Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Greek Cookbooks: Summer Tomatoes in Greece with Historical Information and Recipe for Strapatsada (Greek Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes) (Στραπατσάδα)

(From Greece)

Summer tomatoes are a glory of Greece. Red and juicy, warmed by the sun and simply seasoned with salt, Greek tomatoes explode with flavor, bathing taste buds in their sweet-yet-tart goodness.

We arrived in Greece this (and every) year during tomato season. Our relatives, friends, and neighbors greet us with food, which always includes lots of luscious fresh tomatoes. Right now, there are at least ten pounds of gorgeous tomatoes sitting on the counter, and the refrigerator is packed with grapes, okra, peppers, and other seasonal vegetables. It’s the best possible welcome home gift. We happily use the bounty.

Horiatiki Salata and KebabOne of the best ways to eat summer tomatoes is in Horiatiki Salata (Village Salad), a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green pepper, and feta cheese, dressed only with olive oil and salt. This most beloved of Greek salads appears on taverna menus throughout the country. During tomato season in Greece, we eat a variation of Horiatiki Salata every day.

Many Greeks like salad tomatoes when they’re still slightly green. I prefer them at their peak of ripeness. When I’m eating salad with Greek relatives, this balances out perfectly. I snag the reddest tomato bits. They go for the greener parts.

It’s hot on the island during tomato days. I’m not a hot weather aficionado, but appreciate that heat helps give Greek tomatoes their superior flavor.

At this time of year, light, flavorful, quick-cooked foods are welcome. They help avoid spending too much time in hot kitchens. One favorite such Greek dish is Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes. In some places it’s called Strapatsada, in others Kayianas, Menemeni or Sfoungato Politiko, and in many it’s simply Eggs and Tomatoes (Avga me Domates/Αυγά με Ντομάτες).

Sliced TomatoesThe Greek name “Strapatsada” derives from the Italian for “scrambled eggs” (“uova strapazzate”).
Some say the dish was originally brought to Greece by Sephardic Jews. If true, given the Italian name, a plausible route is via the Venetian Jews to the Jews in Corfu and the significant Jewish population that used to exist in Thessaloniki. (Most Greek Jews died in German concentration camps during World War II; today the entire Jewish population of Greece is about 5000.) Certainly, Strapatsada is consistent with Jewish dietary restrictions.

some debate the Jewish connection, it’s commonly accepted that Strapatsada as a Greek name for Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes originated in the Ionian Islands (including Corfu) during their years of Venetian rule (1401 – 1797). See also Voice of Corfu: “… tomatoes … were brought to Corfu by the Venetians.” It’s documented that after the Venetian conquest, Corfiot Jews developed close relations with the Venetian Jewish community and its many international merchants and traders. Cookbook of the Jews of Greece, Nicholas Stavroulakis (Lycabettus Press 1986).

According to food historian
Claudia Roden, the 16th and 17th century Jewish merchants of Venice “traded with their relatives and co-religionists around the Mediterranean … [and others] in South America.” Roden says the Jewish merchants “introduced New World food products such as tomatoes…” throughout the entire Mediterranean Jewish community.

Roden points out “a tomato sauce in Venice is called ‘alia giudia’” (Jewish Style). In her history of Italian Jewish cooking, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews: Traditional Recipes and Menus and a Memoir of a Vanished Way of Life (Giro Press 1993), Edda Servi Machlin says: “In the 18th century, the first people who used tomatoes in their cooking were Jews.”

See also, “[S]ome of the [Sephardim] … traveled as merchants to the New World, bringing back a whole new range of vegetables which were quickly adopted into the Sephardic kitchen. These were adopted, in turn, by the others among whom they lived, especially as the Sephardim were dispersed through the Mediterranean basin, into the Balkans, and parts of Western Europe.”

The Jews were also among the first to bring tomatoes to England and America. In his 1753 supplement to A History of Plantes (Thomas Osborne 1751), John Hill documented the use of tomatoes “eaten stewed or raw” by Jewish families in England. The tomato-eating 18th century English Jews “were of Portuguese or Spanish descent and … maintained contact with Jewish communities in the New World who consumed tomatoes.” The Tomato in America, Andrew F. Smith (University of South Carolina Press 1994). Smith says “at least one English-born Jewish physician introduced tomatoes into Virginia during the mid-18th century.”

If the conventional wisdom is correct that Strapatsada came to Corfu during the Venetian years, and we accept the historical record that Jews adopted tomatoes into their diets by at least the mid-18th century (and probably earlier), it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that Strapatsada was originally a Jewish creation. Indeed,
Cookbook of the Jews of Greece and Γεύση από Σεφαραδιτική Θεσσαλονίκη: Συνταγές των Εβραίων της Θεσσαλονίκης (Tastes of Sephardic Thessaloniki: Recipes of the Jews of Thessaloniki), Νίνα Μπενρουμπή (Φυτράκη 2002), which document the traditional foods of Greek Jews, both have recipes for Strapatsada.

