The foot of the crow

In December 2012, Ι came across a medium population of kournopodi (ancient Greek coronopus,  Oenanthe pimpilloides, Corky-fruited water-dropwort) and few plants of ahatzikes (Shepherd’s needle  -Scandix pecten-veneris) hidden among the leaves of  wood- sorrel.(Oxalis pes-caprae L.). Yes, the wood – sorrel was just as plentiful as ever.
Coronopus is a perennial with white or pink stems and linear leaflets. Its name  comes from Greek κορωνόπους and contains the -κορωνό (“crow”) and the -πους (“foot”) elements because the ends of the leaves look like the foot of a crow.
Its botanical name “Oenanthe pimpilloides”  is derived from the Greek oinos “wine” and anthos “flower“, from the wine-like scent of the flowers.

You are more likely to find kournopodi growing in damp fields, wet sites and springs.

Leaves, shoots (under and above ground) and root are edible.

Kournopodi  is delicious when added to a mixture of browned greens. It also adds excellent flavor to wild greens pies, salted cod stew and pork fricassee.

Though it is a tenacious plant in flavor, don’t be afraid to boil it. 

Boiled new potatoes and kournopodi, dressed with lemon juice and  oil from unripe olives make a wonderful light meal.

You can also use it in the filling of blatsaria, a cornbread and greens pie from Northern Greece. 


1 kgr kournopodi
250 gr. ahatzikes (Shepherd’s needle )
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium leek, white and tender green part, finely chopped
300 gr. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup + 1/2 cup olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
olive oil to brush the baking dish
Wash the greens thorougly, drain and chop. Transfer to a colander, add salt, rub the mixture and let it aside for 10 minutes. Press with your fingers to extract most of the liquid and transfer to a bowl. Add leeks, onions, cheese, pepper and ½ cup olive oil. Mix all together. In a bowl mix 1 kgr. flour with some salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and enough water to make a pulp. Brush a baking dish with olive oil, pour in the half of the cornmeal pulp and spread the greens mixture evenly. Pour the remaining cornmeal pulp over the surface and sprinkle with sesame and nigella seeds.  Bake for 30 minutes (preh. 200C) or until the pie is dense and golden. Let the blatsaria cool for 10 minutes before cutting to serve. It can be served warm or at room temperature the next day.

Some other names of this pie: Babanetsa Batsaria, Batzara, Blano, Bobota,  Bobota, Bobotopita, Babanetsa,  Lachanopsomo, Pastaria, Plastos, Plastira, Pispilita, Paspalopita. 

 You might also like: Pispilita, a nettle pie.


My favorite melopita (apple pie)…

…is actually a tart, very popular in urban areas of Chania (Crete) during the 1980’s.
It was never called a tart, though.

At that time there have been two major waves of foreign influence in Greek food: the French and the Italian one. To these must be added the significant Asian influence that affected restaurants in big cities and the profound American influence in the fast food area. That cultural and culinary blending was also the most striking feature of women’s magazine cookery columns.
However, the label kitsch should applied to this culinary pluralism. Mixtures of elements deriving from several cuisines and the use of crème fraîche became commonplace. Pasta, vegetables, meat, were buried under a mountain of crème fraîche, sweet and sour sauces for pork and chicken gained increasing popularity.

this recipe is for a very scrumptious tart.
Soft, slightly sour myzithra or fresh, buttery anthotyros replace the sharp cheddar cheese that is baked into the crust in the original recipe. Apple pie with cheese is common combination in parts of New England and the Midwest… some people grate it into the filling or bake it into the crust.



The Cretan twist


1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter

1/4 cup  icing sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg yolk

ice water

1 1/2 cup  flour

1/2 cup  myzithra or anthotyro or ricotta cheese

1/3 tsp grated lemon zest



6 apples with firm flesh (+-900 gr)

3 tbsp butter

1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar

1/2- 2/3 tbs ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated lemon zest


1 cup almonds, blanched and rough chopped


Stir together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Add butter and cheese and blend with your fingertips  until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk, 4 tbsp ice water  and  stir  until incorporated. Add more ice water if needed; the dough must be soft and elastic.

