3 Easy Greek Dishes for Summertime

Clever Cookstr interviews Jim Botsacos, the founding chef of Molyvos, author of The New Greek Cuisine cookbook., and founder of the New Greek Cuisine line of cold-pressed olive oil. Jim shares his tips for making 3 Greek-influenced dishes that are perfect for summertime. 

Kara Rota
6-minute read
Episode #4

Welcome to the Clever Cookstr, your ultimate window into the kitchens of the world’s best cooks.

Today I'm here with Jim Botsacos, the founding chef of Molyvos and author of the The New Greek Cuisine cookbook. He’s also the founder of a New Greek Cuisine line of cold-pressed olive oil. Jim is here today to share some suggestions for making 3 Greek dishes that are perfect for summertime:

Clever Cookstr: When I think about Greek food, I think about two things: feta cheese and phyllo dough. Let’s start with the phyllo. I think the biggest fears when working with phyllo are that it will either tear or dry out. How do we keep both of those things from happening?

Jim Botsacos: You’ll find phyllo in the frozen section of the supermarket. The best way to defrost phyllo is to keep it in the refrigerator overnight and let it defrost slowly. This will help avoid sticking issues.

When you’re ready to work with the phyllo, open up the package and lay the phyllo out on a clean cookie sheet or half-sheet pan that’s lined with wax or parchment paper. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough, with a damp towel. This stops the phyllo dough from drying out. When you’re ready to work with the dough, roll the parchment and towel back, carefully remove the piece of phyllo, lay it down on a clean work surface, and brush it with olive oil or clarified butter, depending on whether you’re making something sweet or savory.

CC: And are there different types of phyllo dough for different uses?

JB: There are definitely different types. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area where you can get fresh phyllo, that’s always your best option. Otherwise:

  • 4 is thinnest, almost like a strudel dough, usually layered to use for sweets like bougatsa.
  • 7 is a bit easier to work with, perfect for baklava or layered spanakopita in a pan.
  • 10 is easiest to work with and the thickest you can get. It's sometimes called “country phyllo” and it rsembles texture of fresh phyllo. Use this to make an individual spanakopita.

CC: What’s bougatsa? 

JB: Bougatsa is a semolina custard. Think of a soft polenta, only instead of cornmeal you would use semolina. It’s sweet, almost like a farina, and then you whip in eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and sugar to create the custard. If you’re making the traditional one, you take a cake pan and layer phyllo brushed with clarified butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar on each layer, and then you put in the custard, you close it up, and you bake it. When it comes out, you douse it heavily with powdered sugar and cinnamon, let it cool slightly, and then you cut into it. Presto! Semolina custard pie.

CC: That sounds delicious. Let’s move on to feta cheese. What are some of your favorite go-to summer dishes using feta? 

JB: If you’re not having it on its own – and it’s phenomenal on its own, a nice big piece of feta drizzled liberally with extra virgin olive oil, topped with a  little Greek oregano, some crusty bread – then put it on top of a Greek salad, or we can opt for one of my favorite summertime items, a crustless pie or pita, as the Greeks would call it. 

Fairly simple to make, it’s a mixture of eggs, yogurt, creamy feta, a really heavy dose of chopped dill and mint, spring onions sliced thin, some spinach, and a little wild greens. Add a little bit of baking powder to provide leavening and some flour to bind it together. You fold all these ingredients together to make a batter, take a springform pan, and coat that with nonstick spray. Pour the batter inside and place it in a low, slow oven. When it’s done, it will have the consistency of a quiche. You take it out, cool it down slightly, and cut it into wedges. You can also make these in individual portions. I love to serve this with baby mixed green salad, arugula, with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.

CC: Do we need to make our own Greek yogurt?

JB: Definitely go ahead and buy it! It’s fun to experiment with making your own, but there are so many great products out there now, so I would opt for store-bought.

CC: And how about grilling? Are there Greek-influenced foods you love to make outside on the grill during the summer?

JB: If it’s not going to be a lamb chop or souvlaki, my go-to is a grilled or roasted Lemon-Garlic Chicken. I try to keep it simple, with staples that are always in my pantry. I always opt for a whole chicken: it’s usually priced better, and you can easily check the quality. Check that there are no blemishes or tears on the skin. Look for a long lead expiration date to denote freshness. When at all possible, I’d suggest going to your butcher and getting a free-range chicken. It’s going to cost a little more, but I think that you’re going to taste the difference. There’s a difference in the feed and the overall flavor of the chicken.

Take the chicken and place it on the cutting board breast side down. The easiest way to butterfly a chicken is to use a kitchen shear. Take the kitchen shear and run it along the backbone of the chicken from the bottom to the neck. Push down on the bone which will expose the interior of the breast cavity. Now the chicken is laying flat on the cutting board. Season with lemon juice, granulated garlic, dried Greek oregano, salt and pepper ­­­– or whatever the staples are in your pantry. Feel free to add rosemary or fresh garlic. And again, I hit it with the New Greek Cuisine extra-virgin olive oil on top. Massage the seasonings in. That’s where we’re feeling the love!

If you’re using a gas grill, preheat your grill, and when you’re ready to cook, shut off the two center burners. When you’re dealing with a gas grill, in the back you have that upper level grill that sometimes you’ll put buns on for hot dogs. Elevate the chicken bone side down on that grill, away from the direct flame. As the chicken cooks, it’s going to release juices that go into the fire and causes a flare-up. We want to avoid that. So we go away from the direct flame. Then close the lid.

If we 're going to use a charcoal grill, let the charcoal get down to that light ash stage where it’s glowing and no longer black. Move all the charcoal over to the side and, again, put the chicken bone side down on the grill, away from the direct heat. Put the lid on to cover the chicken. In doing so, you’re creating a convection-like atmosphere. We’re looking for about a 400 degree ambient temperature inside the grill. You don’t have to turn the chicken, and you’ll get a nice, crispy char on the bone. GB&D: golden brown and delicious skin. Just check on it periodically.

You can also make this indoors in the broiler year-round. Set the rack on the upper third part of the oven, underneath the broiler setting. Take your seasoned chicken and start with it bone side up to the direct heat. The bone side of the chicken can take most of the cooking and is more resilient to the char of the broiler. Always add a little bit of water to the pan (and use a heavy-gauge, half-sheet pan or roasting pan rather than a cookie sheet). The water does two things: stops the flare-up and creates a delicious sauce with the rendered fat of the chicken and the seasonings. It’s phenomenal. We char the bones for a half hour, which cooks the chicken about three quarters of the way, and then we turn the chicken over and cook it for 15 minutes. Take it out, let it rest, and you’re good to go.

CC: So we have our phyllo dough, we have our feta cheese, and we have our Lemon-Garlic Chicken that we can do inside or outside. I think we’re ready!

Thanks so much to chef Jim Botsacos for sharing these New Greek Cuisine tips and recipes with us.

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About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.