GRAPE VINES

 

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 And young vines, ‘neath the shade
Of shooting tendrils, tranquilly are growing.
Ibycus

 

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 able to visit your blogs or answer your comments.

Thanks for your patience!

See you in a couple of weeks….

CHRISTMAS #3. PASTRY SWADDLING CLOTHES (Τα σπάργανα του Χριστού)

spargana

Thin ribbons of fried dough or strips having the thickness of a pencil…
They are crunchy but fragile and melt in the mouth.
It’s quite easy to make them; you just need flour and water or orange juice and sometimes eggs or/and yeast. Cut the pastry sheet into squares of 7cm width or into ribbons of 10 cm x 15 cm or strips of 0,50 cm x 18 cm.
Twist ribbons and strips around two fingers while you transfer them to the hot olive oil, producing shapes of flowers, double cross and tubes.
Deep -fry until they start to turn gold. Remove and drain on paper towel.
Then pour honey or petimezi (grape syrup) over them and cover with chopped walnuts, sesame seeds and cinnamon powder.

In past, a great deal was prepared before the Christmas Eve. These fried pastries were the traditional treat to the Christmas visitors and gifts to widows and to those in mourning. They are called lalangia, lalangites, diples, pitoules, tiganites, avgokalamara etc. and evoke the swaddling clothes of Christ.
Spargana (swaddling clothes), is what they are called in Northwestern Greece. There, at night, dawning Christmas, the women pour a light batter of flour and water on a heated stone or piece of metal and make a sort of pancakes. Then, they pour honey or syrup over them and sprinkle them with pounded walnuts and almonds. Sometimes layers of spargana are piled upon each other, each one spread with honey and covered with chopped nuts. When it’s time to serve, the spargana have absorbed the honey and are tasty and fluffy.

These pastries belong to the special foods, which are offered by women to women in puerperium. When offered to Mary, they identify her with every other new mother. They also identify her son with every other newborn and in a way they prefigure his death since their shape is so similar to a shroud.

TIME FOR STORING!

Don’t you just love the smell of first rain? It was raining all night and morning yesterday. Chania saw the first rain in four months! The scents of Rosemary, Sage, Lemon Verbena, Thyme, Mint and Lavender filled the air. Autumn has finally arrived.

 first-autumn-rain

In the mean time, the sun dried tomatoes and figs are ready for storing. The old tradition and art of preserving foods is still alive. On the other hand, the last fresh okras of summer will not be hung in the half shade to dry; they will be prepared for freezing.

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They’ ll stay tender if you’ll follow this method: wash them after discarding stem edges and air dry before placing them in plastic bags in small quantities and freeze.

The seeds are well dried and are ready for storage until the next planting season.

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Old Cretan varieties of cucumbers, watermelons, melons, zucchinis, pumpkins, amaranths, beans…. a precious gift that I received from a local farmer. They are saved from plants that have grown in his family garden for four generations. Farmers like him don’t only preserve a heritage, they also preserve genetic biodiversity.

Fish with okra
(Cretan Cooking by M. & N. Psilakis, p. 72-3, Karmanor ed. 2000)

 

1 kilo fish (preferably sea-bass, red snapper or saupe)

1 kilo okra

½ cup olive oil

½ kilo tomatoes

1 or 2 onions

½ cup lemon juice or vinegar

salt, pepper
Clean the fish. Wash the okra, cut off the stems, and put them in a bowl doused with lemon juice or vinegar. Leave in the sun for 2-3 hours (this is so they won’t dissolve in the cooking).

Brown the onion in a pot and add the okra, the tomatoes, salt, pepper and 1-2 cups water and simmer till half cooked. Remove half the okra, place the fish on the okra in the pot and add the other half. Cook for another 20 minutes without stirring the food; only shake the pot from time to time to prevent the food from sticking.

(This dish can also be cooked in the oven).

Okra and tomatoes are a classic match in Crete. They are stewed together or when okra is fried chopped tomato is added too. Combining okra with fish is a characteristic of Cretan cuisine.

KARANOU…

 This place has stolen my heart.

1karano2

Karanou is the village where my father was born and lived until his twelfth birthday, and where my sister and I spent a part of our childhood’s and teenagehood’s summers….

When we were free spirits playing in the olive groves…..

 finding paths in the oak forest and sharing secrets with our friends.

3forest

In this land nature amalgamates with the dream and memories and makes the village the sort of place that a child remembers for the rest of its life.