Roll out dough and fit it into a tart plate. Trim edges.

Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 200 C degrees.

Peel and core apples. Cut them into 2 cm thick.

Stir together apples, sugar, butter, cinnamon, lemon zest.

Spoon filling into tart crust.

Sprinkle sugar on top and bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is tender.




Apple Pie





Cretan cheese and yogurt are made with the milk of goat or/ and sheep. Cow milk is never used in their production.




Jeladhia, a jelly made with the head and the feet of the pig used to be a popular New Year’s dish although today can be found all year round.  Cretans are also fond of rabbit.




Apaki, a smoked delicacy since Byzantine times, is made with the meat around the pork’s kidneys.

Cut the meat into strips and leave them in wine vinegar for 4 days. Then cover them with a thin layer of salt. Sprinkle with black pepper.  Hung the strips above smoldering  olive embers or chestnut embers and aromatic herbs such as oregano (righani), sage, thyme, marjoran.  Smoke for a period of time. 




 The Cretans also make use of the innards and intestines of sheep, lamb and goats. Stuffed intestines and innards wrapped with intestines are served to the most esteemed guests.




 Kalitsounia, the small Cretan pies, are eaten  as a snack or a meze or a light meal or a dessert that comes before and after meal ; they can be round, semicircular, rectangular or triangular; they contain various savoury or sweet fillings and they are fried, oven baked or baked on  “satsi”, a domed metal piece that sits over the fire.




 Lychnarakia (oil lamps) got their name from their shape.

Anevata kalitsounia (kalitsounia with yeast) are traditionally made in Sitia but you can find them in Heraklion as well.
2 k. flour
1 cup olive oil
3 +1 beaten eggs
1 2/3 normal sized glasses + 4 tbs sugar
160 gr baker’s yeast
3 glasses warm milk
2 k. anthotyros
4 tbs honey
¼ tsp mastic powder
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
sesame seeds

Dissolve the yeast in 2 glasses warm milk, add 2 tbs sugar and 2 cups flour to make a batter. Let it rise.

Put the oil in a bowl and mix it with the sugar, vanilla, mastic. Add 3 eggs and mix well. Add 1 glass of milk and the leaven. Mix very well. Add the remaining flour and knead until you have a soft, elastic dough.

Let it rise.

Mix anthotyros, 2 tbs sugar and 2 tbs honey.

Take small pieces of dough and roll them into 10 cm circles. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each circle. Fold the two opposite sides in towards the centre of each anevato kalitsouni, to make squares. Put the kalitsounia on baking sheet and let them to rise.

Brush them with beaten egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake until slightly golden (15- 20 minutes, moderate oven)








Bakery is the best place to research the diversity of Cretan pies and rusks.

If bread is for Greeks so essential that no meal can be conceived without it, Cretan rusk is a way of life.  Made with barley wholemeal flour or wheat or mixture of varying amounts of wheat, barley and oat flour, rusk was an  important element in the Cretan farming diet, when the needs of life did not allow the women to make bread every day. However, the making of rusks was also a labor – intensive process since the total amount should  feed the whole family for many weeks and careful double- baking was necessary.

The traditional rusks are very hard but can be dunked in water or be covered with grated fresh tomato and olive oil, turning into a softer taste sensation. 

Rusks are of various sizes and shapes: the ring  is known  as kouloura  or  koukouvayia (owl), the barley circle which is cut in half  is called dakos or ntakos.  Both are perfect for dipping in fish or meat soup. They are delicious  when wet under the tap for a few seconds, drizzled with olive oil from unripe olives (agourolado) and sprinkled with salt and Cretan oregano or topped with grated summer tomatoes, drizzled with virgin olive oil and topped with goat  myzithra cheese ( the traditional soft cheese from Chania). To give a final touch, black olives and oregano should be added. 

There are also lovely sweet or demi-sweet rusks made from wheat flour and flavored with coriander, anise, cinnamon,  sesame seeds, orange juice, grape juice, wine, almonds, currants etc.  




 The Gasparis baker shop is in the centre of medieval town of Rethymno,  behind the Rimondi fountain. The baker keeps his door open and you can see how he makes rusks.




