Unboxing Vegan: Greek Pascha Swap with Myrrh from St. Demetrios

Christ is Risen! Truly He is Risen! I’m still recovering from Holy Week, but I thought I better at least share my Vegan Box Swap unboxing with you before we’re out of the 40 day festal period 🙂 I was lucky enough to snag Maria for my first official Vegan Box Swap just in time to fill my Pascha basket with all kinds of treats from Greece! There was so much stuff, I couldn’t fit it all in my basket – and it’s a big picnic basket.

(I’ve done a couple unofficial swaps, I’ll share those later!)

People always ask what I do for Pascha since I’m vegan all year. Usually I splurge on a few special foods, and have a nice glass of Scotch. The swap took care of my special foods this year.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
These items all made it into the basket to be blessed (except the mastic which I used to make Artoklasia Cake for our Pascha celebration)
-Chocolate Covered Orange Marzipan
-Orange Spoon Sweets
-Mastic/Mastika/Mastiha, aka Submarine
-Nut Butter Cups
-Chocolate Covered Cherries – with booze inside!

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Here we have three kinds of cookies, a little orange pie that got thoroughly crushed (and it was near the expiration date, so I split it with my dad before Pascha ((he loved it)), a big round loaf of sweet chocolate bread, halva with cocoa swirls, and baklava with kataifi.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Gigantes, some kind of puffed snack thing, rusks for making one of my favorite Greek salads, Greek coffee, and tons of herbs including the stuff used to make Greek mountain tea – I love that tea!

Greek Vegan Unboxing
Also included was this lovely postcard with the sweetest turtle ever in the whole world, and when you move the postcard the turtle moves and the fish move!!!!


Here’s my little unboxing video. I’m so awful at these, but they’re really fun to make. However this one is extra embarrassing because I didn’t recognize one of the items in the box AT ALL. I made a special request for it, then forgot about it, and then…I couldn’t get it open, and I thought it was just one of those potpourri satchels. Nope.

Myrrh from the Relics of St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki
It was a precious bag of oil-soaked cotton balls from the myrrh-streaming relics of St. Demetrios.

Myrrh Streaming Relics of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki
I visited Agios Demetrios, the church built over his crypt, in Thessaloniki in 2013.

Myrrh Streaming Relics of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki
But although I was able to venerate his relics, it wasn’t until I got home that someone pointed out I could’ve asked for the myrrh. WHAT?! So I asked Maria if she could get some, since she’s in Thessaloniki, and she did! It smells wonderful. We can talk about myrrh-streaming saints and myrrh oil in another post.

Greek Vegan Unboxing
I hope you all appreciate what I’ve had to go through since Pascha. I’m trying so hard not to eat a ton of sweets, which is always hard for me anyway, but now I had no choice because I wanted to be able to tell you about at least a few of them.

Vegan Nut Butter Cups
I think these are maybe not peanut butter because the flavor isn’t very strong – maybe they’re almond butter? Anyway, they’re great. And it’s not just the nut butter covered in chocolate, there’s a thin layer of wafer on the bottom and sides. **Found out they’re hazelnut!

The grape must cookies, or moustokouloura, are basically a soft molasses cookie made with grape molasses.

The vegan baklava and kataifi were completely drenched in syrup, so much so that the inner packaging was already sticky on the outside. I almost forgot what baklava is like…it is good 🙂

The boozy chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered orange marzipan taste just like you’d expect, like you want to eat them all at once in 3 minutes.

The rest I haven’t gotten into yet. Maybe next week I’ll make dakos (bread salad) with the rusks.

Do you have any suggestions for using my Greek treats? Wanna share a link to your own unboxing? Comment below!

Week of Greek: Menu for a Greek Vegan Feast!

We made it through a whole week of Greek food with 2 Broke Vegans! Is everyone sitting back in elastic-waist pants now, rubbing your bellies? In case you missed a taste of this or that, scroll down to see each course. Just click the picture and you’ll be taken right to the recipe.

Beer Bread

Beer Bread

Tahinosoupa (Tahini Soup)

Tahinosoupa (Tahini Soup)

Lahanosalata (White Cabbage Salad)

Lahanosalata (White Cabbage Salad)

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Vine Leaves)

Dolmadakia (Stuffed Vine Leaves)

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

Soutzoukakia (Greek Meatballs)

Soutzoukakia (Greek Meatballs)

Fasolakia (Stewed Green Beans)

Fasolakia (Stewed Green Beans)

Yemista (Stuffed Vegetables)

Yemista (Stuffed Vegetables)

Halva (Semolina Sweet)

Halva (Semolina Sweet)

And don’t forget to read up on Where to Buy Greek Imports!

