Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sam's 10 Spice Curry

In Ellsworth, Maine in 2002, there weren't many sources for Mediterranean Spices in the area. As Cleonice took shape in our minds we pulled from Rich's Italian birthright and then reached out to the rest of the region - the cheffy origins of French cuisine, the pure delicious Spanish dishes and tapas culture, bright and intense Greek flavor, and then we looked to the Middle East.

We had a great importer in Nova Foods, but Middle Eastern was a little out of his usual. Rooster Brother and John Edwards carried (and still do) a lot of gourmet items but exotic spices like Zaatar, Aleppo Pepper, Harissa, and Ras al Hanout, our Egyptian mint and gunpowder green tea for our signature iced tea, and the rose blossoms for our lemonade were missing. And if we could find the spices we were looking for, they seemed to be packed in tiny boxes that looked like treasure chests and priced accordingly.

A trip to Cobble Hill in Brooklyn was in order.

Sarra's first trip to Oriental Pastry and Grocery to pick up our order

When we lived in Boston, we frequented Watertown's Middle Eastern markets, restaurants, and bakeries. It was always a great day trip and we'd come home laden with olives, cheeses, lamejuns, nuts, and at least a few versions of baklava. We'd snack on exotic cured meats with tender lavash and tangy sheeps milk cheese with pickled eggplant, a delicious spread of goodies that we could munch on for days.

As you might imagine, New York's Middle Eastern district is just a little more... And our first trip there was not just a little magical. I don't recall just how we found Oriental Pastry and Grocery, whether our New York friends had steered us there or if it was just a happy accident that we chose to venture into this small storefront when there were bigger, showier places just across the street. However we found ourselves there, we knew we had found the right spot.

Grains, Olives, Tahini, and so much more
The shop is long and skinny, to the right the floor is at least four feet deep with chickpeas, couscous, and grains in burlap sacks, so many kinds of olives and marinated vegetables in buckets, all with colorful hand written tags, The walls are covered to the ceiling with every kind of tahini, pickled radish, pickled everything, Syrian truffles, pomegranate molasses, candied almonds, a staggering variety of Turkish delights, syrups and waters. To the left the burlap sacks in front of the counter are filled with coffee and nuts, if you're lucky they might have green almonds (under ripe, with their fuzzy green peach-like covering) to munch on while you shop. Head towards the back and you'll find amazing pastries, exotic forms of baklava and birds nests, Middle Eastern newspapers and music, a falafel former or a tagine, more crazy canned and bottled deliciousness and rows and rows of fragrant fresh bulk spices, teas, and herbs. You might spy a cat lazing on top of the jar of dried lavender and you'll likely be offered a sweet cup of mint tea if you linger and order up.

Sam himself, measuring Egyptian Mint

Sam is the man we found behind the counter on most visits. Rich introduced himself that first day and told him we were opening a Mediterranean Restaurant in Maine. "Maine?!? Maine?!?" He was both excited and I thought a little dubious - we are decidedly not Middle Eastern in appearance. Rich went on to explain his Italian background, but that we wanted to cover the whole Mediterranean Rim. Sam was generous beyond compare. He had what were looking for, and introduced us to so much more. It was that first visit that he made his ten-spice curry for us, "Good for couscous, good for meats" he said as he shoveled two scoops from this spice bin and one from that. "This is my curry. Ten Spices."

So "Sam's Ten Spice" became one of our vital ingredients. It is a lovely curry for couscous or as a base spice for a lamb, vegetable, or chicken curry. After a while we couldn't make the trip to Cobble Hill ourselves anymore, the restaurant became to demanding for any trips away. We'd call Sam and place our orders and he always was excited to hear from "My friend Rich, from Maine!" to Sam Maine was as exotic as we found his shop and he marveled that folks from such a cold and distant place would come to him for his spices. 

We now make a close cousin to this original blend which we used in our Chicken Souvlaki at Cleonice. Thanks to Sam's generous heart, we can share it with you.

Simply collect and measure all the spices, combine in a bowl and mix well. 