A popular  spoon sweet, a liqueur and a refreshing soft drink is made from sour cherries.  








The white meat of dusky grouper makes great soups, grilled dishes and stews.

Its head  is used in soups and stews as well. Baking it with okra is a great idea for a traditional Cretan meal .  


Dusky grouper’s head and okra

 For 1 kilo fish- head (cut in pieces) you need 1kilo okra, ½ cup olive oil, 2 cups grated fresh tomatoes, ½ cup chopped onions, ½ cup vinegar.

Wash the okra, cut off the stems, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with vinegar. Leave them in the sun for 3 hours.

Salt the fish- head and place it in the middle of a baking pan. Mix the onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper with the okra. Place them around the fish-head. Add a little water and bake in moderate oven.




  Sea urchin roe is the ultimate treat of sea.  It is eaten raw, as well as being added to pasta  and risotto. Sea urchins in  plasticyoghurt” pots are often available in  fish markets.




Snails is a common dish in Crete since Minoan times. Cretan snails are very tasty because their food is based on the aromatic herbs of the island.


½ k. snails

¾ k. aubergines, cut in small pieces

1 cup chondros (ground wheat) or xinochondros*

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 ½ cups ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the aubergines, onions and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and snails, season with salt and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in ½ cup of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 – 2 ½ cups of water and bring to the boil. Add the chondros, season with salt and pepper and cook in low fire, stirring, until chondros cooked.




One of the typical products of Lesvos is salted fish. Here you see the famous salt cured anchovies of Kalloni (Lesvos) .




Typical products of Chania: olives, cheese, honey, rusks, raisin cakes. 







One should never miss having coffee at the old Venetian harbour after arriving at Chania by boat early in the morning.

Then, one should never miss trying the famous Chaniotiki bougatsa. The feeling is awesome.

There are bougatses (plural of bougatsa) with several different fillings made all over Greece but contrary to Turkish poğaça which is a savory pastry made out of dough, Greek bougatsa is a sweet or savory pie made with a phyllo pastry, similar to börek. What exactly is a Chaniotiki bougatsa? Put it simply, it is a baked savory -sweet pie, a filling of local fresh cheese sandwiched between thin sheets of dough. It is served cut in small square pieces and is eaten with sugar and (optional) cinnamon.
Noumerous bougatsa shops  were located throughout the island until the large scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Most of them were held by Turkish or Moslem Cretans. On 1924 a Moslem Chaniotis sold his bougatsatsidiko (bougatsa shop) to Iordanis’ father in law. The seller also taught the buyer the art of making bougatsa. Soon Iordanis became a symbol of Chaniotiki gastronomy. Today, bougatsa Iordanis has three branches in Chania while Chaniotiki bougatsa is another well known brand name. The bougatsa shops sell bougatsa and nothing else, apart from greek coffee, nescafé, french coffee and soft drinks.


 Let us take a look at how chaniotiki bougatsa is made:

Anthony Bourdain visits Bougatsa Chanion



*Xinochondros: It is made with ground wheat (chondros) and sour sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is eaten fresh or dried in the sun or in the shade.


The next few posts will be automatically published to the site as I am going to take a short break from blogging. In the meantime I will not be able to visit your blogs or answer your comments.Thanks for your patience!

See you in a couple of weeks….






In the recent years there is an annual festival for almost every food, be it chestnuts, strawberries, cherries, pies, anchovies, snails etc.
Villages and towns promote the food festivals as a celebration of their local products and culinary tradition, both worth sharing with a wider audience. Τhe truth is that those celebrations have more to do with the desire for regional economic development via events featuring dishes made from local cuisine, than with culinary heritage per se.


Artichoke festival in Iria (Peloponnesos)

In May  a plethora of artichoke festivals takes place throughout Greece, and particularly in Crete, Peloponnesos and Tinos, the areas where the finests examples are found.
Dozens of people prepare and cook artichokes for the hundreds of visitors who could sit at the dining tables.


