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Greek Pastitsio , Baked pasta & meat sauce, topped with bechamel sauce and cheese.

Pastitsio
Greek Pastitsio

I love  the kind of food, that can be cooked, first thing in the morning, and then just left, until it's time to eat.

This enables you to get on with the rest of your day without having to worry about what to feed your family.

Pastitsio is traditionally eaten cold in Greece, but is just as good, eaten hot, how I prefer it, MGG (My Greek God) thinks otherwise!

 Prepare it in the morning, and pop it in the oven for fifteen minutes, before serving.

Add a crisp green,or Greek salad, crusty bread, olives, feta cheese and a bowl of tzatziki, open up a bottle of good Greek wine, and there you have it'

A traditional, mouth watering, Greek meal.

Pastitsio, is pasta, meat sauce and bechamel sauce, all layered together, to create this tasty, traditional, Greek dish.


The three parts of pastitsio
The three parts of pastitsio

Ingredients:

For the meat sauce:

I kilo minced beef

1 carton tomato puree

2 large onions chopped

1 clove garlic chopped

1/2 cup olive oil

1 Bay leaf

1 Cinnamon stick

10  cloves, whole, or 1/2 tsp ground cloves

Salt & pepper to taste

For the bechamel sauce:

200 gr butter

1.5 cups plain flour

1.5 litres milk

2 beaten eggs

1 cup grated hard cheese

1 tsp grated nutmeg


(Whole nutmeg, freshly grated, has much, much more flavour than powdered nutmeg)

Pasta

500 gr spaghetti pasta size number 2

Method

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add  half a tea spoon of salt, and drop in the pasta, leave to boil for the amount of time stated on the packet, stirring frequently.

When cooked, drain and rinse in a colander, leave to one side

 Meat sauce:

 Heat the olive oil, in a large pan, saute the chopped onion and garlic for 5 minutes and add the minced beef, saute for another ten minutes.

Add the tomato puree, along with a couple of cups of boiling water, stir well.

Pop in the bay leaf, the cinnamon stick, and throw in a few cloves, 10 or so.

(Grated  cinnamon and cloves , can be used, but, you will get only half the flavour)

Season with salt & pepper.

Simmer the sauce for twenty to thirty minutes, stirring occasionally and adding hot water if necessary.

At this point, switch on the oven, 180 deg.C

Bechamel sauce

People are nervous about making bechamel sauce, worrying that it will become lumpy.

Using this method, I have never had that problem.

 I'm frequently asked;

 "How do you make such a good bechamel sauce?" !


Ingredients for bechamel sauce
Ingredients for bechamel sauce

I'm sure that I don't make it "The correct way" but, it works every time, without fail!

I'll explain my method to you, as best as I can.

How the butter and flour should look, before beginning to add the milk
How the butter and flour should look,
before beginning to add the milk
First off, I don't measure the ingredients for bechamel.


 Melt  about 200gr of butter, remove the pan from the heat, important,  then, slowly add flour, stirring well, until the mixture forms a ball, and falls away from the sides of the pan, without sticking.

 You may not need the whole 1.5 cups of flour, or, you may need more, just add enough to make the mixture form a ball, see above picture.

 Gradually add the milk, first slowly, mixing well with a spoon, then as the mixture becomes more liquid, whisk well with a balloon whisk.

If you do spot lumps beginning to form, whisk as fast as you can for a minute!

Once all the milk has been added, grate in some nutmeg, a whole nutmeg!

Season with salt & pepper, if the cheese you have (This will be added later) is salty, go easy

 on the salt in the bechamel.


Bechamel sauce, ready to be put on the heat,  and, brought to the boil.
Bechamel sauce, ready to be put on the heat,
 and, brought to the boil.

All this, is done, with the pan off the heat, very important!

Now, return the pan to the heat, stirring all the time, and I mean all the time, a bit of a bore, but you have to!

I use a balloon whisk.

Whisk away, until the sauce comes to the boil, remove the pan from the heat.

At this stage, most recipes say, leave the sauce to cool, I don't!

Add, and stir in well, about a cup of grated cheese, mix it really well!

Then, slowly, whisking  all the time, so that the sauce doesn't curdle, add the beaten egg.

