- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2003

The movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was last year’s sleeper hit. Greek-Canadian Nia Vardalos wrote and starred in the independent movie. By February this year, after 43 weeks in theaters, the $5 million-budgeted movie had grossed $240 million in the United States alone, more than any other indie flick or romantic comedy in history — and it’s still going strong.

As icing on the wedding cake, Miss Vardalos earned an Oscar nomination for her original screenplay.

What audiences love and what almost every big family can relate to — whether they are Italian, Swedish, Chinese, German or Greek — is the movie’s celebration of a large, demonstrative family and its noisy arguments and consuming passion.

Here is a roundup of some real-life Greek wedding traditions.

There is always food, lots of food, glorious food. Because food is so central to the celebration, weddings are never held during fasting holidays.

The traditional Greek wedding cake is a kind of fruitcake that contains honey and quince. The wedding cake — as most wedding cakes in general — is kind of a first meal for the bride and groom. The new couple cuts a slice before anyone else and feeds it to each other, symbolizing the mutual support they’ll provide throughout their marriage.

Koufetta, bittersweet fresh almonds, is commonly found at all Greek wedding celebrations, with the nuts symbolizing the good and the not-so-good of marriage. The wedding almonds are coated with sugar as a hope that there will be more good than bad. The nuts are also sprinkled on the wedding bed, and guests are given bags of them as favors.

The nuts are always packaged in odd numbers to show that they can’t be divided evenly, a symbol that the couple is now indivisible. Custom says that when unmarried women put the almonds under their pillows, they will dream about their future husbands.

Decorated sourdough breads containing hidden coins and rings are also served. If you find a trinket in your portion, it will bring good luck.

Glykismata, Greek desserts and pastries, customarily served at Greek weddings, are usually made with a combination (or any one) of honey, nuts, custard and phyllo dough. Phyllo is a light, flaky, paper-thin pastry that is generally baked after having been brushed with butter and then stacked in layers.

Nuts are often layered between the phyllo and might be chopped or ground walnuts, pecans, pistachios or almonds. Probably the best known of these phyllo and nut desserts is baklava — layers of butter-brushed phyllo dough filled with nuts and spices, then drizzled with honey syrup.

Here are some other desserts:

• Galaktobouriko: Sweet and syrupy baklava baked with a custard filling instead of nuts.

• Diples or dipples: Thin strips of dough are curled and deep fried, then dipped in honey syrup and sprinkled with nuts. Trivia buffs will remember that these were the pastries served to the priest when he came to bless the couple’s new home in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

• Katafifi: This dessert is made from another style of phyllo pastry called kataifi, which looks like ordinary phyllo that has gone through a shredder. If you can imagine softened shredded wheat covered with nuts and honey syrup, you get the idea of katafifi.

m Loukoumathes: These are a Greek version of doughnuts, only they are round balls, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. They are very good eaten with the bitter notes of Greek coffee.

• Koulouraikia: These are plain, lightly sweetened cookie twists that are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up. Keep these cookies in the cookie jar.

If there’s no Greek wedding in your future, you shouldn’t be deprived of some of the wonderful foods with Greek ethnic flavors. An easy appetizer with Greek overtones is feta cheese focaccia. As a bonus for busy cooks, it is made in a bread machine.

Feta cheese focaccia

This focaccia is made in a bread machine. Serve it as an appetizer or with dinner as an accompaniment to grilled lamb kebabs and a big salad. If there’s a Middle Eastern grocery store near you, pick up portions of baklava for dessert.

DOUGH:

⅔ cup water

1 tablespoon olive oil

teaspoon salt

2 cups bread flour

1 teaspoons bread machine yeast

teaspoon dried basil leaves

teaspoon dried oregano leaves

TOPPING:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 4-ounce package feta cheese

1 6-ounce jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 2-ounce can sliced black olives, well drained

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 small red onion, sliced in rings, sauteed in 1 tablespoon olive oil

Measure dough ingredients into bread machine pan in the order suggested by manufacturer. Process in dough/manual cycle. When cycle is complete, remove dough from machine to lightly floured surface. If necessary, knead in enough additional flour to make dough easy to handle.

Divide dough into 8 equal portions; form each into smooth ball. Roll each ball to 4-inch round. Place on greased baking sheets.

With handle of wooden spoon or using a finger, make indentations in dough at 1-inch intervals. Brush dough with olive oil. Top each circle of dough with feta cheese, artichoke hearts, olives, mushrooms and onions, dividing the ingredients evenly. Cover; let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Bake in 400-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned and done. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 5-inch flat breads.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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