Here are some of the most popular dishes: marinated artichokes, fried artichokes, puffy omelettes with artichokes, sausages and potatoes, artichoke pilavs, artichokes ala polita, moussaka, pastichio, stuffed artichokes, artichokes cooked with peas, broad beans,  shrimps, garlic sauce,  yogourt,  fish,  octopus,  lamb etc. etc.

It’s clear that, although the dishes selected are considered by cooks and eaters to have their roots in a very old food tradition, many of them have evolved over the past couple of decades.  
Two of the most favorite methods of preparation  of artichokes  are the stuffed artichokes and the artichoke pie.  
Sauteed artichoke hearts are stuffed with a rich filling of minced meat and cheese and are topped with a thick nutmeg scented bechamel enriched with cheese, before being baked. 
As for the pie, it can be surrounded by a  pastry leaf or  be a crustless pie. In the second version, it  is also called souffle.  
Which is interesting because it is  not really a soufflé- it has neither a roux as its starting point  nor  an egg-white foam-  but, yes,  it is a delectable and delicate “pie”, inflated above the dish by oven heat. 
French and Italian influences can be found in these recipes, which have been developed by urban cuisine between 1935 and 1970.  They are considered part of the traditional culinary heritage, though.   

But “roots”, are both physical and  imaginary, I  say .


Artichoke pie (Artichoke soufle, agkinaropita)

a buttered 32x22x7 cm baking dish
1 tb olive oil
1  loaf of white bread, crust removed cut into medium slices
3 garlic teeth, chopped
tsp. of fresh thyme
ground black pepper
12-14  poached fresh artichoke hearts
1 1/2 cup grated Graviera cheese (or Gruyere) mixed with 1/2  cup grated kefalotyri cheese (or Parmesan) 
1 1/2 cup creme fraiche
3 cups of bechamel sauce

Saute garlic in olive oil until until light brown and fragrant.  Make bechamel sauce and set aside.  Lay a single layer of bread slices, sprinkle the garlic and season with thyme, salt and pepper.  Sprinkle 4 tbs of cheese. Spoon a layer of artichoke pieces, followed by some grated cheese and artichoke pieces. Pour  creme fraiche  over artichokes and sprinkle with cheese . Cover with bechamel sauce and bake until the surface turns light brown (preheated oven, 200°C, 30-35 minutes).
There is a variation on the recipe with no bechamel sauce. In this case we use 2 cups creme fraiche.  

Artichoke festival

 Here is another variation of artichoke pie.

Artichoke on Foodista




One must sacrifice to the gods for three purposes: to give honor, to show gratitude, or because of one’s need of good things. (Theophrastus, On Piety, frag. 12, Potscher, 42-4). And in return, the ancient gods were pleased with the expressions of human gratitude (sacrifices, libations, offerings, dances etc.) to them.

This complex of ideas ‘ man asks, gods give, man gets and shows gratitude, gods are pleased’  is expressed in ancient  greek with the term charis (χάρις). Charis means favor, a favor which is expected to be repaid. The idea of charis plays a particularly important role in Orhodox Christianity as well.  That’s why the ‘oral’ statement becomes more prominent when there is an exchange between God or  Saint and the offerer.

The photos are from St. Fanourios’ celebration (Kalamaki, Hania/Crete). As his name implies,  Saint Fanourios reveals lost things, people, animals, even solutions to problems if one invokes his name (Fanourios < ancient greek verb Faino = reveal).  The promised offering in return for Saint’s help is a sweet pie, a fanouropita. Sweet breads and cakes are  important part of many Christian traditions and their origins are traced back in time.  In ancient Greece they were a very common form of offering ; many different kinds of them are mentioned in ancient  literature.

According to St. Fanourios’ custom, the pies are brought to the church (especially those dedicated to the Saint) where they are blessed by the priest.


 After Mass, they are offered to the faithful.



Today, as in ancient times, these sweet offerings are not only objects which are given as gifts to the Saint but also unify the community, bringing it together for a solemn and also festive occasion.

