Thursday, 3 July 2014

#readcookeat challenge : Greek cuisine (inspired by When The Cypress Whispers)

Last month, I read Mike Martins's Beneath The Surface which was a great read but also a fabulous gastronomical overview of the cuisine of Newfoundland. I've just finished reading another book, When The Cypress Whispers by Yvette Manessis Corporon (click through to read my review), which is another book that had me frequently jotting down the names of delicious-sounding recipes to investigate. (In fact, I ended up sticking a giant post-it note on the back of the book so I could keep track of them as I was reading !)

For this month's #readcookeat challenge, I will definitely be recreating at least one of them but I haven't decided which one yet because they all sound lovely. Here are the mentions that had me salivating and imagining those fabulous Greek flavours.

I love the descriptions of rustic, traditional home-cooking in the book : (p37) "The young girl watched Yia-Yia coat another pan with olive oil and add the freshly chopped tomatoes she had picked from the garden that morning. The bright red mixture sizzled, simmered and popped until the tomatoes reached the perfect consistency, losing their firm texture and giving way to a sweet, thick paste. With her slightly burned and battle-scarred wooden spoon, Yia-Yia cleared four little round holes in the simmering sauce. Daphne knew this was her cue. She reached over to the basket of freshly hatched eggs and cracked them one by one into the holes that Yia-Yia had made." (I've just realised that's a mistake in the book - it should be freshly LAID not freshly HATCHED eggs !) The version of eggs and tomatoes in the book, served with crusty bread and freshly torn basil leaves, sounds like a Greek twist on the Moroccan dish Chakchouka that we discovered last year on holiday.

Next ...! (p52) "Daphne could not wait to get home and dive into Yia-Yia's rich and creamy chicken boureki pie or sweet pumpkin spourthopita." Well, they both deserved to be googled. I couldn't find a recipe for chicken boureki pie but there are numerous recipes for boureki, which is a vegetarian cheesy courgette and potato bake. I couldn't find spourthopita anywhere, apart from a rough translation as pumpkin pie, so if any experts on Greek cuisine pass by, let me know what it is !

For a light option or maybe a side dish, I love the sound of (p59) "a deep bowl of glorious Greek horiatiki salad of ruby-red chopped tomatoes, freshly cut cucumbers and newly unearthed red onions so intense that Daphne felt her eyes sting." Wikipedia explains : "the so-called Greek salad is known in Greece as village/country salad (horiatiki) and is essentially a tomato salad with cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and kalamata olives, dressed with olive oil. In Cyprus it also contains cracked wheat (bulgur), spring onions instead of red onions, and lemon juice."

We tried putting goat's cheese in a camembert box on the barbecue a couple of weeks ago which was lovely but very strong - it was perfect for dipping fresh crusty bread into at the end of the meal. Yia-Yia has a similar dish - baked feta. (p61) "Inside the aluminium pouch, the one-inch thick slab of cheese had been generously drizzled with olive oil and smoky paprika, then topped with just a few slivers of fresh peppers."

Spanakopita photo, courtesy of Wikipedia

I'd never heard of spanakopita but it sounds utterly divine - filo pastry stuffed with spinach, feta cheese, onions and egg. It looks deliciously flaky and I'll definitely be looking up a recipe.

I also absolutely love the sound of the patato-pita - a sort of filo-topped omelette by the sounds of it - that Yia-Yia and Daphne make together (p73). It starts off with dill, rice and crumbled boiled potatoes before being topped with lots of feta and a dozen scrambled eggs. This is then topped with sheets of filo pastry and a sprinkling of sugar. I haven't managed to unearth a recipe yet so again, if you know this dish and how to make it, please let me know !

Saganaki photo, courtesy of Wikipedia

I have actually made prawn saganaki but the saganaki in the book (p115) is totally different. I discovered (thank you Wikipedia !) that saganaki is the name of a small cooking pan, is used to say "fried" and can be applied to many foods. Here's the scrummy-sounding version from the book : "Daphne devoured several more of Yia-Yia's olives, watching as the old woman sliced several paper-thin pieces of kaseri cheese and placed them in a small, shallow baking pan. Yia-Yia put the pan directly on the smoking embers and scurried off to the other side of the patio, where she plucked a huge, round lemon from the lemon tree. [...] Seated once again by the fire with her prized lemon on the table beside her, Yia-Yia kept watch until the bubbles turned a deep golden brown, forming a thick crispy crust that hid the delicious ooze underneath. Gathering the hem of her apron in her hand, Yia-Yia removed the pan from the heat. With her sharp paring knife, she sliced through the giant lemon and, using both hands to squeeze, doused the still-bubbling cheese with a spray of lemon juice." I can't quite imagine lemon and cheese going together but I love the atmospheric description of the old woman preparing the traditional meal, which is served by dipping crusty bread into it.

