Posts Tagged ‘Greek recipe’


Lahanodolmades is a Greek dish of stuffed cabbage leaves filled with meat and rice and served with an avgolemono sauce.   The meat and rice stuffing is flavoured with oregano and mint.  The avgolemono sauce adds a lemony kick and takes away any thought that cabbage is a fundamental part of this recipe.

This may not be the most attractive dish but what it lacks in appearance it makes up in flavour and has to be the ultimate in comfort food.  My mother only made this for my brothers and me, never for anyone else.  I don’t think she ever thought it was showy enough.  Perhaps that is why she always accompanied it with chips!  I have eaten it many times when I have cooked it myself without the chips but for me the chips are the icing on the cake.  My ritual is to eat the Lahanodolmades and then use the chips to mop up the avgolemono sauce.  Heaven. Well, for me that is.

Many Greek recipes call for Arborio rice, in this recipe it has been replaced by long grain as per my mother’s recipe.  No doubt she used this when she moved to England because she would have found it difficult if not impossible to find Arborio and like a lot of her Greek recipes she had to improvise.  Even though as the years passed and Arborio has become available my mother stuck with her long grain improvisation.

It took me a long time to make Lahanodolmades for myself, I just didn’t have a need.  When I was at home I would watch my mother on numerous occasions make this whilst sat on the kitchen chair chatting about nothing,  never thinking to note anything down.   When I left home I was busy trying all the things I didn’t get to eat at home to worry about any recipes.  It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I began to hanker after my childhood food.  I think my mother knew that she had a slight power over us.  If we visited her she would make our favourite foods.  It was a way of luring us in.

When we did visit it turned into a game, what dish my mother served up indicated who was the favourite.  If we planned a visit to my mother’s she would always ask what we would like her to cook for us.  My reply was either Lahanodolmades or Paella.  When I sat down to eat it usually wasn’t either.  There would always be a long list of rotating excuses why not, usually because they were a lot of work.  This all stopped when I realised what went on when my elder brother visited, he too requested my mother’s Lahanodolmades and that’s exactly what he got.  I can remember turning up unexpectedly one evening to find him happily eating a huge plate of them with the accompanying chips.  When I exclaimed my outrage my brother sat and laughed and said in a very smug way that if I wanted to eat them in future I should check when he was visiting!

This recipe sounds complicated but it isn’t and neither does it have a long list of ingredients.  The ratio of rice to mince is up to you. As with a lot of recipes the meat can be padded out with more rice.   I use oregano and mint but these can be replaced with parsley and dill, it’s just a matter of what you have in the cupboard or garden at the time.  Another joy of this recipe is that it can be made the day before and reheated gently so as not to break the Lahanodolmades.  The avgolemono sauce does though need to be made fresh just before serving and cannot be reheated.



1  whole white cabbage

1 lb/500g lamb mince  (beef, pork, veal or a combination is fine)

1 small onion grated

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small egg lightly beaten

2 oz/60g long gain rice (washed)

2 tbs oregano dried

1 tbs mint dried

Salt and pepper

Vegetable stock

Avgolemono sauce

3 egg yolks

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tbs cornflour

Stock from the cooked Lahanodolmades



Take the whole white cabbage turn it over and cut out the heart.

Place a large fork or as you can see I have used a serving fork into the middle of the cabbage.

Put a large pan of salted water onto boil.  The pan needs to be big enough to incorporate the whole cabbage.

Place the cabbage into the water when boiling and leave it in for a few minutes.  Remove.  Gently pull away the outer leaves as they loosen.  Place the whole cabbage back into the pan and repeat until all the leaves are removed.

Set aside the leaves until they are cool enough to handle.


Any of the small leaves or pieces of cabbage not used can be placed in the bottom of the pan.  This will act as a vegetable trivet and will stop the Lahanodolmades from burning or catching whilst cooking.

In a pan put the tablespoon of oil and heat gently.  Add the onions and cook until transparent.  Remove and cool.

Put into a bowl the mince, washed rice, onion, herbs, egg, salt and pepper.  Mix well with your hands.

Take one cabbage leaf and with a sharp knife cut any large tough veins out.  Place a walnut sized piece of mince and rice mixture into the middle.  Bring up the sides and roll.

Place the rolled cabbage parcel on top of the cabbage lined pan and start to fill the pan up creating layers of parcels. The aim is to pack them in tightly.


When all the leaves have been wrapped and packed into the pan place an upturned saucer on top to anchor them down.


Dissolve a stock cube in some boiling water in a jug and gently pour this into the pan until it just covers the Lahanodolmades.  Put a lid on the pan and gently bring to the boil after which turn down to a slow simmer.  Leave them to simmer for about 60 to 80 minutes.

