Episode 110: Greek style with guest Michael Psilakis

Michael Psilakis

Sara Moulton with Michael Psilakis, Chef/Owner of restaurants Kefi, Anthos, and Mia Dona in New York City

My guest for this episode is Michael Psilakis, Chef/Owner of restaurants Kefi, Anthos, and Mia Dona in New York City. Chef Psilakis divides his cuisine into tradition and inspiration. He says that his Mother taught him everything about the flavors and techniques of classic Greek cooking and adds that “even today, the flavors of my dishes are my mother’s flavors and my instincts for taking Greek cuisine in new directions–these I’ve inherited from her.” Restaurant Kefi is a cozy neighborhood spot that serves the traditional Greek food Psilakis remembers from his childhood. Anthos, which means rebirth or blossoming, offers upscale concepts inspired by the flavors of Greece. Michael’s latest restaurant, Mia Dona, a cooperative venture with restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, features upscale Mediterranean comfort food. All three recipes that Michael makes on this show are perfect make-ahead dishes that can be prepared on a weekend and served on a busy Monday evening or frozen for later use.

Recipes

  • Lamb Yiouvesti
    Recommended side dishes: Wilted Spinach or Braised Greens (Swiss chard, dandelion, amaranth) and a simple salad
    Recommended Wine Pairing: Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yiouvarlakia (Meatball Soup)
    Recommended side dishes: Paximathi (garlic rusk) and a simple salad
    Recommended Wine Pairing: Fume or Sauvignon Blanc, or Merlot
  • Vegetarian Yemista
    Recommended side dishes: Grilled Vegetables, a simple salad, a selection of Greek cheeses and olives, and pita
    Recommended Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc or Syrah

Tips

These are all make-ahead dishes that can be prepared on a weekend for use early in the work week or prepared after dinner for use the next day. They tend to improve in flavor with overnight refrigeration.

Remove any leftover lamb from the bone, chop it, and add it to the vegetables in the sauce to serve over pasta for another meal.

To check the seasonings in raw ground meat mixtures, saute a small patty until cooked through and taste.

Don’t throw away fennel tops; they make a beautiful garnish.

The liquid left from rehydrating dried mushrooms makes a good addition to sauces. Pour it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer or a coffee filter before using to remove any sand.

Roasting garlic caramelizes the sugars in it and increases its flavor. You can wrap trimmed garlic heads in aluminum foil and roast them at 350?F about 45 minutes until tender but an easier way is to buy peeled garlic cloves, put them in a small casserole, cover them with oil and roast them at 350?F about 30 minutes.

Wine is a conductor of flavor. Adding even a little wine to a sauce increases the flavor remarkably.

Acidity balances the flavor of a dish. Add a little wine vinegar to a sauce and see how it points up the sauce.

Tools

I like to keep my Food Processor out on the counter where it can be used every day. A food processor can help with dinner in many different ways. You can chop vegetables before sauteing or adding to ground meat, produce silky smooth sauces, shred vegetables for slaw, or chop your own meat for burgers. Food processors are available at a variety of prices anywhere that kitchen appliances are sold.

An old-fashioned Serrated Grapefruit Spoon is the perfect tool for hollowing out the little squashes to be stuffed in the last recipe on this show. Look for them wherever kitchen tools are sold or you can order them on line from grapefruit producer, Indian River.

Ingredients

Parsnips are a root vegetable that is always cooked. They are sweet and have a unique flavor that adds complexity to stews, vegetable purees, and roasted vegetable mixtures. In the market, select small, firm parsnips and store them in the refrigerator as you would carrots.

Bulb or Florence Fennel is a sweet and mildly anise-flavored Mediterranean vegetable that is now widely available in the United States. The bulb and celery-like stems are used raw in salads or cooked as a side dish or as part of a vegetable mixture. The fluffy fronds can be used as garnish or snipped and added to dishes as you would dill. In the market, look for crisp, unblemished bulbs and stems and fresh-looking fronds. Tightly wrapped, fennel will keep in the refrigerator 4 or 5 days. Fennel seeds offer more pungent flavor and are produced by another variety of the plant that does not produce a bulb.