For the past 55 years, our region has benefited each September from the willingness of the folks in Dayton’s Greek Orthodox community to open the doors and the grounds of their beautiful Byzantine-style church and share their Eastern Orthodox religious traditions as well as their culture at the annual Greek Festival.
This year’s event is slated for Sept. 6-8.
In addition to the festive folk music and dancing, highlights are the fascinating church tours and the variety of Greek products for sale. But the biggest draw — let’s be honest! — is always the great food: pastitsio (the Greek version of lasagna), moussaka (eggplant casserole), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), slow-roasted lamb and chicken dinners.
“It makes a messy, unforgettably good wrapped sandwich,” says committee member Dee Fricioni, referring to the gyro sandwiches made from a beef/lamb combination, and served on grilled pita bread with fresh sliced tomatoes, sliced onions and tzaziki sauce — a mix of cucumbers, Greek yogurt, a little dill, olive oil and lemon juice.
Fricioni says other Festival favorites are the spinach and cheese pies in phyllo dough, meatless pastitsio and Greek salads topped with feta cheese and Kalamata olives. At the top of the dessert list are honey puffs and baklava.
“Baklava is our most popular dessert, and although it is very time-consuming to make, the ingredients are few,” explains Fricioni. “We use two pounds of phyllo dough for each tray — layering each sheet brushed with melted butter, and sprinkle in a filling of ground walnuts with spices such as cinnamon, and topped with warm home-made syrup.”
The yummy dessert is always cut into diamond-shapes for serving.
In the kitchen
For months before the festival, dozens of parishioners are busy in the church kitchen contributing their time, energy and cooking/baking skills to prepare the goodies that will be sampled and sold over the special weekend.
Among those you’ll find in the kitchen are sisters Charrie Tolliver and Kathy McAlpine. Charrie, a resident of Springboro, has three grown children. Kathy lives in Centerville with her husband, Jay, and has four grown sons and seven grandchildren.The women’s mother and two grandmothers all emigrated to this country from Greece.
We invited the women to share some of their thoughts about cooking and their Greek heritage.
Q. How did you become interested in cooking?
Kathy: Watching my mother and my two grandmothers. My sister and I would be given the task of stirring the soup. And also my grandfather owned a restaurant in Middletown called The Parrot.
Q. Who taught you?
Charrie: We would watch our mother and grandmothers and as we got older we were always asking for the specific ingredients — they were good at putting in handfuls of this or a pinch of that. We finally managed to write everything down. We could always call our Aunt Nikki for questions about pastries.
Q. What early memories do you have of meals or cooking?
Kathy: Every Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter — driving from Indianpolis, three little girls in the back seat of our old Ford, headed to our grandparents’ house. Not only would they have the traditional turkey, but there was always pastitsio, moussaka and avgolemono (egg-lemon soup with chicken broth, rice, eggs and lemon juice.)
Charrie: Certain dishes my mom was preparing brought me to the table fast. When I got older, I would often call her for recipes and techniques.
Q. What ingredients are most important in Greek cooking?
Kathy and Charrie: Olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. That combination enhances everything they touch, from chicken to soup to potatoes. It is a wonderful marinade.
Q. What tips do you have for new cooks?
Kathy: Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Some times that mistake turns out to be better than the original recipe!
Charrie: If you’re trying something more difficult, such as working with phyllo dough, do it with someone who is more experienced and can show you the techniques.
Q. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Kathy and Charrie: Our father’s lamb ka-bobs, Greek salad, rice pudding, spinach and cheese pies, chicken-and-rice. A staple and always on the table is feta cheese and Kalamata olives.
Q. How does cooking tie you to your Greek heritage and how important is that heritage to you?
Kathy: It’s just who we are. We want to preserve our traditions and carry them onto our children. I have two small granddaughters, ages 4 and 3, and already they are helping me cook on the days I babysit. They love to stir.
Charrie: Life revolves around food and our Greek culture. Our heritage is really important to us. It binds us together no matter where we may travel. My daughter got married this past June, in Greece, and in the same church where her husband was baptized.
Oddly enough, when we meet a stranger who turns out to be Greek, we have an instant and mutual bond.
SPOTLIGHTING GOOD COOKS THROUGHOUT REGION
In this weekly food feature, Life reporter Meredith Moss chats with cooks throughout southwest Ohio who have a passion for food and are willing to share advice and recipes.
If you know a terrific cook — either amateur or professional — please send your suggestion to Meredith: MMoss@coxohio.com
Please include a daytime phone number.
HOW TO GO:
What: 55th Annual Dayton Greek festival
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6 and Saturday, Sept. 7, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8. Those who wish to avoid longer lines may want to visit during afternoon hours.
Where: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 500 Belmonte Park, North, next to the Dayton Art Institute
Admission: Free from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. For the rest of the weekend, admission is $2 per person, free for kids under 12.
Parking and Shuttle Service: Parking is available on the streets surrounding the church as well as the Dayton Art Institute parking lot. A free parking and bus shuttle service begins at 5 p.m. on Friday from the corner of First and Wilkinson Streets.
For information: www.DaytonGreekFestival.com or call church office (937) 224-0601.
THREE GREEK RECIPES
Greek Style Green Beans
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 pounds fresh green beans, cleaned and cut
1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1-1/2 cups water (slightly more if needed)
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a 4 quart saucepan, saute the onions in olive oil until soft and translucent — 5 minutes or so.
2. Add all the other ingredients, cover, and simmer for one hour or until the beans are tender.
3. Just before serving sprinkle a little feta cheese on top.
Optional: If you want to make it a fuller meal, you can peel potatoes and add to the pot as well as zucchini.
Avgolemono Soupa (Egg-Lemon soup)
2 quarts chicken broth (homemade is best, but canned broth will do fine)
1-1/4 cups rice
Juice of 2 - 3 lemons
1 cup small pieces of cooked chicken (optional)
1. Using a large pot, bring broth a boil and add the rice. Stir and cook until tender per package directions, approximately 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat; add chicken pieces if desired. Set aside.
2.In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until they are frothy. Lower the speed and slowly stir in the lemon juice.
3. Then very slowly and a little at a time begin adding with a ladle some of the hot broth to the egg mixture, stirring constantly to avoid curdling. Repeat adding spoonfuls 4 or 5 times. (Hint: It helps to have one person pour broth and one person to stir.)
Then pour the egg mixture slowly back into the soup pot, always stirring. Allow to sit 2-3 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6 people.
Greek Chicken and Rice in Tomato Sauce
1 whole chicken
1/4 cup diced onions
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 cups Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Place the entire chicken in a roasting pan with enough water to barely cover the bottom of the pan.
2. Sprinkle with the diced onions, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
3. Dilute the tomato sauce with enough water to total 4 cups. Pour over the chicken, cover and continue baking another 20 minutes.
4. Pour the rice around the chicken, stirring into the sauce. Cover and bake additional 30 minutes. Stir the rice once more before it is finished.
Cut the chicken into pieces and serve.
To hear sisters Charrie Tolliver and Kathy McAlpine talk about their Greek heritag and love for Greek cooking, see www.mydaytondailynews.com