When thinking of food associated with New York City, the visitor might think of hot dogs – served with sauerkraut, sweet relish, onion sauce, or mustard, New York style bagels or cheesecake or the famous Manhattan clam chowder. However, New York City is home to many cuisines belonging to various cultural groups that have come to call the United States home. Greek food is no exception, with New York City being recorded as having the highest number of people with Greek ancestry compared to the other states across America.
While I was visting NYC, I was very keen to visit one of Diane Kochilas' resturants. Diane is the Greek Food guru. She has written something like 18 cookbooks - both in English and Greek. In addition to books, Diane is also a columnist for Greece’s daily “Ta Nea” and she’s written articles for the New York Times. Diane also appears regularly on American television (some of the programs are shown on foxtel here in Australia) on shows such as 'Bizzare Foods' and 'Martha Stewart'.
Manhattan is home to several fantastic Greek resturants and Diane's Boukies is one of them. Pronounced boo-KAY-ess and meaning "small bites" this resturant in the East Village is airy and casually elegant - and all about Meze cuisine. We are not talking small tapas style bites here - but robust, delicious dishes that look as though they are straight from the kitchen of a beachside taverna on one of the Greek islands. Yet the dishes also come with little extra inspired touches that enhance the classic, clean flavours of Greek cuisine.
While we perused the menu, we were bought a lovely thick rustic country-Greek style bread and a smooth and creamy dish of fava (Lesvos style yellow split pea puree). We decided to start our meal with "psito ktapodaki" - octopus that had been marinated and char grilled, served with a lemon and oil caper dressing ($16). We congratulated each other on a brilliant menu choice. The outside of the octopus had that wonderful smokey flavour and slight crispness from the char grilling and the inside of the octopus was sweet and so tender that it simply just melted - leaving you with the slight fruitiness and tang of the olive oil, lemon and caper dressing.
While Boukies is all about small bites - its seafood and 'seafearing' mains are outstanding. The menu offered a daily selection of char-grilled fish with seasonal cooked greens and Greek style lemon roasted potatoes. Madame Zen, my dining companion, opted for the 'lavraki' (sea bass) and I chose the 'tsipoura' (bream) (both $26). The fish skin was wonderfully crisp and the flesh was juicy, infused with the savory herbs that had filled its belly while cooking. The added touch of a squeeze of fresh (muslin wrapped) lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil was just perfection.
To accompany all of these wonderful Greek flavours, Boukies had an outstanding Greek wine list. We tried a couple of different glasses - and not being shy of trying a glass of red wine with seafood (as the Greeks do) we very much enjoyed the Nasiakos Nemea Aghiorgitiko, a lighter style wine with a slight spicyness and black currant notes ($42).
Another of Mahanttans fantastic Greek resturants is Snack Taverna. It has two locations and Madame Zen and I opted to try the resturant in the West Village. Like Boukies, Snack Taverna has an impressive selection of Greek wines and a menu full of fresh, mediterranen flavours.
Stopping by Snack Taverna for a late lunch on a 38C day, Madame Zen and I chose a palate reviving skordalia ($8) (garlic style dip), which was made with yukon gold potatoes and packed a hugely welcome garlic and lemon punch. On tasting the skordalia, I thought of Mr K who does not shy away from putting about a whole head of garlic into his own skordalia. The skordalia came with a moresish side of grilled Greek style pita bread.
For the main, Madame Zen choose the fresh and modern Roasted Seasonal Vegetable and herb marinated chicken salad which was served with a creamy, tangy barrel aged feta and tzatziki ($17). The salad offered a colorful and delicious array of spring vegetables - pink beets, spring onions, zucchinis, eggplant, capsicum and more. The added touch of tzatziki (yoghurt and cucumber dip) made it an incredibly refreshing dish for a very hot manhattan day.
I chose the spring Baby Artichoke and Chicken salad which was bursting with gigantes (big Greek beans), green string beans, marinated mushrooms and juicy tomatoes in a black olive vinaigrette ($12).
Bringing a little of my New York City Greek experience home with me, I decided to capture the "small bites" of Boukies by making the 'sfouggato tis kythnou' or cheese and herb fritters from Kythnos, found in Diane Kochilas' book, The Country Cooking of Greece.
I have altered Diane's recipe slightly - to add a touch of home, with the addition of some Native Australian Mint. Unlike normal mint, the native variety has strong aniseed flavour, which works brilliantly with the salty tang of the feta in these fritters. It also complements the anise flavour of the favourite meze aperitif, ouzo.
Cheese and herb fritters from Kythnos
*Adapted from Diane Kochilas, The Country Cooking of Greece
250g fresh ricotta cheese
250g crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tbs chopped fresh native Australian mint
1 tbs chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup self raising flour, plus extra for dredging the fritters
2 large eggs lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
1. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except the oil, for frying. Add a little of flour at first, adding more as needed to make a dense mixture that holds its shape. Chill, covered, for 30 mins.
2. Using a tablespoon as a measure, shape the mixture into balls a little smaller than gold balls.
3. Heat a little of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Put some flour in a bowl and coat the fritters with flour, shaking off the excess. Fry a few at a time in the hot oil until golden. Serve hot.
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