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French Toast… à la grecque

The Tsoureki is the typical Easter Sweet Bread of Greeks. It contains mahaleb, a spice made from the seeds of the Prunus mahaleb tree, grown in the Middle East. Prunus mahaleb is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Its’ wood is hard enough for use in carpentry. We learn that the goddess Ishtar herself had planted a tree in order to make a bed and chair from its’ wood.
The problem was that, after ten years and when the tree was fully frown and ready to be lodged, it was infested with nasties. Untypical for her notorious fame, Ishtar had to call for help, and it was Gilgamesh who killed the immune-to-spells snake, expelled the storm bird and drived away the succubus demon.

Besides the tree’s qualities that made it suitable for carpentry, its’ fruit was also esteemed. The seeds of the tree occur in Mesopotamian incantations from the 22nd century BC, in lists to be used for the mixing of potions and medicine. What a long journey for the mahleb, from the haze of of the temples in Nippur four thousand years ago, to the local patisseries and bakeries! Nowadays in Greece, everybody knows an establishment where they produce a good Tsoureki – usually a founder from Konstantinoupoli ( Istanbul) is involved!

Tsoureki is consumed traditionally on Easter Sunday morning after Easter fasting. I think that a good Tsoureki pairs exceptionally with chèvre, roquefort or gruyere cheese, not to mention the more mainstream way, butter and jam. Or, you can also try it for this french toast à la grecque (inspired from a recipe of NOPI by Ottolenghi and Scully) which is great for a festive breakfast or brunch. You can substitute the Tsoureki with brioche, challah or even panettone.

Tsoureki French toast

Serves 2

For the French toast

  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml full fat milk
  • 200g Greek Easter Bread (tsoureki), ends trimmed and cut into 3cm thick slices
  • 40g cold unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes

For the star anise sugar

  • 4 whole star anise, blitzed in a spice grinder into a fine powder
  • 25g caster sugar

For the Strawberry compote and yogurt

  • 150g fresh strawberries
  • 35g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 100g greek yogurt

Place the strawberries in a medium saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice over medium-high heat and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the sugar has dissolved and the compote thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature, about an hour.

Mix together the ground star anise and caster sugar, then spread out on a plate, ready for the toast to get dusted and set aside.

Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until pale and airy and then slowly add the milk while whisking continuously. Transfer the egg and milk mixture to a dish that is large enough to fit the 4 slices of tsoureki in a single layer. Add the tsoureki slices and let them soak for about 5 minutes, turning them carefully once or twice.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (fan)

Place 20g of butter in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When it starts to foam, place in the 4 slices of the soaked tsoureki and fry for about 2 minutes. Flip them over, add another 20g of butter and continue to fry for another 1-2 minutes, until golden brown.

Transfer the cooked tsoureki slices on a baking sheet and bake for 4 minutes, until all slices puff up and get deep, golden brown.

Remove from the oven and dip each slice in the star anise sugar one at a time, flipping so that both sides get coated.

Serve immediately with the greek yogurt and the strawberry compote.

Tsoureki French toast
My Greek Shakshuka

My greek shakshuka

‘Strange days have found us’, as the old song goes. And it goes on : ‘They’re going to destroy / Our casual joys’… we try not! . We stay at home, stroll in the near-by hill, telework, homeschool and cook something nice. We try to keep the calories balance under control and enjoy what we eat, so why not a greek-style shakshuka? We hope that you have some good eggs stocked!

The egg is a frequent occurrence in cosmological myths, probably not only because it bears life, but also because of its shape and nutritional value. Out of the primeval forces that created the world according to the orphic cosmogony the cosmic egg is the first mention of something edible. In order to appreciate its importance, consider the forces: Chaos, Earth, Heaven, Ocean, Time and Water. In a sense the Egg is excelled to the sphere of theological, cosmological and philosophical contemplation.

Our recipe is more related to a more peasant and medieval association of the egg to the supernatural: the Italian ‘Uova in Purgatorio’, a napoletanian version of the shakshuka, in which case the eggs represent souls surrounded by flames in the Purgatory. It sounds macabre, but wait until you delve into the details of the bizarre ‘Cult of the dead’, an 17th century spin-off of the catholic faith that inspired the name of the dish and numerous shrines in the street of Naples.

Our other reference is to the ‘kayianna’, a rural version of scrambled eggs with tomatoes from western Greece.

We think that in our recipe we stroke a good balance of the ingredients – needless to say that their quality can make or brake this simple and very delicious dish. Of course you can experiment and use whatever is of the season or available in the fridge, as we did when a friend (thank you Katerina) supplied us with several kilos of zucchini from her vegetable garden in Nemea.

Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a starter

  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely sliced
  • 1/2-1 tsp dried chilli flakes (depending on your spice tolerance)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 230g cherry tomatoes (about 20-23), finely sliced
  • 80g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 Tbsp capers
  • 4 eggs
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley or basil leaves or 1 pinch dried oregano

Place a large pan on medium heat with the olive oil and cook the onions and peppers for about 8-10 minutes, add the garlic (and the chilli flakes-if using) and cook for 2 more minutes stirring regularly. Add the sliced cherry tomatoes, bring to a boil stirring carefully, then lower the heat and let simmer covered for about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, stir in the chopped parsley leaves ( or basil leaves or dried oregano) and season with a pinch of sea salt, then add the crumbled feta and the capers.

