Saturday, November 17, 2007

Seafood in the Heart of Athens (with Recipe for Beet-Yogurt Spread / Σαλάτα με Παντζάρια και Γιαούρτι)

BeetsTraveling provides opportunities to encounter new foods, new ingredients, and new preparations. I’m always on the lookout for eateries run by talented chefs. I’m thrilled when I find a dish I’ve never heard of before, and order it immediately, just to discover what I’ve been missing.

As a visitor, it can be daunting to choose from all the offerings in cities with vibrant culinary scenes, like Seattle, London, San Francisco, and Athens. Yes, Athens. Some imagine the only restaurant food in Athens is moussaka, souvlaki, and vegetables swimming in olive oil. That stereotype is no longer true.

Starting about ten years ago, and continuing to today, Athens has experienced a culinary renaissance. Young Greek chefs have been opening restaurants in seedy run-down industrial neighborhoods. The chefs are exploring the depth and breadth of traditional Greek cuisine, using the freshest local ingredients. Many of these chefs apply culinary insights they brought home from working in restaurants around the world.

Some of my best restaurant finds are by happenstance, strolling through changing neighborhoods, peering through doorways, and scanning posted menus. This is how I recently found my new favorite restaurant in Athens, Logia tis Ploris.

Logia tis Ploris is a fish taverna, on a narrow pedestrian walkway, in a quiet, aging, residential neighborhood one block off busy Peiraios Street. The young owners have tastefully renovated a neoclassical house, and serve food one is more likely to encounter at a table near than sea than in downtown Athens.

The seafood at Logia tis Ploris is, without exception, delicious, impeccably fresh, and skillfully cooked. The preparations are simple and straightforward, and properly allow the high-quality ingredients to shine. The prices are reasonable; we paid 20€ per person for our meals, including wine.

We ate at Logia tis Ploris two nights in a row, and would have gone for a third and a fourth had we more time in Athens. Each meal started with a complementary bowl of Beet and Yogurt Spread, accompanied by tiny glasses of tsipouro and crunchy croutons. Though composed from simple ingredients, the flavor of the spread was complex and addictive.

Both nights we gorged on a variety of appetizers (mezedes), all of which were excellent, including:
Mezedes--Fava Pantremeni (pureed yellow split peas with capers, tomatoes, and onions)
--Octopus Fritters (minced octopus in batter, deep-fried)
--Grilled Crab (large, meaty crab, cracked and lightly dressed with olive oil)
--Cheese Pies from Milos (small, crunchy pastries, filled with fresh cheese and seasoned with mint)
--Sea Urchin Salad (a bowl of salty-sweet sea urchin roe and their juices, with country bread to spoon it over)
--Fish “Pastourma” (thinly sliced cod, lightly smoked over beech, and seasoned with paprika and salt)
--Shrimp Simiotika (crispy, dry-fried, sweet, baby shrimp to be eaten shells and all)
--Shellfish “tis Ploris” (three varieties of Greek bivalves – cockles, Venus clams, and razor clams -- cooked with white wine, onions, and dill).

To accompany the food, we ordered seafood-friendly house white wine by the carafe – which turned out to be bottomless. As soon as our carafe was empty, the owner quickly refilled it – at no charge to us, an example of Greek hospitality at its finest.

When we finished eating our mezedes, the owner brought out what appeared to be white after-dinner mints. He poured lemon water over the white tablets, which dramatically expanded into two-inch tall cylinders. We laughed with glee when we discovered the cylinders were lovely lemon-scented towelettes for cleaning our seafood soaked hands.

Logia tis Ploris is near the new Kerameikos metro stop, and within easy walking distance of Plaka, where many visitors to Greece stay during their Athens’ vacations. It is well worth the trip.

Now we are back in Alaska, and haven’t stopped thinking about our meals at Logia tis Ploris. We can’t recreate the flower-scented night air at Logia tis Ploris, or the graciousness of our host, but I’ve done my best to recreate some of the flavors we enjoyed there.

My version of Logia tis Ploris’ Beet and Yogurt Spread has a startling, deep color, and strong, refreshing flavors. The spread made a festive addition to our holiday buffet. The garlic in it wakes up taste buds jaded by too much rich food, and helps digesting Thanksgiving-sized portions of turkey and gravy.

Beet-Yogurt SpreadBeet-Yogurt Spread (Σαλάτα με Παντζάρια και Γιαούρτι)
The intense color of this spread may initially be intimidating, but the flavor is delicious.

1 c. plain, whole-milk yogurt
2-3 cloves garlic
2/3 c. cooked and coarsely grated beets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. red wine vinegar

Line a strainer or colander with paper towels. Dump the yogurt into the lined strainer and let the liquid drain out of the yogurt for 30 – 60 minutes.

Puree the garlic by mashing it into the salt. This is easiest to do with a mortar and pestle.

Mix the strained yogurt, pureed garlic, salt, grated beets, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding garlic, salt, or vinegar, as needed.

Serve with artisan-style bread, and raw vegetables such as carrots, leeks, or celery.

NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don't cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they're tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)

This is my entry for Heart of the Matter #9, hosted this month by Accidental Scientist.


Peter M said...

Wow, I've never even tried such a dip (nor have I tried it).

This restaurant also sounds very innovative, exciting and I've noted it to try should I visit Athens next year.

Laurie Constantino said...

No, I'd never heard of it before either, but I'm glad I did. And if you do go to that restaurant, assuming you like seafood, you won't be sorry! I'm still thinking about the fish pastourma, and don't know if I can figure out how to make that at home. We'll see!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

Beets are very popular in Greece. When I was there for 5 weeks last Spring I must have had a beets in one way or the other every second day and Greek salad every day!!The dip sounds delish!

Kalva said...

Hey, just saw your comment on my abeets recipe saying "One questions, what does 'cook the beets with water for 3 whistles' mean?
Hmm good question, i have never used american pressure cookers. So i wasnt sure how it works! I think they dont have any valves or weights. Indian cookers normally have weight which when gives out pressure it whistles and we count these whistles and cook accordingly. It took about less than 10 min to cook the beets. The basic idea was to cook beets to tender so that you can chop easily without any effort. Heres some interesting post '". Any question? you can email me at

Laurie Constantino said...

Kalva that was a very interesting article by MissVickie who put a lot of effort into finding the answer to the whistle question, which sounds like it is unique to Indian pressure cookers. Thanks for the link!!

Laurie Constantino said...

Valli, sounds like you had a great trip and ate very very well. As I'm looking out at my snowy yard, what I wouldn't give for a horiatiki salata with perfectly ripe tomotoes. Sigh. Next year!

Simona Carini said...

A startling color indeed! Very nice.

Laurie Constantino said...

Thanks Simona!