I am not a football kinda gal. I never aspired to being a cheerleader, I went to an urban university where Frisbee throwing was the school sport, and I never really understood why grown men like to maraud one another, all in the name of an oddly shaped ball.
But I can appreciate the need to munch when the tension rises. I know the mindless, pleasurable addiction inherent in the salty, crunchy bite of a great potato chip or, in my case, keeper of the Greek flame, in a toasted pita chip, and the cool, soothing salve a great dip provides.
So, in honor of a very un-Greek game (I live in Europe, where football refers to the game played by greats like Messi), I offer my take on what to munch on while said grown men cross those yard lines, thumping ambitiously toward a touchdown. Greek treats for Superbowl Sunday.
Spicy Tomato-Pepper Relish
Pikantiki Tomata-Piperia Salata
Makes 6-8 meze servings
The key to making this simple dish well is in the chopping. All ingredients should be cut to a fine dice, smaller than confetti but not so small that the pieces are indiscernible. It’s a salad of sorts in that it contains a mixture of fresh, chopped vegetables, but is eaten more like a salsa or relish, scooped up with or spooned onto a piece of crisp pita bread. The dish is a classic in Greece’s many kebab houses and goes well with grilled meats and chicken.
2 large firm tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1-3 fresh chili peppers (to taste), seeded and minced
2 medium-sized red peppers, seeded and finely diced
2 medium-sized green peppers
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil
3 tbsp. good quality tomato paste
Fresh, strained juice from one large lemon
Salt to taste
Cayenne to taste
Combine the first six ingredients. In a small bowl, vigorously mix together the olive oil, tomato paste and lemon juice. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Mix the paste into the fresh ingredients. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours and up to six before serving. Serve either cool or at room temperature.
Fluffy Fish-Roe Dip with Ground Almonds
Taramosalata me Amygdala kai Soda
There are as many versions of taramosalata in Greece as there are cooks who prepare it. Most are variations of the basic potato-or bread-and-fish-roe spread, a classic of the traditional Lenten table that has made its way onto taverna menus and become a Greek classic from Athens to Adelaide. The “trick” of adding a little soda water to the mixture makes the otherwise dense and sometimes stodgy taramosalata light, airy and fluffy. Serve this with raw sliced vegetables, such as celery stalks and endive, or with bread.
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups whole blanched almonds
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
4 tbsp. tarama (carp roe), preferably uncolored
6 tbsp. extra virgin Greek olive oil
Fresh, strained juice from one large lemon, or more to taste
¼-1/2 cup seltzer water
Pinch of cracked black peppercorns for garnish
Pulverize the almonds to a very fine ground in the food processor. Add the garlic. Pulse on and off about 5 times to combine.
Add the tarama and pulse on and off to blend. Pour in the olive oil and the lemon juice from one lemon, alternating between each and pulsing after each addition. Slowly adjust the consistency of the taramosalata by adding the seltzer, in two-tablespoon increments. The taramosalata should be as loose as a non-grainy mustard although it will not be smooth because of the almond base. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and serve immediately, or refrigerate, covered, for up to three hours before serving.
Tangy Yogurt with Sautéed Carrots and Mint
Tzatziki me Karota, Dyosmo kai Skordo
This refreshing dipping sauce takes its cue from the Turkish yogurt dip haintari. In Greece it is often served in kebab houses and mezethopoleia run by Anatolian Greeks. The flavors are very robust. Serve the dip alone with toasted pita wedges or with Greek meatballs.
2 medium-sized carrots, pared and shredded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into very thin strips (julienne)
2 cups strained plain yogurt or Greek or Mediterranean style thick yogurt
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp. lemon juice, to taste
Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook the carrots, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and mint and stir for a minute until the garlic softens and the mint wilts.
Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl. Add the cooked carrot mixture, salt, the remaining olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Place in the refrigerator, covered, for one hour and serve garnished with a sprinkling of paprika and the mint leaves.
Roasted Eggplant Dip with Walnuts, Coriander Seeds and Scallions
Melitzanosalata me Karydia, Koliandro kai Kremmydaki
The Greek love affair with the eggplant knows no end. There are dozens of eggplant salads, dips and spreads. Every taverna, every homey restaurant, every good cook has his or her own rendition and favorite. The eggplant is perhaps the world’s most versatile vegetable.
Makes about 2 cups or enough for 6 meze servings
2 medium-sized eggplants, about 227g (½ pound) each
2/3 cup shelled walnuts
2 tsp. coriander seeds
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Greek
3 tbsp. fresh, strained lemon juice
½-1 tsp. sugar, optional and to taste
Salt to taste
3 scallions, roots and tough upper greens removed, sliced into thin rings
Wash and pat dry the eggplants. Keep stems intact. Roast the eggplants over a low open flame directly on top of the stove. Alternatively, you may roast them under the broiler, about six inches away from the heat source. Turn occasionally so that the eggplants roast evenly on all sides. They are done when their skins are charred all around and when they are tender to the touch, especially near the dense stem end. Remove from the flame and place on a cutting board.
While the eggplants are roasting, pulverize the walnuts and coriander seeds together in a food processor until they reach a coarse, mealy consistency.
To remove the eggplant pulp: Hold the eggplant from the stem end. Using a sharp paring knife, slit the first eggplant lengthwise down the middle. Using the body of the eggplant as your guide, with the knife cut away the skin over both halves, the way you might do when removing the crust from a loaf of bread. You should have the stem and eggplant pulp left, with the charred skin peeled away and fallen to the surface of the cutting board. Score the pulp lengthwise as well as crosswise to facilitate its removal. Using the knife or a teaspoon, remove as much of the seed mass as possible. Remove the pulp and place it in the bowl of the food processor. Pour the lemon juice over it.
Save two tablespoons of chopped scallions for garnish. Add the rest to the food processor bowl. Pulse on and off once or twice to combine. Add the oil in 1/3 cup increments, and pulse to combine well. Taste the eggplant as you go. Season with salt to taste. If the eggplant is bitter, add a little sugar. Remove to a serving dish. Garnish with the thinly sliced scallions and serve.
Note: The eggplant dip may be made several hours ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Garnish just before serving.