Debbie Matenopoulos' Greek Appetizers
Debbie's Kolokithopites Recipe
This dish is traditionally made to use up the zucchini pulp that is left when making Kolokithakia Gemista me Kima (Zucchini Stuffed with Meat). Greek families feel it is disrespectful to waste food, so they always find a way to use every part of the fruit, the vegetables, or even the animals they are consuming. These fritters are charmingly rustic, so don’t worry if they are not perfectly round.
• 3 pounds medium zucchini, washed and stemmed
• 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour • 2 large eggs • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper • 6 to 8 ounces brine-packed Greek feta (about 1 ½ cups), crumbled small • 2 tablespoons finely grated kefalotiri or Parmesan cheese (optional) • Olive or vegetable oil for frying • 1 recipe Tzatziki (optional)
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
- Cut the zucchini in half down the center into half cylinders. With a small teaspoon or a grapefruit spoon, hollow out the zucchini skins by scooping out all the pulp, leaving about ⅛ inch of zucchini intact next to the skin. Leave the bottoms intact so that you are left with a zucchini boat that can be stuffed later. Take care not to crack or puncture the skins. Cover the zucchini skins, and reserve in the refrigerator to make Kolokithakia Gemista me Kima.
- Transfer the pulp to the bowl of a food processor or high-performance blender, and pulse a few times to chop finely. Place the finely chopped zucchini pulp into a colander, and toss with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cover the zucchini with a plate, and put a weight on top (such as a large can of tomatoes). Drain for 10 minutes, briefly rinse, then squeeze as much moisture as possible from the pulp with impeccably clean hands.
- Whisk the flour, eggs, mint, remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Gently fold the drained zucchini pulp into the flour mixture along with the feta and kefalotiri or Parmesan cheese (if using). Stir until the mixture resembles a thick batter.
- In a deep skillet or Dutch oven set over medium heat, heat about ½ inch of the oil until it shimmers (see note page below). Working in batches if necessary to prevent overcrowding, scoop out heaping tablespoons of the batter and carefully drop into the oil. The fritters will naturally flatten out. Cook 3 to 5 minutes per side, until golden brown, flipping them over carefully, just as you would a pancake. Remove the fritters from the oil and drain on a large, oven-safe plate lined with paper towels. Keep fritters warm in the preheated oven as you continue to fry the remaining fritters in batches. Serve plain or with Tzatziki.
- Yiayia’s Tip: When heating oil for pan frying, watch it carefully, and don’t allow it to smoke, as this will affect the flavor of your food. Your oil is ready when the surface begins to shimmer. Different oils have different smoke points, so keep an eye on the pan, and don’t leave it unattended.
Debbie's Pligouri Salata Recipe plee-GHOO-ree sah-lah-TAH
Bulgur Wheat Salad
Serves 6 to 8
Bulgur wheat is a grain used often in Greece. This nutty, quick-cooking salad is a surprisingly refreshing crowd pleaser.
• 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 medium yellow onion, diced small • 1 cup bulgur wheat • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth or water • 3 medium tomatoes, cored and diced • ½ seedless English cucumber, unpeeled, sliced into ½-inch chunks • 3 scallions, white and soft green parts, thinly sliced • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint • ¼ cup chopped walnuts • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (1 lemon) • 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon) • ½ teaspoon sea salt • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion, and sauté until translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the bulgur wheat, and stir to coat with olive oil–onion mixture. Add the vegetable broth or water, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, garlic, parsley, mint, walnuts, and lemon zest in a large mixing or serving bowl. Toss to combine.
- Fluff the bulgur wheat with a fork, and add it to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and mix gently to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes for the flavors to come together, and serve. Alternatively, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours before serving.
Debbie's Tzatziki (to go with Kolokithopites) Recipe
Garlic Yogurt Cucumber Sauce Yield: 2½ cups Tzatziki is one of the best-known Greek culinary exports. Although you could potentially kill a vampire after eating it, I strongly believe that the more garlicky kick it has, the better it tastes. Still, I would not recommend partaking of this spicy spread before a business meeting or a hot date. When I was a teen spending my summers in Greece, my cousins and I would never eat tzatziki before going out to the clubs . . . especially if we were trying to impress the boys!
Like ketchup on an American hamburger, tzatziki is ubiquitous on a gyro. Try it as a sauce for fish, or enjoy it as an appetizer or a snack with chunks of country bread. Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, if you like garlic, you’ll love this recipe.
• ½ seedless English cucumber, peeled • 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided, plus more to taste • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed into a paste • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil • 1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar • 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
- Coarsely grate the cucumber using a box grater or food processor, and toss with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Place the grated cucumber in a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl, and drain for 10 minutes. Working in batches, a handful at a time, squeeze as much remaining water from the cucumber as possible, transferring the drained cucumber to a medium mixing bowl.
- Add the rest of the ingredients along with the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and mix well. You can serve the Tzatziki immediately, but I prefer to let it sit in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours so that all of the flavors blend and come alive. Tzatziki will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, but be warned: the garlicky flavor intensifies as time passes!
All recipes from Debbie's cookbook, "It's All Greek To Me - Transform Your Health The Mediterranean Way With My Family's Century-Old Recipes." Available now in stores everywhere!