Tag Archives: greek

It’s Greek to me

Oh, the magic of the Greek salad. Its versatility, the freshness of the varied ingredients, and the sheer volume of its size, when piled high with gorgeous black olives, green peppers, and all the other goodies.  The goodies, however, vary from place to place and from restaurant to restaurant. You might see versions with a dollop of potato salad in the middle, and other places, anchovies added.

My version of the Greek salad.

There was a pretty famous Greek restaurant here in town that went out of business a few years ago. I wasn’t a fan of their version of the salad. They not only threw potato salad on top (which seems a redundancy, and unnecessary) , but also added anchovies, beets, and a huge stalk of green onion. Not one for beets or anchovies (in any case), I found their salad almost inedible. Not to mention that there was an unappealing pool of dressing at the bottom of the bowl (yes, they served it in a bowl, which made it hard to circumnavigate.)

My ideal salad is light on the dressing (vinaigrette, please), heavy with olives and green peppers, and liberal with the tomatoes and a variety of good lettuce. I like to add those jarred little sliced hot peppers for contrast, and a nice sprinkling of good cracked black pepper. And finally, good-quality feta makes the whole thing stand out.

How do you like your Greek salad? Do the ingredients vary depending on what region you live in?

Magic mushrooms!

In the previous post, you read about how I discovered a new local market and purchased a humongous portobella mushrooom for dinner. Well, have a gander at the final result: that darn ‘shroom, stuffed to its gills with freshly chopped garlic and feta cheese and topped with a from-the-garden basil leaf, then broiled in a 380 degree oven for 15 minutes. The result? Bliss. Sheer, cheesy, mushroomy bliss.


  • Portabello mushroom(s)
  • Chopped garlic
  • Feta cheese

Clean out the underside and stem of the portabello with a spoon. Be certain not to gouge the mushroom or scrape too much out. Chop fresh garlic. Fill mushroom with as much crumbled feta as it can hold, then sprinkle the chopped garlic on top. Spray a baking dish and place the mushroom in the dish. Bake at 380-385 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until the mushroom is soft and beginning to release its juices, and the feta is becoming slightly browned on top. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf (optional) and cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

It’s all Greek to me (and a little Italian, too)

The nondescript exterior. But oh, the yummies inside!

On the way back from an IKEA shopping trip, my driving pal impulsively decided she wanted to stop at the Spiros Pasadena Produce and Deli to pick up a Greek salad for her supper. We’d both separately driven by this little store, in an even-smaller strip shopping center in South Pasadena, but had never bothered to actually stop in. Now, on a later Saturday afternoon after a frenzied day of shopping, we were both glad we did.

It’s funny, too. We had had lunch together, earlier in the day, fantasizing about where in the world we would go if we had the money. She said Greece; I said Italy. We both agreed that both places would be a blast if for nothing other than the cuisine! And I’ve always loved Italian markets. Growing up North, I remember my mom stopping at a large Italian speciality deli in a (wait for it….) strip shopping center in Cleveland. I distinctly remember the smell of olives and freshly cured meats; we would usually walk out with bread and real Italian tomato paste that came in a squeeze tube – far superior to anything in a can on an American shelf.

Obligatory Greek statue.

But back to Spiros. It does double duty as a little casual cafe and provisions shop. While my friend studied the menu and eventually ordered a salad, I wandered the shop looking for goodies – and possibly, my dinner for the evening as well. On the cafe side, Spiros offers cold sandwiches (mortadella, chicken salad, classic hoagies, capicola, etc); hot sandwiches (gyros, eggplant parm, grouper sub, pork souvlaki, meatball sub); and salads such as the classic Greek, Chef Salad, and Spiro Special, with romaine, tomato, feta, tabbouleh, and tzatziki sauce. (Hungry yet?)

You can also get Greek and Italian dinner classics – moussaka, lasagna, roasted lamb.

Feta, feta, feta. FETA!

What stunned me were Spiros’ produce prices. I couldn’t believe that this tiny shop had better-than-competitive prices than the giant chain supermarket in the next parking lot. Fresh lemons, 4 for $1, heads of garlic, the same; healthy-looking eggplant, lettuces, carrots, tomatoes of all sizes and onions, jicama, Swiss chard (my new, recent love), broccoli, and mushrooms. What caught my eye first were the size of the portobella mushrooms, and it was then and there that I constructed a dinner in my head. At the deli counter (I smelled it before I saw it!) they offer loads of yummy olives, and my favorite, feta cheese. The feta prices per pound were reasonable, and I knew that feta was what I wanted to stuff my giant portabello mushroom with. I ordered a half pound, and it came nicely double wrapped in paper and plastic wrap: a nice, fragrant, healthy-looking chunk of delicious cheese that puts “store-bought” to shame.

Ready-made dinners.

If you’re feeling lazy or are in a hurry, Spiros pre-makes their yummy Greek-Italo dinners for your convenience: just take home and reheat. Grab a bottle of wine and some baklava from the deli, and you are good to go. Bliss!

My favorite part of Spiros (besides the cheese)  is the dry goods: Alessi brand foods, like dried soups, espresso, ladyfingers, cannoli shells, and marinara sauces. Alessi (based in Tampa) always makes quality stuff and it’s painfully authentic Italian. (If you’ve never been to the Alessi restaurant in Tampa, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit.) Spiros even offers pignoli nuts in bulk – how cool is that?

Vigo & Alessi - Tampa homeboys.

I wound up with just the half pound of feta, giant mushroom, and fresh head of garlic, but resisted temptation for other things (which is tres difficulte for me!). And let me tell you: that fresh feta was AMAZING. Perfectly salty but not too, it complemented the garlic and the portabello as I grilled the three together. When I want my next feta fix, it’s going to come from Spiros (and as they’re open 7 days a week – not made hard at all).

You can find Spiros at 6801 Gulfport Blvd South, in South Pasadena. Go – and indulge.

All of the taste, none of the guilt

Do you ever feel like sometimes you love something almost TOO much and then it becomes unbearable after a time?

I’m like that with pizza. I’ve had really good ones lately, and really crappy ones. The difference between good pizza and bad is like driving a Jaguar and driving a Yugo. (Does anyone still own a Yugo anymore?) When I eat really, really good pizza it’s kind of hard to stop. And then my waistline and hips are screaming at me for days afterward.

Then: lightbulb time. Why not take all the flavors of a good pizza, and condense them into one smallish little meal? I started with a whole wheat pita, and lightly brushed it with some good olive oil. Then added a little bit of grated cheese, and chopped veggies: olives, red bell pepper, baby spinach, onion. I added a tiny bit of dried oregano and hot red pepper flakes (because I roll with that stuff all the time). Popped it into my toaster oven for 10 minutes on 325 or so, and voila! A perfect, yet healthful portion of pizza that is way more filling than you would think. No sauce, you say? Nope. It didn’t really need it. The brushing of healthful olive oil serves two purposes: providing enough moisture to anchor the cheese and veg, and giving the pita “crust” just enough crackle to make you think this is one darn good “East Coast-style” ‘za.