Category Archives: antiquity

Spinach and Leek Fritters (Spanakokeftethes)

spinach fritters

Spinach and Leek Fritters (Spanakokeftethes)

The first references to spinach are from Sasanian Persia (226-640 AD). In about 647 AD spinach was taken to China where it was known as the “Persian green.” The first written evidence of spinach in the Mediterranean is in three 10th century Arab medical and agricultural works making spinach popular in the Arab Mediterranean.

For the fritters:
3 leeks chopped
5 ounces baby spinach, chopped
½ cup feta cheese
¼ cup minced oregano
2 scallions, minced
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

For the garlic tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 Persian cucumber, diced
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil
juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
2 tablespoons dill
salt and pepper

Make the garlic tzatziki. Finely chop the garlic until it forms a paste. Place in a large bowl and mix with the yogurt, diced cucumber, olive oil, lemon, dill and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sauté the leeks in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until very soft.

Place the leeks in a large bowl and add the spinach, feta, oregano, scallions, beaten eggs, and garlic. Stir to mix well. Then, sprinkle in the flour and baking powder, a bit at a time, until it all is incorporated and holding together.

Heat about ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once warmed, drop 3 scoops of batter into the skillet. After about 30 seconds, flatten them out a by pressing them down gently with a spatula. Pan fry for about 3 minutes, and then flip to fry the other side for an additional 3 minutes, or until golden brown.

Place the fritters on a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess oil and serve with garlic tzatziki.

Makes about 12 fritters

Winter Cabbage Salad

winter cabbage salad

Winter Cabbage Salad

In ancient Greece, cabbage was cooked with coriander and rue then sprinkled with honeyed vinegar. Romans believed eating cabbage could cure a hangover, and also used it as a laxative. This is a classic winter Greek salad, known as Lahano Salata.

1 head of cabbage
1 fennel bulb
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons mustard powder
2 teaspoons fennel seed
2 teaspoons coriander seeds

Slice the cabbage and fennel into thin strips. Place in large bowl.

Grind spices together to combine well in mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, add spices to vinegar and stir to combine. Add oil and whisk together completely with a fork.

Pour dressing over cabbage and fennel, add fresh thyme leaves and toss well to coat evenly. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

Serves 6

Za’atar Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt Pomegranate Sauce

zatar meatballs

Za’atar Meatballs with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt Pomegranate Sauce

Lately I can’t get enough of za’atar. An aromatic spice blend of oregano, sumac, cumin, thyme and sesame seeds, it has been eaten in the Middle East for centuries. The 12th century philosopher Maimonides is said to have prescribed it to his patients to treat a variety of ailments.

I love it tossed into roasted vegetables or mixed with olive oil and spread over warm bread or feta cheese, but the flavor it gives to these meatballs might be my favorite use for it yet.

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground beef
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, minced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, minced
1 tablespoon za’atar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon pepper
lettuce leaves

For the pomegranate yogurt sauce:
seeds of one pomegranate
2 cups plain whole Greek yogurt
2 scallions, finely chopped
juice of one lemon, or to taste
½ teaspoon salt

Make the yogurt sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, scallions, lemon and salt. Gently fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Transfer to a bowl and garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Light a grill.

In a medium bowl, gently mix the ground meat with the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, za’atar, salt, cumin and pepper. Form the meat into 1 1/2-inch balls and flatten them to 3/4 inch thick patties. Grill the meatballs over medium high heat until cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Wrap the grilled meatballs in lettuce leaves and serve with a dollop of the pomegranate yogurt sauce.

Serves 4

Baked Salmon with Mustard Crème Fraiche

salmon with mustard creme fraiche

Baked Salmon with Mustard Crème Fraiche

Mustard cultivation is ancient; the Greek writer Herodotus mentioned mustard as a cultivated plant in the 5th century BC. It has always been important in Europe because it grows locally therefore making it the most inexpensive of the spices. The first sizable commercial mustard businesses arose in the mid-14th century around Dijon, France.

1 1⁄2 pound salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1⁄2 cup crème fraiche
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
fresh thyme and lemon slices for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450° F .

Place the fish on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.

While the salmon cooks, prepare the mustard sauce. Stir together the crème fraiche, two mustards, lemon zest and lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the salmon warm or at room temperature with a dollop of crème fraiche. Garnish with lemon slices and thyme.

Serves 6