Regional Greek Cooking

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Hippocrene Books

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This is a Greek family cookbook with unique flavours and home kitchen recipes. This book showcases dishes from the key regions of mainland Greece as well as the islands and introduces readers to little known spices and ingredients-providing ways to track them down. Of particular interest is a section on micro-brewed beers, regional wines, and different ouzos. Also included is an overview of the Hellenic, detailing the culinary history and culture of provincial and mainland Greece.


Catherine Karayanis
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illustrated edition
Hippocrene Books
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Hippocrene Books
Regional Greek Cooking
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The regional cuisines of Greece are as varied as those of France, Italy, or China, and until recently they were fairly unknown in the US. Now there are several very good books on the subject available to American reader-cooks, but another is always welcome.

Lead author Dean Karayanis writes enthusiastically in the introduction about "yia yia recipes," i.e. the dishes prepared by the grandmothers of Greece. The brief introduction is a micro-tour of the culinary regions and is a pleasure to read. The emphasis on good home cooking is welcome in this era of over-hyped celebrity chefs. The authors encourage experimentation, and every recipe is followed by suggestions for improvisation based on what is available and good. The arrangement by region helps make the internal logic of each region's cuisine more clear. An excellent index allows the reader to scan by type of recipe or by ingredient as well as by region.

So what happens when you get to the recipes? Well, they're a mixed bag. Despite the book's emphasis on yia yia cooking, many of the recipes (in some sections, all of them) are credited to restaurants and tourist boards.  Some are utterly delicious, such as the Grilled Halloumi Cheese with Caper Sauce that uses simple ingredients to take a good cheese to new heights. Some are bizarre, like the eggplant recipe attributed to a good hotel in Athens that calls for stuffing slices of eggplant with Gruyere cheese, rolling bacon strips around them, and baking the rolls with a sauce consisting solely of a bottle of ketchup diluted with a little water (no kidding.) Some show how the mentally agile Greek cooks have incorporated outside influences, as with the delicious, barely sweet Corfiot Apple Pudding.

There are recipes that show the culinary as well as health virtues of the Mediterranean diet, particularly the edgy, herbaceous, and very delicious Sauteed Wild Greens with Fennel. The Potatoes with Rosemary and Thyme are simple, straightforward, and tasty.  One recipe that I didn't try but greatly enjoyed reading for its Greek spirit was the Mediterranean Ravioli, which calls for homemade pasta dough, a nice sauce of tomatoes, arugula, and feta, and "36 ounces ravioli filling of your choice. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination." It takes me back 25 years, because this is more or less the way that Greek shopkeepers on 9th Avenue in Manhattan used to give me recipes when I importuned them; I remember asking one elderly woman 'How many eggs should I use?" and having her reply in exasperation "How many do you have?"

There are some clear issues with the testing of the recipes, and some simply don't work as written. Most notable in this regard is a spanikopita recipe from Epirus that calls for two pounds of spinach and minor amounts of green onion and herbs to be mixed with 3.5 ounces of rock salt. So, far, I'm with them. The wilting of greens with salt is a common Mediterranean method of reducing their volume before incorporating them into a filling or putting them to other uses. However, when this method is used, the salt is rubbed in, the greens are allowed to wilt, and then an hour or more later they are squeezed dry, and sometimes rinsed, to remove the excess salt.  This step is omitted in this recipe, and the greens with their full freight of rock salt are mixed with the other filling ingredients and used to fill the phyllo pie. I don't think that very many people would take a second bite if this was prepared exactly as written. Ditto for the Beef in Garlic Sauce, which is a renamed version of the classic Sofrito of Corfu. In the author's version, stew beef is browned and then cooked in a sauce of vinegar (a full cup of it), chopped garlic, and parsley. The recipe simply calls for "white vinegar."  Made with American white vinegar, it would be inedible. Made with wine vinegar, as most Sofrito recipes specify, it was better but still not something I would eat if I had any choice. My best regional Greek cookbook  uses ¼ the amount of vinegar for the same amount of meat and gives  a much better result. Again, I wonder if the authors ever tried this one out before putting it in their book. 

In summation, this book is a lot like going through someone's personal recipe file. There are tried-and-true favorites. There are some delicious newcomers. Then there are clipped recipes, some probably never tried, some possibly clipped because they looked unusual rather than because they looked good. You, the reader-cook, have to pick and choose. If you're willing to do that, there are some gems here.


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