Calgary·RECIPE

Savoury pairing of grilled eggplant dip and lagana a fun foray into Greek cuisine

CBC Food guide Julie Van Rosendaal recommends two recipes from the cookbook, Mazi: Modern Greek Food, by Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carré.

Food guide Julie Van Rosendaal recommends two recipes from the cookbook, Mazi: Modern Greek Food

Grilled aubergine with soy and thyme honey goes well with this type of homemade bread. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

This week's cookbook pick, Mazi: Modern Greek Food, by Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carré, was inspired by a desire to travel to Greece.

I've never been, and one of the benefits of such a book is to allow a peek into the food culture of a country known for its stunning landscape and seaside cuisine.

Mazi the book comes from Mazi the restaurant. It has been a trendy Greek eatery in Notting Hill, London, since owners Mouratoglou and Carré opened it in 2012. Their focus is on creating feasts out of small dishes and interesting plates designed for sharing with the entire table. They rely on fresh ingredients and simple techniques, the essence of Greek cuisine, with a more innovative edge.

The popularity of their restaurant led to this cookbook, which is full of twists on familiar Greek dishes: spanakopita served in jars to eat with a spoon, topped with crispy phyllo squares or turned into a dish of risotto with spinach and feta.

Mazi: Modern Greek Food, by Christina Mouratoglou and Adrien Carré, helps amateur cook get more creative with favourite and new dishes. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

There are zucchini fritters, lamb shoulder baklavas with cumin yogurt, crispy lamb belly with miso aubergine, chickpea and tahini purée and loukoumades (the original doughnuts) with lavender honey and crushed walnuts.

Although the recipes come from an upscale restaurant, they're approachable. The dishes are beautiful but not precious in their plating.

Mazi: Modern Greek Food occasionally uses difficult-to-find ingredients, such as quail eggs, mastiha liqueur and graver or anthotyro cheese. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

While the recipes occasionally require unique ingredients, such as quail eggs, mastiha liqueur and graver or anthotyro cheese, it's just enough to push you beyond your comfort zone to try something new.

If you are adept at Greek cooking, the recipes are presented in a way that also likely will inspire you to look at some traditional dishes in a new light. Here are two to try.

Grilled aubergine with soy and thyme honey

Authors Mouratoglou and Carré say this dish from Mazi: Modern Greek Food is hands-down their most popular menu item.

The recipe in the book called for nine large eggplants to serve eight people. I found four eggplants were more than enough. Because thyme honey is not a common household ingredient, I used honey and a pinch of dried thyme from my garden.

I've never been to the restaurant so don't know how this version compares, but it's tasty spread on pitas, grilled dough or a slice of soft lagana, the recipe for which is below.

This eggplant dish is tasty spread on pitas, grilled dough or a slice of soft lagana. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Main dish ingredients:

  • 3 to 4 medium-large eggplants.
  • 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil.
  • ½ small white or yellow onion, chopped.
  • 1 garlic clove, minced.
  • 2 to three ripe plum or Roma tomatoes.
  • 2 spring green onions, thinly sliced.
  • Small handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped.
  • A good pinch of salt.

Soy and thyme honey vinaigrette ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce.
  • 3 tbsp good olive oil.
  • 2 tsp honey.
  • Pinch dried thyme.

Balsamic vinaigrette ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp good olive oil.
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce.
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar.
  • 2 tsp honey.
  • Pinch dried thyme.

Preparation:

Grill the eggplants whole over high heat on your grill, turning with tongs for 15-20 minutes, until charred and soft.

Remove from the heat. Once they're cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise and peel away the skin with your fingers. Or you could scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a colander.

Julie Van Rosendaal found that four eggplants would feed eight people. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Set aside for 30 minutes to drain. Then roughly chop the flesh, making sure there are no large chunks left.

Meanwhile, prepare the two vinaigrettes. Shake the ingredients for each together in separate small jars or whisk in small bowls.

You can scoop the eggplant flesh with a spoon into a colander. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet set over high heat. Saute the onion for a few minutes, until soft but not browned.

Add the garlic and eggplant and cook, stirring, until the excess moisture is cooked off and you start getting dark browned bits in the pan.

Cook and stir until the excess moisture as cooked off the eggplant. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Add the soy and thyme honey vinaigrette and cook for two more minutes, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and let cool.

Once the eggplant has cooled to room temperature, add the balsamic vinaigrette. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

As it cools, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the bulk of the seeds. Then dice them, leaving a piece of one to slice for garnish if you like.

Once the eggplant has cooled to room temperature, add the balsamic vinaigrette, tomato, spring onions, parsley and salt. Mix well.

Serving: Present in individual jars or bowls, garnished with sliced tomato and/or spring onions.

It will keep in the fridge for three days, and get better after a day in the fridge.

Serves eight to 10.

Lagana

Lagana is a traditional not-so-flat bread with dough similar to that of pizza, except it has Muscat wine in place of some of the water.

It's baked on a sheet in the oven topped with sesame seeds. The dough also would be fantastic grilled until charred and golden.

As noted in the book, it's traditionally eaten on Kathara Deftera, or Clean Monday, the first day of Greek Orthodox Lent before Easter.

At Mazi, diners love lagana so much, they serve it with their jars on a regular basis.

This recipe has been adapted to use dry yeast and cup measures from Mazi: Modern Greek Food.

Lagana is a traditional not-so-flat bread with dough similar to that of pizza. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast.
  • ¾ cup warm water.
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed.
  • 1 tbsp salt.
  • 1 tsp sugar.
  • 1 tsp ground star anise, optional.
  • 2/3 cup Muscat sweet wine or more water.
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil, plus extra for brushing.
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds.

Preparation:

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Let it sit for a few minutes until foamy.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the sesame seeds, and stir. If you have a stand mixer, use a dough hook. Continue until you have a soft dough.

Knead for a few minutes until smooth and elastic. Then return to the bowl and cover for 45 minutes to an hour until dough has doubled in bulk.

When the dough is ready, flatten and stretch it into a square or rectangle no thicker than the width of your finger on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Poke deep indentations with your finger all over the surface of the dough. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Poke deep indentations with your finger all over the surface of the dough. Cover and let rise for another 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 190 C (375 F).

Brush the dough with olive oil or sprinkle with water, as directed in the original recipe. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Serving: Serve warm.

Listen to more of Julie Van Rosendaal's experiments with Greek cuisine:


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.