It could be that tomatoes weren’t used anywhere in Greece
until the 19th century. And, as with all simple food combinations, it’s entirely possible that each version of Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes was created independently and spontaneously by creative cooks making use of seasonally fresh foods.

No matter its origin or name, Scrambled Eggs and Tomatoes is easy to make and very flavorful. It’s especially good when made with sun-ripened summer tomatoes.

StrapatsadaScrambled Eggs and Tomatoes (Strapatsada – Στραπατσάδα)
Serves 2
When I make Strapatsada with fresh sweet summer tomatoes, I use mint to season it. Mint’s flavor enhances the tomatoes’ sweetness and goes well with eggs. Made with canned tomatoes, dried oregano makes a better seasoning for Strapatsada. In our house, three eggs are plenty for two people, but eaters with hearty appetites may prefer four eggs. I like the finished egg curds to be smooth-textured so skin the tomatoes. Skinning is not necessary; the Strapatsada will taste great if you leave on the skins. To make the simplest version of Strapatsada, cook tomatoes in olive oil until their water evaporates, then scramble in the eggs, seasoning only with salt and pepper.

2 cups diced tomatoes (1 pound tomatoes) or 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1/8” dice (optional)
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced (optional)
1 tsp. sugar (use only if needed)
3 - 4 eggs
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)
1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint (or oregano, dill, basil, or parsley) (optional)

If starting with fresh tomatoes and you want to skin them, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and drop them in cold water. Drain and slip off the peels. Cut the tomatoes in 1/2” dice.

Peeling TomatoesSauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the diced tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes or until most of the water in the tomatoes has evaporated, stirring regularly to prevent scorching and to break up the tomatoes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Taste; if the tomatoes are too acidic, add 1 teaspoon sugar.

Whisk together the eggs. Stir eggs, cheese, and mint into the cooked tomatoes, and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, until the eggs are cooked and form small curds; the eggs should be served when they’re still a little juicy. Eggs cook faster at a higher temperature, but taste better if cooked over lower heat for a longer time.

- Use grated kefalotyri, kasseri, or parmesan instead of feta.
- Add chopped sausage, smoked pork, or ham.
- Add diced green peppers.
- Substitute puréed roasted red peppers for half the tomatoes.
- Substitute green onions for the yellow onion.
- Add Aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.
- Add cinnamon stick to the sauce and omit the herbs.
- Add cumin or allspice to the sauce and omit the herbs.
- After mixing in the eggs and tomatoes, quit stirring and let the eggs set, then flip and cook on the second side (as for a frittata).
- When the tomatoes are cooked and saucy, turn the heat to low, make indentations in the sauce, crack an egg into each indentation, cover, and cook just until the egg whites set and the yolks are still juicy.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Gretchen from Canela & Comino.


CaliforniaKat said...

L, I just bought some of these wonderful tomatoes yesterday at the manavis. My fiance couldn't understand why I was so excited, but I love their plump, juicy ripeness. Perfect for so many things!

cook said...

Greeks love to cook strapatsada plain...just tomatoes,eggs and plenty of olive oil...no herbs,mo other vegetables...just sometimes they add french fries...
Kayianas is coming from peloponisos(Mani) and it's always containing salted pork(pasto)

Cheryl said...

Hey Laurie! Great post and wonderful information.
You're right, the tomatoes are heavenly. We're on our second round of plants, the ones that we planted a few weeks later. The birds seem a bit desperate lately and have been eating a lot of our lovely tomatoes. :(
I've been making my strapatsada with just tomatoes(for the kids)as well as tomatoes and onions. I just love onions in my eggs. I have it at least twice per week. Lately, I've been wrapping mine in a tortilla.
I asked Kosta for the info concerning our transformers and he said that he ordered them online(i knew that) and he can't remember off of which website and we can't read the name on ours. He ordered them before we moved. But, he'll do some more digging for his source. They're heavy duty transformers-that's for sure...I mean literally heavy! :)

Peter M said...

Laurie, I had some of the tastiest tomatoes ever in Greece this year. They were all from one particular fellow at the Laiki and offerings from family & friends' gardens.

As for Strapatsatha, thanks for shedding more light and helping to lighten up the debate on the origins.

Let's get back to enjoying the dishes!


i haven't been able to enjoy strapatsada as a family meal, because it looks so gooey to the children - this is a great way to enjoy my tomato excess for sure!

Peter G said...

I love strapatsada especially when it's cold served on toasted bread! Thanks for all your great information concerning the origins of this dish Laurie!

Karma by Morgan said...

I will definitely need to try this! I have been cooking a lot...I made home-made gnocchi tonight and it actually turned out really well - on the first try! I like the what you did with the tomatoes too... I like the very ripe as well :) I hope you are having a good time in Greece!