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Moreover this magic land is highly fertile: olive groves, chestnut trees, fruit trees, grapevines, wild herbs, wild greens, vegetables, legumes grow in great abundance. In past wheat and barley were cultivated as well. Thus wild green, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil, snails, black and semi- black bread, rusks, goat milk and goat cheese and lots of fruits had been the central part of the daily diet of the inhabitants until the early 1990s. A little fish (often dried), meat on days of religious celebration, weddings and baptisms as well as on every Sunday, one or two glasses of wine with the food, were also included.

Unfortunately, this diet has been changed in the two last decades. Younger people eat frequently and in large amounts animal base products, they seem to have replace the moderate use of wine with lots of tsikoudia and beer and they get less and less exercice. The change has already affected their general state of health. Overweight, heart attacks, cancers are not uncommon among them, while the older people live up 100 years.

The photo here is of my grandparents’s house.

5house

Four are the characteristics of it: its age (it was built in 1876), its position (it sits on the top of a rocky hill and yes, the view is amazing), its ovens and the wine cellar.
Wine production for home consumption is a traditional activity in this area. This is the reason why wine cellars are a must-have for the houses. The wine is stored and aged in wooden barrels.

6cellar

Directly fired wood –ovens (made with bricks or clay) are very common in the mountainous and semi-mountainous villages of Chania. However, the house has one of the largest in the area: its diameter is about 2,10 m. The entrance is above a double fire – place which is used as a source of heat, for roasting or for cooking in special occasions.

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Both cooking fires are used simultaneously for the most ambitious of meals.

The second wood –oven is under the exterior ladder and has been built poorly, just in one day.

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Its baking capacity is for one 40 cm baking pan. Its construction is simple: flat bricks were used for the floor and an igloo -shaped basket (gr. kofini) was covered with 3 different mixtures of clay (a:clay, lime and straws, b: broken bricks and clay, c: mixed clay with lime). Three- four days later, a large fire was built in the oven to dry it and burn the basket. After that, it was ready to cook for the first time. None-the-less, it lasts a good 30 years.

The third oven is an electric one.

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It cooks fast and is also necessary when the weather is windy and there is danger of fire. I think it’s an italian patent. It allows for some pleasures like small pies, stuffed vegetables, baked poultry or meatballs on a bed of sliced potatoes and zucchinis.
For the meatballs I used 800 gr minced meat (200 gr lamb, 300 gr pork, 300 gr beef), 250 gr stale bread, soaked in water and perfectly squeezed, 1 large onion finely chopped, ½ cup chopped tomato, 1 tbs red vinegar, salt and pepper.
The nature really offers a wide array of perfect options for flavoring: thymbre, thyme, oregano, fennel.
I chose to add leaves and flowers of fresh thyme.

wild-thyme

making-biftekia

 I dipped one of my hands in red wine while shaping the meatballs.

biftekia

baking-bifteks

The aroma was fantastic!

working

And this is my shelter next to the front yard, made from the branches of two tall and strong turpentine trees (Pistacia Terebinthus). Under these trees I played many of my childhood’s games.

talking

Their shade is perfect for morning coffee, writing and reading or spending relaxed time with family and friends.
By the way, the nuts of turpentines are almost ready for harvest.

dramithia

If they are roasted, they can be used in village bread.

Wild blackberies are almost ripen…

wild-grapes

 oregano is almost dried…

oregano

 but we patiently wait to have walnuts,

nut

 chestnuts…

chestnut

 and quinces….

quince

 in late September.

MUSHROOMS, FUNGI, AMANITAS, MANITARIA, MANITES

historyofgreekfood- mushrooms stew

In olden times, Greeks had a love of mushrooms of many kinds, supported by extensive knowledge, particularly among men and to some extent hunters and villagers. Rural populations considered mushrooms as ‘meat’ for the poor and relied on them when meat was unavailable. The term ‘meat’ may sound like an exaggeration, but mushrooms do indeed are excellent source of high quality minerals, vitamins and proteins which we expect to find in meat. Moreover, they have low sodium, very few calories and very pleasing taste. And finally, there is a king among them. Ydnon, the black truffle, which holds a special place in the luxury foods since the 5th century BC, was so highly esteemed that a non Athenian received the rights of citizenship in return for a dish of truffles.
Given that the importance of edible mushrooms in Ancient and Byzantine years was followed by high consumption, even very knowledgeable hunters of wild mushrooms could occasionally misidentify and consume toxic species. However, deaths from mushroom poisoning are rarely mentioned in contemporary literally sources. In contrast, emphasis is placed on cooking them correctly and on the antidotes in case of consuming poisonous mushrooms. It might seem funny now, but the list of ancient antidotes includes, among others, radish pulp, cabbage pulp and a drink made with honey, saltpetre and warm water. Of course, none of them has any life-saving effect.
Certain mushrooms are mentioned in the works of Hippocrates (5th cent. BC), Dioscorides (55 AD) and Galen (130 – 200 AD), showing that the ancients doctors were quite familiar with their therapeutic virtues. It is not surprising then, that they also interested in their cultivation.
Nicander of Colophon (2nd cent. BC), who was a poet, grammarian and author of two treatises on poisons, explains in his Georgics (fragment 79 Schneider, quoted by Athenaeus 2.61 a, tr. S. D. Olson) how edible mushrooms can be cultivated:

