May 17, 2007

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Baklava, spanakopita and souvlaki — a.k.a. dinner
St. Philip throws a big fat Greek food fest
By Lisa Brown lbrown@hippopress.com

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know how to pronounce spanakopita. Just point.

This traditional Greek spinach-and-feta cheese pie is just one of the many Greek delicacies on the menu for the annual St. Philip Greek Food Festival taking place Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19, from 11 a.m to 9 p.m. at the St. Philip Church grounds, 500 West Hollis St., Nashua.

The festival features authentic Greek food, all made from scratch by parishioners of St. Philip.

“There are 300 families that are members of St. Philip, so these are generational recipes, folks that came from Greece brought recipes from their parents and they’ve been handed down,” said Chris Houpis, co-chair for the event.

“There are Greek restaurants in Boston, and they are OK, but if you’ve been raised on the real thing, it’s never the same,” Houpis said. “When I go to this [St. Philip Greek Food Festival], this is Greek food I will eat.”

Organizers say they expect to draw between 5,000 and 7,000 people over the two-day event — that’s a lot of spanakopita. Jamie Pappas is one of the women in charge of the baking.

“We don’t make it all at once; we’ve been doing it in stages,” Pappas said. “I know we used at least six cases of butter — that’s 36 pounds in a case,” she said.

Half of that butter goes to making the 110 pans of spanakopita (spa-nah-KOH-pee-tah).

“For 110 pans, you are using 275 pounds of spinach, 140 pounds of feta cheese, 110 pounds of cottage cheese, 55 dozen eggs, at least ten pounds of onion, at least 120 pounds of butter and 165 pounds of filo dough,” Pappas said.

For people who don’t like spinach, there is always tiropeta (tee-ROH-pee-ta), which is a filo triangle stuffed with three cheeses. For the “hot off the grill” taste, there’s souvlaki (soo-VLAH-Kee), lamb or chicken kabobs marinated in a blend of spices. Another festival favorite is dolmades, which are stuffed grape leaves, and gyros (year-os), a blend of lamb, beef and seasonings all wrapped in a warm pita and topped with tzatziki (za-zee-kee).

“It’s a garlic, sour [yogurt] cream sauce — the best way to describe it is ‘delicious,’” Houpis said.

As for sweets, don’t even think about counting calories; besides, it would be rude to refuse pastries made by some of the elder women in the church. For beginners, there’s baklava, a sticky delight made from more than 30 layers of filo dough brushed with butter and layered with nuts and spices, then drizzled with honey.

“We made 30 pans, with 100 pieces per pan. That’s 3,000 pieces of baklava,” Pappas said.

Other desserts include kataifi (kah-da-EE-fee), which is similar to baklava but made with shredded filo; ravani, which is a sweet sponge cake; koulourakia, a twisty butter cookie with sesame seeds on top; and kourambiethes (koo-rahm-bee-EE-thes), which is like a wedding cookie — buttery and covered in powdered sugar.

Pappas, who has been running the baking side of the festival for more than five years, said one of the keys to making the festival a success is to provide people with enough food and choices to keep them coming back year after year.

“In the last couple of years we did not run out and this year, hopefully, it will be the same thing. There’s nothing worse than to have someone come at 5 p.m. on Saturday night and not have baklava,” Pappas said. “You try to do the best you can from historic data.”

While the festival is a celebration of Greek food, it is also a celebration of culture.

“It’s an opportunity for us to share our culture with the community and to celebrate our culture,” Houpis said. “My grandfather was just like the one in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There are parts of our culture today that go back a long time and that’s fun. Plus, the festival is offers something we all can relate to, and that’s food.”

Pappas said that sometimes even after the festival is over, people who can’t get enough real Greek food call looking for more.

“People actually call the church to see if they can still buy baklava and some of the items, so we do save the leftovers for a few days,” Pappas said. And yes, most of what you’ll find at the festival can be frozen.


Make your own spinach pie
Spanakopita
1 1/2 pounds of filo (Athens brand-found in refrigerated section of stores)
2 1/2 cups fresh spinach chopped (never, ever use frozen!)
1 1/4 pounds of feta cheese
1 pound of cottage cheese
6 eggs (beaten)
1 chopped onion
1/2 stick melted butter
olive oil
farina
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a bowl: Mix spinach, feta cheese, cottage cheese, eggs and onion. Sprinkle oil and farina over mixture.*
*(Pappas says she doesn’t measure because her mother never measured, nor did her grandmother. When pressed, she suggested using about 1 tablespoon of oil and a “quick shake of farina.” This is to absorb the water from the spinach and hold the mixture together. Hippo translation: 1/4 cup of farina.)
Use large 11 x 14 baking dish. Taking one sheet of filo dough at a time, brush with butter and line baking dish. Layer 7 to 10 sheets for a solid bottom.
Divide wet mixture by four. Using 1/4 of the mixture, spread over filo. Begin second layer of filo (5 buttered sheets). Add another 1/4 of the mixture. Repeat. The top of the spanakopita should have about the same layers of filo as the bottom, enough to make a solid crust.
Cook in oven for 50 minutes. Check. Top crust should be golden brown.
Serves 12.


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