Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Evening with the Avramidis Family..... and a Gourmet Greek Dinner


By now, if you are a regular follower of my blog, you have met many of my friends, and have shared the experience of cooking with them. I had just learned how to make Baklava and Spanakopita from my dear friend Aliza, when I received a phone call from my friend Athena Avramidis, inviting for dinner.

She said she was going to be making grape leaves, and a few other Greek Specialties, and would we like to come. "Yes," I answered, but I would also like to come and cook so I can learn how to make the dishes. Athena said, Of course", and just like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I went off to Greek School, Greek Cooking School that is!

What a wonderful experience I had cooking with Athena and her daughter Georgiana. You will see much more of both of them on the posts that follow and learn how we became such good friends. We live in a very small town in upstate New York. Our husbands are both doctors and got out of their residencies at the same time. We moved into town fairly close together, and have been friends ever since. Our children went to school together, at one point, we built our houses in the same neighborhood, we have been through a lifetime of memories together. Athena is a member of the Birthday Club that you always hear me mention in the blog.

It was Lee's (Athena's husbands) birthday, and a cause for celebration! She invited a few friends to share the evening, Bob and Sheila Smith (my husband's partner and his wife, who has taken many of the pictures on my blog), Contessa Maria, who you have met in our pierogie post, and Cynthia Parlato-Hurd and her husband Doug (an ophthalmologist and he is a dentist) rounded out the wonderful group of friends.

In this post we will learn how to make the Stuffed Grape Leaves or the Dolmathes, as they are called. They were one of the amazing things that Athena made along with Moussaka, Tzatziki Dip, Spanakopita, several wonderful salads, roasted potatoes, rice, Plaki (a bean dish), and more. Many of the recipes will be posted this week.

Athena is also going to make the moussaka again so I can post it here in a step by step fashion, along with Pastichio, and home made Phyllo dough. I am so lucky to have such culinary genius' for friends.

Come along with me for this wonderful evening of fun and friendship!

Dolmathes
Athena Avramidis


1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 bunches scallions, chopped finely
3-4 onions, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper
2 lemons divided
1 1/2 cups medium grain rice (Athena uses Carolina Medium Grain Rice)
1/4 - 1/2 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
1 cup water
1 (1 pound) jar of grape leaves
extra olive oil for the pot

Place about 1/2 cup of oil in a large saute pan. Add the scallions and onions. Saute until scallions and onions are soft. Add the fresh dill, fresh mint (you can use dried if you can't find fresh, but use about 2 tablespoons), salt and pepper to taste, the juice of one lemon, and the rice (make sure you are using medium grain rice). Saute the mix for about 15 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts. Add a little water (about ¾ - 1 cup.) Remove from heat. Set aside.

Remove the grape leaves from the jar and place them in a bowl of water. Rinse them well in both hot and cold water, because they are very salty. Remove the stems, from the leaves. Set aside any leaves that seem really hard (you will use them to line the pot, and to cover the grape leaves later). Place a few of the hard leaves along the bottom of a large, heavy (cast iron if you have one) pot.

Place about a teaspoonful of the rice (if the leaf is big, you can use a little more) mixture at the flat end of the leaf. Start to roll from the bottom, then turn the left side in, and then the right side in, and continue rolling. Place the leaves in a circular fashion in the pot. Place as many layers as necessary to finish the rice mix (probably two or three layers.) Place some of the remaining hard leaves over the top of the completed grape leaf rolls.

Drizzle about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of olive oil on the top of the leaves, squeeze the juice from the second lemon over the leaves, and add enough water to cover the leaves (the rice will need the water to absorb). Place a salad plate (stone wear or microwavable plate so it won't crack, DO NOT USE BONE CHINA) facing down over the leaves. Put a heavy mug or stoneware bowl filled with water on the top of the salad plate to act as a weight. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and them reduce the heat to medium, and cook for about 30 - 40 minutes. Taste one to be sure they are done! Serve with lemon wedges and/ or tzatziki dip.

Here is how you will make the grape leaves:

Dolmathes
Athena Avramidis


1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5 bunches scallions, chopped finely
3-4 onions, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper
2 lemons divided
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1/4 - 1/2 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
1 cup water
1 (1 pound) jar of grape leaves
extra olive oil for the pot

Peel the onions


cut the onions in half, keeping the brown root end intact


make thin slices


turn the onion 90 degrees


and cut again


This will dice your onion, throw root end out;
Set aside


Wash the scallions


Cut off the root end


Cut off a little from the tip


Cut the scallions into thin pieces


set aside


Wash the dill


Remove the thick stems


Mince the dill with a sharp knife
Set aside

Wash and chop the mint


Set aside


Place 1/2 cup of oil in a large saute pan and heat


Add the scallions


Saute a few minutes


Add pepper

and salt to taste


and onions





Add the medium grain rice

(Note the size of the rice, they are smaller than
long grain, but bigger than sticky rice!)