If it looks like it is about to curdle, whisk for your life!


Whisk like mad!
Whisk like mad!

I think the secret of a successful bechamel sauce is; 

Combine the flour and all the milk, into the melted butter , with the pan off the heat.

Whisk, whisk, whisk, as hard as you can, continuously!

Assemble Pastitsio

Now, it's time to put it all together, firstly, add just enough of the bechamel sauce, to cover the bottom of the ovenproof tin, or baking dish that you are using.


Cover the base of the tin with bechamel sauce
Cover the base of the tin with bechamel sauce

 Add half of the boiled pasta, on top of the sauce, sprinkle with  grated cheese.

While sitting in the colander, the pasta may have become a big lump!

 Just run under hot water for a second or two, to separate it, drain well.


Add pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese
Add pasta, sprinkle with grated cheese

 Add all the meat sauce, (remember to discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick) spreading it out evenly over the pasta.


Add meat sauce
Add meat sauce

Add the rest of the pasta on top of the sauce, sprinkle with grated cheese.

 Give the remaining  bechamel a quick whisk and pour all of it, over the pasta.

Spread out evenly, with the back of a large spoon.

Ready for the oven!
Ready for the oven!

It's all assembled and ready to go in the oven.

Bake for about twenty minutes, at 180 degrees C, or until the surface, is nicely browned.


Delicious pastitsio
Delicious pastitsio

Leave to cool completely before cutting into squares.

If you try to cut it, before it has cooled, it will just collapse on the plate, it needs to be cold to stand up, in a nice neat square.

If later on, after it has cooled, you heat it up again, it can be cut hot, and will keep its shape.

I don't know enough about science to tell you why!

Kali Orexi (Bonn appetit in Greek)

 Enjoy!

Not only is Greek food delicious, it's the ultra-healthy Mediterranean Diet.

 Learn more about this healthy lifestyle, and try out mouthwatering Greek dishes, with the help of this gem of a book, by Debbie Matenopoulos, the first member of her family born in America, who grew up in a traditional Greek household, eating delicious, authentic Greek cooking that her family had passed down for generations.

It's All Greek to Me:

"It's All Greek To Me" Debbie Matenopoulos
"It's All Greek To Me"
Debbie Matenopoulos
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Greek Christmas traditions: Kalanda: Carol singing

Painting by Nikiphoros Lytras Kalanda 1872 This painting is used for the most popular Greek Christmas card.
Painting by Nikiphoros Lytras Kalanda 1872
This painting is used for the most popular of Greek Christmas cards.

Greek children, go out carol singing, on three specific days over Christmas:

Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and the Eve of Epiphany (5th January)

They go singing, door to door, early in the morning; very early !

Many times, have I had to open the door to them, before eight o clock , still in my dressing gown.

They knock on the door, shouting "Na ta poume?" (Shall we say it ), meaning "Shall we sing?",

 The singing is accompanied by a triangle, just randomly rattled, no tune at all!


Greek carol singing from another era
Greek carol singing from another era

Sometimes, following an old Greek tradition, they may be carrying a decorated model boat.

A decorated and illuminated boat, is a traditional Greek symbol of Christmas, along with the Christmas tree.

A boat, decorated, for Greek Christmas
A boat, decorated, for Greek Christmas

Greek carol singers
Greek carol singers

The Greek word for carol is Kalanda, it comes from the Latin: the first day of the month.

Usually, you get to hear, just one song.

This is the English translation of it:

Good evening noblemen
If this is your will,
Christ’s holy birth
May I sing in your noble house
Christ is being born today
In the town of Bethlehem
Heavens rejoice
All of nature is happy.

Inside the cave (He) is being born
In a manger for horses
The King of all the universe
The Creator of everything.
A crowd of angels are singing,
“Ossana in excelsis”,
And holly is
The faith of the shepherds.

From Persia three magi arrive
With their gifts
A bright star shows them the way
Without any delay.

In this house we have come
May no stone ever crack
And the landlord
May live for many years.

Listen to this lovely version of it, and more Greek Christmas songs below.



