Yiayia Eleni celebrated her 80th birthday last week and despite not being able to walk very far, she still manages to cook up a storm every day. Eliopitas are Yiayia Eleni’s signature dish and this post written in honour of her passion for cooking.
Eliopitas are little pieces of bread that have been stuffed with olives. Yiayia Eleni told me that she used to make one large olive bread but then over the years, she changed her recipe and decided to make lots of smaller bite-size pieces instead. She said
“even though it takes longer to prepare, people like them better and they can be stored better in the freezer for guests”.
Yiayia Eleni’s Eliopitas are on the table at every special family event. She made them on our wedding day and she makes them for birthday parties, christenings, bridal showers, and funerals. There is always a batch of Eliopitas in the freezer, just in case visitors come around and she will always give you a plastic bag full of them to take home after your visit.
Cooking With Yiayia
This year I started cooking with Yiayia Eleni. She is actually my Yiayia-in-Law and my husband has been suggesting for years that I start “getting cooking lessons” so that I can learn how to cook. So, every so often, I will call up my Yiayia-in-Law and plan a cooking date.
She doesn’t use a recipe, everything is in her memory. I try my best to write down all the steps as we go and I take lots of photos so that I can remember what to do later. However, there is often just a ‘bit of this’ and a ‘bit of that’ style of cooking. Yiayia’s seem to know the measurements of ingredients just by looking and feeling the mixture. So, please don’t rely on this recipe for completely accurate recipe instructions.
Yiayia Eleni is happy for me to take photos of our cooking and share recipes, but she forbids me to take a photo of her face. She HATES Facebook and she would kill me if I posted a photo of her online anywhere. So these photos are just of our hands, the bowls and the ingredients as we baked a batch of Eliopitas.
STEP 1: SQUEEZE 10 LARGE “NAVEL” ORANGES – TO MAKE ABOUT 4 CUPS OF ORANGE JUICE
First you start with the oranges…
I went to the best market in town to find the freshest ingredients. This was important. However, I accidentally bought the wrong style of oranges and we weren’t allowed to use them. The oranges must be navel oranges. No other oranges were allowed because navel oranges are sweeter.
Use a strainer to ensure that none of the pulp goes in to the juice.
STEP 2: ADD ABOUT 2 CUPS OF OLIVE OIL TO THE JUICE MIXTURE
STEP 3: ADD A PINCH OF SALT AND 1 CUP OF WATER TO THE MIXTURE
STEP 4: ADD SELF RAISING FLOUR TO THE MIXTURE
Yiayia Eleni says that she never counts the flour. She just keeps adding it until it “feels right”. It has to have a certain type of thickness and texture – however I am still learning what that is.
Kneed the flour and the orange juice mixture (water, salt & oil) together in a bowl. Use a bit of elbow grease and get those muscles working because this can take a while.
STEP 5: GLAD WRAP, COVER AND SAY A LITTLE PRAYER
Once you have found that perfect texture the mixture should form in to a ball of dough. Cover the dough with some glad wrap and then put a tea towel or blanket on top of the bowel. Let the dough sit for a while so that it can rise. Say a little prayer and do your stavro.
STEP 6: PREPARE THE FILLING MIXTURE
While the dough is rising, use this time to chop up the filling mixture. We used about 5 small onions and about 4 cups of kalamata olives that had been strained overnight.
Yiayia Eleni prefers to chop onions by hand rather than using an onion chopping machine. I personally using an onion chopper because I think it’s faster and I don’t cry as much. However Yiayia Eleni says that it’s cheating and that the onions become too juicy affecting the overall flavour of the Eliopitas. So, we chopped the onions and the olives in to very fine pieces all by hand.
Next, add some seasoning and spices. We used salt & pepper as well as cinnamon. Yiayia Eleni uses cinnamon in almost all of her cooking.
Mix the filling together and ensure that there is an even consistency of olives, onions and spices.
STEP 7: PREPARE THE SESAME SEEDS
Boil the sesame seeds in hot water. Strain them and put them on a tea towel to dry out.
STEP 8: SIT DOWN, RELAX AND HAVE A CUP OF COFFEE
STEP 9: MAKE THE ELIOPITAS
Take a small batch of the dough and roll it in to a ball to ensure that you have the right size. You will get to know the feel of the size of the dough ball after a few practice goes.
Flatten the ball of dough and add a tea-spoon of olive mixture in to the centre of the flattened circle.
Create the Eliopita shape that you are trying to achieve and then roll the Eliopita in to sesame seeds for decoration on the outside of the bread piece.
Put the Eliopita on to a baking tray and continue making little pieces of Eliopitas until you have run out of mixture and dough.
Put the Eliopitas in to the oven on medium heat and watch them. Yiayia Eleni never sets a timer. She stands at the oven and waits for the colour of the Eliopitas to turn brown. She taste tests one to make sure that they are ready.
IMPORTANT TIP: When you place the eliopita on the baking tray, make sure that you have the “joining crack” facing down towards the tray. If you have the sealed side facing up (like I do in the picture above) it will not look nice and the olives might come out while cooking. This photo is an example of what NOT to do!
Step 10: ALLOW THE ELIOPITAS TO COOL AND THEN USE UP THE LEFT OVER INGREDIENTS
Allow the Eliopitas to cool down before serving them or freezing them. Unless you are like my husband and you prefer them straight out of the oven. In which case, grab yourself a plate and start eating.
If you have any left over dough, you can make a flat bread with it. Roll out the dough with a rolling-pin and then scatter some sesame seeds on top. Put the dough in to the oven to bake and then serve it with some butter or jam or tarama or olive dip or feta or whatever you want. Eat.
If you want to freeze the Eliopitas then put about 6-12 pieces in to small freezer bags. (Label and date the bags… that’s my advice) or use a tuppawear container.
Eliopitas need about 1 minute in the microwave on high to heat up again from frozen.
Have you ever cooked with your Yiayia before? Please tell me about your experience in the comments.
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HEALTH & FOOD BLOGGERS MASTERMIND GROUP
SPECIAL INGREDIENTS GAME: ORANGE
This post has been published for the Health & Food Bloggers Mastermind Group. Each month we publish a blog post with a special ingredient. This month’s special ingredient was ORANGE. Take a look at the following recipes by a few of my blogging friends – all of these recipes have been made with the special ingredient:
- Orange Mini Muffins by Athina Pantazatou from Kicking Back the Pebbles
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Ala Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette by Krystina Kalapothakos from Kouzoukas Kitchen
- Grilled Flank Steak with a Balsamic Glaze and Orange Gremolta by Gina Martino Zarcadoolas from Foodie WineLover
- Greek Butter Cookies with Orange Zest by Natalia Alexander from The Greek Glutton
- Cornbread (Bobota) with Orange Syrup by Kiki Vagianos from The Greek Vegan
- Sticky Spiced Blood Oranges by Jackie Mansfield from Edibletcetera – Fast & Fabulous Food
- Choco-Orange Cupcakes by Eleni Anagnostopoulou from My Easy Gourmet
Related posts you might love:
- Named After My Yiayia Aspasia
- Reading Greek Coffee Cups
- Yiayia’s Advice to Protect The New Baby From The Evil Eye