To make the Avgolemono sauce

Beat the egg yolks to a creamy constituency in a pan.

Add the lemon juice slowly whilst continuing to beat

Add the cornflour and stir well until smooth

Now gently add a cup of stock from the pan of cooked Lahanodolmades which has been allowed to cool until tepid and stir well.

If you add the stock too hot it will curdle the eggs.

Place the pan on a low heat and stir until the sauce thickens.  Do not over cook.  Depending on how thick you like your sauce you can either add more or less stock.

As I usually make enough for two meals I do not add the sauce to the pan of Lahanodolmades.  I serve them onto a plate and pour the Avgolomeno sauce over them.

Serve as they are with the sauce and if you wish a large helping of chips!


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Keftedes (pronounced keftethes) are Greek meatballs eaten hot or cold.  There is something special about them, they are incredibly moreish and I think every Greek household must have their own version of the recipe.  I use lamb mince but there is nothing to say you cannot use pork, beef, veal or a combination.   In summer I eat them cold with tzatziki and a salad and in winter I eat them warm with fava.  The recipe is versatile in that you add more bread to increase volume, or add different herbs.

The summer I learnt to make Keftethes was the summer I travelled to Athens by  Magic Bus.  My friend Karen and I had talked for weeks about going to Greece overland and spending the summer lying in the sun. We scoured the back of Time-Out for cheap tickets.  One advert caught our attention ‘The Magic Bus’ – return ticket London/Athens/London £55. Tickets were only issued on a cash basis and in person, the offices of The Magic Bus were above a shop in Shaftesbury Ave and pretty shabby.  We were both nervous in handing over our hard earned cash for a non-refundable coach ticket but the thought of a summer of love was greater.  Our fate was sealed.  Hello summer of expectation.

My parents drove us up to Victoria bus station where we boarded the packed coach.  My protective father interviewed the two Greek drivers who had little to no English, the cross examination went well until they asked him if he knew the way out of London.  I could feel the chill of an ill wind whistle pass my seat.

The promised three and a half day trip turned into ten days of hell.  The coach was old, and tatty.  It was packed to the brim with people and luggage. There was very little legroom and had we known that we would have to sleep sitting up in our seats for the next ten days we would have got off at Victoria. We were lucky in that the nasty infection which spread through the coach was limited to the foot, which was so nasty the chap sitting behind us ended up in a Greek hospital.

Our drivers were hell bent on driving at break neck speed with as few stops as possible, they had a mission and the rest of us were not in on it.   As we approached Mont Blanc the driver’s behaviour became very excited and as we weaved up the mountain we could see what was an earlier Magic Bus.  To celebrate their reunion, they took it in turns to over take each other, whilst opening and closing the door shouting and waving.  As the coach climbed higher the stunts became more dangerous with the other coach’s spare driver managing to hang out of the door whilst trying to drink a glass of white wine. I think if I hadn’t been so tired, hungry and bashed about I would have been frighten senseless.  I sat there rooted to my seat glancing out of the window at the massive drop and wishing I was somewhere else.  I had gone off the idea of love.

Shortly after this we had several long delays, which pushed our drivers to the brink of meltdown.  One of their ideas was to cut the length of time for our food and toilet stops to a minimum.  We as a group tried to revolt and refused to be rushed in returning to the coach.  Two of us passengers learnt a hard lesson that we were not in that strong a position, because the coach left without them.  No amount of shouting and abuse at the drivers by us stopped the coach.  We never saw them again.

From then on in the journey was just pure hell.  Two days stuck at the Yugoslavian borders and a lot of backtracking due to the drivers being completely lost.  When we did finally arrive in Athens all I can remember is that I was tired and filthy and longed for home.

It took about 24 hours before we bounced back.  I spent the rest of the  summer staying with Patroklos in Athens.  Kyria Cisci, Patroklos’ mother lived in the flat below and was keen to take me under her wing.   During the day when Patroklos was at work Kyria Cisci would  show me how to iron a man’s shirt and how to cook.   One of the recipes she showed me and has stayed with me is keftedes.  I think it was because she told me her secret ingredient, which was a little bit of Ouzo added to the mince mixture.  I felt very honored to have been let into her secret.   I would sit in her kitchen early in the morning (to avoid the mid day heat) and take notes as she went about creating her recipes.  I might not have found love that summer but I certainly was prepared if I did!



500g lamb mince

1 egg

1 onion chopped very finely and cooked to transparent stage in a pan with a little butter.

2 slices day old white bread with the crusts cut off.  You can use more if you want the meatballs to go further

A little milk for the bread.