(Not much is known about Saint’s  life, except that his icon was discovered in Rhodes, around 1500 AD. The torture scenes on the icon shows Fanourios being stoned, in prison, being slashed, standing in front a Roman magistrate, tied to a frame,  thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals etc.  According to one tradition that is not formally hold by the Church, the pies are also offered to grant rest to the soul of  the saint’s immoral mother. St. Fanourios is commemorated on August 27th, the day his icon was found.)


1 cup olive oil

1 cup sugar

2 cups orange juice

1/2 cup cognac

1 tbs lemon zest

1/2 cup  black raisins

1/2 cup  blonde raisins

1 1/2 cup  walnuts roughly chopped.

1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp ground clove

4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 3 tsp baking powder

Beat the olive oil with the sugar until creamy. Add the baking powder dissolved in the cognac and the baking soda dissolved in the orange juice. Add the raisins and the walnuts, the cinnamon, the clove and the zest, beating all the time.

Add the flour slowly, beating until you have a thick batter.

Pour the batter into an oiled baking pan and bake in a moderate oven for  +- 50 minutes. (recipe: Smaragda Desipri, 1920 -2005)


Still summer…. the tomato- plants still bear gorgeous, sweet and full flavored red fruits.


You can eat them plain, of course, or make a home- made sun –dried tomato paste. Choose 3 kilos vine-ripened tomatoes, cut them into pieces, sprinkle with sea-salt, leave them under the sun for a day.


The next morning put them in the blender (if you like add 2 garlic teeth and/or some basil leaves), press the paste into the bottom of a baking dish and dry it under the sun. At 3-4 days it is probably done. Keep it in jars, covered with olive oil.



Use it in the place of regular tomato paste, to heat things up, or spread it on a piece of fresh bread. Or, while frying eggs, add some of it in the frying olive oil.

Still summer…. put some ice cubes into a bowl, cover them with a fig leaf, arrange 2 sliced cucumbers on it (I used klossoudi, a traditional  Greek landrace), sprinkle with salt, add few drops of white vinegar and chopped dill from the garden.



They are crisp, cold… and of course dill – scented.

Still summer… toss peppers on the grill.


When they are cold enough stuff them with crumbled feta cheese seasoned with red pepper flakes (boukovo). Cover them with extra virgin olive oil, drizzle a bit of red vinegar and add 1-2 chopped garlic teeth. Serve them after 24 hours… Don’t forget to tear some basil leaves over them, about 15 minutes before serving.

Still summer


Clean ½ kg fresh beans, cover them with water and boil them. Then drain well and let them cool. Chop them up fine, spread them on a plate, top with 1 chopped large onion, 1 chopped large green pepper, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve with fresh, warm village- bread.

Still summer… amaranths and zucchinis grow profusely in the garden.



Well clean and wash 700 gr amaranths, let them drain and chop them up very fine. Peel 2 large onions, wash 4 medium zucchinis and 15 zucchini flowers. Finely chop onions and zucchinis, cut the flowers into pieces. Salt them all together, mix them, put them in a colander and let them stand for 2-3 hours. Then add ½ cup olive oil, pepper, chopped dill and wild fennel. You can also add 1 ½ cup (or more) drained myzithra cheese or ricotta, if you like. Prepare the dough with 1 kg flour, about 1 ½ cup water, ½ tsp salt, 5 tbs olive oil, 1 tsp lemon juice. Roll the dough out ½ cm thick. Cut out 10 cm circles or rectangulars and place 1 tbs of the mixture on the centre. Fold and close the edges. Deep fry in olive oil until golden on both sides or brush kallitsounia with olive oil or beaten egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake till golden.



Still summer…. eating sea urchins is always at the top of my agenda when I visit islands.


If you can’t collect them yourself (only the female urchins are edible), buy their coral from the fish market and serve it dizzled with virgin olive oil and lemon juice.


Or, boil spaghetti for four persons, take two cups of chopped tomatoes, season them with salt, serve the spaghetti sprinkled with black pepper and topped with tomatoes, coral, extra virgin olive oil and few drops of lemon juice.

Still summer… baby melons and watermelons grow in the home gardens and fig-trees are full of ripen palatable fruits…




Eat them plain, at first, then serve with mature graviera cheese or feta or spicy kopanisti.

Still summer… make small galakroboureka (milk pies).


