Remembering Salonika with dandelion, oregano

Nora Rousso has inherited many northern Greek Jewish food traditions. The Los Gatos resident can trace her heritage back to the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic city of Salonika. From her grandmother, mother and aunt she learned dishes that resonate with meaning for her and her family.

One of the dishes on her Rosh Hashanah table was leek fritters. “They are like latkes, only tastier,” she says. “When my aunt made them they were half gone before they even got to the table.”

Rousso says chicken was baked in olive oil, lemon juice and “a ton of oregano.”  She also has fond memories of eating dandelion greens and her grandmother’s homemade pasta, which resembled orzo and was sometimes cooked with chicken broth and tomatoes.

Based on her remembrances, I’ve created recipes for a Rosh Hashanah meal. Rousso promised more ideas for Passover. According to her, that’s when her food heritage really shines. I can’t wait.

Leek and Mint Fritters

Serves 6

6 large leeks, white and light green parts only

2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄2 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

4 eggs, beaten

1⁄4 cup matzah meal

1⁄4 cup chopped fresh mint

1⁄4 cup vegetable oil or more as     needed

Trim, cut leeks in half lengthwise and clean. Boil or steam until soft. Drain and cool. Finely chop. Combine with garlic, salt and peppers. Mix with beaten egg. Mix in matzah meal and mint. Let batter rest 5 minutes.

Stir and drop by 1⁄4 cupfuls into hot oil over medium-high heat in large fry pan. Fry about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. 

Oregano and Lemon–Baked Chicken

Serves 4-6

3⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1⁄4 cup water

1⁄8 tsp. crushed pepper flakes

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. dried oregano leaves

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. vegetable oil or oil spray

4 lbs. chicken breasts on the bone

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, water, peppers, salt, oregano and garlic in large container. Add chicken, marinate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a large roasting or baking pan with oil or oil spray. Place chicken bone down in pan. Pour marinade over top of chicken. Roast, basting with pan juices occasionally, until chicken is done, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit 10 minutes. Serve with pan juices.

Orzo with Tomatoes and Greens

Serves 6

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups orzo pasta

1⁄4 tsp. salt, divided

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper, divided

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 cup chopped onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups chopped tomatoes (in 1⁄2-inch chunks)

4 cups chopped dandelion or turnip greens or Swiss chard

1⁄2 tsp. sugar (optional)

Heat broth to boiling in large sauce pan. Add orzo and half of the salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just done. (About 8-10 minutes.)

Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic until golden. Add tomatoes. Sauté until just beginning to soften. Add greens and remaining salt and pepper. Sauté until greens are tender. Add sugar if greens are too bitter.

Mix in cooked orzo with leftover cooking broth. Turn heat to low. Cook until all liquid is absorbed. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

Faith Kramer
is a Bay area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].