Cooking vegetables with a Greek flair

Two eating habits of Americans impressed me when I moved from Greece to the United States. One was the American passion for meats: bacon or sausage for breakfast, cold cuts for lunch, a major portion of beef, pork, or poultry for dinner.

The other, which I noticed only because of my origin, was the great number of Greek-owned restaurants and the absence of Greek fare. The first meant the stunning over-abundance of everything in the States during the '50s; about the other I was curious.

I asked several Greek restaurateurs: "Why do you not offer some of our best dishes to your customers?" The answers were the same: "Too time-consuming; too foreign to the American palate."

In three decades, things have changed, and the above observations no longer apply. Because of the awareness of waste, cooks are looking for ways to prepare meatless dishes. And because Americans travel more, they are familiar with Greek dishes and want them at home.

Here are two excellent vegetable variations you can make at home: String Beans in Tomato Sauce 2 pounds fresh green beans 1 medium onion, grated 1/4 cup olive oil 3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled Salt and pepper to taste 1 tablespoon fresh parsley 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed

Any green bean will do, but I am partial to the tender Kentucky Wonder. The preparation takes time because I peel the strings with a potato peeler. The result is worth the effort, but strictly optional. Wash beans in plenty of cold water.

Saute onion in olive oil; add chopped tomatoes. Bring to boil. Add prepared beans, salt, pepper, parsley, and dill. Cover with cold water, bring to boil, and simmer about 1 hour. Keep part covered. The beans should be left with only their sauce. I like mine slightly a la dente. These are good hot or cold. The Greeks serve them cold in the summer with sliced feta and freshly baked bread. Shortcut: Use two cans of beans to one can stewed tomatoes. Omit onion. Proceed as with fresh beans. Spanakopita (Spinach Pie) 2 pounds fresh spinach 1 pound feta cheese 1 3-ounce package cream cheese 2 or 3 fresh scallions or chives, chopped 4 eggs Dill weed 1 1/2 sticks butter 1 package phyllo dough

When you work with phyllo dough, be very quick or keep it covered with clean towel. Before opening package let it come to room temperature.

To prepare filling, clean and boil spinach until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and squeeze out all water; cool. Mix with softened cheeses; add scallions and dill to taste. Fold in beaten eggs.

Prepare pastry as follows. Melt butter. Depending on how much you spread on each pastry sheet, you will use approximately a stick and a half of butter. Remember, each sheet must be buttered to bake well. Divide dough into three sections.

Butter a rectangular pan, 13 1/2 by 9 1/2 by 2 inches. Spread one-third of buttered phyllo sheets in pan. Spread half of the filling. Repeat process until all filling and dough i used.

Score the top into diamond pieces with very sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water. Brush the top with cold water. This prevents dough from curling.

Bake in 350 degree F. oven about 50 minutes. If top browns too fast, cover with aluminum foil. Let is rest before serving. It is good hot or cold. It will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

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