A holiday menu for an at-home restaurant experience

Chef Aostolos Altanis tomato and feta dakos salad with herbs

It was an interesting Thanksgiving this year and I think I speak for many of us when I say it was certainly quieter. Instead of the usual meal with friends and their children, this year we had a mini-Thanksgiving, with just two of our three children. It was definitely the smallest we've ever had since we've been in Cincinnati, especially compared to the long tables and noisy feasts of previous years. I don't complain, though; I'm just happy we're all healthy! 

One thing that hasn't changed this year, though, is that we still feel the need for a little detox after all that rich Thanksgiving food. Seafood really fits the bill, as it always feels lighter after all the turkey and stuffing and sides. I especially love going out for this kind of light, gourmet meal - a nice cocktail to start with, tasty little appetizers, and yes, maybe even a little dessert...after all, it's the holiday season!

One of my favorite chefs here in Cincinnati is José Salazar, the Colombian-American Chef who moved here from New York City years ago to open several restaurants (I especially love Mita's!). A few years back, we worked together on a beautiful book of art and food and when I started Zelos, he created a Peruvian ceviche with Greek sea fennel, just for us! As I was yearning for a nice restaurant dinner, I thought it would make the perfect starter for a festive menu based on dishes that our Global Greek Gastronomy Chefs have shared with us over time. My holiday menu includes an award-winning cocktail to start your restaurant meal at home, José's fusion ceviche, an almond-encrusted feta cheese appetizer, and two choices of an orzo youvetsi, one with sea food and one vegetarian. It is a yummy meal that we hope you will enjoy with your closest people and bring that restaurant experience at home!

MARIA'S HOLIDAY MENU - A RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE AT HOME

START WITH A RENAISSANCE COCKTAIL FROM CHIOS

This delicious cocktail was developed by mixologists Giannis & Christos of the Overproof bar in Chios, using the island's unique tangerine marmalade. Read their story here!

Shake up 60 ml Skinos mastiha liqueur (if you can't find mastiha, you can try making this with gin), 20 ml fresh lemon juice, 10 ml Luxardo maraschino liqueur, 7 ml Fernet Branca, 1 barspoon Citrus Chian Tangerine Marmalade, and a pinch of fleur de sel.

Pour into a chilled martini glass, garnishing with orange & lemon zest, and enjoy!

A FRESH STARTER: CHEF JOSÉ SALAZAR’S SEA FENNEL CEVICHE

A fresh fusion of Peruvian and Greek cooking and so easy to make!

Take one pound fish, the freshest available from your fishmonger, diced in medium pieces. Some that I recommend are; red snapper, grouper and hamachi (yellowtail tuna).

Add the juice from about 6 limes, depending on their size, the juice from 2 oranges, 2 cups diced pineapple, 2 small or 1 large jalapeño pepper, to taste, diced in small pieces, and 1 medium red onion, diced in small pieces, allowing them to sit covered in a bowl over ice for 15 minutes.

Add 1 jar Tragano Greek Organics sea fennel (save a little to garnish), and 1 cup of chopped cilantro leaves, salt to taste and drizzle some Tragano Greek Organics extra virgin olive oil to finish...you can also adjust the lime and orange juice to make the ceviche as tart or as sweet as you like.

A VEGGIE STARTER: CHEF ALEXANDROS' ALMOND-ENCRUSTED FETA WITH POMEGRANATE REDUCTION

This elegant appetizer comes to us all the way from Dubai! Read more about Chef Alexandros here.

INGREDIENTS

500 ml Olive Oil 

1 7-8 oz slice of Greek feta cheese

1/2 cup water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

3 oz of bread crumbs

2.5 oz of flour

3 oz sliced blanched almonds, slightly chopped (not too finely!)

1/2 cup pomegranate juice

1/4 cup honey

PREPARATION

Cut the feta slice in quarters, from corner to corner, creating four small triangles.

Set out five little bowls with the water, eggs, flour, bread crumbs, and almond flakes, all in a row, in this order.

Dip each feta triangle in each of the bowls in the order listed above so that the triangle is well-coated. Place them on a sheet of wax paper and put in the freezer for a couple of hours for the coating to set.  

In the meantime, simmer the pomegranate juice in a sauce pan over low heat until it is reduced in half.  Remove from the heat and mix the honey.

When you are ready to serve, heat the olive oil in a frying pan until it's nice and hot and fry your feta triangles until they are golden on both sides.  Drain on a paper towel and then move to an individual plate or platter, drizzling with your pomegranate reduction.

