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You don't need a plane ticket to experience different cultures and cuisines at your own dinner table

COURTESY PHOTO  - Greek cuisine features olive oil, lemon, garlic, feta and oregano. Lamb and fish are popular proteins. Spring break! Spring break, spring break, spring break!

Though my children are adults I still look forward to spring break. Even if you are staying in town you get a mini-vacation as things seem quieter and more relaxed. And why not take advantage of that to explore the world? You don't need a plane ticket to experience different cultures and cuisines at your own dinner table.

Where would you like to go? You could visit a different country each night this next week if you wanted. And think of what you could learn.

Cooking and eating go hand-in-hand with good conversation. As a result, food offers a great opportunity to learn about different languages. Rather than stumbling through names of foreign dishes you find in recipes or on menus, learn how to pronounce them and then translate them into English.

Is there a traditional way to start a meal? Is it common to say grace or express gratitude for the meal? Learning the lingo of other cultures turns the meal into an immersive cultural experience. The French say bon appetit, meaning "good appetite" or "have a good meal." The Japanese say itadakimasu or "I receive this food" as a way of expressing gratitude for the meal being served.

Learn the table manners and dining etiquette of the culture. What types of utensils are used? You can research the answers to these questions online and at ethnic restaurants.

Every cuisine has three main ingredients which you will find used predominantly in most dishes. For example, French cuisine is based on mirepoix, a combination of carrots, celery and onions sauted in butter. Cajun cuisine is based on the Holy Trinity of onions, celery and green pepper, while Spanish cuisine is based on sofrito made of peppers, onions and garlic. Discovering the basic aromatics and key flavors of a cuisine adds a level of understanding and appreciation.

Greek cuisine is a favorite of mine, and my favorite Greek resource is "Flavor it Greek! A Celebration of Food, Faith and Family." Published by the Philoptochos Society of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the 352-page hardbound book includes recipes for everything from spinach pie (spanakopita) to cookie twists (koulourakia), meatballs (keftethes), Easter bread (tsourekia) and roasted vegetables (briami), as well as an ingredient list so you can make enough baklava to feed a festival of 10,000. The book was produced with the help of 100 volunteers. All proceeds from the sale of "Flavor It Greek! A Celebration of Food, Faith and Family" support charitable projects of Portland's Philoptochos Society.

In addition to recipes for appetizers, pita, pasta, pilaf and poultry, the book also includes recipes from several local restaurants. The book features 78 Lenten dishes prepared without dairy or meat products, Greek translations for all recipe titles, personal notes from each contributor and a special section on faith and tradition.

I pulled two recipes from the book to share today. You can purchase your own copy or borrow it from the library. While you are at the library be sure to check the shelves for other cuisines.

Bon Appetit! Put something different on your plate!

Psari sto Fourna ala Kiparissi

(Baked Fish a la Kyparissi, Greece)

Serves 5 or 6

2 to 3 pounds fish (halibut, cod, etc.)

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1 lemon

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

½ cup white wine

2 large tomatoes, sliced

Dry bread crumbs

Wash fish then sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Place in a baking dish. Combine the next five ingredients and pour over fish. Place the sliced tomatoes over the top and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for 45 minutes.

Spanakopita

(Spinach Pie)

Serves 6 to 8

5 bunches fresh spinach or 2½ pounds packaged fresh spinach

¼ cup salt

3 bunches green onions, finely chopped

1 teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon allspice

1 pound feta cheese, grated

4 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup olive oil

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped

1 cup (2 sticks) butter plus 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick)

1 cup olive oil

1 pound phyllo dough

Wash spinach and chop. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/4 cup salt. Wait 30 minutes to draw moisture out of spinach. Squeeze spinach well until dry to remove excess moisture. Must be squeezed at least 3 times or more, as needed. In a bowl, combine green onions, pepper, allspice, feta cheese, eggs, olive oil, dill and parsley and set aside. Add prepared spinach.

In a saucepan over low heat melt 2 sticks butter then add the olive oil. Layer phyllo sheets in a 14 x 7 inch baking pan, brushing each layer with olive oil and butter. Stop at a half pound of phyllo. Spread spinach mixture over prepared phyllo. top with pats of butter (using the 3/4 stick), then the remaining half pound of phyllo brushing olive oil/butter mixture between each layer. Score the top few layers into diamond shape pieces before baking or freezing. Bake in a preheated 325 F oven until golden brown, about 60 minutes. If frozen, take out and bake at 300 F about 2 hours until golden brown.

Recipes courtesy of "Flavor it Greek! A Celebration of Food, Faith and Family"

Barb Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-479-2374 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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