Thanks again to my co-hosts at 2 Broke Vegans for helping us feel at home in the beautiful country of Hellas, and a big thanks to everyone that joined us at the table 🙂 See you on the next trip!

Week of Greek: Shopping

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Now that we’ve had fun cooking together all week, maybe you’d like to know where you can purchase some of the ingredients used in the recipes. Pretty much every ingredient can easily be found in grocery stores in most parts of the US (and of course Greece!). Not sure about other countries, but the ingredients are very basic. That said, it sure would be nice for Greece if we bought Greek imports when available. Now some regular grocery stores, like Meijer and H-E-B, will carry at least a few imports. But in some areas, you may need to seek out a Mediterranean or European market.

Krinos and Optima Foods are two of the biggest importers in the US.
Another brand that comes to mind is Arosis, I bought some of their dried gigantes in Greece and now see they’re available in the US. You can even find them on Amazon.
And of course you can always look for products with Greek writing on them 🙂 When you see a product labeled, “Greek xyz,” check to see if it’s made in Greece.
I’ve never seen a Mountain Tea (sometimes called Mountain Herb or Wild Tea) that isn’t imported from Greece. It’s actually a very beautiful herb, usually sold still on the stem and with little blossoms, although in Greece I found it in tea bags.

Here you will find A List of the 25 Best Greek Olive Oils of 2015, as awarded by the New York International Olive Oil Competition (yes, that’s a real thing!). There’s even a key that shows if the oil won a gold or silver medal. Click on the picture of any oil you’re interested in to read a more detailed description and find out where it can be purchased.

Here is A List of Some Vegan-Friendly Greek Wines from Barnivore.com

I also found a wonderful list of brick and mortar Greek markets in the US and Canada over at The Greek Vegan, many of them also have websites, some that you can order products from.

Keep watching Oh She Cooks on facebook because I’ll be sharing the last Week of Greek recipe from 2 Broke Vegans sometime today! And tomorrow I’ll post the whole lineup of recipes in case you want to cook up a Greek feast for family and friends!

Week of Greek: Halva (Semolina Sweet)

For our last course in our delicious Greek meal, I offer you these cute little halva cakes. Now, there can be some confusion as the name halva, or halawe, can also be used to describe an Arabic dessert made with tahini paste. It is altogether different! In this case, I’m talking about the Greek sweet made with fried semolina. There’s no baking for this dessert, it’s all done on the stovetop.

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I had a lot of fun with this one, not only making it, but serving it along side the bottle of ouzo my brother and I picked up in Greece – and those shot glasses are also from our trip! They gray ones are a beautiful reminder of our time on Tinos, a little island known for its marble resources (among other things).

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When the semolina mixture has cooled, you can press it into a fancy bundt pan, or cupcake tin, or pretty much anything it won’t stick to. I went with the cupcake tin because it makes the perfect individual serving size.

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The little cakes are soft, sticky and sweet, with plenty of cinnamon. The raw walnuts offset the sweetness just a little.

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Nearly every restaurant in Greece provided a drink and something sweet at the end of the meal, free of charge. Sometimes it was as simple as fruit and a shot of raki, other times a pastry or ice cream and maybe a glass of wine. I think those Greeks are on to something, it’s the perfect ending to a meal – although halva with coffee would also be a wonderful way to begin the day, if you ask me.

Halva
1 C oil or melted margarine
2 C semolina
1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
2 1/2 C sugar (or less, to taste)
4 C water
optional: raw walnuts*

Put water and sugar together in a pot and boil for 10 – 15 minutes. Meanwhile in a large pan, combine oil and semolina and cook at medium high heat stirring continuously until the semolina has browned. Stir in cinnamon. Now very carefully add syrup to semolina – it will really start to bubble and steam up! I added mine slowly, stirring it in a little at a time. Continue to stir, and cook at medium heat another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the semolina becomes very thick. Remove from heat. Once cooled, press the semolina into a bundt pan or cupcake tin. Unmold the halva and, if desired, top with finely chopped walnuts.

Makes 10 – 12 cupcake-sized servings

*I soaked my walnuts for a few hours, then drained them and sprinkled them with just a touch of sugar and a shake or two of cinnamon before garnishing the halva. You can also just use plain old chopped walnuts, or press one whole walnut or pecan into the top of the halva for a simple embellishment.

