Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

gyro meatloaf

Whether from a vendor on the streets of New York City or from a takeout counter in Monastiraki Square in Athens, Greece, my family loves to eat gyros. Delicious memories of warm circles of pita bread wrapped around flavorful slices of meat, tomatoes, onions and french fries, drizzled with a wonderfully refreshing Tzatziki sauce, prompted me to search for a homemade version. Normally gyro meat is slow-roasted on a vertical spit, but this recipe simplifies that by baking the meat in a loaf pan. Then, after some time in the refrigerator, the meat is thinly sliced and pan fried or grilled to give it a crispy texture – as if it’d been on a rotisserie for hours. A platter of gyro fixings would make for a fun family dinner or make great Super Bowl party fare.

Favorite Meat Loaf Gyros
Recipe from Taste of Home

1 egg, lightly beaten
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground beef

1 cup (8 ounces) plain yogurt
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 whole pita breads
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
16 slices tomato
8 slices sweet onion, halved

1. In a large bowl, combine the egg, garlic, oregano, kosher salt and pepper. Crumble lamb and beef over mixture; mix well.

2. Pat into an ungreased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

3. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 60-70 minutes or until no pink remains and a meat thermometer reads 160°.

4. Cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

5. For sauce, in a small bowl, combine the yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

6. Brush pita breads with 1 tablespoon oil; heat on a lightly greased griddle for 1 minute on each side. Keep warm.

7. Cut meat loaf into very thin slices. In a large skillet, fry meat loaf in remaining oil in batches until crisp.

8. On each pita bread, layer the tomato, onion and meat loaf slices; top with some Tzatziki sauce. Carefully fold pitas in half. Serve with remaining sauce.

Yield: 8 servings.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This was an easy recipe, but it does require some planning ahead. The meat loaf needs to be refrigerated for a couple of hours to allow it to be firm enough to slice into thin slices.

2. Although the meat was flavorful, it seemed a tad dry to me. The next time I try this recipe, I will chop my own beef and lamb, so that the mixture is more coarse – resulting in better flavor and texture. I’d also like to try making other meat versions of gyros. Here are links to other versions to try:

Pork Gyros
Chicken Gyros

3. The next time I’ll also experiment by adding chopped onions, ground rosemary, and ground thyme to the meat mixture.

4. I fried the meat slices in a nonstick frying pan, so no additional oil was needed.

5. I doubled the recipe and gave some to my son and daughter-in-law, so they’d have one less dinner to cook during the week!


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A clicking and clacking noise can be heard almost everywhere you go in Greece. Airports, restaurants, stores, and street corners are not exempt from this noise. It’s the sound of worry beads hitting against each other. Greek men are seen flipping their worry beads much more than Greek women. Does this mean men have more worries than women? I don’t think so, it’s probably more that women just don’t have the time to stand around and flick beads!

In Greece worry beads are called komboloi, which means bead collection. According to Wikipedia, “Komboloi is a part of modern Greek culture, used to relieve stress and generally pass the time. It was especially popular up to the end of the 20th century while now it has dropped in popular use. It’s still though considered a traditional trademark of Greek (and especially rembetiki) culture and niche.” Playing with worry beads is a form of therapy and used particularly by those trying to kick the nicotine habit or lose weight, but could also be used by some to deal with travel delays or rising tempers. The beads are also a symbol of national pride and are hung in stores, homes, offices, and cars for decoration.

Worry beads are made from many types of materials, but are most commonly found made of plastic, wood, semi-precious stone, amber, or coral. The only prerequisites seem to be that they are smooth and make noise. There are two types of worry beads. The komboloi resemble rosary or prayer beads, although there is no religious significance. Begleri is a straight and shorter strand with fewer beads. It’s a matter of preference.

My daughter purchased her strand from a little Greek woman in the town of Nauplion. This woman told my daughter that one does not choose his worry beads – the beads choose their owner. It’s similar to the Harry Potter concept where the wand chooses the wizard and not the other way around. Worry beads sounded like the perfect souvenir for a fidgety person like me, so my quest began. Racks and racks of  worry beads were surveyed, but none called out my name. Then they found me. A lovely strand of onyx beads, the color of a deep, rich caramel, kept drawing me to it. They felt good as they slipped and slid in and around my fingers, all the while making a pleasant, raindrop-kind of sound.

Different worry bead techniques achieve different sounds for different therapies. The most soothing technique is to pull the beads up to the ends of the strings and release the beads slowly, one by one, so that they make a soothing sound as they fall on to one another. For a more frenetic therapy, worry beads can either be rolled between your palms or rhythmically flicked between your fingers. There is some skill involved in flicking the beads correctly. Numerous shopkeepers and my daughter have tried to teach me the Greek way of flipping the bead strands finger over finger. Mastering this technique is going to require some practice. But hey, no worries! I’m not going to worry over my worry beads!

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It’s all about the food. Sometimes the best way to learn about a country and its culture is to learn about its food and its cooking traditions. Lucky for me, my daughter, who was a student in Greece for nearly five months, was not only my tour guide to the ancient sites, but also my culinary guide.

From dining in little tavernas that speckle the narrow side streets of Athens to eating fresh-caught fish off the coast of Santorini, I was introduced to the exquisite textures and flavors of Greek food. Sampling inch-long baby okra cooked in a light tomato and onion sauce, devouring tiny fried whitebait fish – head, tail, spine and all, and spreading pureed dried yellow peas on bread, were just some of the opportunities I used to discover the gastronomic resources available to the Greeks. I learned that some of the varieties of legumes we eat today are the same ones once eaten in ancient times.