‘Whenever you bury the trunk of a fig tree deep in dung,
and keep it moist with constant streams of water, harmless mushrooms will grow on its lower parts. You may cut any of these that grow from the root and not from the ground.’

According to De materia medica, written by the Greek physician Dioscorides in the 1st century AD:

Some report that the bark of the white and of the black poplar, cut up into small pieces and strewn on garden-plots that were previously fertilized with manure, grows mushrooms in all seasons. (1.81 tr. L. Y. Beck)

In recent years, the consumption of wild mushrooms in Greece is much lower than in the past. Even if wild mushrooms are eaten traditionally in Epirus, West Macedonia (Grevena, Kastoria), Pelion and Crete, the high incidence of poisoning, perhaps because of the high level of past consumption, and the limited knowledge of younger people on wild species affected their demand. On contrary, there is a steady demand for cultivated mushrooms.

Mushroom and chestnut stew

(Stifado me manitaria kai kastana from Crete)

1 kg whole pearl onions, peeled

6 small cloves of garlic

1kg fresh mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 4-8 cm long pieces

20 chestnuts, peeled

10 kalamata olives

2/3 cup olive oil, divided

2 bay leaves

orange peel, to taste

1/4 tsp ground cloves

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tb. tomato paste diluted in ¾ cup warm water

1/2 wine glass of  red wine

Heat the half oil and sauté  onions and garlic until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
Pour in the remaining oil and diluted tomato paste. Add wine, chestnuts, bay leaves, orange peel, cloves and pepper. Bring to the boil, stirring, taste and add salt. The liquid should not cover the ingredients but if needed add water.
Lower the heat, put the lid on and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, add the olives and simmer for another 6-8 minutes to thicken the sauce.
Serve hot.

 

KOULOURI

Boy selling koulouria. Postal card (early 20cent., Heraklion (Crete)

I am a big fan of freshly made koulouri. Covered with sesame seeds, crusted on the outside and soft on the inside, still warm if I am lucky, koulouri is my perfect snack. So, it is not strange that I don’t like the fashion has risen over the last couple of years: koulouria made with puff pastry are stuffed with cheese, or olives, or cream or chocolate before baking. They are too salty or too sweet for my taste.

However there is a version that cracks me up… It is the soft koulouri –not the crunchy one- stuffed with fresh tomato and feta cheese. It is easy to make it yourself, if you buy some extra koulouria from the street vendor. Cut the koulouri in two, place thin slices of tomato, feta cheese, sweet black olives and origano and make a kind of sandwich. You can toast it if you like. Kids love it too.

OF FAMINE & OF FEAST. AN APPLE BREAD & AN APPLE CAKE.

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Until the 3rd decade of 20th century, shortages posed a continuing threat to many of the poorest areas in Greece. Things were getting worse during wars… In Graeco- Roman and Byzantine world famine was a weapon. Various theoritical works offered recipes how to destroy crops, fields, food supplies, how to poison water.
So, warfare included burning or salting fields, or attacking those who cultivated the soil.
Then the major characteristics of famine, the widespread and acute hunger and the disease, made their appearance.

In case of famine or shortage, people are forced to consume any available source of food, even of the worst quality (grass, pieces of leather, rats etc.). However, starvation almost never affects people equally. It is the poor or the inhabitants of poor areas who suffer the most.

Shortage of food was probably the main problem of World War II, particularly during the winter of 1944/45. Fuit and vegetable producing areas were luckier than the rest of country, since they could make even flour with dried fruits (apples, pears, figs etc.) or dried vegetables, wild greens etc. During that period, apple bread became popular in apple producing areas. Apple flour was its main ingredient and yeast was used as raising agent, though sodium bicarbonate was also used sporadically. The wheat bread consumption increased after the World War II against the other kinds of bread but some years later an apple cake became popular. This cake seems to be the rich brother of the apple bread.

