‘Dish’ to Greek Food Astoria

GFA recently visited the kitchen of a lovely human and talented cook in our dear neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Enjoy the following highlights from this fun and delicious visit…

Meet Lemona Peikidou.

The cook and heart of the kitchen at Cafe Boulis in Astoria, Queens NYC.

  • Lemona grew up in Drama, Greece (in the north, near the border with Bulgaria)
  • Moved to the U.S.A. when she was 20 years old
  • Learned to cook from her mother, aunt and grandmother
  • Lemona’s youth was surrounded by a beautiful year-round bounty of homegrown produce. They collected fresh milk from the family’s cows, from which they made their own cream, butter and cheese. They even grew their own wheat, which her mother ground into flour.

Back in Greece, we always had fresh vegetables we used from our gardens.

It is only natural, then, that Lemona’s food experiences as a child led to a lifelong appreciation for fresh and local produce.

While the self-sufficient lifestyle she grew up with in Greece isn’t so feasible in NYC, she looks to locally produced ingredients for her traditional recipes at Cafe Boulis.

Spanakopita 101

  • Spanakopita = spanáki (spinach) + píta (pie)
  • It’s a savory pie typically made with a spinach and feta cheese filling. The pie filling, however, can vary based on the region, or “whatever we have at the house.” Growing up Lemona’s family often made the filling using a mix of different in-season greens and their homemade cheese. 
  • In Greece, spanakopita is eaten at any time of day 
  • Lemona was quick to clarify that spanakopita is typically consumed as a side dish or a snack – not as a meal in itself. “In Greece, when you eat, it’s ‘food food’ – not a pie.” 

Cafe Boulis’s Spanakopita

As a resident Astorian, it’s always a delight tasting different spanakopita throughout the neighborhood. Lemona’s spanakopita at Cafe Boulis, however, sets itself apart from the crowd. Its uniqueness lies in her country-style recipe which goes back generations. At its core is the recipe of the talented women she grew up with in the kitchen. Through Lemona’s years of cooking she’s tweaked the recipe to make it her own.

The crust is made up of phyllo that Lemona makes from scratch. The dough’s elasticity is beautiful and impressive.

Homemade phyllo dough

For the filling, Lemona uses locally-produced ingredients whenever possible, with the exception of the feta cheese. “The feta is from Greece…it’s not melty when you cook it, so you can see it after it’s cooked.” The filling included spinach, leeks, egg, olive oil, feta, and plenty of fresh dill. 

Spanakopita filling (Left: before mixing, Right: combined)
Notice she keeps it fairly rustic, which is appealing visually, and creates great texture.

Lemona’s assembly of the spanakopita was smooth and swift. Her expertise was evident in her efficiency and familiarity with the dough. Her hands knew exactly what to do; she made it look effortless. I stood mesmerized as she prepared the phyllo, eventually stretching the dough into translucent sheets.

4. Begin to flatten the dough
(Lemona used a pasta sheet roller attachment on her stand mixer,
but you could instead use a rolling pin, if you want to sweat for it.)
11. Continue layering remaining phyllo to form the top of the pie
14. Fold in and crimp the dough around the perimeter
15. Prick the top of the pie with a sharp knife. This will allow the steam to escape when baking
Lemona’s spanakopita at Cafe Boulis

Visit Cafe Boulis
30-15 31st Avenue
Queens, NY 11106

Lightning Round with Lemona

What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?
Eggplant fried with fresh tomatoes and parsley on top.

If you could learn to cook any one thing, what would it be?
I’d like to experiment with fresh flour…different breads.

What’s your favorite ingredient in Greek cooking?
Fresh parsley. I use it always! And garlic and onions.

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