Mint – fresh or dried

Oregano – fresh or dried

Salt and pepper

A little Ouzo (optional)

Oil for frying – I use olive but use the oil you like the taste of.

Flour for dusting the meatballs.


  1. Chop the onion finely and put into a pan with a little butter and leave on a low heat until they are transparent and soft.
  2. Take the crusts off the bread and submerge the crustless bread in milk and then gently squeeze, you don’t want to make the bread into a pulpy ball but something that will break up easily – if you prefer you can use water instead of the milk.
  3. Put the bread, egg, meat, herbs, softened onion, salt and pepper into a food processor and give it a good whizz.  Lift the lid and make sure it is all well mixed.  You can also do this process by hand – the difference is the mince is not as fine.  For the best results I put the mixture in the fridge for half an hour for it to rest and for the ingredients to cool down and firm up which will make rolling them into balls much easier.
  4. Remove from fridge. Take about a tablespoon and a bit of the meat mixture and roll between your hands to create a ball the size of a walnut, drop this ball into the flour and coat.  Set aside.  Carry on until all the meat has been turned into floured balls.  Heat your oil until its hot enough, if you drop a small crumb of bread in and it starts to sizzle its ready.  Start placing the balls into the oil, flattening them a little with the back of a spoon.  Cook on both sides.  The aim is that the meat is cooked throughout not pink.

The size of the keftedes is up to you.  They can be made the size of walnuts, or smaller if you want to use them as an appetiser or much larger if you are in a hurry but you need to watch that they are cooked through.

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Fava is a Greek dish made of yellow split peas which when slowly cooked for a period of time break down into a thick creamy mashed potato like consistency.  The velvety purée is then mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning.  Finally it is adorned with either raw or caramelised thinly sliced red onions and a scattering of capers.  Fava can be served warm or cold,  as a starter or to accompany meat or fish.  In winter it is particularly good with lamb Keftedes.

The crème de la crème of yellow split peas come from the island of Santorini in Greece.  Santorini is what remains of a volcanic crater.  The rich volcanic soil makes for a perfect growing medium for this unique strain of plant.  After over 3,500 years the Santorinians have learnt to perfect the fava pulse, giving us the famous fava with its unique flavour and texture.  Fava is eaten on Santorini as pasta is eaten in Italy.

Many years ago I spent part of my honeymoon on Santorini.   I remember being told two things about Santorini;  first it was like no other Greek island and secondly the prices where as high as the cliffs!  It didn’t disappoint on either point.  The views, exceptional light and the beauty of hundreds of pale blue and white houses perched high up on the cliffs as the ship comes into view of the island are stunning.

It is one of those places you should see just once in your life.   Standing on top of the island, some 300 metres from sea level the vista across to the other remaining islands is really breath taking.  The sunsets are legendary and the most romantic and stunning view is to see it setting from the village of Oia, which clings to the northern tip of the caldera.

Oia, we were told, was not to be missed on any account.  What was omitted from this advice (to me who doesn’t like heights) was the road to get there.  We caught a bus from Fira.  All was fine as I had no idea what was ahead so had sat next to the window.  As the town melted behind us and the road started to get more windy the bus in turn started to build up speed,  only slowing down slightly to swing around the bends.  I could no longer look out of the window as the ground had dropped away beside us and we were skimming along the top of the cliff.   All I could do was close my eyes and hope that the 30 minute journey would soon be over.  I could not wait to arrive in Oia until the thought occurred to me that we would have to return along the same road.   I shall skip over the drama that unfolded when it came time to return.  I can tell you that many buses left Oia without me –  each time it was time to get on I would find some excuse why that bus and that driver were not a safe bet.  Eventually I chose to risk my life with a driver whose impressive collection of religious icons and artifacts were displayed in the windscreen far surpassed the others.  No sooner had we pulled out of Oia did I realise that my intuition was not the wisest choice.  The driver obviously thought he had all angles covered and was untouchable.  The journey back was done in record time.   No doubt the driver went on to to do hundreds if not thousands more – for me as they say, it was the end of the road, never to be repeated.

This recipe can be made with any yellow split peas but Santorini fava is worth trying.  Alternatively, the quantities can also be easily reduced.  The olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings are added to your own taste.


Fava Santorini Φάβα Σαντορίνης


500 gms yellow split peas



30 ml olive oil

2 red onions

1/2 lemon – juice of


Wash yellow split peas well and put into a pot of water that covers them by an inch.  Add to this a peeled onion cut in half.  Bring to the boil, turn the heat down a little and skim off any white froth that rises to the top.