FOODalogue: A Gastronomic Travel Memoir said...

Great post, photos and history lesson and it reminded me of a recent trip to Greece (my second!). I love Greek food, particularly the horiatiki and the wonderfully simple grilled fish. I'm reading this before breakfast and I'm off to make Strapasada...opa!

Núria said...

Good lord, Laurie! That was a long speech ;D. Thanks for all the info!!! I'm also enjoying tomatoes now. I even planted some in my terrace and there's nothing better than grabbing one from the plant and giving it a bite! I'm posting on cherry tomatoes on Friday.

Strapatsada sounds wonderful, plus feta is optional.... Hey my kind of dish ;D

Bellini Valli said...

It's at times like theis that I miss my garden. A newly plucked tomato with a sprinkling of salt is nectar of the Gods to me:D

Laurie Constantino said...

Kat - aren't we lucky to have access to them? And their juices are just perfect for bread dunking.

Cook, many Greeks do like strapatsada plain (as do I), but there are many other Greeks who swear by adding cheese, onions, peppers, or herbs. Isn't democracy grand?! As for the french fries, seems like they're showing up more and more places these days!

Hey Cheryl! Putting strapatsada in tortillas is a wonderful idea - I'll have to try it when we get back to Alaska (alas, without the lovely tomatoes). Thanks for checking on the transformers. We have a small one I use with my Kitchenaid mixer and it is heavy, so I believe you the bigger one is a REALLY heavy.

Peter, nothing better than fresh tomatoes from family and friends' gardens. I agree - enjoying the dishes is the way to go.

Maria, Strapatsada isn't the world's most attractive dish, but it sure does taste good.

Peter G - I've never had Strapatsada cold, mostly because there never are any leftovers...

Morgan, when are you coming to Greece? We have a room all ready for you! And if you want to work for a law firm, you should come to Alaska. Your uncle says he'll give you a job!

Foodalogue - in fact we just finished a lunch of simply grilled fish and tomato salad. The simple things in life really are the best.

Nuria, sorry to exhaust you with my blathering! Can't wait to read about your cherry tomatoes - the sweetest kind ever.

Val, you are exactly right!

Bijoux said...

Hi Laurie - good to know you have access to the internet :)
Here in Toronto, I only buy tomatoes in the summer when they are locally grown in Ontario. Tomatoes found in the markets during winter months are so bland, dry and crunchy. Horiatiki salata is my favourite and I have been making horiatiki practically 3 times a week since June. Greek tomatoes are far superior to any tomatoes grown or purchased here. Even the organic local tomatoes (although good) are not nearly as tasty and juicy as Greek tomatoes. I have eaten strapatsada many years ago in Greece and although it wasn't my favourite dish at the time (tomatoes and eggs just wasn't my thing), I now find myself craving it on occasion. Strange!!

Lulu Barbarian said...

Oh dear, now I'm totally embarrassed that I recommended 5 eggs for two people! What a pig I must be. :-)

Seriously though, it was really interesting to read what you came up with regarding the origins, after all the debating. And I am enthusiastic to try some of your variations.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I'd never heard of this before, but I love that plated photo and it sounds delicious.

katiez said...

I love scrambled eggs with tomatoes!!! I didn't know it was Greek... Next time I'm adding the feta - Yum!!

Gretchen Noelle said...

Love all your notes about these delicious tomatoes. Love the recipe idea, I don't know that I would have thought to mix scrambled eggs and tomatoes.

Laurie Constantino said...

Bijoux, it's access yes, but it's dial-up, a very frustrating way to blog. You are so right about winter tomatoes - they're mostly decoration and add little to no flavor. I think kids tend to shy away from strapatsada because it isn't the world's most attractive dish. We drove the Kalliope today and I thought of you and your mom...

Lulu - no need for embarrassment! I thought you, like Peter G, just liked Strapatsada cold so made extra for a midnight snack!

Mike, it's easy AND delicious - the best kind of food combination there is!

Katie, mmm, it's good plain, but I do really love it with feta (although I love most things with feta, so I may not be the most objective judge on this issue).

Gretchen, thanks! And thanks for doing such a great job on the round up.

Kalyn said...

I'm very jealous to hear that you are in Greece, but my condolences on the dial-up. I had that for the first year or so I was blogging, and it wasn't fun. Great post about the Greek tomatoes and I love the sound of this dish too. Also, didn't know that Village salad is served with only salt and olive oil, no vinegar, but sounds perfect!

Syrie said...

Laurie, looks fabulous. I love the tomatoes and eggs. They go so well together. By the way, thanks for the info on the zucchini blossoms. Have a great time!

manju said...

That was a fascinating historical account -- I had never heard that the use of tomatoes in cooking was introduced by Jewish cooks. Thanks for the great share! I love learning things like that!

James said...

Wow !!! these item really awesome. I like very much tomato salad but i never heard trapatsada. Let me try to follow your procedure.