This past Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend a Greeks Love Meat & Wine Pairings at Calliope’s Real Greek Food, an awesome cooking school run out of a beautiful townhouse in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Although I was initially apprehensive out learning how to braise lamb and pairing it with copious amounts of wine before noon on a Saturday, I left the class full and happy (and ready for an afternoon nap).
Ingredients for the lamb – all simple and organic.
As someone who grew up with incredibly generic Greek food in the form of gyro’s eaten at a place with a faded picture of the Parthenon on the wall, my understanding of Greek food and culinary methods was quite limited. My lack of knowledge quickly became apparent when I talked about my favorite Greek dishes; moussaka is actually Turkish in origin and souvlaki is kind of considered the Big Mac of Greece. I felt dumb.
Calliope is originally from Greece and moved to Brooklyn this year with her family. She aims to teach students Greek cooking techniques and the culinary culture of her home country – which is centered around the family kitchen. Throughout the class she mentioned how her mother or grandmother approached a certain food; you could tell that the methods we were learning couldn’t be found in a cookbook. Many of the ingredients found in her pantry were sourced from Greece, and the rest from Greek markets in Brooklyn and Astoria. We were in for an authentic experience.
The menu for the four dishes we were learning.
We all had a work station set up with our menus beautifully printed. Throughout the course of the class, we learned to braise lamb and cook other goat, pork, and sausage dishes. Not a single recipe required more than seven ingredients, there was never any added dairy or sugar, and we used herbs from Calliope’s garden, lemon, and salt and pepper for flavor.
Calliope told us over fifty percent of the Greek Orthodox calendar are Lent celebrations. So eating this much meat is very rare (especially in one sitting – not great for the old cardiovascular circuit). All of the dishes we cooked are traditionally reserved for celebrations. According to the Greeks, all of these dishes would be appropriate for upcoming holiday celebrations.
Our beautiful lamb shank.
The braised lamb was the first dish we got started on (and in my opinion the star of the show). Calliope cut up a lemon and ran it up and down the meat to flavor it. We laid on a bed of fresh oregano, thyme, rosemary, fresh crushed garlic and flavored it with salt and pepper. We cut a slit in the meat and stuffed a little more garlic inside, like a hidden surprise for later. All it needed was a little olive oil drizzled on top and it was ready to go. It smelled so good. It didn’t even smell like raw meat. My stomach started making growling noises. Everyone heard.
Our lambs all wrapped up like the presents.
We then had to wrap the lamb in three pieces of parchment paper so they could cook in the oven for two and a half hours. I volunteered for this task thinking it was really easy. I was wrong. It’s so hard. Go hug your butcher for typically doing this for you. The meat kept slipping out of different corners, and the knots wouldn’t stay. Despite my minor panic attack induced by brown paper and string, Calliope ensured me there is no easy way to do this, it’s not important if it’s pretty, and no matter what happens you end up with cooked lamb.
The pantry stocked with various Greek treats.
Our beautiful table setting for our feast.
We prepared three other dishes: a slow cooked goat dish called kleftiko, spicy sausages and peppers in a spetzofai tomato sauce, and a tenderloin pork with leek and celery root called hirino me prasso. All three of the dishes were started after the lamb, but Calliope timed the class perfectly so we started with the dish which needs the most time and ended with the dish which cooks the quickest.
Our finished product!
At the end of the three hours of cooking we sat down to an amazing meal and got to try all of our dishes with different wines Calliope had selected for us. It was so rewarding to fill up on different courses we had all worked to create. We all tried to pick a favorite, but there was a lot of debate around the table about what was the best (the lamb was best…I don’t care what everyone else says, this is my damn blog post).
I don’t typically wake up early on Saturdays and travel to new neighborhoods to learn cooking techniques which have been utilized for 100 years, but I’m really glad I went to Calliope’s last week. If you’re looking to try something different, have a cute day-date (there was one couple in the class celebrating a birthday), or just change up your schedule a little bit, I recommend taking one of Calliope’s classes.