Prep: 20 min // Prove: 3 hours // Bake: 20 min
What is it?
“Koulouri” (=round shaped) is a favourite snack in Greece and other East Med countries like Turkey (known as ‘Simit’) and Middle East (former Ottoman Empire regions). I call it the Greek bagel and it’s a kid’s all-time favourite comforting food, but also a tasty and healthy snack for us adults.
This kind of bread first appeared at the times of the Ottoman Empire, somewhere in the mid 16th century. Soon, different variants popped up across the empire, based on the local ingredients and techniques, and this bread became popular among several neighbouring nations. This specific one in my post is popular in the Greek islands too and has its origins in Ikaria, an island of the ‘Blue Zones’ where people forget to die. Ikarian diet is rich in fibre, fruits, olive oil, lots of seasonal vegetables and non-processed non-industrialised foods while the islander’s life is simple, with no stress. Do we stand a chance of getting to our 100s living in mega-cities? Who knows… Certainly, one thing we can do to increase the odds is to follow their lead in healthy cooking and eating habits.
In my recipe, I used some cornmeal flour and nutmeg for taste and colour, and feta cheese for filling that you can easily find in any mainstream supermarket in the UK. I have also tried variations with milder versions of cheeses if you are not feta fan, like ricotta or manouri (another Greek soft and sweet cheese) and worked great too. Feel free to experiment with the filling.
Dough making is one the best kids activity; keep them busy mixing the flours (get ready for a mess) or let them crumble feta, roll and "paint" the rings with the egg white and sprinkle the sesame seeds.
Ingredients (makes 6-8 rings)
For the dough:
For filling and glazing:
1 egg white
2-3 tbsp sesame seeds (or poppy seeds)
200g feta cheese (or any other cheese of your preference)
1 tsp dried oregano (or other dried herbs of your preference)
Prepare the starter: Dissolve the honey in half cup of warm water and add it to a big bowl with half cup of flour and the yeast and combine well with a spoon. Cover with cling film and let it stand somewhere warm to activate the yeast for 1 hour until it has begun to bubble and expand.
Past the hour, pour the starter in your electric mixer bowl (I use this Magimix processor with its really large capacity bowl and the dough blades) and then sift the flours with the salt, olive oil, a few gratings nutmeg, the salt and the remaining half cup of water and mix on low speed until combined into a rough dough (first photo below). If it feels too dry add a couple of splashes of water more.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a floured surface (preferably a big wooden chopping board) for 4-5 minutes until it looks and feels silky (second photo).
Grease the sides of the bowl with some oil and put the dough back in the bowl. Cover with cling film again, swaddle with a kitchen towel and let it prove in room temperature for another 2 hours, until it is almost double in size.
After 2 hours, remove the covers, punch the dough down to deflate and bring it on a floured surface to knead briefly before cutting and shaping.
Preheat the oven to 220c (200 fan), line a baking tray with baking paper, crumble your feta cheese and mix it with the oregano and a pinch of pepper and set aside.
Divide your dough into 6 to 8 balls (a bit smaller than a tennis ball). Shape each of the balls into a 2-3cm thick rope and flatten the rope with a rolling pin to a width of around 5-6cm.
Sprinkle with the feta crumble and roll tightly into a cylinder shape (photos below). Twist the cylinder by holding both ends and finally press firm and connect the two ends together forming a ring (should be around 12-15cm diameter). Let the ring rest on the lined baking tray until you prepare all the rest:
Once all rings are prepared, whisk the egg white and brush it to cover the surfaces of all rings. Sprinkle some sesame seeds (or any optional topping you’re using) and bake for around 20 min until golden and crisp. Best served warm.
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Want to discover the Ikarian cuisine and secret to longevity?
Get this amazing book by Ikarian descendant and cook Diane Kochillas. Great authentic recipes, easy to follow and with lots of information on ingredients, nutrition and grocery shopping tips for your Ikarian recipes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cretan is undoubtedly one of the most virgin Olive Oils in the world. Be it the Cretan climate, the skills of Cretans delivering exceptional extra virgin oil over the centuries, or both, this is one olive oil you should be giving a try. During my visits to Greece, I used to bring a 3L pack of Cretan (or Spartan) oil over to the UK but I stopped as soon as I realised how good Amazon's price is (not to mention the space I saved in my luggage)! I use this oil for all my recipes, savoury or desserts.
I know this is a quite trivial tool for many, but what I recently discovered that changed my life was the rolling pin with a revolving centre axis!
I know everyone has one, usually small that breaks easily or never giving you the desired result. I've bought a couple in the past but was never happy with performance and output. Moreover, when I started doing my own hummus, pesto and peanut butter, I found out I needed a bigger, more powerful machine with capabilities. Magimix is a French brand recommended by restaurant chefs and many food writers and bloggers. I found it not that much more expensive, especially given the build quality and durability. Personally, I went for the big boy that comes with multiple BPA free bowl sizes and blades to process almost anything. At 950W you can grate, chop, whisk, knead or turn into paste anything. Let alone I've been using it a lot the last 3 years without any single issue and little to no maintenance. See it in action here. For those with lack of space or seeking a smaller/cheaper alternative, I'd recommend the mini version which also comes with a juicer to squeeze fresh oranges or lemons.