Although this is [probably] my last recipe for Greek Week, please stay tuned to my facebook page where I will share one more recipe from my co-hosts, 2 Broke Vegans. Tomorrow I will also provide you with a list of Greek brands to be on the look out for during your Greek cooking adventures! And please, if you are feeling charitable, consider giving a gift to the people of Greece through International Orthodox Christian Charities. Thanks to the Jaharis Family Foundation, each dollar you donate will be matched.

Taverna on the Water
Now sit back and enjoy the view, sip your ouzo and savor the halva. I’m going to take a stroll along the beach. See you tomorrow!

Week of Greek: Stewed Green Beans (Fasolakia)

Wow, is it already day four of our magical Week of Greek?! IT IS, and that means we finally get to see what I was talking about when I mentioned Greek foods swimming in oil 😀 And yes, we will need a nice loaf of bread for the fasolakia, the green beans stewed in tomatoes.

And speaking of tomato sauce, check out the Soutzoukakia from 2 Broke Vegans – Greek meatballs made vegan with walnuts and mushrooms – trust me, the combination is superb! After we make the green beans, I’ll give you another bulking-up idea using the meatballs.

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So for the beans, we start with tons of onion to really pack the flavor into this one,

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and season it simply with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley.

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And there it is – Greek gold!

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So slice up your favorite savory bread, preferably something rustic and crusty (yes, crusty is a good quality when it comes to bread!), and get ready to clean your plate.

Stewed Green Beans
2# fresh green beans, de-stemmed and cut or snapped into bite size pieces
1 C oil
2 C canned tomatoes*
3 to 4 onions, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

In a big pot, arrange two or three layers of onions with parsley, and beans on top. Add tomatoes, oil, salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook on low heat until tender.

This simple recipe could serve 8 as a side dish. And once again this is very similar to a Syrian dish, we serve the Syrian version over rice – that could stretch it to a main course for 6. Syrians also add meatballs, so by adding the soutzoukakia to the pot (after baking them) you can have a meal for 8 to 10! Add a side of Lahanosalata and you’re in business with another budget-friendly meal that just so happens to be vegan and gluten free.

The recipe is great as-is, but I did add double the tomatoes, and there are a couple other ways you could mix things up with beautiful results.
Alternatives
-Instead of layering onions & beans, saute the onions in the oil. When tender, but before they brown, add remaining ingredients.
-Add 2 Tbsp tomato paste to the canned tomatoes to make a nice sauce
-Remove the lid on the pot for the last 15 minutes of cooking to let some of the juice from the beans cook out and reduce the sauce

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In Thessaloniki there was a beautiful little 15th century church nestled in between towering apartment buildings and storefronts covered in neon graffiti. I walked around it taking pictures,

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and suddenly my brother and I found ourselves at a little restaurant, ΤΑ Κουμπαρακια, which turned out to be our favorite restaurant in the city – we ate there three times!

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There we had the most wonderful fasolakia, cut lengthwise with little bits of eggplant in the sauce. I can’t tell you how often I sit and dream of the day I’ll be back in Thessaloniki, sitting at my favorite restaurant, next to that lovely little church. But this will have to do for now.

What’s your dream vacation?

Week of Greek: White Cabbage Salad (Lahanosalata)

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For our next course, I have chosen another very simple dish – light, clean, and the most basic version of the White Cabbage Salad recipe I could find. You may garnish the salad with shaved carrot just for a little pop of color. Cabbage is low in calories and packed with Vitamin C. And like our tahini soup in the first course, it is super inexpensive!

White Cabbage Salad
1 medium white cabbage
salt
juice of two lemons
olive oil

Quarter the head of cabbage, cutting around and discarding the core, then slice each quarter thinly and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt (perhaps 2 teaspoons) and turn to disperse evenly. Let the cabbage weep for approximately 15 minutes – don’t worry, it won’t make a sound! After 15 minutes, drain liquid from the bowl.

Add to the cabbage the juice of two lemons. Drizzle with olive oil to taste – I recommend beginning with 2 Tbsp and slowly adding from there, to taste. Season with additional salt to your liking.

This should make approximately 6 good servings.

Even though I’m an olive oil freak, I personally enjoyed this with minimal olive oil. It actually reminded me of Syrian salad, salata. I was afraid the leftovers would be completely wilted, but the cabbage still had a crunch to it the next day. Maybe with your leftovers, you could get all fancy like Marie Catrib’s and use them to top a vegan chili dog!