Your curry is now ready to use! Our Chicken Souvlaki recipe (coming soon) is rich with this spice blend, so you'll have a place to use it.

Sam's Ten Spice Curry

1/4 cup Ground Tumeric
2 Tb Ground Cinnamon
2 Tb Ground Cumin
2 Tb Ground Ginger
1 Tb Aleppo Pepper
1 Tb Mustard Powder
1 tsp Ground Coriander (we used whole and ground it in the mortar and pestle before adding it to the mix) 
1 tsp Sweet Paprika
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom

Combine and mix well. This will make enough for several recipes. 

Printable Recipe

Photo credits: Photos taken at Oriental Pastry and Grocery were by Sarra Ghiassi, an original Cleonician and dear friend. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tzatziki, Tahini, and Feta Sauces

Three versatile sauces from Cleonice for the Lamb Burger, Chicken Souvlaki, and more

These three condiments are what made our lamb burger and chicken souvlaki sing all the louder. While many folks had their favorites "Ordering - Lamb, double Tzat no feta,"  I love to have a choice of many so that with each bite I can add a little feta, or a little more yogurty tzatziki. I love the way that the tzatziki cuts the rich sesame flavor of the tahini and how each sauce enhances and changes the flavor of the lamb or chicken. 

You don't have to have these with a lamb burger, they make great condiments for grilled meats (though on this snowy last day of January a barbecue seems like a distant possibility). Treat them as dips for pita chips, or make a sandwich with chopped veggies, one or two of the sauces, and some olives. Use them as dips for crudités at your next party or just schmear them on pitas and eat whenever you're peckish.


Tzatziki Ingredients. whole milk organic yogurt, mint, cucumber, dill, lemon, garlic.

1 med cucumber peeled, seeded, small dice
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 TB fresh dill
2 tsp fresh mint (preferrably Egyptian mint, see the notes)
1 tsp lemon juice
3 cups whole milk organic yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

Printable Recipe

First peel then prepare the cucumbers in small dice as follows: 
Seeding cucumber with spoon
Cut sections of the cucumber into strips
Then cut across to create uniform sized dice

Crush the garlic in a mortar and pestle with a pinch of coarse salt to release all the flavor and avoid chunks of garlic in the finished product. 

If you don't have a mortar and pestle, cut the garlic as finely as you possibly can then smash it with the side of your knife. 

Chiffonade Mint and dill after pulling the leaves off of the thick stems. 
What kind of mint to use? Check the notes at the end of the blog.

 Add all ingredients to bowl

Mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. 

Serve. Here I've garnished with mint and dill and served as a dip. With a lamb burger, fill a small ramekin and serve alongside the burger. 

Feta Oregano 

Feta Oregano Ingredients: feta, oregano, garlic, lemon, olive oil

½ pound Feta, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tb fresh oregano coarsely chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
pinch black pepper

Printable recipe

Crumble the feta

Destem and chiffonade the oregano

Combine Feta, Oregano & Garlic in the bowl of a food processor.

Squeeze a half lemon over your hand to catch the seeds, allowing the lemon juice to flow between your fingers into the bowl of the food processor.

Start the processor and grind up the ingredients, slowly add the olive oil in a stream as the processor works. 

Scrape down the sides, check the consistency and seasoning. You can add pepper here, more olive oil if you need a silkier texture, more lemon for tartness. Process again after making additions. 

Finished Feta Oregano. Tangy & delicious, it's great on the Lamb burger of course, tasty also as an omelet filling with olives and/or artichokes.
Use your imagination. 

Tahini Sauce

Maybe the simplest of the three sauces, water to loosen up the tahini, lemon to bring a brightness to the rich sesame flavor, and garlic combine to make this delicious spread. Sesame seeds are great sources of minerals and a good source for B vitamins. I keep reading how great it is for calcium, but a serving only has 2% of your RDA.

1 cup Tahini
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup warm water

salt and pepper to taste

Printable Recipe

Tahini - make sure your container of Tahini is mixed up so you're not getting all oil or all sesame meat. You can do this by turning the container upside down to start the incorporation an hour or so before you start to make your sauce. 

