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.