Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ingredient: Dried Okra (with Recipe for Armenian Okra & Meat in Tangy Tomato Sauce)

Yesterday I hit the ingredient jackpot, and didn’t have to leave Anchorage to do it.

While sharing morning coffee with my friends Marie and Ankine, our conversation turned to the ingredients we bring home from our travels because they aren’t available in Alaska. Marie included dried okra in the list of foods that fill her luggage.

Dried okra? My ears perked up. I’d never heard of dried okra, and was full of questions. Where did the dried okra come from? How did Marie use it? How is the okra dried?

Dried OkraMarie opened the refrigerator and removed a jar of the tiniest okra I had ever seen. The 1” long baby okra were strung on cotton string like a necklace and dried until hard. The okra came from Turkey, via a California speciality market.

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Cookbook: Imam Baildi (Baked Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onion)

Imam BaildiWhen Maria was 13, her brother left their village to study for his university test in Athens and live with their Uncle Aristotle. Maria went along to cook and clean for her brother and uncle.

Before this journey, Maria had helped her mother in the kitchen, but had never cooked a meal on her own and wasn't sure where to start. A neighbor lady took Maria under her wing and taught Maria the recipe for Imam Baildi (often known simply as Imam), a dish popular in every country where the Ottoman Turks once ruled.

The name of the dish means "the priest fainted," and supposedly refers to the imam's reaction either to the incredible rich flavors of the dish, or to the high cost of the olive oil used to prepare it. When finished, Imam's layers of flavor mingle on your palate: slightly charred eggplant, rich sweet onions, parsley, and roasted tomatoes.

EggplantMaria's recipe for Imam Baildi is in Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

To prepare this dish, a deep, narrow, V-shaped wedge is cut lengthwise out of small eggplants (in Alaska, Maria uses Japanese eggplants), and the wedge is stuffed with a mixture of onions, garlic, and parsley, which is baked with crushed tomatoes and drizzled olive oil.

Leftover Imam Baildi can be turned into a lovely eggplant spread (Melitzanosalata). The recipe for Melitzanosalata using leftover Imam is here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tip: Storing Eggplant


Linda asks, “The eggplant seemed fine when I brought it home from the store yesterday, but today when I took it out of the refrigerator, the insides were brown instead of white. Did I do something wrong? Was it a mistake to put eggplant in the refrigerator?”

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Recipe: Lemony Chickpea and Rosemary Soup

Chickpea SoupTo fight the cold, we ate soups and stews accompanied by homemade bread, and appreciated the extra heat from the bubbling pot and baking oven. I frequently cooked with chickpeas and, during that winter, started making Lemony Chickpea and Rosemary Soup. Since then, it has remained one of my favorite recipes and I make it regularly.

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

Please click on over and visit my new site. Thank you!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Recipe: Plasto (Greens and Cornbread)

Cornbread and Greens Pie I'm on a greens kick.

We recently harvested the last bitter greens from the garden. And Full Circle Farm, a Washington organic farm that extends its CSA program to Alaska, has been offering an impressive selection of greens; many are in my refrigerator. (Participants in the CSA program receive weekly or biweekly boxes of fresh organic vegetables, and can also order extra organic vegetables, fruits, and specialty grocery items.)

This week my Full Circle Farm box included Swiss chard, beet greens, and domesticated dandelions. Despite having made two Hortopitas in the last week, I wanted more greens. For the sake of variety, I made Plasto instead of more Hortopita, and mixed the bitter greens from our garden with the sweeter Full Circle Farm varieties.

I discovered Plasto leafing through an old Greek church cookbook (St. Nicholas Orthodox Church: Greek Kouzina, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980), one of nearly 400 Greek cookbooks in my collection (a tribute to irresistable impulses and obsession). This Plasto recipe sandwiched spinach between two layers of Jiffy corn muffin mix. The recipe details were uninspiring, but the concept of mixing greens with cornmeal in a single dish intrigued me.

Despite years of studying Greek cuisine, I had not heard of Plasto. I quickly searched through my cookbook collection, and did not find a single other recipe for the dish. I searched the internet for any Greek dish combining greens and cornmeal and found 19 pages of recipes combining the two ingredients, most in Greek.