APPLE BREAD

1 ½ k. apple flour

500 gr. whole wheat flour

50 gr yeast

1 tsp salt

2 tbs olive oil

1 lt. warm water

olive oil, for brushing the pan

In a bowl dissolve the yeast in ½ cup warm water. Stir well and add 1 glass of warm water and 1 glass wheat flour. Stir again, cover with a cheesecloth and let for 12 hours in a warm place.

The next morning, combine the remaining wheat flour with the apple flour and salt in a large bowl.

Make a well in the center and pour in the starter mixture, the olive oil and the rest of warm water. Stir to form the dough. Knead with your hands, sprinkling the dough with more flour if it is too sticky or adding some warm water if it is too hard. (The whole wheat and apple dough needs more kneading than ordinary bread dough.) When dough becomes smooth put it in a bowl, cover with a cheesecloth and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. When the dough is doubled in size, divide it and shape in loaves. Place them on oiled loaf –pans, brush with olive oil or milk and cover. Let rise in warm place until doubled in size. Bake loaves for 40 – 50 minutes or until lightly golden and hollow sounding when tapped. (Preheated oven 180ºC) Let breads cool on a rack.

APPLE CAKE

1 cup milk

2 ½ cups flour

¾ cup sugar

½ cup virgin olive oil

3 eggs

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp cinnamon powder

½ tsp ground nutmeg

2/3 tsp lemon zest

1 ½ cup apples, peeled and cut in cubes

Beat sugar with olive oil. Beat eggs. Add sugar and olive oil and beat again. Add milk and stir very well. Gradually add flour, salt, zest and spices and mix well. Fold in apples. Pour the mixture into an olive-oiled and floured baking pan. Bake it 190 º C, for 40 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

SARDINES BAKED IN SORREL LEAVES

ca 200 BC: ” The following wild vegetables should be boiled — beet, mallow, sorrel, nettle, orach, bulbs, truffles and mushrooms. (Diocles Carystius, Health, book I, C. 59) 

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If you’ve ever been to Athens’ Varvakeios Central Market, you’ve seen them at the fish department’s entrance, selling fresh cut herbs and greens, fresh onions and garlics. They are not young, a man and a woman around 70ies. If you’ll buy a bunch of aromatic greens from the one the other will call you to look at her/his goods. Finally you buy from both of them. Their green stuff depends on the season. This time I bought two bunches wild sorrel… and sardines from the market.

About 25 species of sorrel (Rumex acetosa L) are grown in Greece and many of them are edible. Ancient Greeks believed that sorrel was especially beneficial in lepra and issues blood. They also recommended it as an appetite and digestion stimulant and a good complement to fatty meals and fishes.

Traditionally, it is cooked like spinach and vine leaves. Its sharp, fresh taste makes it a good foil for dolmades and an excellent ingredient for pies, omelletes etc. In past, when lemons were very expensive, the lemon flavor of sorrel was a good substitute for lemon juice. People kept sorrel leaves out of season, pressing them tightly with salt in sealed bottles or air drying them. Though they are very popular in rural Greek cooking, today are collected mainly by elderly women.

 The recipe for sardines rolled in leaves was brough in Greece by Greek refugees from Asia Minor, in the early 1920’s. Sardine was an importan staple food for those living on the Bosphorus coasts. The original recipe calls for vine leaves. In Crete and Epirus, vine leaves are often replaced by sorrels. If you are familiar with this herb you can imagine how fresher makes the sardine’s taste.

16 sorrel leaves , blanched
8- large fresh sardines, scaled and gutted
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
lemon juice
olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

If you like debone the sardines. Remove the head and tail and slit the sardine with a sharp knife, from the belly towards the spine. Open the sardines like a book and pull of the spine gently. Salt and wrap them with the sorrel leaves. If your sardines are large you’ll need 2 leaves for each one. Preheat oven to 350. Place fishes an baking pan. Drizzle with additional olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Serve them with chopped onions on the top.

Sorrel is high in vitamin A and contains some calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. It has high levels of oxalic acid like spinach, which is reduced if the plant is cooked. However, people with rheumatisms, arthritis, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their food.

Sardine on Foodista

Sorrel on Foodista

VASILOPITA, THE NEW YEAR PIE

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

making-vasilopita

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.
vasilopita
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

Syrup

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