Koulouria ThessalonikisSep 19th, 2010 | By Peter Minakis | Category: Baking, Bread, Breakfast, Featured, Flour, Greek, How To, Snacks, Thessaloniki
Here is my first post since arriving back from Greece. Yes, I had a wonderful time, yes I wish I could still be there and yes, I am also glad to be back in Canada. I was in Greece for 42 days and I also squeezed in a side trip to Istanbul (Constantinople). I even read a book centered around the fall of Constantinople for some more insight prior to my second visit to this amazing and very historical city.
My homebase when in Greece is in and around the city of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city and the capital of the province of Macedonia. Athens is the capital and the heart of Greece but Thessaloniki is the belly, feeding Greece with it’s sophisticated and diverse cuisine – influenced by the past and present peoples that settled in this multi-ethnic city. Jews from Spain’s Inquistion are still here, Greeks, Pontian Greeks from the Black Sea, Greeks from Constantinople, Smyrni and Asia Minor, Wallachians and much like Athens, Greeks from nearby towns and villages who resettled into the city looking for a better life.
As much as Greeks like (and do) take life slowly, the mornings are usually a very rushed affair. Greeks were never ones to let work get in the way of a late evening with friends, be it at a taverna, bar or nightclub. Lacking in sleep and in need of coffee (and likely a smoke), the next day begins in a hurried fashion – scrambling to get to work on time.
A lot of Greeks will grab something to eat on their way to work. You’ll find folks lined up to buy a tyropita, spanakopita or a Bougatsa me krema and eat it on the go or unwrap it at their desk. In short, breakfast (for those that eat it) in Greece is a hurried affair: either a stop at a Bougatsa or Tyropitadiko or for stop at one of the many vendors that sell one of Greece’s most well-known street food, the Koulouri.
A Koulouri is a sesame seed-coated ring of bread that can be found on the streets of Thessaloniki and Athens and most bakeries around Greece. Often they are eaten plain or when at home with some cheese, or marmalade. The Koulouri of Thessaloniki has Byzantine roots and it’s origins are from Constantinople where Christians (Greeks, Armenians) were the first bakers. Through population exchanges between Turkey and Greece, the Greeks who resettled in Thessaloniki brought along their culinary traditions with him, including the Koulouri.
My very first memories of eating a Koulouri was here in Toronto: the divine liturgy having just finished after noon and a couple of vendors outside the St.Demetrios Church would be selling Koulouria. I had never been to Greece at this point in my life but this lets you know how much a part of Greek daily life the Koulouri is.
I then saw the Koulouri on the streets of Thessaloniki on my first trip to Greece in 1974. Koulouria everywhere…at bakeries and on street corners. You best buy the Koulouri in the morning as by noon – they would be all gone! Fast forward to a few years ago and I took for first side-trip from Thessaloniki to Istanbul (Constantinople) and BAM! – I saw Koulouria there too! The Turks of Istanbul call them Simit, which refers to wheat (bread).
I can also find Koulouria here in Toronto (many Greek bakeries and shops catering to our 150,000 Greek population) and you may ask why bother making them when i can buy them? The simple answer is – I already miss Greece and through food I can be transported back through the smells and tastes of the food I’ve experienced. Food transports us back to the Patirida and the Koulouri of Thessaloniki evokes many memories for me.
These sesame covered rings of bread are not to be confused with bagels as they are not boiled and texturely, Koulouria have a crunch to the bite, leaving one with some sesame seeds on your chin and as you sink your teeth further, you taste the soft and chewy and light center. In Greece, you’ll most commonly find vendors offering the simple round Koulouri and the round braided variety. In Istanbul, the most common Koulouri (Simit) is the braid.
Of late, you will also find Koulouria with fillings like cheese, ham & cheese, chocolate, tahini or halva. I like my Koulouri old school – plain and coated generously with sesame seeds. The traditional Koulouri straddles both savory and sweet. This recipe is very easy, requires a little time for the dough to rise and beyond that, you just need to be organized and have a bowl of water to dunk the Koulouria in so that you may then coat it with sesame seeds.
In many Turkish and Greek recipes, you can take couple tablespoons of Petimezi (a mollases made of grape must) and dilute it in a cup of water and then dunk the Koulouria before covering in sesame seeds. The petimezi will give the Koulouria a slightly darker colour and a little sweetness.
For more background on Koulouria and Simit, please visit my friend Marianna and her site, “History of Greek Food”.
Koulouria Thessalonikis (Κουλούρια Θεσσαλονίκης)
1 1/2 tsp. of active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. of honey
1 1/2 cup of tepid (warm) water
1 tsp. of fine sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups of all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. of Petimezi (grape molasses) dilluted in 1 cup of water (or just water if you can’t find Petimezi)
1 cup of sesame seeds
Pre-heated 450F oven
Baking tray filled with hot water
- In a large bowl, add your dry yeast, honey and 1/2 cup of tepid water. Stir with a spoon and wait 10 minutes for the yeast to active.
- Add the sea salt, olive oil, the remaining 1 cup of tepid water and 1 cup of flour at a time, all the while mixing the dough with your hands. Continue to add flour while mixing with your hands. You will need anywhere from a total of 3 1/2 to 3 3/4 flour or until the dough is no longer sticky/tacky.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then place in a bowl, rub the dough ball with a little oil and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rest in a warm, draft-free part of your kitchen and rise until the doubles in size (in about an hour).
- Punch the dough down with your fist and turn the dough onto your baking surface. Cut the dough into pieces that will fit in the palm of your hand.
- Roll out eat piece of dough into the shape of a rope with your hands. If merely making a round Koulouri, roll out each piece of dough to about 8 inches in length. Form a circle and join the ends by pinching them together. If you wish to make the the braiding varietyy of Koulouri, roll out the dough to a length if 14 inches then lift up the dough with the two even ends hanging down. Now twist the bottom and top with your two hands to form the braid.
- Repeat forming your Koulouria and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use one hand to dip the Koulouria in water (and Petimezi) and use the other hand to dip them in the tray with sesame seeds. Place the sesame-coated Koulouria back on your baking sheets.
- When your oven has reached a temperature of 450F, place a tray with hot water on the upper or lower rack and place the baking tray on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just golden.
- Remove the Koulouria from the baking trays and allow to cool a bit a cooling rack. Eat warm or room temperature with cheese, marmalade or honey.
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© 2007-2010 Peter Minakis
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© 2010, Peter Minakis. All rights reserved. If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at http://kalofagas.ca then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.