Ladle a cup of the warmed milk into the egg mixture to temper and then add the egg yolk mixture to the pot.

Continue to cook over medium-low heat until the cream starts to thicken, stirring continuously. When the custard has thickened, remove from heat; stir in vanilla extract and butter. Set aside.

Method for Galaktoboureko:

Ingredients:

• 1 pound phyllo pastry sheets

• 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted (for brushing)

Carefully remove the phyllo roll from the plastic sleeve. Most packages come in 12-by-9-inch sheets, 20 sheets to a roll. To prevent drying, cover the stack with a dish towel while working with the phyllo.

Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9-by-12-inch rectangular pan with some of the melted butter. You will use approximately half the phyllo sheets for the bottom of the pastry. Begin by layering sheets one by one in the bottom of the pan, making sure to brush each one thoroughly with melted butter.

When you have layered almost half the sheets, drape two sheets of phyllo horizontally so that they extend half in the pan and half out of the pan. Add all of the custard in an even layer on top of the sheets, smoothing the surface with a spatula. Fold the phyllo sheet flaps in over the custard layer. Add the remaining sheets on top, brushing each sheet with melted butter.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until the phyllo turns a deep golden color. Set aside to cool.

While the Galaktoboureko is baking, prepare the syrup:

Syrup

• 1 cup granulated sugar

• 1 cup water

• 2-inch piece lemon rind

• 2-inch piece orange rind

• Juice of 1/2 lemon

Method for Syrup:

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and add the lemon and orange rinds. Boil over medium-high heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the lemon and orange rinds and stir in the lemon juice. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Caution: Do not pour hot syrup over the hot custard. Allow both to cool at room temperature and then carefully ladle the syrup over the Galaktoboureko, allowing time for it to be absorbed.

One of Peggy’s guests was celebrating a birthday, so she prepared a second dessert — Yogurt Cake. It was soft and although it contains lots of sugar, it did not taste overly sweet.

Yogurt Cake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter one 9-inch square baking pan.

Ingredients:

• 1 cup unsalted butter

• 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

• 5 eggs, separated

• 1-1/2 cups yogurt

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 teaspoons baking powder

• 2 teaspoons lemon zest

Method for Yogurt Cake:

Cream together butter and sugar and then add the egg yolks and yogurt. Separately, mix together the flour, baking powder and lemon zest. Beat the egg whites. Add the flour all at one time, then the egg whites. Stir well and pour into a buttered cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by e-mail at ChefMarieCook@gmail.com. Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)