I love Mediterranean meze-style feasts with the whole table laden down with dishes and this description in the book got my mouth watering : (p150)  "The meal began with an assortment of small meze plates : a tangy melitzanosalata of fire-roasted eggplants pureed with garlic and vinegar, taramosalata, tzatziki, succulent grape leaves stuffed with savoury rice and pine nuts and Nitsa's soft and creamy homemade feta, which melted on Daphne's tongue the moment she put it in her mouth. Next came the tiropites - small triangular cheese pies filled with feta and spices, followed by stuffed zucchini flowers whose rice and pork filling were delicate enough not to overpower their slightly sweet casings. The main course was a masterpiece. Instead of the traditional and expected grilled fish, Nitsa surprised both Yia-Yia and Daphne with a large platter of bakaliaro, delicately fried medallions of cod along with a heaping bowl of pungent skordalia paste made from potatoes, garlic and olive oil." Yum, excuse me while I wipe drool off my chin !

Souvlaki photo, courtesy of Wikipedia

Even simple corn-on-the-cob from a street vendor sounds so good it had me salivating : (p196) "As Daphne bit down again, her mouth exploded with the sugary juice that escaped from each kernel, balanced by just the right amount of savoury crunch from the sea salt." This was followed by "greasy souvlaki sandwiches piled high with tzatziki sauce, onions, tomatoes, grilled pork cubes and even French fries." Street food Greek-style !

Stifado sounds like a real labour of love but well worth the effort - (p215) "  "Ah, Cousin Stephen." Popi patted his forearm as they walked. "For you, Yia-Yia has outdone herself. For you, stifado."
"Stee-fa-do," Popi repeated.
"It's a stew," Daphne chimed in. "A really delicious, thick, rich stew."
"Then why haven't you made it for me before, if it's so delicious? Stephen teased.
"I know, I've been holding out," Daphne admitted. "It's really, really labour-intensive, actually. It's a tangy beef stew simmered with tomatoes and vinegar and tiny little pearl onions. It takes hours to clean those little onions."
If that's convinced you that you need to try it, you might like to test Jamie Oliver's recipe.

p293 mentions Loukoumades - this made me think of Turkish delight (loukoums) but the description sounds nothing like it ! " "You didn't sleep, did you?" she asked, changing the subject as she added the dissolved yeast to the flour along with raisins, more warm water and a pinch of nutmeg. When it was mixed, she covered it with a clean dish towel and placed it inside the oven to rise." Wikipedia explains : "Similar to small crusty donuts, loukoumades are essentially fried balls of dough drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, typically served with sesame seed.". In the book, these are served at a picnic at the beach, along with keftedes, which sound similar to the Turkish kofte meatballs I made a while ago.

I'd never heard of Komourakia (p318) and even google didn't have the answer - anyone know what it is?

The final foodie reference is a sad one - a traditional mourning meal of fried fish with rosemary and vinegar sauce for Yia-Yia (p333).

The big question is, which one of these am I going to try for the #readcookeat challenge?!

Fancy "cooking the books"? Head on over to the #readcookeat challenge at Chez Maximka and Cooking Around The World

Other blogposts you may be interested in :

Madhouse recipe : Greek pasta bake

Kitchen Nomad Globe-Cooking Recipe #5 : Fig and Walnut Bake (Greece)


  1. All sounds delicious! I love greek food - my favourite is stifado. Always tastes better though eaten under the hot mediterranean sun! :)

  2. What a splendid overview! You are now officially a Vice-President of ReadCookEat! :) I imagine it will be a tough choice to pick just one recipe to recreate, there are so many fantastic ones. I love spanakopita, but it's been ages since I made one. I confess I haven't heard of quite a few of the dishes mentioned above. Just wondering whether I should buy a book on Greek cuisine? lol

    1. Once again, I was struck by the similarities in different cuisines - Stifado sounds a bit like boeuf bourgignon, keftedes are like the Turkish kofte I made, eggs & tomatoes looks like the dishes I saw in Morocco/Tunisia and when I seached for patato-pita, I found a Serbian recipe ! I'm so glad you created this challenge - I regret not doing this when I read Red Sparrow now ( which finished each chapter with a Russian recipe - it seemed out of place in an espionage story but what a great way of discovering exotic cuisine (well, not very exotic for you !!)

  3. Such a lovely post Cheryl! You are such a great cook - you should write a book!

    1. Ahh I can't take any credit for these ones, they came from the book, but I'm looking forward to trying one out very soon :)

  4. Wow this is incredible, want to read the book now too! My blog features a lot of my Dad's Greek and Cypriot recipes from his award winning restaurants-Greek food is truly delicious x

    1. Never has a book made me so hungry ! It's a lovely story too, I fell in love with the Yia-Yia. I'll have a good rummage through your recipes at the weekend and link up any that match :)

  5. Cheryl...I am beyond thrilled that you loved the food so much!! They are all traditional recipes that I grew up with making with my own mother and Yia-yia. Enjoy making them, and eating them!! Please let me know how they turn out.
    Yvette Manessis Corporon

    1. I could really tell that you were writing from the heart drawing inspiration from places and people you had really known. I'll definitely be back to blog about my attempt at recreating them - hope I do them justice !

  6. A really interesting read & some great ideas. The eggs & tomatoes dish drew me in cos it's one of our faves! There are certainly a few things for me to search out, thanks :)