After knocking on doors and singing the Kalanda around their neighborhoods, the children often go into  town, and sing  outside the shops, hoping for a few extra Euros.

 My children were very sly when they went carol singing (Encouraged by MGG, My Greek God, I might add)

They only went to family friend's and relative's houses, even if it meant quite a trek, here they were sure of a good reward!

The philosophy here being:

 Good friends and relatives, would be too embarrassed to give nothing, or only a few bits of change.

They knew that MGG would later ask them:

 "How much did uncle Yiannis give you?"

I am ashamed to tell you, that, their philosophy worked! (Or, should I say: MGG's philosophy?)

The cash they collected with their carol singing, was, an embarrassingly large amount!

On Christmas Eve, I shall be prepared to be up early, with a stack of Euros at hand.

More Greek Christmas Ttraditions

Traditional Greek Christmas Sweets and Desserts: kourabiedes, Melomakarona , Diples, Baklava & Christopsomo

Traditional Greek Christmas desserts
Traditional Greek Christmas desserts

Christmas in Greece, as anywhere else in the world, involves large quantities of food.

In any Greek home, over the Christmas season, kourabides, melomakarona and dipples, can be found, piled high on plates, ready to be offered to any visitor that might drop by.

Maybe I should say, forced on, rather than offered!

Greek people are so hospitable, they love to look after you: and, to feed you!

It is very difficult to refuse food , offered to you , by a Greek.

They just will not take no for an answer!

I must have eaten hundreds of  kourabiedes and melomakarona, the main Greek Christmas sweets, over my many Christmas's in Greece.

Luckily, I like them both, they are delicious.

Here are some recipes for these Greek Christmas treats, have a go!

I'm ashamed to say, that, I haven't tried making any of these, every Christmas, we are absolutely awash with  these sweets, given to us by MGG's (My Greek God) large family, friends and neighbours.

Looking at the recipes, they don't seem to be difficult, well, except for the baklava, but, that may be more time-consuming , rather than difficult.


Kourabiedes: Greek Christmas cookies, buttery and crumbly and dusted with icing sugar.They remind me a bit, of shortbread, but, softer.

Kourabiedes Photo My Greek Dish
Kourabiedes
Photo My Greek Dish

See the recipe for kourabiedes on the wonderful Greek cooking site, My Greek Dish:

Easiest Homemade Kourabiedes recipe (Greek Christmas Butter Cookies)


Melomakarona: Moist and Spicy with a taste of honey, Greek Christmas cookies


Melomakarona Photo My Greek Dish
Melomakarona
Photo My Greek Dish

Melomakarona, are moist, spicy, full of honey and covered with chopped walnuts, never missing from any Greek Christmas table.

See recipe for  delicious, moist, melomakarona  from the Greek cooking site My Greek Dish:




Diples: Deep-fried thin strips of dough, sprinkled with chopped nuts and drizzled with honey.

Diples Photo My Greek Dish
Diples
Photo My Greek Dish

Diples, are a typical dessert in the Peloponnese, they are made from thin sheets of dough, folded (hence the name "diples" ,which in Greek means, folded) and deep fried.

They are sprinkled with chopped nuts, and, warm honey is drizzled over them



Baklava, is a mixture of chopped nuts, honey and spices, spread between layers of crisp filo pastry and soaked in a lemony syrup.

Baklava Photo My Greek Dish
Baklava
Photo My Greek Dish



Christopsomo, Christ's bread, is bread made with a sweet dough, and decorated with the sign of the cross, or  X, the Greek sign for Christ, hence; Xmas.


Christopsomo-Christ's bread Photo Kopiaste
Christopsomo-Christ's bread
Photo Kopiaste
There are many different customs for christopsomo, some families, decorate it with family initials, or with symbols of family professions.

Some families, leave pieces of it on the table, when going to bed, believing that Christ, will come and eat it.

Another custom, is, the father or head of the family, holds the whole loaf, above his head, and breaks it in half with his hands.

He then inspects it, if the piece in his right hand, is the largest, the coming year will be full of luck, health and happiness for the family.

If the larger piece is in the left hand, well, things don't look so rosy for them!

