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Don’t tell me what you ate, tell me who you ate with.– Anthony Bourdain goes Greek in Naxos (Parts Unknown: Greece)
Christina Xenos, is the co-author of Opa! Healthy Greek Cookbook, and is the resident ray of sunshine in today’s story! She imparted her knowledge of her Greek heritage recently at Melissa’s Produce, and I am hooked.
Never have I cried reading the first chapter of a cookbook before, but it was hard to hold the tears back. Her book, co-authored with Theo Stephan, nearly literally transports you to Greece. You can smell the salty sea air, and you can taste the herb-dusted, and olive-oil drizzled fresh tomatoes. You picture yourself at a table with all of her family, including her Yiayia (Grandmother), indulging in a couple slugs of raki with great conversation, and plenty of food to go along with the laughs.
When something touches you so deeply, that you weep, is something special. I’m never one to shy away from admitting tears, and this is no exception. This particular book, and this particular person has brought me something that I didn’t know I needed until now, and it’s because of my own heritage that it is so poignant. I want to learn more about a culture that I have not acknowledged my entire life. It’s fitting that I post this just two days after what would have been my Grandmother’s 94th birthday, goddess rest her soul. She was part Greek.
My Grandma always treated everyone she encountered as if it was her family. Your color, age, ethnicity, status, did not matter one bit. It wasn’t until reading the first chapter of Christina’s book that I realized where she got it.
Philoxenia is a term describing a Greek custom and code of ethics, which means, “the love of strangers”. You welcome strangers into your home, with open arms. Present them with food and wine, and once they are restored, only then do you ask what their business is. There is no more perfect a word to describe my own Yiayia.
The Greek diet, more broadly known as the Mediterranean diet is primarily vegetable forward, so this fits in with my lifestyle wholeheartedly. One large meal a day (lunch), with mezzethes (appetizers) supplementing. While Greeks do enjoy their meat, they do so in moderation, reserving it for holidays and special occasions.
In this very special gathering and demonstration, she executed her Baked Zucchini Patties (pg. 96). These are traditionally fried, but here she bakes them to lighten up the dish. They sounded so scrumptious, I had to try them!
In order to make a completely plant-based version, I substituted the eggs with flax eggs (2 tablespoons ground flax meal with 4 tablespoons water), and in place of the feta, I brine tofu with lemon juice and salt. The result is a delicate zucchini patty that is perfectly caramelized, and when dipped in Not Your Yiayia’s Tzatziki (pg. 23) sauce, will explode a few brain cells. Yes, they are that good.
This amazing Greek cookbook is available on Amazon, and where all fine cookbooks are sold.
Baked Zucchini Patties (Vegan)
Zucchini grows in abundance during the summer in Greece, and this dish is a perfect way to use them. Normally these patties are fried and served as an appetizer or main course. This recipe, for a healthier version of the favorite, calls for baking instead of frying.
- 1/2 Block Tofu Well drained and pressed, about 7.5 ounces, weight
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 2 Tablespoons Ground Flax Meal
- 3 Tablespoons Water
- 3 Whole Zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 Cup Chopped Scallion
- 1 Clove Garlic Fresh, grated
- 1 Cup Bread Crumbs
- 1/4 Cup Cashews Ground
- 2 Tablespoons Fresh Dill Finely Chopped
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil Extra Virgin
Cut the tofu into planks, and press between paper towels, to dry it out. Crumble it into a small bowl, add the lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt, mixing to combine.
In another small bowl, combine the ground flax meal and water to form your flax eggs. Let sit to gel up, while you continue with the recipe.
Place the zucchini in a fine-mesh strainer, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, mix thoroughly, and let it rain in the sink for 30 minutes. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spray with half of the olive oil.
In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, scallion, garlic, bread crumbs, tofu mixture, ground cashews, flax egg, and dill. Form the zucchini mixture into 1-inch balls. Lightly smash the balls into patties and place on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the patties with remaining olive oil.
Bake for 30 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.
Serving tip: These are perfec tserved with Den Ine Y Dika Sou Yiayia’s Tzatzziki / Not Your Yiayia’s Tzatziki (page 23) or over pasta with a basic tomato sauce.
Substitution Tip: Substitute almond flour for the breadcrumbs to make this recipe gluten-free.