Gail asked for help finding a recipe for a traditional Greek New Year’s sweet bread she remembered her grandmother making when she was a child — and she is now almost 80. Readers were quick to tell us it is known as vaselopitta.
Donald Bernis sent a recipe and this explanation from the 1978 Aphrodite’s Kitchen: Homestyle Greek Cooking by Aphrodite Polemis:
“The Greek housewife baked this special cake once a year to honor St Basil on his name day (feast), which is also New Year’s Day. The cutting of the vaselopitta is on New Year’s Eve and relatives and friends are invited. When the clock strikes midnight, the hostess turns off the lights and then turns them on again, to mark the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Then it is time to cut the vasilopitta in which she has hidden a single gold coin. Whoever finds the coin will have good luck for the year.”
Ruth Agnew says that in her family, the the first piece was offered to St. Basil, the second to the oldest family member and the third to the youngest. “We try to make sure the youngest gets the coin,” she says.
Lucy Minogue Rowland, of Athens, Ga., sent a a recipe from a 1957 cookbook that calls for yeast, but I thought most readers would rather make the quick recipe here, from Agnew.
Q: I love the fish tacos at Catch in the James Hotel. They have an amazing “secret sauce.” Can you get the recipe?
A: The sauce is executive chef Hung Huynh’s take on traditional tomatillo sauce. Instead of the usual boiling method to cook tomatillos, he sautes them in olive oil. The seasoning includes attention-getting coriander and fennel seeds. Hung, by the way, was the season three winner of Bravo’s Top Chef.
The restaurant uses tacos made from wonton skins, but for home cooks, I suggest regular taco shells.
Q: I lost a recipe for a wonderful eggplant gratin from a man who worked as a chef in the kitchen at Baptist Hospital in the 1950s and ’60s. The eggplant was chopped so when baked it would soften. The other ingredients included crackers (Ritz or saltines) and Cheddar cheese. It was delicious.
A: This is a true Southern classic, a casserole that includes crackers and eggplant (or other vegetables, such as summer squash, or zucchini), cheese and evaporated milk or cream. The version here has been in my battered recipe box since I was a student in the 1970s at the University of Missouri, where it was a favorite in the cafeteria.
Evaporated milk is the traditional liquid, but I often use an undiluted can of cream of mushroom, celery or chicken soup or half-and-half instead. If you are a traditional Southern cook you won’t blanch at the amount of butter, and I certainly didn’t find it excessive in the past, but today I cut it in half.
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