Oh! And be sure to Like & follow my facebook page for links to Athanasia’s Greek Week specials at 2 Broke Vegans. Greek vegan recipes from an actual Greek vegan in Greece! And all her recipes are gluten free!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AND THIS CABBAGE SALAD IS GLUTEN FREE, GRAIN FREE, RAW, PALEO, LENTEN, VEGAN. Man, this recipe has it all.

What’s your favorite Greek word?

P.S. Yesterday for the first course of our meal, we had Tahini Soup. Be sure to check it out!

Week of Greek: Tahini Soup (Tahinosoupa)

If you’ve been around here a while you know I adore tahini, so it’s no surprise I have worked it into the first course of our week-long Greek meal! Tahini Soup is a traditional Lenten recipe – fast, cheap, good for ya, no frills, and SO easy to whip up a huge batch for the whole family, or to share with neighbors and friends.

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There are many variations if you search online, but I chose to go with the great Tselementes on this one. In this very old cookbook, he writes that peanut butter may be used since it is so difficult to find tahini in stores. I’m glad that’s not the case anymore! In my local Middle Eastern market there must be at least half a dozen varieties of tahini to choose from.

Another fun thing about these old cookbooks I used, they measure things out in teacups!

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Any small pasta will do for this recipe, you could even break up spaghetti or angel hair pasta, and some recipes use rice. Just keep it simple.

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It looks very Lenten, doesn’t it? But don’t let the plain looks deceive you – this soup has a surprisingly wonderful flavor thanks to the nuttiness of the tahini. It was *almost* cheese-like.

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Mumra and I did add a bit of this beautiful, chunky pink salt and a touch of black pepper, but only because we are food snobs and wanted to fancy it up. Tahinosoupa is filling, nutritious (thanks to iron-rich tahini, which also provides a little calcium), and budget-friendly.

This gave me an idea. What if we ate Tahini Soup for dinner every day for one week, how much money would we save? We could take those few dollars and donate them to the IOCC, and the Jaharis Family Foundation will match our donation to help the people of Greece! To read more about what the IOCC is doing in Greece, CLICK HERE.

Tahini Soup
4 1/2 C water + more for sauce
salt to taste
2 C small pasta (I used occhio di pernice)
2 tsp tahini per serving

Boil water salted to taste. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until done, according to instructions. DO NOT DRAIN.
In each serving bowl, mix 2 tsp tahini with just enough additional water to reach a mayo-type consistency. Spoon pasta and its broth into each bowl, and stir to combine with tahini sauce.

Makes several large servings, or TONS of 1/2 C servings!

If you want the soup to be less ascetic, you may wish to add:
Pepper
Garlic
Nutritional yeast
Sliced green onion
A bit of turmeric to make it beautiful
Bulk it up with beans (another dirt cheap ingredient!)

Feel free to use gluten free pasta. Be sure to enjoy!!!

And check out our 2nd course: White Cabbage Salad (Lahanosalata)

Easy Beer Bread to Kick off A Week of Greek

Okay, so this beer bread recipe is not a Greek one, as far as I know, but bread plays an important role in Greek meals and I needed something I could whip up quickly for a week’s worth of GREEK FOOD! “A week’s worth of Greek food?” You ask.

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I am pleased to announce I’m partnering up with Athanasia of 2BrokeVegans to bring you a new Greek dish each day for the coming week! Most of you are probably aware of the situation in Greece now, and we want to show our support for the Hellenic people and also show off their great food!
And though I already have a whole page about my adventures in Greece, including a handful of recipes, I’ll be sharing recipes this week I’ve never tried before – and using ingredients imported from Greece when I can.

Now onto the bread.

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In Greek cuisine, most vegan/fasting dishes are referred to as “lathera,” pronounced lah-the-RAH, which means “in oil.” This is because the veggies are basically SWIMMING in delicious olive oil. That’s one reason bread is so important, you want to use it to sop up all that wonderful oil combined with the spices and flavors of the food that cooked in it. Sadly that was an afterthought for me, so I went with a quick bread instead of a traditional Greek bread. I promise to do a Greek bread very soon!

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For now, enjoy this guy:

Quick n Easy Beer Bread
3 C flour*
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 12oz beer (lighter is better)
2 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Make a well in the center, pour beer in the well along with olive oil. Stir to combine. Pour/scoop into a greased bread pan and bake at 375 for 45 – 55 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing.

*For my flour, I used 2 C all purpose white, and 1 C teff. You can use all white flour, or experiment with whole wheat or gluten free (not sure how all gluten free will turn out, though!). Using different flours will result in slightly different flavors; for example, teff has a mildly sweet flavor.

gigantes cheats, when you can’t wait for Greek food!

