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A "Matsaki" of This, a "Houfta" of That

The Joy and Vagaries of Greek Recipe Measurements

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Take a houfta of dough - Greek food photos

Take a "houfta" of dough...

Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.

As with all culinary traditions, recipes evolve continuously, and taste combinations are reflective both of the cook and of the region. There are as many authentic Greek recipes for the most traditional of Greek phyllo pies, Spinach, Greens & Herb Pies (and other dishes) as there are great Greek cooks, and the differences can be as innocuous-appearing as the amount of herbs used.

Matsaki (ματσάκι, say: maht-SAH-kee) is the Greek word for "small bunch." Here on the site, there are many, many references in recipe ingredients to "bunches" - usually of herbs or green onions - whole or half. How much is in a bunch? One food author suggests that a bunch of parsley is the size of a bouquet of violets. Does that help? Probably not. So recipes calling for a whole or half "bunch" are, by definition, vague - but that also means they're flexible, and you should feel free to add a little more or less, to your taste preference.

How many cookies will you get from a recipe, say, for Kourabiethes (sugared almond cookies)? Well, that depends on your physical size.

What?

Houfta (χούφτα, say: HOOF-tah) means "handful." Another pretty vague term considering that one person's hand isn't like another's. "Take a handful of dough" is a common way to measure for making cookies, rolls, and pastries. Of course, the size of the hand will determine how many pieces the recipe actually yields, so once again, vagary means flexibility.

Watching a great Greek cook make a recipe and talk through it at the same time can be very enlightening. Measurements like "tablespoon" are often actually "heaping tablespoon," and a "pinch of salt" can be as little as a few grains to 1/4 teaspoon. (And it should be noted here that some things are not vague at all: salt is always sea salt.)

Here on the site, vague measurements have been converted to measuring standards where possible, but every cooking resource, not just this one, is a starting point. As you become familiar with the traditional taste combinations described in a precise recipe, you may find that, over time, you add your own wonderful vagaries.

Some favorite Greek measuring terms:

  • Houfta (χούφτα, HOOF-tah) - handful
  • Matsaki (ματσάκι, maht-SAH-kee) - small bunch
  • Oka (οκά, oh-KAH) - a Cretan basic unit of measurement used until recently, 1.280 kilos, or 2 7/8 pounds
  • Piato vathi (πιάτο βαθύ, pee-YAH-toh vah-THEE) - deep plate
  • Potiraki (ποτηράκι, poh-tee-RAH-kee) - small glass
  • Potiri (ποτήρι, poh-TEE-ree) - glass
  • Preza (πρέζα, PREH-zah)- pinch
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