And because the sun shines most of the year and very little rain falls, Greek tomatoes and peppers are exceptionally sweet. The freshness of Greek ingredients cannot be denied. Most foods are simply delicious because they are prepared with fresh and few ingredients. Very few over-processed foods ever made it to my table while I was in Greece.

Scorpion fish or grilled octopus, anyone? The seafood in Greece was as good as I had anticipated. The subtle lobster-like flavor of the Scorpion fish and the chewy texture of the fresh octopus were both delicious, but it was the fried calamari that really got my attention. Maybe it was the freshness of the squid or the very lightest dredging of flour or the addition of exactly the right amount of salt, but this Greek version of fried calamari was by far the best I’ve ever tasted!

The Greeks love their sweets. The sweet scent of freshly baked pastries found me following my nose into more than one local bakery. Even before I left home, my daughter had warned me about this temptation. I’d heard her stories about Bougatsa me Krema and was looking forward to my first taste. It did not disappoint. How could warm layers of buttery, thin phyllo sheets filled with creamy custard, and sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon be disappointing? Before the introduction of sugar, ancient Greeks used honey to sweeten their food. Thick, creamy, Greek yogurt and honey is a traditional treat and Greeks like to make sweet syrups from honey to pour over their cakes and fried sweets. Many Loukoumades or Greek donut balls coated in a honey-syrup called out to me.

Now back at home, I wanted to try my hand at making the memorable Bougatsa me Krema and I found a recipe online. Flakey, buttery and filled with custard – mine was pretty darn close to the deliciousness I experienced in Greece! I share this temptation with you.

Bougatsa me Krema or Creamy Custard Phyllo Pastry

-Courtesy of Nancy Gaifyllia of About.com with comments by Linnell-

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes


* 4 1/4 cups of whole milk

* sliced peel of 1 lemon

* 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar

* 3/4 cup of semolina (durum wheat flour which I found in my local grocery store)

* 4 eggs

* 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

* 12 sheets of commercial phyllo dough

* 6 ounces of butter, melted

For the topping:

* confectioner’s sugar

* ground cinnamon


Warm the milk and lemon peel in a saucepan. Stir in semolina with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly blended and thickened. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla until light and add to the pan, stirring over medium-low heat until it reaches a creamy custard consistency. Remove from heat, take out and discard lemon peel, and allow it to cool completely. Stir occasionally to keep the custard from forming a skin on top.

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

Lightly brush a baking pan (13 X 9 X 2 or equivalent) with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with 8 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet well with the melted butter. Add the custard filling. Fold the excess phyllo that overlaps the pan in over the custard. Top with the remaining phyllo, brushing each with butter. Use a scissors to trim the top sheets to the size of the pan. Spray the top lightly with water and bake at 350°F (180°C) for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon while hot, and serve warm.

Serving tip: In Greece, Bougatsa is cut with a pizza cutter.


Adventures in Greece – to be continued . . .

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There and Back Again

As the plane touched the ground, cheers were heard amongst the group of weary travelers. Admittedly, I was one of those cheering to be back on U.S. soil after traveling in Greece for almost two weeks and being in transit for nearly twenty hours. I’m the type of person that the Concorde supersonic jet was built for – the type that needs to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Sitting and waiting do not seem to be among my strengths. I was probably one of those kids that sat in the back seat and asked “Are we there, yet?” Now that I’m back on my own terra firma and supervising fifty loads of laundry, I can take pause to reflect upon certain aspects of my trip.

My daughter has truly become an independent, self-assured young lady. She’s always been mature and independent, but her tenure abroad has added a new dimension to her confidence. She bravely went to Greece alone, made new friends, learned to speak and read some modern Greek – which is no easy task, excelled in her five difficult university courses, and with the ease of a seasoned traveler, she navigated her way around Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Jordan. Her extensive knowledge of Greek history was evident as she proved herself a competent tour guide ushering me and my husband throughout the historic sites in the city of Athens. I listened intently as she spoke passionately about the economic and cultural issues of Greece – a country she vows to return to one day.

Whereas my daughter wants to be a world traveler, I discovered I really don’t enjoy traveling for extended periods of time. I am good for about ten days and then I start to get weary of the hustle and bustle and the lack of a good night’s sleep. Having been fortunate to have traveled a bit, I acknowledge that I’ve seen sights and sounds in parts of the world that other people only dream of. I would never trade my memories of visiting my dad’s village in China or of my first glimpse of the crystal clear, cerulean blue waters surrounding Bora Bora or of the charming little towns of Italy’s Cinque Terre, but at some point during all of these trips, the overall strain of traveling and sightseeing starts to overshadow the wonderment.

Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” This morning as I sipped my tea, I gazed out of my kitchen window and looked at my backyard. With gazania, geranium, and begonia blossoms painting the garden with vivid splashes of color and carpet roses cascading over boulders like an undulating ribbon, I indulged myself a few moments to take it in. The scent of citrus blossoms wafted through the window and the sounds of water trickling from the fountain welcomed me home. Greece was wonderful to visit, but to me there’s no place like home.

Adventures in Greece – to be continued . . .

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