You’ll need ½ k. ready made baklava phyllo, ½ cup unsalted butter for the phyllo sheets (I use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter). For the custard, heat 7 cups of milk, add ½ cup fine semolina, 4 tbs corn flout, ¾ cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick and stir constantly until mixture becomes thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and add 1 beaten egg, 1 tsp vanilla extra and the zest of 1 ½ lemon, stirring constantly. Cut phyllo sheets into rectangulars of 12 cm. Lay 3 rectangulars into a buttered or olive oiled baking dish, brushing each one with butter or olive oil. Place 2 tbs custard on the centre. Fold and close the edges, sprinkle with little water and bake in a moderate oven until golden. In the meantime simmer 3 cups sugar, 2 cups water, 1 cinnamon stick, the juice and zest of 1 lemon. As soon as gakaktoboureka are cooked, pour syrup over them. Serve them still warm, topped with vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with cinnamon powder.


Still summer



Forty years ago, a typical woman from Greek rural area spent all day cleaning the house, preparing meals, baking, sewing, milking, making butter and cheese, raising poultry, rabbits, sheeps, goats, pigs, gathering olives, harvesting greens and fruits, cultivating small vegetable gardens, preserving food for year- round consumption…. being wife, mother, guardian of her children’s health and moral purity. In the beginning of 20th century the situation was even worse. Food preparation was labor intensive and time consuming as based on cooking over an open fire or on wood stove or in wood fire oven. Since few houses had indoor plumbing, water for cooking and cleaning was carried in from outside.
In this world where hard work and tireless dedication were almost routine, the making of a pie seemed like a good idea. A pie is a simple way of enclosing a filling in a dough or pastry or flour crust and cooking it in various ways even if the making of some pies involves a great deal of work. On the other hand, a large pie feeds a family for a couple of days, as a meal or as a snack and a good pie becomes a source of pleasure.
Pispilita’s name derives from the Greek word paspalizo = sprinkle and is a wild green pie with cornmeal layer instead of phyllo sheets.
Pies with cornmeal layers have long tradition in Western, Central and Norhtern Greek corn producing areas. They are rough, ‘poor’ pies with a combination of seasonal wild greens gathered from the fields and home made dairy products. Moreover, they are unbelievable tasty and can be prepared very quickly. Pispilita is made in Epirus, however is found throughout corn producing areas under various names.
A basic ingredient for a pispilita ‘made in Epirus’ is the nettle. Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), the most common nettle species, has a flavour similar to spinach when cooked. A thick soup made from the young nettles is considered a delicacy in Rhodes island and in Pontos while nettles pies are common in Central Greece, Western Macedonia and Epirus.


½ k. nettles

250 gr. wild sorrels

250 gr. white beet leaves

2 large onions, finely chopped

6 scallions, white and tender green parts, finely chopped

1 medium leek, white and tender green part, finely chopped

½ cup fresh mint, finely chopped

200 gr. feta cheese, crumbled

3 tbs sour trahanas or bulgur or rice

olive oil

salt & freshly ground black pepper

3 ½ cups yellow cornmeal

2 cups olive oil

2 cups water

olive oil to brush the baking pan

Wearing gloves wash the greens thorougly, drain and chop. Transfer to a colander, add salt, rub the mixture and let it aside for 1 hour. Press with your fingers to extract most of the liquid and transfer to a bowl. Add leeks, onions, cheese, mint, pepper, trahanas (or bulgur or rice) and ½ cup olive oil. Mix all together. In a bowl mix 2 ½ cups flour with some salt, 1 cup olive oil and 1 cup water. Make a pulp. Brush a baking dish with olive oil, pour in the cornmeal pulp and spread the greens mixture evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cornmeal over the surface, drizzle the remaining ½ cup olive oil and 1 cup water. Bake for one hour or until the pie is dense and golden. Let the pispilita cool for 10 minutes before cutting to serve. It can be served warm or at room temperature the next day.

