Thursday, April 24, 2008

Growing Up Greek

I had a Greek upbringing. I drool at the thought of skordalia, lucanico and pastitsio. I will drive many hours for good Greek Festivals (in churches, with dancing...not convention centers and long lines and hip hop over the loud speaker).

Wait, you say. You're an Irish/British/Canadian born on Long Island. How could you have been raised Greek? As my husband pointed out, neither the Canadians, nor the Irish and British are known for their love of Greek cooking. Where does the Greek come into play?

My dad was an airline pilot, and when I was five, we went to Greece. We stayed mostly in Athens, though we did take a bus trip that was very long, and very boring, and two Australian kids named Alistair and Fiona and my sister and I all became bus sick and threw up out the window on a herd of very affronted sheep. After that the tour leaders realized us kids needed fresh air, so they took us to Olympia, where we were made to run around a giant dirt track, where the first Olympics were held. I was the youngest, and I came in last.

During the bus tour we dined at simple, open-air restaurants. We seemed to always have lamb stew and watermelon. At five I didn't see the endless fascination with lamb stew, night after night, so I would wander from table to table, collecting the large wedges of watermelon the adults pressed on me. It seemed they were sick of the endless parade of watermelon wedges.

When we arrived back home, my parents made deep fried zucchini and skordalia. We never had anything deep fried, so I did my best, even though I despised zucchini, and still do. I tried getting the thin coating off the zucchini slices and dipping it into the thick, yet airy, garlic-potato dip that was swirled with olive oil. I ended up worrying down more zucchini than I like to remember, just to get to have the skordalia.

Then, my parents discovered Zorba the Greek's restaurant. It was a little hole-in-the wall on the main street of Smithtown. It probably had ten tables. I recall plastic gingham tableclothes and pictures of the Acropolis and the Aegean on the walls. I can still remember the layout of the menu, though we got to know it so well we never had to look at it. We always ordered the same thing: a large Greek salad, a large plate of french fries, three gyros for my family and the lucanico for me. I never liked the lookes of the gyros with the yogurt sauce and all those onions...and now? Now I dream of tzatziki and lovely sauteed onions and pressed Greek meats on a spit.

Just today I bought a jar of dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) at Whole Foods. My local supermarket doesn't carry them, so I stock up when I wander into the WF. I didn't bother buying "Greek yogurt" because I make my own, with a special yogurt strainer my mother gave me for Christmas a few years back.

And when I make items for potlucks, what do I make? Most usually my awesome pastitsio--which is a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagna, Greek-style--with bechamel, ground lamb, and a hint of cinnamon. There's never a smidge left in the pan. I swear, people would lick it if they thought they could get away with it.

My absolute love of Greek food has caused me to wonder hard about living in the Bay Area. There are no good Greek hole-in-the-wall spots. A pizza/gyro place on Polk Street in SF with a fake bird chirping over the doorway, and that's about it. Everything else is Middle Eastern, and/or four star. A great Greek place is going to be listed under the "Cheap Eats" column in the weekly newspaper.

I suppose it was also my love of Greek food that made me make Greek Meatballs for a recent cocktail party. Ground lamb and pork, feta cheese, oregano and dill went into the traditional recipe (with egg and breadcrumbs, etc.), then I baked them in the oven instead of pan frying. Delicious! But I didn't keep track of the proportions, so I don't have a recipe to post, yet.

What's your favorite Greek dish?


Pixie said...

dolmadies. your dolmas I guess. yum. best eaten on a beach in greece. with olives.

Mary deB said...

We always used to eat avgolemono soup in Greek restaurants in Vancouver, but when we went to Greece we couldn't find it anywhere. I love the dips, like the taramosalata and tzatziki, and you can't go wrong with a good old souvlaki on a pita. Time for a virtual party on the back deck?

Fleagirl said...

Ohhhh, avgolemono! Yes. Thank you--I absolutely am making that with the lemons off my backyard tree tomorrow night. I'm so excited now to wake up and cook!

Mmmm. And I have a nice jar of dolmadies/dolmas in the cupboard. You don't want to know what happened the time I tried to make them myself. Grape leaves, I've learned, are like beach sand. They somehow get *everywhere*.

Bon Vivant said...

Too many to choose from.

My Supper Club has chosen the theme of "Greek" for this month's meal and for the first time I am making Pastitsio. I am using Leon Lianides' recipe, he used to own the Coach House in NYC, and I am shocked that I have not made this dish before since I've been wanting to make it for 30 years.