A couple weekends ago I wanted gigantes, but I didn’t want to wait hours and hours while the dried beans cooked, and then wait again to cook tomatoes down into sauce. I was grocery shopping and came across just what I needed to cheat and have gigantes in about one hour.

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Canned large lima beans can be used in place of gigantes, and a ready-made tomato sauce is an obvious choice for a quick fix.

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I had this gorgeous maroon carrot,

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you can use whatever color you like, but I’m partial to the deep maroon outside and bright orange inside. You just need one large carrot.

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Slice, and cut into quarters or halves.

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Cut up lots of onion, pretty much as much as you want. You can’t really see them, but there are also a few cloves of garlic here, chopped. I’d use at least 5.

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Cook the onion, garlic and carrots over medium heat in lots and lots of olive oil. Cook until the onions soften.

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After draining and rinsing the beans, add them to the mix.

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Here’s another cheat: dried dill. They didn’t have fresh dill at the market where I was shopping. Season to taste. I love dill, so for me it’s hard to add too much.

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Another cheat: dried parsley along with the store-bought sauce. Again, season to taste. You’ll also need to add pepper and plenty of salt.

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Let it all cook for 5 to 10 minutes. While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 400.

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Then pour the beans into a large baking dish. At this point, I added more olive oil and chopped garlic. Let it bake about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken. You can cover the dish with foil if you don’t want the beans & veggies to brown.

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Although you want the sauce to thicken a little, it should still be loose enough to dip bread in it. This looks really thick, but when you stir it…

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you can see it’s just loose enough. I made this for dinner at Tete’s house on a day when we had falafel, hummus, and salata, and sister brought skordalia from the monastery (it looks like a big bowl of butter, but no. It’s super garlicky potatoes with olive oil, basically).

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Oh yeah, and we also had green beans and rice to go with our falafel sandwiches. The skordalia went well with the “gigantes”. Of course making things fresh from scratch is ideal, but once in a while we all need to cheat. What’s your favorite cheat?

Greek Village

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This weekend I was magically transported back to Greece for a lovely dinner after the baptism of my youngest nephew.

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The celebration was held at Greek Village in Schaumburg, IL.

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Inside the restaurant, it really is made to look like you’re standing on the street in a Greek village.

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Icons and family photos included, in the area we sat in which overlooked The Village.

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The whitewashed stone reminded me of Tinos…

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And when the place started filling up, it felt like a village celebration for a feast day. Actually, it was the feast day of St. Demetrios and one of our waiters was named Demetrios. That made it even more special for me, and made me wish I could be at the church in Thessaloniki. But I wouldn’t want to miss this time with my family for anything!

Anyway. The meal was served family style. Since there were only a couple vegan things, my sister and brother-in-law suggested I order off the menu. Demetrios recommended the vegetable platter (briami), and I also asked for the gigantes – I wanted to see if they were authentic! I had no idea how big the vegetable platter would be.

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Yeah. This big.

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On one side, green beans in tomato sauce with fresh parsley and onions and lots of olive oil. On the other side…

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eggplant, potatoes, okra, onions, and bell pepper. The rice in the middle had a nice, mild tomato sauce. Everything was cooked perfectly, and tasted wonderful. The veggies really tasted nice and fresh.

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The dish of gigantes was also big enough for two. The beans were nice and tender. The sauce was a little salty, but that didn’t bother me (just meant I did have to add salt 10 times). I love it with dill.

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And my very thoughtful family bought a dessert for me from Whole Foods, a vegan chocolate chip cheesecake. The crust kind of tasted like a cookie, and the chocolate on top was my favorite. It was dark and slightly bitter, so it offset the sweetness of the “cheese” part. But I wasn’t the only one who left in a mild food coma…

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I couldn’t quite get all the dishes and platters in the picture, but it reminded me of the huge mess my brother and I left in our wake after our huge meals all over Greece. So, for my brother, the menu of the family style meal included:

lemon chicken
lamb
rice
avgolemono
spanikopita
lemon potatoes
dolmades (with lamb)
Greek lasagna
baklava, and at least one other pastry – and of course, a traditional American cake

Everyone loved the food, and the atmosphere was great. The waitstaff were busily running around the whole time, making sure we had whatever we wanted, and were friendly and polite. I would LOVE to go back again!

So, while I’m dreaming of Greece now, here are some related links from my trip:
Our last visit to Ta Koumparakia, our favorite restaurant in Thessaloniki
Giant Greek Vegan post, showing off most of the food we enjoyed during the trip
churches, chapels, and shrines