Make 4 wells with the back of a spoon, crack in the eggs, cover the pan and cook the eggs until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still running.

Sprinkle the top of the eggs with some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Serve with fresh sourdough bread.

Olive oil 2019

Another great year for Popi. She now has the confidence of a master producer, ready to show off her cool and tackle any small unexpected incident: A sack of olives forgotten in the far corner of the grove was picked up the next day. She could prove (contrary to everybody’s concerns ) that the olive press did not embezzle any of our precious juice to the advantage of the producer ahead of us!

Olive groves produce a strong harvest every second year. 2019 was an abundant year and the hired workers plus friends and family worked for three days. The crew were Greeks, Albanians, German, French. The olives have to be shipped in the same day they are picked to the olive press, else the quality of the oil is degraded. A three day harvest implies three visits to the olive press, that stays open all through the night. There is interaction with producers that seem to be meticulous in their approach and there is always something to learn: this year Popi spotted a better quality sacks than the ones she is using and got the whereabouts of the supplier. Is this important? For the stratospheric quality of Popi’s oil it is.

The olive was up to Popi’s standards. More like a juice, very fruity and somehow bitter. (Some uninitiated might find the intensity annoying). It is somehow a waste to use such oil for cooking, as the high temperature compromises the taste and all the fresh goodness. Better use it in salads or have on a slice of bread with salt flakes and oregano.

Well done again Popi!

fresh olive oil

sesame breadrings

Greek Sesame Bread Rings

The greek name for the sesame bread ring is ‘Koulouri’. It is still the most commonly available street food in Greece – even more than souvlaki and is sold everywhere, in bakeries or in small stands on the streets. It is usually in a simple ring form but you may also find it twisted or braided.

Our son likes them a lot, so we decided to start exploring recipes, different shapes and coatings. We ended up in the following variant, which is simple and very tasty. 

Bread rings aka koulouria
  • 500g all purpose flour
  • 2Tbsp sugar
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • 16g dry yeast  dissolved in 4 Tbsp of lukewarm water
  • 1,5 cups water (or more if necessary)

To coat

  • 1,5 cups sesame seeds (you can also use black sesame seeds or poppy seeds or mix them together)
  • 2 Tbsp of grape molasses (or 2 Tbsp sugar)
  • 1 cup of water
Bread rings aka koulouria , always trying new shapes

Add the sugar to the dissolved yeast and stir. Set aside for about 10 minutes until frothy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour with the salt. Make a well in the middle and add the yeast mixture. Add the water and using the hook attachment mix on low speed for about 5-6 minutes until an elastic and soft dough forms. Add some more water or flour  if necessary.

Brush a clean, large mixing bowl with oil, add the dough, cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until it doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 200 C (fan)

Prepare the coating by dissolving the grape molasses (or the sugar) in 1 cup of water in a shallow bowl. Spread the sesame seeds in a shallow pan.

Lightly grease the kitchen counter or other work surface with some olive oil. Place dough on surface and divide into 10 balls.

Roll each dough ball out into a rope approx. 45-50cm long. Bring the two edges together to form a circle. 

Dip each bread ring into the bowl of water and molasses or sugar mixture, and directly into the other bowl with the sesame seeds making sure to cover it on all sides.

Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet , being careful not to place them too close together as they continue rising during baking. I usually bake them in 2 or 3 batches.

Bake for about 15 minutes on the middle shelf of your oven, turning the tray around once halfway through baking, until golden brown all over. 

Eat warm or in room temperature with all kinds of cheese or with butter and honey or jam.

You can always try different shapes
Twisted and braided “koulouria”

Whole Wheat Raisin Bread

This is a somehow primitive recipe compared to other raisin breads like panetone or stolen, but the raisins combine with the whole wheat flour to an austere and delicious result. 

You can have it as a power breakfast with butter and marmalade (and then perhaps set off for a long trek to Rohan), or just a plain slice of it with tea.

For the yeast mixture

  • 20g fresh yeast, dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 tsp caster sugar

For the dough

  • 540g whole wheat flour
  • 1,5 cups lukewarm milk
  • 80g melted butter (plus some extra melted butter for brushing the braid)
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup raisins

Add the sugar to the dissolved yeast and stir. Set aside for about 10 minutes until frothy.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour with the salt, sugar and lemon zest. Make a well in the middle and add the milk, melted butter, raisins and the yeast mixture. Using the hook attachment mix on low speed for about 3 -4minutes until a dough forms. Add some lukewarm water or flour  if necessary.

Cover with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Divide the risen dough into 3 balls roll each into strips 35-38 cm long and about 4-5 cm in diameter. Lay the three strips side by side, pinching together at one end, and braid. Pinch together at the other end to hold the loaf intact.

Place the bread on a parchment-lined baking sheet, covered with a tea towel, and let rise for one more hour.

Preheat the oven to 170 C (fan).

