Lazy Cheese Pie

May 16, 2007 Metamorfosis, Greece

Greek television has a couple of my favorite cooking shows. Vefa Alexiadou’s show probably appeared first on Greek tv. She wrote several cookbooks and then came out with her cooking show, then she opened a chain of cooking supplies stores all over Greece—Vefa’s House. Vefa’s (nickname for Genevieve) story is this: She studied chemistry at the University of Thessaloniki and had a boyfriend (future husband) who had to leave the university to serve his time in the army. They lost touch until one day she was on the beach with friends when she heard a familiar voice say, “This is a nice view, but it would be better if Vefa were here.” She called out to him, “Vefa is here!”

But my favorite cooking show is one hosted by Ilias Mamalakis. He travels all over Greece, as well as other countries, and combines history and culture and regional specialties of dance or music with food! Boukia … kai suxorio (One bite…and all is forgiven boo-kee-AH…kay see-hor-ee-O). Yesterday’s show landed him in Kalavryta (kah-LA-vreetah), southern Peloponese. It was in a small church above Kalavryta that Greek independence from Turkey was declared on March 25, 1821. Also notable was the fact that in 1944 over 500 men, the entire male population of Kalavryta, were massacred by the Germans in retaliation for Greek guerillas killing of 78 German soldiers in October 1943. By December 1944, the Wehrmacht retaliated by burning 25 villages in the mountains around Kalavryta and shooting 696 Greeks including the entire male population of Kalavryta where informants claimed the abducted German soldiers had been taken. It’s interesting that I heard about Kalavryta from a cooking show, and then last night I began a new book I brought with me: Inside Hitler’s Greece by Mark Mazower. In the introduction, Mazower mentions Kalavryta as the worst slaughter of Greeks during the entire German occupation of Greece.

Ok, back to food….Mamalakis brought out a Kalavrytan woman, and together they made Tembelotyropita (Lazy Cheese Pie):
5 eggs
½ kilo grated cheese (didn’t say, but probably Kasseri)
250 grams soft butter
250 grams yogurt
1 glass water
1 glass flour

Mix eggs well, add each ingredient and mix well again. Grease a 9 x 13” pan with butter. Sprinkle with dry bread crumbs. Pour the mixture into the pan and sprinkle top with more dry bread crumbs. Bake until browned on top.

Remember this:
1 kilo=2.2 pounds
28 grams=1 ounce
a glass=8 ounces
640 grams is equivalent to the old Greek milk bottle
700 milliliters=3 cups minus 1 oz.

Mamalakis then visited a zaxaroplastis in Kalavryta, a sweet shop owner, who showed him how to make a glyko tou koutaliou from rose petals. Glyko tou koutaliou means sweet from the spoon, can be made from anything from rose petals, whole walnuts, zucchini blossoms, apricots, even baby eggplants. Fruit is cooked in syrup so long it is suspended in thick, gooey syrup. A spoon full is dished out onto a small plate and served with a small spoon and a glass of cold water to visitors–a quick substitute to offer your guest when you’re out of baklava, cake, or other pastry. There’s a saying that young Greek men (and some old ones, too) say to pretty women walking by: O babas sou einai zaxaroplastis? Is your father a sweet maker?

Remove the petals from red roses and fill up a 9 x 13” pan. Shake well over white paper to remove any small pieces of dust or plant material. Then on a clean surface, knead the rose petals with sugar until you get a paste-like consistency. The petals lose their color at this point and become pale. Boil some water in a big pot and drop in the rose petal paste. Bring back to a boil and keep adding sugar. Skim off any foam. Keep adding sugar—Mamalakis didn’t say how much—and keep boiling until you get the desired consistency. Amazingly, the red color returns. Go figure—rose petal preserves!

Another Kalavrytan village woman made this dish on a hot plate Mamalakis set up above the village: Pork & Onion Stew. I think I could smell its goodness through the tv!
1 kilo coarsely chopped onions—hers were small and grown in her own garden
Big bowl of coarsely chopped cloves of garlic (cereal bowl size)
1 kilo lamb or pork pieces

Brown meat in olive oil and set aside. In the same pan, cook the onions and garlic. When translucent, add the meat back into the pot. Add about a glass of wine and a glass of water. Cook until all is tender and most of the water has been cooked out. This was not a soupy stew. Towards the end of the cooking, add juice of one lemon and some oregano. Good God!

Always the question: how to make yogurt? Here’s how: Gather together about 100 of your sheep or goat ewes, milk them, and then after you strain the milk, place in a big copper pot over a fire. Stir with a very long wooden paddle until it boils a while. Pour the milk into a large terra cotta bowl. Let it cool a while until you can stick your little finger into the milk for a count of 20. If you can stand it for 20 (not a fast 20 but a slow excruciatingly painful but not quite searing 20), then it’s ready for you to add some diluted yogurt (about ½ glass) from yesterday’s batch. Stir it in under the skin that has formed on top of the warm/hot milk. Place a large wooden spoon cross-wise on top of the bowl and clothe the bowl in several layers of towels and blankets. The wooden spoon keeps the towels from touching the liquid. Let this elixir set for 4 hours. Uncover and you will have yogurt, rich and thick with all of its fat, just the way you and your ewes intended for you to enjoy.

Mamalakis’ email:

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