Reduce the heat, adding a little salt.   Place a lid on the pan and leave to gently simmer for about one hour.  Stir Regularly and check that the peas have not dried out.  If they have, add a little more boiling water.

After about an hour the split peas will have lost their shape and resemble porridge.

Remove from the heat and using a stick blender liquidise until smooth.  Put a tea towel over the pan and replace the lid.  Leave to rest.  As the fava cools it will thicken up more.

When ready to serve return to a very low heat for ten minutes and add the oil, lemon juice and any further seasoning.

Transfer onto a dish and add a drizzle of olive oil and either thinly sliced red onion or caramelised red onion and a scattering of capers.

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Spanacopita MD

Spanakopita is a special dish for me, it takes me right back to Athens, Greece and my wedding.   The week before and the run up to the wedding was chaos, the dress needed last minute altering, communication over the flowers had been misunderstood and everything was unraveling fast.  It was turning into a Greek tragedy with my mother playing the leading role.  Perhaps it might be a little unfair but I am sure on occasions she could be seen from the side lines fanning the flames!

We stayed with Lela and Andreas. I had known them nearly all of my life.  Lela had been my mother’s childhood friend.    Their house had changed dramatically over the years but the garden remained the same.  A little oasis of green that wrapped around the house.  On one side of the garden under the shade of a tree sat a large red swing sofa, trimmed with a thick white fringe, which continued onto the matching canopy.  I can remember in previous years spending many a happy hour in the afternoon heat laying across it shaded by the canopy and swinging back and forth daydreaming.

As the week wore on problems and hitches only seemed to get larger and the hands on the clock seem to move in double time.  I was beginning to wish that I was somewhere else perhaps back daydreaming on the swing sofa.

Andreas sensing all the friction and chaos on the day before the wedding announced that he would cook lunch for all of us.  He would create something we would all love.   He called me into the kitchen as he wanted to show me how he made his Spanakopita.  It was the first time I had seen it made and for the next hour all my problems outside that kitchen melted away.  Andreas pointed out the key factors to me, making sure I was taking it in, and I did, that recipe has served me very well over the years.   I have made his recipe countless times over and each time, I think of him and that morning of when calm entered back into my life.  Needless to say we all loved eating Andrea’s spanakopita  and it remains the only thing I remember eating that entire week.


Andreas and Valia (my koumera).



400g/14 oz fresh washed spinach

5 spring onions

200g/7 oz feta cheese

2 large eggs

100g/3-4 oz butter or 1/4 cup of olive oil (I prefer to use butter)

2 tbs parsley chopped (optional)

1 tbs dill chopped (optional)

8 filo pastry sheets

Salt and pepper


Wash the spinach well and drain. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the spinach, leave until the spinach wilts – this will take about a minute or two. If you can’t fit all the spinach in the pan at once, cook it in batches. Drain and allow to cool, you will be surprised how much water will drain out.  Give the spinach a good squeeze to release as much liquid as possible.

In a bowl beat the two eggs, add to this the finely chopped spring onions and crumble in the feta cheese. This can be done by hand, nothing needs to be uniform. Add the dill or parsley, if using, and then the drained spinach along with salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well using your hands.

Spanakopita is traditionally made in large round flat aluminum dishes. I prefer a cast iron dish, it’s all personal choice. Some people use a glass oven proof dish.

Making up the pie

The filo pastry is very thin and so will dry out very quickly. To stop this happening put a damp cloth over the pastry whilst you are not using it.  Also when laying the filo sheets don’t go off and answer the phone or make a cup of coffee. It needs to be done quickly and in one go. The filo pastry needs to be brushed with either olive oil or melted butter.  There is no fixed rule here, its down to purely personal choice but there is a difference in taste, albeit a subtle one but still a difference.

pie1 IMG_1448 IMG_1451

If using butter, it needs to be melted in a pan over low heat or in a microwave being careful not to burn it.

First, brush the baking container liberally with the oil or melted butter, then start to layer the filo, brushing each top side of pastry as you go. Start by laying the first sheet of filo pastry over the bottom of the dish allowing it to overlap the edge of the dish. Now repeat again allowing it to overlap on the opposite side of the dish. Do the same again for the top and bottom of the dish forming a cross.

Add the spinach mixture making sure it is spread evenly over the dish. Now, start to fold the filo back over the spinach mixture making sure to brush the top of the pastry sheet with oil/butter. To add more height brush a new sheet of filo with oil/butter and fold in half and place on top, tucking in any excess pastry. I usually add two to three extra sheets depending on my mood.

Finally brush the top sheet with the melted butter/oil and put into the middle of the oven 350/180 Gas mark 4. After 40/50 mins check to see if the filo is a golden brown – if not leave a little longer. Remove and leave for a minute or two then with a sharp knife cut the pie into portions.

