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It's all Greek to me
It's all Greek to me

Not all of us are great athletes.

Most of us aren't, in fact. But we love to watch the Olympics to cheer on our country's fastest and strongest as they compete on the highest stage of sport. It is the combination of national pride and witnessing true athletic prowess that makes the Olympics great.

While there is a connection for many people to the games, which run through Aug. 29 in Athens, Greece, most of us will never get anywhere near those famous rings. The best we can do is gather some friends, find the Olympics on TV and go for the golden onion rings.

Andy Maragos, a state representative from Minot and gentleman of Greek heritage, offered a few recipes you might try during this Olympic fortnight. He suggested the Olympic Onion Rings, Moussaka and Baklava. Also contributing recipes was Vaso Daniolos, of Bismarck, who immigrated to the United States from Greece in 1958. She created the recipes for Greek Shrimp, Pastichio and Nougatina.

"I'm very proud of the fact that the Olympics are in Greece," Maragos said. "I'm excited. I hope it comes off without any kind of (tragic) event."

Opening Ceremony (Appetizer)

Olympic Onion Rings

3 large onions

1 cup flour

1/2 cup beer

1 egg

Water or soda, as needed

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Cut the onions in rings of about 1/2 inch. Mix the flour, salt, pepper, beer and egg. The batter must be thick. Thin it out with a bit of soda, if necessary. Dip the rings in the batter. Heat the oil in a deep pan or a deep fryer and fry the rings for 1-2 minutes, until they are slightly brown and crunchy. Strain on a paper towel and serve.

Main Events (Entrees)

Moussaka

3 eggplants

2 pounds ground lamb (or ground beef)

2 onions, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

Cinnamon

Nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon fines herbes

2 tablespoons parsley

1 can tomato sauce (8 ounces)

1/2 cup red wine

Olive oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

4 cups bechamel sauce

3 egg yolks

Grated cheese

Peel and cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices; sprinkle with salt and set aside on paper towels to absorb the moisture. Meanwhile, prepare the meat sauce. Saute the ground meat in butter with salt, pepper, onions and garlic, crumbling the meat with a fork. When the meat is evenly browned, add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, fines herbes, parsley and tomato sauce; stir, mixing well. Add wine and simmer for 20 minutes. Wipe the salted eggplant; lightly oil a skillet with pastry brush and quick-fry the eggplant over high heat; lay on paper towels to drain.

In a greased 9x13x2 baking pan, place a layer of eggplant, top with meat mixture, sprinkle with grated cheese and cover with bechamel sauce. (Add 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg to the bechamel, and for an exceedingly rich sauce, add 3 egg yolks to the sauce after it is cooked.)

Top moussaka lavishly with grated cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Allow to cool, then cut into 3-inch squares. Makes 12 servings.

For a variation, use zucchini instead of eggplant. Or, substitute 2 pounds potatoes, peeled, cut in 1/4-inch slices and fried, for the eggplant.

Greek Shrimp

3 pounds raw medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined

Juice of half of a large lemon, about 1/3 cup

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup chopped green onions

3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped

1/2 teaspoon thyme, salt, pepper

1/4 pound crumbled feta cheese (optional)

3/4 cup sherry or white (not dry) wine

Sprinkle shrimp with lemon juice; set aside. Heat pan, add butter and oil to melt. Saute garlic, green onions and tomatoes for a minute or two - don't let garlic and onion brown. Add shrimp, season with salt and pepper and thyme. Turn shrimp frequently and saute until just pink. Don't overcook.

Add wine and feta cheese (optional). Bring to a boil, cook for a minute. Serve as a first course with rice, or as a main course with pasta.

Pastichio (Macaroni Souffle)

7-ounce box elbow macaroni

6 tablespoons butter or 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons oil

6 tablespoons flour

3 cups milk, cold

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup grated parmesan

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

Melt butter in saucepan, over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for a few seconds, stirring. Remove from heat, whisk milk in gradually until smooth. Place on heat and cook, stirring constantly until sauce comes to boil and thickens. Remove from heat, add the eggs, stirring in 1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese. Season with salt (careful, parmesan has salt), pepper and nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add milk.

Cook the macaroni according to directions on package. Drain and rinse in cool water. Melt 1 tablespoon margarine, 1 tablespoon oil and coat drained macaroni. Toss it with 3 tablespoons parmesan or romano cheese and pepper.

Grease a 9x13 baking pan; pour a quarter of the sauce in. Spread macaroni on top of sauce and pour over it the remaining white sauce. Smooth it and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Closing Ceremonies (Desserts)

Baklava

1 pound sweet butter, melted

1 pound filo pastry leaves

1 or 2 pounds blanched almonds, chopped

1 pound shelled walnuts

2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

3 dozen whole cloves

Ingredients for syrup:

2 cups honey

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 cinnamon sticks

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients for the syrup in a saucepan; bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, strain and allow to cool. Coarsely grind or chop the walnuts and almonds, and mix thoroughly with cinnamon, allspice and sugar. Brush a 9x13x2-inch pan with butter, lay a sheet of filo in the bottom, brush with butter, cover with another sheet of filo, brush with butter and repeat process until you have used about a dozen sheets. Then spread one thin layer of the nut mixture on top of the filo; cover with a sheet of filo, brush with butter, cover with another layer of nuts, and repeat process until all of the nuts are used. Then cover with the remaining filo sheets, brushing each sheet with butter.

With a sharp knife, cut the top filo sheets into triangles (cutting diagonally across the pan). Insert a clove in the center of each triangle, and bake at 350 degrees for 11/2 hours. When the baklava is evenly browned, remove from oven and pour the cooled syrup evenly over it so that it penetrates the layers and covers the baklava. Allow to cool several hours before serving. Makes about three-dozen pieces.

Nougatina (Almond Meringue Torte)

1 cup finely ground toasted whole natural almonds

3 tablespoons flour

5 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup sugar

Mix almonds, flour and cinnamon. Beat the egg whites with salt until they hold soft peaks. Add cream of tartar and the sugar gradually, beating until the mix holds stiff, glossy peaks.

Fold the meringue gently into almond-flour mixture. Spoon the meringue into a 9-inch greased and floured round pan, or line it with waxed paper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until pale golden.

Filling:

In a small bowl, sprinkle 11/2 teaspoon gelatin over 3 tablespoons cold water to soften for 10 minutes. Set the bowl over simmering water and stir until gelatin is dissolved.

In another bowl, combine 1/4 pound light cream-cheese, well softened, 1/4 cup light ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the cooled gelatin and fold in 11/4 cups whipping cream, whipped until it holds soft peaks.

Spread the filling on one cooled meringue, top it with the second meringue. Cover side and top with chocolate frosting.

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