Pork Stew with Celery and Avgolemono Sauce and Melomakarona Cookies. As we have been coming up to Christmas I’ve been thinking about (and cooking) lots of different Christmas dinner recipes, after 30 years or so roast turkey can get a bit old! So what, I wondered, are the traditional Christmas recipes of Greece?
It would need further investigation, and some sampling of Greek recipes at home too. Thankfully after trying these recipes at home I can share two fantastic Greek Christmas recipes with you
Christmas in Greece
Greece isn’t the first place most people will think about when it comes to either Christmas or Christmas recipes. Traditional Christmas images are of houses and fields coated in a blanket of snow, not what I think of when Greece comes to mind. I have to say that although I am a big fan of all things Greek, specially the food, I didn’t know too much about Christmas in Greece till I started looking into its Christmas recipes. I did know that Greece is the heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church but it was interesting to learn that many of the traditional celebrations in Greece today go back far before the church to the ancient Greek festivals and gods. It seems Christmas in Greece is well worth a second look.
One of the first things I learned about a Greek Christmas is that leading up to the day itself many Greek’s will have been fasting from mid November to December 24th, similar to lent. Foods from red blooded animals and dairy products are out, as are eggs. Other foods, such as fish, olive oil and wine are only allowed on certain days. So in the 40 days running up to Christmas a lot of the best foods are just off the table. I don’t find things like lent or the nativity fast easy, though this year I have been on a mini-diet in December so maybe next year I’ll give it ago.
I have chosen to share two recipes with you which are traditionally eaten at this time of year in Greece and which celebrate many of the ingredients which you can’t use during the nativity fast. Both are easy to make and I think they are great alternatives to Christmas recipes you might be used to, who knows you may find a new Christmas favourite!
Pork Stew with Celery and Avgolemono Sauce
I’ll start with the savoury, before we get to the sweet treats. This recipe celebrates the ingredients pork, olive oil and eggs all on the nativity fasting no-no list. It makes a great dinner and I think it would work equally well in summer or winter. Pork dishes abound at this time of year due to the winter hog slaughter, making it the natural choice for Christmas meals. This recipes combines it with vegetables around at this time of year and is one of the many traditional Greek pork recipes.
What you’ll need for 2 people:
- knob unsalted butter
- 50ml olive oil
- 350 grams pork loin or fillet
- 2 leeks, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 bulb of fennel, diced
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 500ml chicken stock
- 2 stalks of celery
- Juice of 1 lemons
- 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
- Pepper to taste
Take a large saucepan or casserole pan. Melt the butter with the olive oil and, once hot, saute the diced pork till browned on both sides. Remove the pork to a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain some of the fat.
Next add the onions, fennel and leeks and fry till softened, around 5 minutes. Make up the stock according to the instructions and have it ready to hand. Add the flour and stir to coat all the leeks and onions. Pour in the stock whilst stirring to combine it with the flour. It should start to form a thick sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes before popping the pork back in, then keep it at a simmer with the lid on for 40 minutes.
Prepare the sauce when the stew is almost ready, it works best if you remove the stew from the heat for a few minutes. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with the lemon juice and add a ladle full of the stew liquid. Whisk together then add to the pot and stir to combine, you should then have a thick glossy sauce.
Serve with crusty bread and dive in for a real festive treat.
These are lovely sweet and spicy cookies coated in an sweet syrup and nuts. There are different variations but this is my recipe for them. Melomakarona Cookies are best eaten with a nice hot drink, maybe some mulled wine! These cookies are made with olive and vegetable oil and reminded me a bit of a sweeter shortbread. They taste between a cookie and a cake.
Melomakarona cookie recipe
What you’ll need for about 60 cookies:
- 240ml olive oil
- 240ml vegetable oil
- 225g caster sugar, use a mix of white and golden caster sugar
- Zest of one orange, finely grated
- 240ml orange juice (or your favourite juice mix)
- 2tsp baking powder
- 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 900g plain flour
For the Syrup
- 240ml runny honey
- 225g caster sugar
- 400-500ml water
- 1tsp cinnamon
- 1tsp ground cloves
- Lemon rind
- Juice of half a lemon
- Crushed walnuts to decoratre
Preheat your oven to 180c. Combine the caster sugar and the orange zest to release the orange flavour into the sugar. Add the vegetable and olive oils and whizz together, it will form a thin paste. Add the orange juice and whisk it in.
In a second bowl sift the flour with the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Resift this into the liquid batter a little at a time whilst mixing it in. As you add more flour it will gradually form a dough. When you have added all the flour it should be a firm dough which is a little wet, but not sticky.
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Take a small piece of dough and roll it to form a small egg shape. Pop it on the baking tray. Repeat till you have filled the tray. Leave a gap between the cookies as they will expand. Take a fork and use it to flatten the cookies a little as well as make a pattern in the top.
Bake for 20 minutes in the centre of the oven.
For the syrup
Whilst the cookies are baking, it’s time to make the syrup. In a saucepan add the water, honey, sugar, spices and lemon rind. Bring it to the boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes till it forms a thick syrup.
To finish the cookies, take them from the oven and dip in the syrup then remove to a rack to cool. Top with crushed walnuts and leave to cool.
Text by Russell Bowes Russells