Add juice of half a lemon, as before, squeezing the lemon over your hand, letting the juice flow through your fingers and catching the seeds.

Smashed the garlic in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt, and add to the tahini.

While working the mixture with a immersion blender, add the water
slowly to incorporate. 

The sauce should take on a creamy consistency. Add more water if a
saucier product is desired. 

Add salt and pepper to taste, and mix in with the blender again. 

The finished product has a loose spreadable texture and rich flavor.
Serve with Chicken Souvlaki or as you will. 


Mint - At Cleonice we used Egyptian mint, either fresh or dried, almost always when mint is called for. The flavor is mild and simply minty with out a strong spearmint or peppermint bite. Egyptian mint is fuzzy like apple mint but grows quite tall (over 3" in my garden) it's hardy in Bucksport Maine (Zone 5). I bought a couple of plants 10 years ago from Mountain Valley Growers and they are still doing beautifully. Dried Egyptian mint can be found at Oriental Pastry and Grocery in Brooklyn, which I discuss more in the Sam's Ten Spice edition. The mint featured in the pictures is not Egyptian, but generic organic from Hannaford, still tasty.

Yogurt - Local organic yogurt has so much more flavor and has the most active cultures for great health. Check out your local health food store or farmers market to find yogurt from your area. You do not necessarily need Greek yogurt for this Tzatziki, but a full fat yogurt creates a nice rich sauce. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Htipiti - the Spicy, Creamy, Unpronounceable Mezé

Rarely ordered by name at Cleonice, "that spicy feta dip thing" became a staple as soon as we put it on the menu. We served this savory spread with pita chips hot from the oven, for catering we often accompanied it with crudité for dipping. Some on our staff liked to spread it on sandwiches. Simple to make with a spicy garlicky punch this is a crowd-pleaser. 

Our truly Greek lunch regular, Elaine (also referred to as the "Kasseri Cheese lady", since she bought that in bulk from us) instructed us with the proper pronunciation, "The H is implied." So (h)tee-pee-tee.  

How to make Htipiti

Makes a little over a cup of the spread, enough to serve 4-6 as part of a appetizer platter.

  • Two medium cloves of garlic
  • Coarse sea salt
  • One good sized pickled cherry pepper (preferably red)
  • 8 oz feta cheese, At Cleonice we used half Anne Bossi's and half Pineland, so half goat and half cow. Anne's feta has a creamier texture with lots of good rich tang. Pineland is a harder feta and gives good structure. 
  • Optional 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/3 cup (approx) extra virgin olive oil

Put garlic and a pinch of coarse sea salt in a mortar and pestle. The salt helps break down the garlic which will quickly turn into a paste. Pounding the garlic extracts the flavor esters by breaking down all the cells, but also avoids the chance of biting into a chunk that didn't get chopped fine enough.  

Chop your hot cherry pepper roughly, remove the stem, but keep some seeds. Add more seeds if you like it spicier, fewer for less spicy. Red Cherry peppers give the good pinkish hue to the htipiti and have a little mellower flavor, but you'll end up with a jar of green cherry peppers if you just pick out the red ones, if you're making your htpiti with green cherry peppers, add more paprika. 

Add the cherry pepper and the pounded garlic to the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse the pepper and garlic together. Scrape down the sides (Rich refers to this as woodgeting, whether this is a cheffy term or just adorable is debatable).

Crumble the feta into the bowl of the processor. Not crumbling can create marbles of unincorporated feta in your htipiti. Add paprika at this time if so desired, the flavor change is subtle but the color enhancement is important if you are using green cherry peppers.

Pulse ingredients together until thoroughly incorporated.

Slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. The moisture level of your feta will determine how much to add, we added approximately 1/3 cup for this batch which was completely Pineland cow feta. Your feta cheese choice may require less to reach the creamy consistency.

Smooth and creamy, the finished htipiti has a gentle spicy bite and a coral color. 