Brush the bread lightly with melted butter and bake on the middle shelf for about 30-35 minutes, turning the tray around once halfway through baking, until golden brown all over. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Soutzoukakia Smyrneika

Both Food Interpreters have at least one grandparent that arrived from Asia Minor. The refugees did not carry with them much (they were refugees, not expats) but they had a very strong culinary culture that enriched the cuisine of mainland Greece. In a sense the food they ate, influenced from Easter Mediterranean, Asia, Ottoman cooking and – for the ex-residents of Smyrna – France, was better than that of their established co-patriots.

The women were adamant about the recipes they brought with them. Deviations from the ‘original’  recipes were not an option, and, in case a poor individual strayed away from the path of culinary righteousness was looked down with contempt. 

The Soutzoukakia we are presenting here are  such a faux pax: They are are baked and not fried, they are bigger than they should, are less spicy and in general terms lighter. Nevertheless we think they are great comfort food and certainly more suited for children. 

Serves 4 hungry people

For the soutzoukakia

  • 600g minced beef
  • 220g onion, very finely chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 150g rusk crumbs
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil  (plus some more for brushing the soutzoukakia)
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the tomato sauce

  • 500g freshly grated tomatoes (or chopped canned tomatoes)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (optional, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • 3Tbsp olive oil
  • 110g onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To prepare the soutzoukakia, place the ground beef in a bowl, and stir in the rest of the ingredients. Wet your hands and knead well to a smooth paste.Cover and let rest for about 10-15 minutes.

Preheat your oven grill to high temperature and line a baking tray with baking parchment.

To shape the soutzoukakia take a handful of the meat mixture (about 50g) and make it into a shape of a flat oblong sausageAs soon as the soutzoukakia are shaped, brush them with olive oil and place them on the prepared baking tray.

Broil them under the hot grill for about 6-8 minutes, turning over half way and brushing them with olive oil, until they are golden and cooked through.

In the meantime, place a large pan on medium heat with the olive oil and cook the onions for about 7 minutes stirring regularly. Add the tomatoes with the sugar and ground cumin, bring to a boil stirring well, then lower the heat and let simmer uncovered about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the soutzoukakia in the tomato sauce and stir gently. Let simmer about another 10-15 minutes minutes until the sauce thickens.

Serve immediately over rice, mashed potatoes or triple cooked chips.


Briam, a vegan extravaganza

This briam is made with the last vegetables and the first olive oil of the season. Nikos, who has the best stall with greens and vegetables in the Friday open market, said that those were the last zucchinis of the year (he meant not grown in a greenhouse). Briam is 90% of times boring – to say the least. Vegetables cut in big slices, undercooked, not the best quality of olive oil… Any of that can ruin a dish that depends on the quality of the raw materials and on attention to detail during preparation.

We like our briam crunchy and thinly sliced.


Serves 4 as main dish, 8 as starter

  • 600g small eggplants, halved lengthways and cut into 1cm slices
  • 300g zucchinis, thinly sliced
  • 350g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 200g red and yellow bell peppers, cut into 1,5cm slices
  • 100g green bell peppers, cut into 1,5cm slices
  • 250g potatoes, peeled and cut into thin wedges
  • 100g small okra, ends trimmed, (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 250g very ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and pureed (or chopped canned tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp sugar (optional, depending on the acidity of the tomatoes)
  • 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
  • 2-3 pinches sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups warm water (or more if needed)

thin potato wedges

thin potato wedges


Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).

Place the sliced eggplants, zucchinis, onions, red and green peppers, okra (if using), garlic and parsley in a large baking pan. Add the pureed tomatoes with the sugar, the dried chilli flakes (if using), the salt (you can always add some more later if needed), 3/4 of the olive oil and 2 cups of warm water. Toss everything together.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes and turn over with the aid of a large spatula. Bake for another 30 minutes before turning over once more. At this point add 1 more cup of warm water. Continue baking for about 20 minutes and then turn your oven grill to high temperature. Add the rest of the olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper, more salt to taste if needed and the last cup of water.  Turn over for a last time and broil under the hot oven grill for 5-10 minutes if you like your briam crunchy on the top like we do!

Serve  in room temperature with feta cheese or tyrokafteri (spicy feta cheese spread) or taramosalata  on the side and lots of fresh crusty bread.

You can keep it in the refrigerator well covered for 2-3 days and bring it to room temperature before serving.



Canapé Gaudi

Nothing prepares you for the sight of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. You have seen pictures and documentaries about this unfinished cathedral, but the scale of its surreality hits you in the face, no matter the sheer number of tourists flocking to take their selfies. It is surreal in the sense of Salvador Dali, but on a giant scale, an extravaganza of architectural components, not unlike exotic fruits, that somehow fit together to something bigger than the parts.


And what a great introduction to the Spanish cuisine. At its best is it not a combination of heterogeneous ingredients exploding in the palate? Inspired from tapas based on tinned seafood served in Quimet & Quimet, here is a not so obvious canapé.


Greek strained yogurt and thinly sliced smoked salmon on top of your preferred crackers, drizzled with truffled honey and glazed balsamic vinegar. Enjoy with a glass of sauvignon blanc!