February 14, Valentine’s Day, is often chosen as the date to pop the question for couples in committed relationships. The planning then ensues for the big day. Food always plays a key role in the celebration. Traditional foods like gamopilafo (literally translated: wedding pilaf or rice) are served at the reception alongside the roasted meats and other favorite dishes. Traditional wedding cakes were often simpler than today’s dramatic confections, but no less scrumptious. Koufeta (Jordan almonds) are, of course, handed out to each guest at Greek weddings. The number of koufeta is always an odd number, symbolizing the couple’s life together which cannot be divided in half and will likely be bittersweet like the almonds coated in sugar.
2 pounds lamb or goat
1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
3 cups rice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
Greek sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Rinse the lamb or goat and chicken in cool water. Place all the meat in a large deep pot and cover with water. Add the onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring the pot up to a boil, skimming any foam that may collect on top. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until both the lamb or goat and the chicken are done about one hour. Remove the cooked meats from the pot and set aside.
Measure five cups of the cooking liquid and place in a large, deep pot. Add the rice, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pot and allow to come to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the rice absorbs the liquid. Serve the rice with the meat immediately and enjoy with a drizzle of olive oil on top. The Cretan version includes goat’s milk butter sautéed and poured over the top of the cooked rice at the end of the cooking process. For added flavor, sprinkle with the grated cheese of your choice.
Almond Wedding Cake
1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1/2 cup Greek honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Olive oil for greasing the baking pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9-inch round springform baking pan with a light brushing of olive oil. Line the pan with a circle of parchment paper and brush with additional olive oil. Set aside.
Place the whole almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely ground. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 cup of honey, the vanilla, baking soda, and sea salt until well combined. Reduce the speed of the mixer, or switch it off entirely, and add the ground almonds. Beat until just combined.
Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl with the whisk attachment of the stand mixer until very foamy, white, and doubled in volume, but not stiff enough to hold peaks, about 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the strength of the mixer. Be careful not to over-beat the egg whites or the cake will sink in the center as it cools. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the ground almonds and egg yolks mixture until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan, using the spatula to scrape all of it from the sides of the mixing bowl and into the pan.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until a skewer or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake is golden brown. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing it from the springform pan. Run a knife around the cake to loosen it from the ring before removing it. Slide the cake with a large offset spatula between the cake and the parchment paper to transfer it to a serving platter. Drizzle the top of the cake with the 2 tablespoons of honey, sprinkle with the toasted, slivered almonds, and serve.
To toast the whole almonds, spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F, stirring once, until fragrant, for about 7 to 9 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven.
To toast the slivered almonds, cook in a small dry pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 to 4 minutes.
To bring the eggs to room temperature, set them out on the counter for at least 20 minutes or submerge them in their shells in a bowl of lukewarm, but not hot, water for 5 minutes before using.