For our afternoon snack we've garnished it with a sprinkle of parsley and hot paprika and served with crudité and olives. 


Pita crisps are easy to make (if you've got the pita) but the pita you have will make a huge difference in what you end up with. Pita crisps are simply split triangles of pita with a drizzle of olive oil, toasted. 

At Cleonice, one of the few things we did not make from scratch was the pita. It was even more of a tender place for Rich and I, because the pita we brought in was so non-traditional. It is sweet and a little cakey, thick and flavorful. Our customers loved it, we ate it only occasionally with a dip like this. 

Granted, we both have pretty savory palates, we love our desserts but don't need dessert (and they should have a touch of salt). I've had fights with chefs who wanted to put fruit with fish (rarely can this go well). 

But I have to acknowledge that those (too sweet for me) pita were loved, will be missed, and until pretty recently were only available to restaurants. So if you need those pita, you can now order them online. They are incredibly affordable until you get to the shipping, so if you're one who needs those pita follow this link and order up, because our next blog posts will be chicken souvlaki and lamb burger (I don't know which comes first). Father Sam's, we used the 8 inch pita. Click that link to find them. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

First recipe - Tunisian Spiced Lemonade

In the last days of cleaning up the Cleonice space at The Maine Grind a customer called, she told me about some favorite meals with us and reminisced about eating take out in the hospital after giving birth to her daughter. Sad that she couldn't use her gift certificate before we closed, she generously offered to accept a recipe for our spiced lemonade. 

I had started a blog before for Cleonice and gotten about as far as setting up an address and picking a format. But life was too hectic then, and there was always someone telling me that I should never reveal our recipes - then everyone would make them at home and not come in. I would argue that coming to Cleonice was not just about the food, it was about the experience, and you can't get that at home. Still, it was enough to keep me from writing.

Well, in an effort to bring a little bit of Cleonice to your home and keeping the spirit alive, I'd like to share some of our recipes, and maybe some Cleonice stories. 

Tunisian Spiced Lemonade

Rich's sister Jude told us about this lemonade a few years before we opened Cleonice. She had it in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Cambridge. Starting with the restaurateur's description of the ingredients, we worked on our own version adding hibiscus to give it a beautiful hue and a little more vitamin C. 

For the syrup:

Cinnamon Stick, Damascus Rose Blossoms, Orange Zest, and Hibiscus Blossoms

  • Orange zest, remove a piece of zest from a fresh orange with a paring knife about 4 inches long and nearly an inch wide.
  • 3 Damascus rose blossoms (we sourced these from Oriental Pastry and Grocery shop on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn). Savory Spice Shop online looks to have them.
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of hibiscus blossom (available at health food stores, locals to Cleonice can find it at John Edwards in Ellsworth)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Spices, sugar, and water in saucepan ready to boil.

Staining the spices into the pitcher
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir to incorporate the sugar. When sugar has melted, take off heat and allow to sit and steep for at least a half hour.  (Over cooking will lose the bright color and likely vitamin C from the hibiscus). After steeping strain out the zest and spices.

For the Lemonade:

To a half gallon container add strained syrup above and 1/2 to 3/4 cup lemon juice. Fill with water and mix well. You can adjust tartness by adding more lemon juice.

Pour into a tall glass over ice and garnish with a lemon or orange slice. Enjoy.

A bit of summer on this wintry day 


  • When we made this at Cleonice, we'd often start the syrup with hot water and let it steep like tea while we did other work, this extracts even more flavor from the spices. When I taught our wonderful Meg how to make this I stirred it with Cleonice's (Rich's mom's) wooden spoon. For years she would go in search of that particular spoon because that was the only correct way to make it. 
  • We made this with regular white sugar at the restaurant. Making a tea (omitting the sugar entirely) instead of a simple syrup would allow you to choose a sweetener of your choosing either adding it to your own glass or sweetening the whole pitcher to your liking. Taste, always taste!
  • This syrup is also what we used to make one of our original cocktails, "The Cleo" a half teaspoon along with 3 oz of Stoli Orange shaken and strained into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange zest.