See the recipe for christopsomo from fabulous Greek cooking site "Kopiaste"   below:

Christopsomo – Christ’s Bread


Happy eating, and, if you make the christopsomo:

Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions: Kallikantzaroi Christmas Goblins

Kallikantzaroi-Greek Christmas goblins
Kallikantzaroi-Greek Christmas goblins

Many of the same customs and  traditions, as well as folklore, are practiced and believed, all over the World, no matter where they originated from.

Through the years, they have been tweaked a bit here and altered a bit there, bits added, and bits taken away.

Basically, they are the same story, told in another country, another age, another religion, another belief.

The Greek Kallikantzaroi, is one such story.

Kallikantzaroi, plural  (Kallikantzaros singular) are mischievous Greek goblins , elves or gnomes, that appear during the twelve days of Christmas, from the end of December until Epiphany, January sixth.

These twelve days are also known as the winter solstice, and, in medieval times, yule or yuletide.


Kallikantzaros-Greek Christmas goblin
Kallikantzaros-Greek Christmas goblin


Kallikantzaroi are said to be small, black and male, mostly blind, with long black tails.

They speak with a lisp and eat small creatures, such as, worms, snails and frogs.

They only come out at night, and, are afraid of the sun, fire and holy water.

The rest of the year, they live at the centre of the Earth, where, they spend their time, chopping down The World Tree, or The Tree Of Life, that holds up the World, using a large saw.


Kallikantzaroi, cutting down The World Tree
Kallikantzaroi, cutting down The World Tree

At the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas, also the winter solstice, when the sun will not move again, until, sixth of January, Kallikantzaroi come up to the surface of the Earth, where, they cause all sorts of trouble and mischief.

Rather than being evil, they are considered impish and stupid.

They come out of hiding at night, to enter houses, anyway they can, through windows, down chimneys, through keyholes, and any cracks that they may find, in walls and around doors.

Once inside they cause havoc.




Mischievous Kallinkantzaroi
Mischievous Kallinkantzaroi




It is said, that if you leave a colander on your doorstep, at night, the Kallikantzaroi, who can only count to two, and consider the number three holy, and will kill themselves, before pronouncing it, will spend all night, counting the holes.

They only ever reach the number two, and start again, so as not to utter the word; three!

At sunrise, they disappear.

Another form of protection, is to mark your door with a black cross, on Christmas Eve.
Yet another, is to burn a smelly shoe on the fire, the foul smell will keep them away!

Now here is an interesting bit:

To stop the kallikantzaroi from coming down the chimney, a very large log is found and burnt for twelve days, until the sixth of January, when the Kallikantzaroi will go back to the centre of the Earth.

This ties in with the Norse tradition of Yuletide, the yule log, burnt for the the duration of the winter solstice, until the sun is on the move again!

Yule log
Yule log

In Greek folklore, the kallikantzaroi, disappear on the sixth of January, Epiphany, when Greek priests, go through all the houses, blessing them, with holy water, splashed around with a bunch of fresh basil.

Greek priest, Epiphany
Greek priest, Epiphany


As you can see, in some cultures, the goblins, or kallikantzaroi, disappear because of  the movement of the sun on the sixth of January,(Remember, they don't like the sun) or, as in Greece, on the same day, Epiphany, when holy water, which they are afraid of, is being splashed around.

I strongly suspect, these kallikantzaroi, are the same goblins, or elves, that help Santa Claus at Christmas, and what about the mischievous little leprechauns, of Irish folklore?
Are they all connected?   

I shall have to look into that!


Christmas elves
Christmas elves

By the way, when the Kallikantzaroi, arrive back, at the centre of the Earth, they find that The World Tree, has fully grown again!


The World Tree
The World Tree

Out comes their large saw, and they start to chop it down, all over again.

Until next year!

My Amazon Greek Christmas picks for you:

Greek Christmas Ornaments
Greek Christmas Ornaments


More wonderful Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions:

Greek Christmas Traditions: Sweets, kourabiedes, Melomakarona & More.

Top Ten Greek New Year's Customs and Traditions

Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions: Christmas Boat (Karavaki)


Greek Christmas traditions: Kalanda: Carol singing

Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions: Vasilopita, Greek New Year's Cake



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