The semantics for stuffed grape leaves have gone totally haywire. Though commonly referred to as dolma, they technically should go by the appellation sarma, a Turkish word that means "to wrap." Dolma, also Turkish, refers to big stuffed vegetables, usually red or green peppers, filled with a flavored meat mixture. Most Greek restaurants still refer to their stuffed grape leaves as dolmades, so for the purpose of this story, we'll call the Greek grape leaves by this name.
Dolmades are quite plain -- flavored only with dill, lemon juice, cucumber and yogurt, as opposed to their Middle Eastern counterparts that are stuffed with several other ingredients, including stewed tomatoes, parsley, red peppers, paprika or cayenne, and in some cases nuts. Despite their simplicity, Greek dolmades are still mouth-watering, as are the more complex sarma. Whether you're eating them as meze or as a quick lunch on the run, stuffed grape leaves are refreshing, filling and wholly addictive.
The first thing you might notice about Meat the Greek's menu is it's lack of gyro, an omission that about every other customer seems to bring up. "How can you have a Greek truck without gyro, man?" It's a fair question, but the truck makes up for it by offering a choice of grilled chicken or pork skewers in their wraps, as well as petite "popcorn fried" Greek meatballs.
Over the course of our journey though, one of our favorite dishes came to be the humble taverna stand-by lemon potatoes -- invariably served at room temperature, the fingers of spud soft and inviting, nestled in a pool of oil. Outside of our own kitchen, we've seldom seen them since. Then, two weeks ago, we grabbed a quick bite at Aliki's Greek Taverna after an arrival at LAX.
The grilled lamb chops with garlic fries will transport you to Mt. Olympus. Also, it's fun to walk around getting all Bacchanalian on licorice-y ouzo. You may wake up the next morning wondering why you are covered in cheap evil eye jewelry looking like some two-bit Aphrodite -- then you will recall that you spent the previous evening at the Greek Fest in Arcadia.
"Come visit us and we will wine, dine and spoil you the Greek way!" said co-chairman of the event Charlie Christodulelis. Seriously, they will.
This year's festival, put on each year by St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena to raise funds, is this weekend, September 16-18, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. Proceeds from the event benefit the cultural, educational, athletic and community outreach programs run by the church.
It is the rare book, such as the recently released Food from Many Greek Kitchens (actually an American re-release of the original edition via an Australian publisher), that manages to capture, and hold, our attention on both accounts.
Author Tessa Kiros, a stunningly elegant woman herself, is half Greek, half Flemish, but grew up in London and South Africa. The prolific cookbook author now lives in Tuscany with her husband and children. Yeah, we wanted to hate her, too. But this is an authentic, traditional, and gorgeous Greek cookbook.
We had our culinary awakening over fried smelts on a Greek island in the early 00s. This was before the Euro. It was the off-season; fares had been cheap, and suddenly we were lounging at a table three steps from a restaurant without a name. The sky was full of clouds, but before us, shimmery tiny fish in pale, crunchy jackets practically darted across the plate, curling around a saucer of skordalia. Grinning, we ate them, heads and all, occasionally taking sips from a tall plastic water bottle that had been drained and refilled with white-gold wine. Ever since that day, our ears have perked up at the mention of Greek food.
Fellow fans will take note of the 2010 Los Angeles Greek Fest set to go off at St. Sophia Cathedral this coming weekend, September 10th - 12th. While bouzouki shredders and frantic dance-offs dominate the entertainment portion of this Tom Hanks-hosted event, the food will be the big draw--even bigger perhaps than the star of Big himself.
Memorial Day weekend has become the unofficial kick-off both to summer and the barbecue season. But if you'd rather let someone else do the cooking, then check out the Valley Greek Festival. The festival is held at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Northridge. It's been running for 36 years and is planned and run by solely by church members.
This fact might not impress you until you ponder the sheer number of people who walk through the gates, close to 50,000 over three days. The volunteers hand make more than 48,000 Greek pastries, grill up about 1,200 chickens daily and serve up more than 80 pounds of spanikopita over three days. Talk about your big fat Greek Festival.
If you like your Greek drama complete with Greek food -- and aren't feeling the urge to visit Greece anytime soon, which you wouldn't really, unless you're a member of the IMF -- there's an event for you this Sunday afternoon in Highland Park. Tragic Dinner Theatre will be staging Ovid's Tereus at American Legion this weekend, presenting the Greek drama with masked actors, in the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte. But arguably the best part is that the play will come with food. The production will include a banquet, set out before the stage, that the audience is invited to partake in, simulating the banquet that would have been served at a contemporary party. So have at the wine, fruit, olives, cheeses, and pastries while the actors on stage have a feast of their own. Much better than stale popcorn and Milk Duds.
Tickets (you can buy them here) are $20 ($25 at the door); the event is a fundraiser for workspace, a venue for installations, performance and projects. Tragic Dinner Theatre: Sunday, May 23rd, at 2:30, at The American Legion in Highland Park, # 227 North Avenue 55. For more information, contact email@example.com.