Let’s Talk Food: Tomorrow is Christmas Day

Santa will be riding his sled to drop off gifts for all the good girls and boys tonight so there will be gifts under the tree tomorrow morning.

I can remember when I was in elementary school, how excited we were to wake up on Christmas morning to open all the presents under the tree. We would sort them by names and then open them up with great enthusiasm!

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These days, I am more concerned about Christmas lunch or supper than opening gifts.

Last Christmas we chose Italy and had pasta dishes. In the past, we had Korean (chop chae, barbecued chicken) and Mexican foods (enchiladas and flan). This year our country of choice is Greece. This would probably mean a Greek salad, or “horiatiki,” with tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley, feta cheese and kalamata olives tossed with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil; cucumber yogurt dip, or “tsatziki”; stuffed grape leaves, or “dolmades”; Greek lemon chicken soup, or “avgolemono”; eggplant with bechamel sauce casserole, or “moussaka”; Greek shrimp with feta and tomatoes, or “saganaki”; roasted leg of lamb on a rosemary bed; and, of course, baklava for dessert.

Here are a couple of dishes that will be made for our Greek luncheon, both from Saveur magazine.

Moussaka

Serves: 8-10

1/4 cup dried currants

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound ground lamb (or ground beef, chicken or turkey)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, cored, finely chopped

1 cup red wine

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds eggplant, cut crosswise, into 1/4-inch slices

1 large russet potato, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

6 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup flour

2 1/4 cups flour

1 bay leaf

Freshly ground nutmeg, to taste

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

3 egg yolks

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Kosher salt, black pepper, to taste

Puree tomatoes in blender and set aside. Put currants into a small bowl and cover with boiling water, let soften for 30 minutes. Drain currants and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 6-quart pot over medium high heat. Add lamb, cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, salt, pepper. Cook, stirring to break up the ground meat, until browned, 5 minutes. Transfer meat to a large strainer set over a bowl and drain, along with garlic, onions and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, 10 minutes. Add reserved tomatoes, currants and lamb and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, 30 minutes. Remove from heat and set meat sauce aside.

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet our medium high heat. Working in batches, add eggplant slices, fry, turning occasionally, until tender, 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Working in batches, add potatoes, cook until tender, 5 minutes, transfer to paper towels.

Make bechamel sauce: Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until pale and smooth, 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, add milk in steady steam until incorporated, add bay leaf and cool, whisking often, until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt and egg yolks and whisk into sauce until smooth.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the reserved potato slices in bottom of an oval 3-quart baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Place eggplant slices on top, season with salt and pepper, then cover with meat sauce. Pour bechamel sauce over top of meat, spreading evenly over the top, and bake until browned and bubbly, 45-50 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before serving.

• • •

Feta cheese in a must for many Greek dishes, but make sure you read the labels on the source.

All feta should be in brine, but depending on the location, could vary.

Greek feta is traditionally made from sheep’s milk. It is salty and tangy, with a lemony flavor and is usually rich and creamy. Other versions might be crumbly. Greek feta is hard to get here because of restrictions, as it uses unpasteurized milk and also because of the great demand for it in Greece.

French feta is made from sheep’s milk, sometimes from excess not used for making Roquefort cheese. French feta is typically mild and creamy.

American feta can be made of sheep, goat or cow milk. It is usually tangy, less creamy and more crumbly.

So when you buy feta cheese, make sure your use matches how you want the end results.

A soft, crumbly feta would work best in a Greek pasta salad while a hard one that you can cut into cubes would work well in a Greek salad.

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Merry Christmas, and may you have a wonderful day tomorrow!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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