THE MAIN DISH: CHEF APOSTOLOS ALTANIS' OCTOPUS AND SHRIMP YOUVETSI

This talented chef works in my home town of Thessaloniki and I was intrigued when I found out he was using Agrozimi's pasta and not an Italian brand! Read my interview with him here.

STEP 1: PREPARE THE OCTOPUS

Remove the tentacles from 4 lbs. of octopus and place them in a large saucepan with 1 cubed onion, 1 large cubed carrot, 2 pieces of star anise, 2 cups of diced celery, 2 laurel leaves, 200 ml dry white wine, 100 ml red wine vinegar, and 300 ml water. Simmer for about 45" until the tentacles are tender when you poke them with a fork. 

Remove the tentacles, let them cool and then cut into small pieces. Save about 300 grams of the octopus broth for the next step.

STEP 2: PREPARE THE YOUVETSI

In a saucepan, sauté a diced onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until it's translucent. Add the diced boiled octopus tentacles from Step 1, 16 pieces of deveined shrimp, a bay leaf and 1 lb Agrozimi orzo. Continue to stir to avoid sticking for 1-2 minutes.

Douse it with 100ml dry white wine and continue stirring, gradually adding the octopus broth from step 1, 1.5 liters of vegetable broth and 1 cup of fresh tomatoes, pureed in a blender.

Stir continuously until the liquids have reduced, the orzo is cooked (not too soft, more al dente), and the mixture is nice and thick...but not dry!  It usually takes about 10-12 minutes of cooking.

Remove from the heat, add 3.5 oz of butter, 2 cups Kefalotyri (grated Parmesan will work, too), 2 cups Metsovone cheese (cut into small cubes - Manchego can also do), ground pepper, and mix well until the orzo and cheese are well-blended. If needed, correct the taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately and enjoy!

A VEGGIE MAIN DISH: CHEF KOKKAS' VEGGIE SPELT ORZO & FETA MOUSSE

Bring a touch of Santorini to your holiday table with this recipe from Kokkalo restaurant, run by Chef Kleanthis Kokkas, who serves up gourmet food on the road from Fira to Firostefani. Here's hoping we can visit next year!

STEP 1 - PREPARE A FETA MOUSSE

Mix 3/4 cup grated feta cheese with 4 tsps full-fat Greek yogurt to form a thick paste. Roll teaspoonfuls into balls or place the mixture in a pastry bag and pipe out little logs. Coat the balls or logs with ground turmeric and refrigerate while you prepare the orzo. 

STEP 2 - PREPARE YOUR ORZO 

 In a pot of rolling boiling water, add salt and 1 pack Agrozimi spelt orzo-kritharaki . After 5 minutes, drain and cool immediately with cold water so that it stays "al dente". Drizzle some olive oil and mix well, so the orzo doesn't stick and put aside.

Sauté in a saucepan half a chopped onion with olive oil and 2 chopped garlic cloves until they're translucent.  Add 2 lbs ripe tomatoes, chopped in a blender, a dash of sugar, salt and pepper and let simmer for 20 minutes. Then add 15 basil leaves, finely chopped, and stir well.

Sauté in a large pan (that can hold all the orzo) the other half of your chopped onion, 2 diced red & yellow bell peppers, 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes and 4 large mushrooms, sliced. When the vegetables are tender, add your tomato sauce and orzo, and if needed, top it off with enough vegetable broth or water to just cover the pasta.  Let the mixture simmer.

When the liquids are absorbed, remove the pan from the stovetop and add 1 tbsp butter and 1/2c. grated parmesan, stirring to coat the orzo until it glistens. Then stir in some chopped mint and serve on a plate. Top with your feta mousse balls or logs and enjoy piping hot!

AND FOR DESSERT....A SIMPLE SPOON SWEET WITH YOUR COFFEE!

There's nothing like a touch of sweetness after a meal, but in the spirit of the ancient Greek saying, "Παν μέτρον άριστον", or everything in moderation, we're finishing this holiday menu with a simple spoon sweet. This traditional dessert is pure and clean, with pieces of fruit floating in a simple, all-natural syrup of sugar, water, and lemon juice. Enjoy!



2 Responses

Maria Kalomenidou
Maria Kalomenidou

January 05, 2021

Thank you Ceci! We have so many talented people in our community, it is a pleasure to collaborate with all of them.

Ceci O. Hurtado
Ceci O. Hurtado

January 05, 2021

Bravo Maria! Que buen post! Espectacular el contenido y las recetas fotografia etc etc

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