Although the recipes were similar, they had a full orchestra of names: Patsaria, Blatsaria, Batsaria, Batzara, Blano, Plastos, Plasto, Plastira, Pispilita, Paspalopita, Bobota, Bobotopita, Babanetsa, Spanakopita Epirotiki, Hortopita with Kalambokalevro (Cornmeal), Pita Masodra, and Lachanopsomo. The recipes emphasized different dimensions of the cornmeal and greens combination, but none seemed exactly right to me. Either the cornmeal layers had an undesirable consistency, or the greens mixture was too bland, or the greens were cooked into a slurry.

I developed a recipe that may not be traditional, but it fulfills what I had imagined when I first saw the Plasto recipe. The top cornbread crust is browned and beautiful, and the juicy filling bubbes up the sides of the pan when it comes out of the oven. It smells great. When cut, the sight of the golden cornbread crust, and the deep green filling studded with white pockets of cheese, makes my mouth water.

The crunchy cornmeal crust of Plasto contrasts nicely with the softer texture of the filling. And in the filling, the herbs, greens, cheese, and onions meld with greens to form a single flavor, bringing out the best in all the ingredients.

Leftovers: Leftover Plasto makes a delicious cold meal, as the filling's flavors continue to develop over night. It may even be better cold as a lovely cornbread and greens sandwich. When I first tasted Plasto hot, I was sorry I had not made it with feta cheese. However, when I ate it cold, I basked in the correctness of my decision to use goat and cottage cheeses, whose flavors are more subtle than salty feta.

Plasto is a recipe for days when I want something not too complicated and reliably good.

Cornbread and Greens PiePlasto (Πλαστό)
Serves 6-8

Cornmeal Layer
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
3 Tbsp. butter

Greens Layer
2 pounds mixed wild or supermarket greens
3 cups chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup fresh dill, minced (1 box)
1/2 cup fresh mint, minced (1 box)

Cheese: either 4 ounces goat cheese and 3/4 cup large curd cottage cheese or 1 1/4 cup crumbled feta

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a 10x10” pan with butter.

Wash the greens, and blanch them in boiling salted water. Drain and, using a kitchen towel, squeeze out as much water as possible from the greens. Chop them roughly.

Sauté the onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil over medium heat until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the Aleppo pepper.

Mix together the chopped greens, sautéed onions (including the oil), dill, mint, and cheese. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mix all the dry ingredients for the cornmeal layer together. Whisk together the eggs, yogurt, and water until the ingredients are well blended. Melt the butter. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients until they are almost, but not quite, completely mixed. Stir in the melted butter just until thoroughly combined.

Spread half of the cornmeal mix over the bottom of the buttered pan. Spread the greens mix over the cornmeal layer, and then spread, as evenly as possible, the remaining cornmeal mix over the greens. Bake in a preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling up the sides of the pan.

Let the Plasto rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving. Serve with Tomato and Onion Salad and Baked Kalamata Olives.


This is my entry in the Grow Your Own monthly food blogging event.

This is also my entry for the Vegetarian Awareness Month event hosted by Margot of Coffee & Vanilla. Margot's summary of all VAM entries is here.

Cookbook: Hortopita (Greens and Cheese Pie)

When fall begins its descent, and the days start to shorten, our garden is lush with greens; they flourish in Alaska's cool weather. Anticipating the snow that fell this week, we recently harvested the remaining greens and put the garden to bed for the winter.

Mixed GreensSwiss chard, spinach, beet greens, Italian chicory, and dandelions

Some greens (a mixture of cultivated dandelions and Italian chicories) I blanched and froze for winter use. Others I used to make Hortopita, which is similar to Spanakopita (Spinach Pie), but with a more complex flavor. Although Hortopita tastes bests when made with wild greens, and benefits from a combination of sweet and bitter greens, any mixture of wild or supermarket greens may be used. When combined with cheese and herbs in Hortopita, mixed greens make a magnificent meal.


Making Hortopita brings back happy memories of foraging for wild greens in Greek island vineyards, and sitting barefoot in the afternoon shade with my friends, cleaning our bounty while chatting about our lives and sharing village gossip.

The recipe for Hortopita is in Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

Tastes Like Home:
can be ordered here.

Cookbook: Teeny's Big Fat Greek Dinner

Greek DinnerLast weekend, Teeny had a very fun and very filling Greek potluck dinner. Those of us who owned Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska made recipes from the book.