Stir the rice in

add the other 1/2 cup rice


Add fresh mint (you can use dried if you can't find fresh,
but use about 2 tablespoons),


Cut a lemon in half

Juice the whole lemon



Strain the pits out



add the juice of the lemon,


Add the fresh dill,


Saute for about 15 minutes

Stir in the pine nuts



Add about a 3/4 - cup of water

Set aside


Open the jar of grapes leaves



Remove the grape leaves from the jar


open the leaves


and place them in a bowl of water

Rinse them well in both hot and cold water,
because they are very salty


Change the water frequently



Remove the stems, from the leaves.


Set aside any leaves that seem really hard
(you will use them to line the pot, and to
cover the grape leaves later).



or broken


Place a few of the hard or broken leaves along the
bottom of a large, heavy (cast iron if you have one) pot





Place your pan of rice nearby

Lay a leaf flat


Place about a teaspoonful of the rice
(it the leaf is big you can use a little more)
mixture at the flat end of the leaf


Start to roll from the bottom, or if the
leaf is large fold it in a little


then turn the left side in,



and then the right side in,

and continue rolling



One more time...






Place the leaves (seam side down)
in a circular fashion in the pot



Place as many layers as necessary to finish the rice mix
(probably two or three layers.)


Place some of the remaining hard leaves over
the top of the completed grape leaf rolls


Squeeze the juice from the second lemon
over the leaves,




and add enough water to cover the leaves
(the rice will need the water to absorb).

Drizzle about 1/2 - 3/4 cup olive oil over the leaves



Place a salad plate (stone wear or microwavable plate so it won't crack,
DO NOT USE BONE CHINA) facing down
over the leaves


Put a heavy mug or stoneware bowl filled with water on the top
of the salad plate to act as a weight.

Cover the pot with a lid


Bring to a boil


and them reduce the heat to medium,
and cook for about 30 - 40 minutes
Taste one to be sure they are done!

Carefully remove the bowl


When cool enough to handle
arrange on a serving platter


Serve with lemon wedges and/ or tzatziki dip.

They tasted even better as they sat



Georgiana sampling the grape leaves to make sure we did a good job!



Hint from Athena: If you are buying feta for your Greek dishes,
she recommends the French Valbreso Sheep's Milk Cheese. Athena
explained that only cheese prepared in cheese is legally
allowed to be called Feta Cheese. We use the
term interchangeably here, but technically only Greek
Cheese is Feta. This cheese is very similar to Feta and works
well in most Greek dishes. It is a little less salty than Feta cheese.


I'll post some of the pictures from this wonderful evening so you can share in a great time...

The two Avramidis' Girls did a fabulous job



A wonderful artichoke dip prepared by Georgiana

Getting the buffet prepared

Athena's Spanakopita


A wonderful Greek Fest!



Dr Robert Smith and Dr. Douglas Hurd relaxing

Dr. Cynthia Parlato-Herd and Sheila Smith
enjoying the moment


Dr. Lee Avramidis enjoying his birthday evening...


Cynthia, Lee and Sheila chatting
my hubby Marc in the background was on
call that evening...an OB/GYN's work is never done!


Enjoy dinner...



Marc Feiner and Sheila Smith enjoying the great meal


Contessa Maria and Cynthia having
an enjoyable evening


Georgiana being a great hostess...


Athena enjoying the fruits of her labor

For dessert Georgiana who lives in Boston,
brought her Dad cannoli's and a cassata cake
from Boston's North End

Lee enjoying his birthday cake...
We wish you many more Happy, Healthy, Birthdays!


Special Thanks to Lee, Athena, and Georgiana Avramidis
for a wonderful evening, and for
a fun filled day preparing all these
wonderful dishes.

Check the blog in the next few days to see
several of the recipes featured in tonight's dinner!




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Stuffed Grape Leaves on Foodista

2 comments:

  1. I am so glad everyone is enjoying Greek Week. I only wish all of you could have tasted the food...ummmmmmmmmmm so delicious! I never liked grape leaves before because they always tasted so tart to me, these were so delicious, I ate them for four days!

    ReplyDelete