Tag Archives: greek

IMG_0838

Greek Deli’s Homestyle Cooking

The expression “homestyle cooking” gets tossed around occasionally, as in, “That restaurant does some real homestyle cooking.” What does that mean?  Isn’t cooking, just cooking?

My take is that “homestyle” refers to a certain indefinable quality  — food that’s maybe a little rustic, less precise, and more about feeling, with a certain je ne sais quoi that announces, hey, this was cooked with care.

All I know is when I sat down with my platter of food at the Greek Deli, my immediate thought was, “This is some homestyle cooking!”

The Greek Deli looks like it’s been there for a long time (it has — over 20 years) and sticks out in bustling, business-oriented Farragut North, where “family-run ethnic deli” aren’t the first words that pop into mind when you’re walking around.  Clearly though, the place is no secret to the lunch crowd.

The line was way out the door when my co-worker Cindy and I arrived on a recent afternoon.

Not to worry, the folks at the Greek Deli are extremely efficient, and the line moved rapidly.

As we got closer to the counter, I could see the various hot dishes, and boy, did everything look good.

Cindy and I both opted for variety with the Greek combo. Here it is:

This bad boy had to have weighed a couple of pounds. Easily could feed two to three people. I think the combo changes daily depending on what’s being made; on this day it included roasted chicken, a baseball-sized meatball, lima bean/chickpea/tomato stew, and a generous helping of pastichio, a baked pasta dish that reminds me of a cross between lasagna and moussaka.

Oh, and the combo also came with a side Greek salad and an enormous hunk of deliciously chewy bread.

Safe to say that if I worked near the Greek Deli, I’d probably weigh 50 pounds more than I do now.

As I made my way through the tender meatball and surprisingly addictive lima beans, I kept thinking how it all tasted less like restaurant food, and more like something I’d expect to eat at a friend’s house whose Greek grandmother was preparing Sunday dinner. It was hearty and real, and not at all manufactured or cookie cutter.

Homestyle cooking at its finest.

Greek Deli
1120 19th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-296-2111

IMG_0717

Get Him to the Greek (Festival)

Quite the weekend in DC.  Artomatic, yoga on the Mall, dragon boat races… there seemed to be an interesting event going on at every turn.

Up in my neck of the woods, there was the Greek Festival at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Saw the signs for it last year and made a mental note not to miss it this time around, especially after several people told me about all the food and pastries.

Saturday was just a perfect spring day. Stunning weather. The crowds turned out for the festival, but they were extremely manageable. My group and I got on the food line and it moved surprisingly quickly.

Behind these guys manning the grills were two carcasses roasting on spits. Looked like lamb.

Mmm, the smell of roasted meats.

My gyro sandwich. You can’t see it, but under the tzatziki was very tender and flavorful sliced beef and lamb.

We managed to work out way into the cathedral itself (when in doubt, knock on locked doors) to catch the tail end of a tour. Very beautiful inside. I’m glad we got to see it.

In the cafeteria was a whole other area of food, being served buffet style. I sort of screwed up because I think this is where the real authentic stuff was. I had dinner plans in a few hours, otherwise I would have sampled the moussaka and other home-cooked specialties. Oh well, next year.

However, there is always room for dessert. The variety of Greek pastries being displayed made me woozy. Had to rely on the menu on the wall to decipher what was what.

This is a diples, a flaky pastry dipped in honey and sprinkled with nuts and cinnamon. Reminded me of a cannoli without the filling.

It was the loukoumades though, being sold outside at a stand, that almost brought me to my knees.

What are loukoumades, you ask?

They’re little fried dough balls of goodness that Pete Schweddy himself would be proud to hawk on NPR.  The outside is crispy and the balls themselves aren’t terribly sweet — good thing because they arrive swimming in a honey syrup.

A small order was six loukoumades. Unless I planned on rolling myself home, I wasn’t eating six. Two of us split a small order, and then I shared some of my portion.

A perfectly sweet end to a sweet time spent at the Greek Festival.

Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
36th St. & Mass Ave. NW
Washington, DC
202-333-4730

IMG_2950

Spanakopita Made Easy

Last summer, while shooting TV segments on Turkish cuisine, I gained a newfound appreciation for the art of making baklava. Each of those gooey crispy squares are the product of a labor of love, requiring time, patience, skill, a large amount of counter space and a whole lot of rolling. And as much as I love eating baklava, I’m not sure I ever want to make it from scratch, unless it’s for a very special occasion, or there’s a blizzard and I have an entire Saturday to kill.

Homemade dough has distinct advantages — you can’t beat the finished product — but for most of us laypeople, packaged phyllo dough is an acceptable alternative. It crisps up beautifully, and provided you give it the proper amount of time to thaw, is fairly idiot-proof.

The other day I bought a package, inspired by this recipe on Hilah Cooking for spanakopita, the Greek pastry stuffed with spinach and feta. In my version I used nonfat feta and ricotta — not as good as the real thing, but the brushed olive oil on the phyllo dough gives it the richness it needs.

The dough is very simple to use — you stack up several layers, brushing with olive oil each time, spread the spinach mixture around, and then layer some more.

The Hilah recipes gives a very useful tip of cutting the spanakopita into squares before baking it in the oven.

45 minutes later and it’s flaky, golden brown and ready to eat.

And that’s it — a quite painless and quite delicious weeknight meal.  With packaged phyllo dough. I’m leaving the homemade to the professionals.

IMG_2934

How Do You Pronounce “Gyro?”

I pronounce it, “Year-o.”

On Seinfeld they said, “Jy-ro,” which always sounded egregiously incorrect. “Jeer-o” seems somewhat more accurate, and then you’ll sometimes hear, “Hero.”

For some reason I think the correct pronunciation may be “Year-ro” with a slightly rolled “r?”  I can’t roll an “r” to save to my life though, so “Year-o” is as close as I’m going to get.

Anyway, it’s so nice having a Mediterranean deli in my ‘hood where I can get a gyro whenever I want it.  At Byblos Deli, they do a good gyro platter at a reasonable price. Sometimes a person just needs a fix of gyro meat, hummus and tzatziki.

Come to think of it, the woman who prepared this platter said, “Hero.” But I’m really not sure if that’s right, so if you know definitively, please clear up the confusion.

Byblos Deli
3414 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C.
202-364-6549

Gigandes (Giant Beans)

Have you tried Lefteris’s Gigandes?  You haven’t?  Then I insist you drive to Tarrytown and visit Lefteris soon, this weekend even.

Gigandes is a Greek bean dish — giant beans baked in a garlicky tomato sauce until they’re soft and buttery. Usually served as an appetizer, it’s delicious.

You don’t even need an entree.  Order Gigandes with a side Greek salad or with a side of stuffed grape leaves, and that’s a full meal.

A quick Google search and I came across this Cooking Light recipe.  The beans you can find at a Greek/Middle Eastern grocery store, like Yaranush in White Plains.

1 lb dried gigandes beans
3 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp dill
2 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

The recipe itself is straightforward; the time consuming part is soaking and prepping the dried beans.

You want to cover the beans with two inches of water and soak them for eight hours or overnight.  Drain, cover them again with two inches of water and bring to a boil. Cover, turn down the heat and simmer for an hour.  Drain.

Meanwhile, saute the onions, celery, carrots and garlic until soft, then add the oregano and tomatoes.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the parsley, honey, dill, salt and pepper.

Combine the tomato sauce and beans in a baking dish.

(The beans aren’t supposed to fall apart, but a few of mine did during the simmering.  Not sure why.)

Bake uncovered for one hour at 325.

I love feta and sprinkled some on top after the dish came out of the oven.

Served with Zaatar bread, also from Yaranush.

The crispy, herby Zaatar and soft, creamy Gigandes go great together.  Lefteris’s version is better — the sauce is lighter and more delicate — but as a home dish, this’ll do just fine.

Have a great long weekend everyone!