It was an incredible feast: Tzatziki (Yogurt and Cucumber Dip), Melitzanasalata (Eggplant Spread), Hummus (Garbanzo Bean and Garlic Dip), Spanakopita (Spinach Pie), Kolokythopita (Squash Pie, Hortopita (Mixed Greens Pie), Roasted Kalamata Olives, Greek Salad, Greek Village Bread, Pastitsio, Roasted Lemon Potatoes, Paprika Pork and Cabbage, and Lamb with Garbanzos and Spinach, followed by a magnificent Coconut Cake for dessert. Needless to say, everyone ate too much.

I was happy to hear that those who used Tastes Like Home thought the recipes were simple to follow and easy to make. It was also nice that after dinner many of the guests bought copies of Tastes Like Home to give as gifts to friends and family.

Pork and Cabbage
Spanakopita, Hortopita, Paprika Pork and Cabbage, Pastitsio

The Greek potluck dinner was held to celebrate this year's successful Klondike Road Relay Race. Every year, various members of the Metcalfe family organize with their friends to form a Klondike running team. This year it was a Women's Masters Team, the Crow's Feet, and they came in second in their class. Congratulations!

Savory Squash Pie Kolokythopita (Savory Squash Pies) made by Kim and Teeny, with help from Barb

Photographs by Teeny Metcalfe

Ingredient: Frozen Artichoke Hearts

Frozen Artichoke Hearts

Question: Several of your recipes call for frozen artichoke hearts. Where can I buy them in Anchorage, Alaska?

Answer: In Anchorage, Fred Meyer and Carrs/Safeway usually carry artichoke hearts (some brands are called artichoke quarters) in their frozen vegetable sections.

Frozen Artichoke Hearts
I generally have a package or two of artichoke hearts in the freezer, and use them to create quick dinners on days when my cooking inspiration is on strike. Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has three recipes in which artichoke hearts play a starring role: Artichoke and Dill Egg-Lemon Soup, Artichoke Pilaf, and Artichokes Braised with Dill. Paired with a crisp salad, any of these dishes makes a filling vegetarian meal.

Of course, the recipes may also be prepared with fresh artichokes. But using fresh artichokes just for the hearts requires too much time and effort (and costs too much) for a quick mid-week meal. I'd rather save fresh artichokes for steaming whole or grilling or stuffing; uses that allow me to enjoy the delicious leaves (which too often end up in the garbage when fresh artichokes are used for their hearts).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cookbook: Gluten-free, Vegan, and Vegetarian, Oh My

Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has 182 recipes. All of the recipes use ingredients available in Alaska, and are easy to make in a home kitchen.

Recently, I've been getting questions about whether the book has recipes for those who don't eat meat, or are on restrictive diets. Tastes Like Home has:

Recipes for Special Diets:
  • 137 Gluten-free recipes

  • 100 Vegetarian recipes

  • 69 Lenten recipes

  • 61 Vegan recipes
Recipes from 8 countries:
  • 139 Greek recipes

  • 10 Armenian recipes

  • 8 Egyptian recipes

  • 7 Moroccan recipes

  • 2 Lebanese recipes

  • 10 Palestinian recipes

  • 6 Romanian recipes

  • 2 Serbian recipes
Recipes in all categories:

  • 22 Appetizer recipes

  • 29 Salad recipes

  • 11 Soup recipes

  • 14 Pites, Bread, Pasta and Rice recipes

  • 25 Seafood recipes

  • 9 Chicken recipes

  • 24 Meat recipes

  • 34 Vegetable recipes

  • 14 Dessert recipes

Cookbook: "Tastes Like Home" Now Available

Tastes Like Home cover Wander the shore of a Greek island with the afternoon sun sparkling on blue Aegean waters. Jostle through teeming streets in an Egyptian metropolis at the edge of the ancient desert. Bargain for spices in a Moroccan market, or enjoy the shade of a cool Romanian forest.

Then turn the world upside down. Welcome to Alaska.

Immigrants from across the Mediterranean brought a rich culinary legacy with them to The Last Frontier, where they eased loneliness and softened a hostile environment with recipes from home.

Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska is a collection of traditional and modern versions of dishes that members of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Anchorage, Alaska learned from mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. The recipes were carefully tested and recreate the flavors of the Mediterranean using ingredients readily available in Alaska and North America.

Tastes Like Home includes the acclaimed foods that draw thousands each summer to Anchorage's popular Greek Festival, including Spanakopita, Tyropita, Dolmades, Moussaka, Baklava, Galaktoboureko, and Kourambiedes.

All proceeds from the sale of Tastes Like Home go to the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church Building Fund.


Architect's drawing of planned new church building
Tastes Like Home new church