For the past six years, St. Catharines has been home to a Greek festival, a three day event that celebrates Greek culture through food and festivities. Because I am posting up old Standard articles and recipes for now, I figured that last September’s article on the Greek fest would be timely.
I’m not Greek, nor do I have any sort of Greek in me. But I did try to make these rather authentic, speaking to others and combining authentic recipes to make ones that worked for me. I was a little less generous with the olive oil in some cases, and did do a riff on souvlaki with tofu… but the marinade itself would be delicious on anything.
The recipes include Briam, a layered vegetable casserole; tofu souvlaki, with a delicious and simple marinade; and Maroulosalata, a super easy and flavorful lettuce salad.
The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread features a delicious Greek flatbread (their version of a pizza), similar to Italian foccacia. The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Cakes and Cookies will highlight one of my favorite Greek cakes.
For now, though, the article from last year, and the recipes below:
Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, once said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” To a food lover, this means that the right combination of fresh, simple ingredients will deliver a taste sensation that surpasses the flavour of each ingredient on its own.
Lucky for us, Greeks take a cue from Aristotle and deliver this ideal in their tasty culinary creations.
The extent of your Greek cuisine knowledge may only go as far as salty feta cheese, briny black olives and flaky filo pastry. But Greek food is filled with flavour and tradition, a combination that makes its way into the bulk of much European cuisine. They have the undeniable ability to blend a multitude of everyday ingredients, dotting them with herbs, olive oil, vinegar and lemon, and producing a dish that may soon be part of your weekly rotation.
And no, I don’t mean North Americanized Greek salad, or lamb-laden Moussaka. I’m not talking about honey-rich baklava or meaty gyros. It’s the simple elements, technique, and freshness that make Greek cuisine what it is.
Locally grown ingredients highlight Greek dishes, something we’re keen on, too. Vegetables play an important part, adding bright flavour and colour to their creations. Tomatoes, onion, eggplant and potatoes are most commonly used, along with oregano, lemon and olive oil.
Many Greek dishes are generously doused with olive oil, a healthy monounsaturated fat that can help lower your risk of heart disease. It reduces total cholesterol, as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. Because many vegan dishes tend to be lower in fat, adding healthy fats such as olive oil adds richness, as well as satiety, to your meals.
With tomatoes overflowing in our gardens and markets, it’s the best time to buy them by the bushel. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, with plenty of vitamins A and C. These antioxidants neutralize dangerous free radicals that can cause cell damage. Vitamin A also benefits cell, vision and bone health. Notable are tomatoes’ high levels of lycopene, another antioxidant that has been linked most closely to prostate and lung cancer.
When eggplants are in their prime, the taste far surpasses any variety you can purchase out of season. Eggplant skins contain nasunin, with both antiangiogenic and antioxidant agents. Antiangiogenses have been connected to preventing cancer cells from spreading through the development of new blood vessels. And like tomatoes, the antioxidants fight free radicals and protect cell membranes. Eggplants are also rich in fibre and potassium, both necessary for good health. Its neutral taste allows it to soak of flavours easily, making it a versatile vegetable to top with strong sauces and marinades, or stuffed with your favourite combination of grains, vegetables, spices and herbs.
Oregano is also rich in antioxidants, with high levels of phenolic acids and flavonoids. It is also commonly touted for its antimicrobial properties, making oregano oil a homeopathic health option.
Sept. 10-12 (editors note: in 2011, it is September 9th to 11th) brings forth the Niagara Greek Festival, a celebration of authentic Greek food (including non-vegetarian), entertainment, music and fun. Bring your family and friends and have a blast, then stop by Market Square, pick up some ingredients, and head home to prepare this all-vegan Greek feast.
Marinated Tofu Souvlaki
This popular Greek fast food is commonly made with meat (and sometimes vegetables) threaded on skewers and grilled. A twist on the classic, this version uses not-so-authentic tofu as the main ingredient. Be sure to squeeze it of excess moisture and marinate it for as long as you can for the best flavour.
For the marinade:
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon
4 to 6 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
For the skewers:
1 (350 g) package firm tofu, pressed of excess moisture, cut into about 24 pieces
3 large red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares
2 large green bell peppers, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares
1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch 8-10 wooden skewers, soaked in water
Whisk all marinade ingredients together. Add the tofu, peppers and onion, and let marinate for at least three hours, or overnight.
When ready to cook, place the oven rack about six inches (15 cm) from the broiler.
Thread the vegetables and tofu onto the soaked skewers, then broil, about five to seven minutes until browned.
Carefully flip each skewer, then broil about five minutes longer on the other side.
Makes eight to 10 souvlaki.
- – -
Maroulosalata (Lettuce Salad)
If you prefer, some versions of this classic salad use 1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar in lieu of the lemon. Be sure to use fresh lettuce.
1 small head romaine lettuce, washed and thinly sliced
3 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh dill Zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
Toss salad with green onions, dill and zest. Add olive oil and lemon juice, mixing well. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
Makes six to eight servings.
- – -
Briam (Baked Layered Vegetables)
This authentic Greek dish is a common vegetarian alternative popular during Lenten fasting. The flavour relies on fresh ingredients, so try to choose those in their prime. Amounts can be adjusted to your taste.
3 potatoes, sliced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
2 large red onions, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
2 zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick 1 medium eggplant, cut in half length-wise and sliced 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick
2 red bell peppers, sliced in 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick rings
4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
6 to 8 Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4- inch (6 mm) thick
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease two 9 x 13 glass dishes, or large casserole dishes.
In each dish, layer the potatoes, red onions, zucchini, eggplant and bell peppers in single layers. Season with half of the parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Top with tomatoes, then lemon juice. Pour over the olive oil (depending on how much you prefer… The Greeks can use up to 1 1/2 (375 ml) cups for this dish). Add additional seasonings.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for one hour. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until all vegetables are cooked through. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Serves eight to 10.