Spanakopita can be served hot or cold. I love it just warm served with a salad. I have also found it can be re-heated in the oven but not in a microwave.  It really needs to be eaten fresh.

Note:  Frozen spinach can be used but for me there is no substitute for the fresh ingredient and now it seems it’s available all year round so there is no excuse.  Perhaps I should put it a little more bluntly –  if I had the choice between frozen spinach or no lunch it would be the no lunch option.

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Youvarlakia is a Greek soup dish made of  lamb and rice balls in an egg and lemon broth.  This is one of my favourites.  For me, it is true comfort food.  Not the most attractive of dishes but as they say, never judge a book by its cover.  What it lacks in plate appeal it certainly makes up for in taste.  The avgolemono broth has a combination of lemon which gives it an acidity with the eggs softening this by creating a creamy richness.  These go together beautifully with the lamb and rice meatballs.  Many Greeks add potatoes and carrots to cook with the broth, but I prefer mine plain or with some wilted spinach.

I can still see my mother at the kitchen table pushing meat and onion through the mincer clamped to the table.  The minced ingredients would then be placed into a large mixing bowl where she would  knead them with her hands for all she was worth.  I am sure looking back that this was a way to get out all her frustrations – and early form of de-stressing.  I now realise that I spent an awful lot of time sitting at the kitchen table watching her cook, learning to judge when to interject with offers of help and when to just keep quiet.  When it came to the task of mincing, I was always desperate to turn the handle, but the occasions that I was honored with this task were few and far between.  When my chance came my fear that if I turned the handle too quickly there might be a nasty accident meant that the turning was painfully slow.  After a couple of minutes my mothers patience ran out and I was relieved of the task for being too slow and sent back to my perch on the kitchen stool!

When I make this dish I am reminded so strongly of my brother.  We knew those little meatballs as hedgehogs because of the spikes of rice that stick out of them.  We both loved them and would always ask my mother to cook them.

Later in life when we returned home for visits there was always the  prior discussions with my mother on what we wanted her to cook for us.  Youvarlakia and Lahanodolmades (the same meat mixture but wrapped in cabbage leaves) were the two favourites that I remembered asking  for – the usual reply back was that they were a lot of work but instead she would cook me something else much nicer.

Except, that was, when I went home and my brother was there.  Then we would get Youvarlakia or Lahanodolmades.  They were his favourite and obviously the importance of pleasing the eldest son was a very big factor for my mother.  When I complained at the table that she never made these for just me, my brother would laugh resting his hand on my arm to demonstrate he meant no malice but silently saying ‘well what do you expect’.  I soon made sure that any future visits coincided with his!

Some recipes call for a little oil or an egg to be added to the meatball ingredients, supposedly to lighten them and perhaps bind the mixture.  I find this makes the broth a little greasy and I feel do not add to the dish.

Youvarlakia Γιουβαρλάκια

450g/1 lb minced lamb

1 onion grated or very finely chopped

35g/2oz long grain rice

1 tbs mint dried

2 tbs parsley finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

flour for coating (to make this gluten free, leave the flour out)

stock (either a stock cube or homemade)

3 large eggs

3 tbs lemon juice

Mix together the meat, onion, rice, mint, parsley and season with the salt and pepper.  I find that it’s best to use your hands.  Knead until very well combined.

Now take a slightly larger tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Roll in the flour to coat.

Put the stock in a pan and bring to a  gentle boil.  Gently drop the floured balls into the stock, cover and lower the heat.  The liquid should just cover all the balls.  Gently simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove from the heat and pour a little of the stock into a cup.  This will be used for the sauce.

Avgolemono broth

Separate the eggs.  Whip the egg whites with a little salt until soft peaks are reached.  Continue whipping while adding the yolks, continue to whip, add the lemon juice and then the saved cup of  the now cooled stock a little at a time – the stock needs to have cooled and added a little at a time as you don’t want to curdle the eggs.  I tend to add a little more stock from the pan to the egg and lemon mixture before adding this to the pan with the meatballs.  Once added give the pan a good shake to incorporate the avgolemono broth.   You could use a wooden spoon to mix but the meatballs are prone to breaking.

Place the balls into a soup dish and spoon over the broth, serving with some extra lemon.

The downside of the avgolemono broth is once made it doesn’t like to be reheated.  The way to get round this is to make the meatballs and remove them from the stock.  The meatballs can be refrigerated separately.  If you are planning on making the meatballs last two meals then it is best to reheat half the meatballs with half the stock, making fresh avgolemono broth each time.

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