Stinging Nettle on Foodista


Throughout Greece, breads and pies with a coin inside, have been established as a custom on the first day of the year, in the memory of the following event: In the 4th century,  Cappadokia,  a Byzantine province in Minor Asia, suffered from famine. However, the situation did not touch the eparch of the province,1 who demanded to get the taxes, threatening the people with the sack of the area. St. Vasilios (St. Basil), Bishop in Kaisareia of Cappadokia, appealed to each one of the citizens to offer every valuable (rings, bracelets etc) they had to save themselves. Then he intervened, smoothed the anger of the eparch and managed to change his mind. The treasure was given back to the saint, who made a pie for each family, in which a jewel was hidden.

Since 9th century, the vasilopita has been established as a custom in Orhodox tradition. Though the reason for making vasilopita is commonly said to be the commemoration of St. Vasilios, the truth is more complicated: vasilopita is also connected to the ancient Greek breads and cakes which were made specifically for the purpose of religious offerrings to the gods and the spirits of nature and the Roman cakes which were offered to the double- faced Ianus, the god after whom Ianouarios/ January is named. The custom of hidden coin is connected to the Roman Saturnalia, the festival in honor of Saturnus, god of seed and sowing. Saturnalia is thought of as the Greek equivalent of the Greek Cronia, a festival that was held in honor of Cronos, god of agriculture, harvest, fertility and father of Zeus. During Saturnalia a ‘king’ was selected by lot.

Hence vasilopita has ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine background. The word itself comes from the combination of the words vasileus (king) and pita. Vasilopita  is a pie for a king.

It is generally made in a round shape and can be a common bread, leavened or unleavened or a sweet bread, a sweet or savory pie (pumpkin pie, milk pie, cheese pie, bulgur pie, rice pie, meat pie, fish pie etc.) or something  different. Until 19th century, in Arcadia (Peloponnesos) the coin was put into the vasilokota, a stuffed hen (vasilokota = hen for the king). While not technically bread or pie, mention should be made of New Year loukoumades (Aegean islands) and halva (regions of Asian Minor) which also contained a coin. In nowadays the sweet pie, which once was mainly made in urban areas, predominates transformed into a big luxurius cake.

From first to last, vasilopita is treated very seriously. In some remote places the pita is still baked by the house mistress, who is clean and wears her best clothes and jewellery for the occasion. Having a deep religious and agricultural significance, it is regarded as the bread or pie of fertility and good luck and is accompanied by actions of magic. Until recently Greek peasants made the sign of the cross before baking it. Keys, needles etc. were used for making strange shapes on sweet vasilopites and breads, intending to lock the gossips or to prevent the evil eye from entering houses. The farmers’ wives made with pieces of dough trees and animals, the shepherds’ wives made dough -sheeps, dogs and pots of milk, the kind St. Vasilios should bless. In the savory vasilopita that was made with many phyllo sheets  difficult to be decorated, symbols and signs, aside from the coin, were hidden in the stuffing: a small stick for the shepherd, a straw or a grain of wheat for the farmer, a bean or a nut for the fertility of fields and family. When the pie was cut whoever found the straw or the stick in his piece had good luck for his harvest or his animals and whoever found the coin had good luck for himself.

On the coming of the New Year the father of the family rotates the pie three times in the name of trinity. Afterwards he makes the shape of cross above the pita with a knife and cut the pie into pieces naming each of them in an established turn. The first piece is for Jesus, the second for Virgin Mary, the third for St. Vasilios, the fourth for the house, the fifth for the poor and stranger and the rest for the members of the family in order of age.

The piece for the poor and the stranger is of special interest because symbolizes the duty to care for the unfortunates of the world. Since care for the poor and stranger is not only the basis of philoxenia and philanthropy, fundamental values in Greek social ethics, but also a principle of Christianity, the New Year pie is magical both for the unfortunates and for those who offer shelter to them. The Homeric advice ‘The stranger and suppliant are like your brother. And stranger you are welcome. Our house is yours.” Homer. Odysseus. IX, 546-547 and the Christian ‘I give hospitality to the stranger so that God not become a stranger to me’ have found their echo in a piece of pie.

