The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas
JThe Glorious Foods of Greece: Traditional Recipes from Islands, Cities, and Villages by Diane Kochilas became a classic the day it was released in 2001. It is a scholarly yet entertaining and practical survey of the food of Greece.
The chapters are organised by region rather than recipe type and this helps to provide an understanding of the many regional differences that occur from the depths of the Peleponnese to the northern shores of the Aegean that push up against Turkey.
Our interest in Greek food was heightened after a trip across the northern shores from Thessaloniki across the Halkidiki peninsula with its magical monasteries clinging to vertical cliffs and on to the port city of Kavala where we enjoyed some of the most extraordinary food. It helped convince us that pure, clean, fresh flavours will always be in vogue no matter how many fashionable trends come and go. Simply charcoal-grilled fresh fish served with fresh herbs and lemon was a flavour we still treasure some twenty years later.
Kochilas starts her culinary explorations in the Peloponnesos peninsular evoking the distant era of Menelaus and Agamemnon and the Trojan wars, of Sparta and the band of 300 who helped slow down the Persian invasion at Thermopylae and of the waves of migration that have affected the culture and the food of this area.
The very first recipe is a model of simplicity but leads to deeper exploration. A tomato and soup is classically pure with only olive oil, fresh tomatoes and chicken broth as the main ingredients. However it is finished with the addition of the widely loved trahana and some crumbled fetta cheese to provide extra flavour and texture. This leads immediately to an exploration of the different ways that trahana (a pasta-like staple made from flour and yoghurt that is formed into a dough and then grated to form the pebbly pasta) can be made and the difference between sweet trahana and sour trahana and lenten trahana.
Every recipe is fully detailed and the cultural setting is explained. The ingredients and their sources are also discussed so that we can understand what contribution each make to the flavour and texture of the dish.
A dish that particularly caught our eye was one from the north west of this region that sees a chicken cooked in a pot with artichokes served with a tomato, egg and lemon sauce made from the pot juices. There are also some very flavourful goat recipes from this region.
The chapter on the two key northern regions of Macedonia and Thrace contains a number of enticing seafood recipes as befits the shores of the Aegean. So we find recipes for butterflied sardines, sauteed mussels and the wonderful red mullet baked in paper. But as we head into the hinterland then recipes for nettle fritters start to emerge along with others based on the mushroom that are found on the mountainous slopes or pork cooked with chestnuts - a dish that evokes winter days around a fire.
Every few pages there are shaded 'break-outs' providing in-depth information on special ingredients or customs.
Kochilas has written a book that will survive trends and serve as an authoritative record of Greek food and food customs for many years into the future.