Lifting the Greek Fork
A pre-Greek Festival meal in Lake Oswego shows what all the fuss will be about when the real thing rolls around in October
It was easy to find Paula and George Diamond's house; we just followed the scent of grilling lamb and the melody of laughter mixed with exotic Greek music that wafted on the breeze.
My husband Mark and I had been invited to share in a Greek feast at the Diamond house. Featuring a whole lamb roasted on a spit in the front yard and a hands-on lesson on making spanakopita, the feast was being prepared by eight active members in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church community. Our hosts, in addition to Paula and George Diamond, included George's brother Mike and his wife Mari Lou Diamond, Taki and Antoinette Papailiou and Kathy and Greg Melcher, all of Lake Oswego. Added to the guest list were Mark's brother Steve and sister-in-law Kitzie (aka 'The Blonde Greek') Randall, neighbors of the Diamonds and Melchers. The recipes would be taken from 'Flavor It Greek!' the cookbook published in 1999, by Philoptochos Society of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
Philoptochos came up with the idea of compiling a cookbook from a desire to capture the Greek culture to share with the next generation and connect families within the church to the project. Many of the recipes had been brought from Greece only in oral form; it was time to write them down. As a result, the group self-published 'Flavor It Greek! A Celebration of Food, Faith and Family.'
'We are passionate about preserving our Greek heritage and cooking and helping our greater community,' said Paula Diamond.
The first printing of 'Flavor It Greek!' (5,000 copies) sold quickly. Now in its second printing, the book has won the Oxmoor House National Award for America's Best Recipes, 2002 and 2003, National Tabasco Award Regional Winner 2000, First Place National Philoptochos fund-raising Project of the Year 2000 and was included in 'Best of the Best from Oregon: Selected Recipes from Oregon's Favorite Cookbooks.'
'A neat part about 'Flavor It Greek' is that it includes a number of different recipes for the same dish, so you can see how another family likes to serve the dish,' said Paula.
In all, more than 100 families contributed close to 300 recipes for the book. Reading the table of contents is mouth-watering: There are sections for Mezethes (appetizers), Breads, Soups and Salads, Vegetables dishes, Pita, Pasta and Pilafs, Beef, Pork and Lamb, Poultry and Game, Seafood, Egg Dishes, Sweets and Faith and Tradition.
Many local Greek restaurants included their house specialties for the book, including Alexis Restaurant's Fried Calamari and Demetri's Mediterranean Restaurant's Greek Village Salad and Braised Lamb Shanks.
A second book, titled 'Fun with Filo!' was published September 2005, and is enjoying strong success. Philoptochos has added merchandise including kitchen towels, aprons and bags to support sales. All proceeds fund philanthropic projects sponsored by the Philoptochos Society of the church. To date, the group has donated more than $55,000 to area charities.
Taki Papailiou, owner with wife Antoinette of Tom's Restaurant in southeast Portland, is reputed to be one of Portland's finest Greek lamb cooks, with very good reason. He uses hardwood briquets to fuel his roasting fire and a secret family recipe for his marinade. All I could get out of him regarding the marinade was that he uses lots of lemon and Greek oregano. He did recommend basting the meat often during the roasting time to keep it moist. Sounds simple, but could be a daunting task when you consider our 50-pound lamb took five hours to roast.
Taki, as-sisted by George and Mike, served perfectly seasoned roast lamb, with a tantalizing hint of hardwood smoke.
While Taki masterminded the lamb roasting, I munched crudites with hummus and eggplant dip as Mari Lou prepared a fresher-than-fresh Horiatiki Salata (page 51). We know it as Village Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, onions, feta and Kalamata olives. Paula prepared Spanakopita filling (page 92) and Pilafi me Feta ke Thiosmo (page 97) Feta-Mint Rice Pilaf, a 'new' Greek recipe; Kathy brought Briami (page 70), a colorful medley of roasted vegetables. Antoinette presented a Galakto-boureko (page 266), a puffy filo pastry filled with custard, drizzled with a syrup.
I took advantage of the opportunity to learn from these experts how to handle phyllo or filo. According to 'Fun with Filo!' however you spell it, it is all pronounced the same: 'fee loh.' The tissue-thin dough is made of flour, water, olive oil and salt and is rolled to an almost transparent thickness. The consensus of the women was that the best place to get filo locally was Foti's Greek Deli.
Antoinette prepared the filo to make spanakopita. These ladies didn't need a diagram since they've made the savory treats since childhood, but if you need a diagram for rolling the spinach-filled triangles, see page 105 in 'Fun with Filo!'
I was invited to roll up my sleeves and join the fun.
'Butter every layer,' Antoinette told me. 'Everytime filo touches filo, you butter it. Butter's the glue!'
Butter is what holds the delicate pastry together and you can't be stingy with it.
'Filo is very forgiving,' said Kathy. 'If you get a tear, just patch it together and butter it again.'
'And don't ever work with refrozen filo!' said Mari Lou. At this comment, the women groaned and laughingly agreed that using refrozen filo would produce 'less than satisfactory' results.
'Flavor It Greek!' truly does 'capture the spirit of Greek cooking,' as touted on the Web site www.flavoritgreek.com. Copies are available on the Web site, at Kitchen Kaboodle, Wizer's, Foti's Greek Deli and Powell's Books for Cooks. You can also buy the cookbooks, towels, aprons and bags at Philoptochos Society's booth at the Greek Festival.
Experience the Greek culture for yourself - attend the 55th annual Greek Festival Oct. 6, 7 and 8, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 3131 N.E. Glisan in Portland. The festival runs Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday noon to 8 p.m. Enjoy Greek foods, pastries, traditional Greek folk dancing, and tour the Greek Orthodox church. It is truly a celebration of Food, Faith and Family you won't forget!
I chose to include Paula's Feta-Mint Rice recipe, as it is a delicious accompaniment you will use again and again. Please try all the recipes listed today - you will enjoy every bite!
Bon Appetit - Eat Locally!
Pilafi me Feta ke Thiosmo (Feta-Mint Rice)
Serves 8 as a side dish
½ cup onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups long grain rice
4 cups chicken broth
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
6 tablespoons fresh mint, snipped
1 teaspoon pepper
Fresh whole mint leaves (optional)
In a large saucepan, saute onion in hot oil until tender. Do not brown. Add uncooked rice and stir for one minute. Slowly add the chicken broth and bring to boiling. Reduce heat and cover pan. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes until the broth is absorbed. Gently stir in the cheese, mint and pepper. Serve warm. If desired, garnish with whole mint leaves.
Paula Dudunake Diamond from 'Flavor It Greek! A Celebration of Food, Faith and Family'
Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached by phone at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at