1 Governor of a province of Roman and Byzantine Greece.
Vasilopita from Constantinople


480 gr fresh milk

4 eggs + 1

480 gr milk-butter, melted

480 gr sugar

mahlepi, crushed

23 gr. vanilla powder

25 gr salt

1282 gr. flour

650 sourdough starter

sesame seeds

Place starter in a large bowl, cover loosely and let stand in a warm place for about 4 hours.

Beat the butter with sugar, add the eggs one by one, milk, vanilla, salt, mahlepi and continue beating. In a large bowl shift flour and make a well in the centre. Pour in the starter and the butter mixture and mix well. Knead well, adding flour if it is sticky or warm milk if it is too hard. Cover dough and let it rise for 2 hours. Knead again and place the dough on one or two buttered baking dishes. Cover and let rise for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 180ºC. Beat the egg and glaze the pie. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake until golden brown. Remove from oven, and insert into the cake a well-washed coin, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Vasilopita with yogurt½ glass olive oil½ glass milk – butter, melted5 eggs

1 glass sugar

zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

juice of 2 oranges

3 tbs brandy

220 gr drained yogurt

½ k. self raising flour

Mix sugar with olive oil and butter and beat them. Add yogurt and beat again. Beat the eggs. Pour the eggs, orange juice, brandy, zest and vanilla into the mixture of yogurt. Add the flour little by little and mix well. Bake at 200ºC.

Remove from oven, and insert into the cake a well-washed coin, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Pumpkin pie from Thrace.
1 k. fresh pumpkin, grated coarsely
1 glass of almonds, crushed
½ glass of rusk, crushed
1/3 glass of sesame seeds, browned and crushed

½ glass of raisins

1/4 glass of honey

zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

1 tsp of ground cinnamon and cloves (or more, if you like)

7 sheets of commercial phyllo dough

olive oil for brushing


½ glass of sugar

½ glass of honey

1 glass of water

1 tbs lemon juice

peel of ½ lemon

Boil the pumpkin in its liquid for 10 minutes. Let drain for 2-3 hours and press to remove excess liquid before using.

Brush a baking dish with olive oil.

In a bowl mix the almonds, raisins, sesame seeds, rusk, honey, cinnamon, cloves, zest. Add the pumpkin and knead with your fingers to mix well.

Brush 3 sheets with olive oil and put them one on the top of the other. Spring half of filling on phyllo and spread evenly. Lay one olive – oiled phyllo sheet on the top and spread the rest of filling. Brush with olive oil the phyllo that extends out of the sides and turn it over the mixture.

Lay the remaining phyllo sheets, brushing each with olive oil. Trim off the edges that extend out of the pan. Score the top layers with a sharp knife into triangles or squares. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, set the baking dish on a rack and let it cool completely.

Boil the sugar, honey, water, lemon juice and lemon peel for 5-6 minutes. Discard the lemon peel and and pour the hot syrup over the pie. Cover pie with a towel and let it cool. Insert into it a well-washed small coin, wrapped in aluminum foil.

Vasilopita with phyllo pastry from Constantinople

For the pie:
40 phyllo pastry sheets

For the filling:
100gr. of toasted sesame seeds
1 kgr pounded walnuts
2-3 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
2 ½ tea-cups of sugar

extra sesame seeds to sprinkle (un-toasted) and 3 walnuts cut in half
1 egg
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C and brush well with olive oil the bottom and the sides of an oven pan.

Lay 3 phyllo sheets at the bottom of the pan (brushed with olive oil) allowing some of the edges to hang over the rim. Sprinkle on top with some of the mixture. Lay another sheet and brush it with olive oil, lay another one and brush again, then sprinkle with some of the mixture.
Continue in the same way until the phyllo sheets and the filling are used up. Finish the pie laying on top 3 sheets, without any mixture in between. Don’t forget to brush them with oil. Bring the edges of the pastry inwards twisting all around so to form a border.
Brush the last sheet with beaten egg and decorate with walnuts and sesame seeds.
Put in the oven (180C) and initially bake for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 150°C and continue cooking for another 30-35 minutes or until the pie is nicely golden and the phyllo crunchy.

While the pie is hot cover with a kitchen towel and leave it to rest for a few hours before you serve.

Happy New Year Bread