Culinaria Greece: A Celebration of Food and Tradition, edited by Marianthi Milona, showcases the regional cuisine of Greece with dozens of recipes and over 1,300 color photos. It is not only a cookbook, but also includes background information on the history and how specific ingredients have left their mark on Greek cuisine and culture. The most recent edition was released on August 15, 2015.
Marianthi Milona was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and is a writer and journalist. She studied German and English Literature in Germany at the University of Cologne. You can find her work in a variety of books, magazines, newspapers, radio, and television.
Chapters are divided based on region: Athens, Attica and Central Greece, The Peloponnese, Ionian Islands, Epirus, Thessaly, Sporades, Chalkidiki, Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Thrace, North Aegean Islands, The Cyclades, Dodecanese, Crete, and Cyprus. For those unfamiliar with Greece, the first page of the book has a map highlighting the different regions.
Each chapter includes the specialties from that area plus cultural tidbits. Backgrounds of local items such as Metaxa brandy, Kritharaki (orzo pasta), Metsovon (semisoft smoked cheese), Ouzo, Cretan mountain tea, the oldest recorded Greek soup (Trakhanas), Greek wine and wineries, Greek country sausage, Mezedes (appetizers), and so much more are described in detail. Traditions surrounding mealtimes, specific holidays (Easter, Christmas, New Years), and eating habits are explained. There are also sections on the Olympics and Greek Gods and Goddesses.
I personally loved learning what each area is known for. Thessaloniki is the liveliest city in Greece with a history of a strong Jewish culture. Epirus is home to “Dodoni,” the largest milk processing company in the country. Chalkidiki is known for its honey production, fisherman, and Monastery life. The Dodecanese Islands have had a significant Turkish influence in its cuisine. Cyprus became an independent sovereign republic in 1960. The northern 2/5ths of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974. Thessaly has the largest apple growing area with 27,500 tons each year.
While you will find well-known dishes such as Pastitsio (Ground Meat and Macaroni Bake), Dolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon Sauce- 2 types), Rizogalo (Rice Pudding), and Galaktoboureko (Milk Cake), there are also plenty of recipes I had never heard of before including Bobota Glikia (Sweet Corn Cakes), Kotopoulo me Rigani (Chicken with Oregano), Kouneli Tiravgoulo (Rabbit with Egg and Cheese Sauce), and Youvetsi me Lakhanika (Baked Orzo with Vegetables). Recipe names are provided in English and Greek (Latin alphabet). Measurements are in US Customary and Metric.
The gorgeous photographs were taken by Werner Stapelfeldt. Across the pages, you will find pictures in a variety of sizes ranging from scenery, people, restaurants, and more. Heinz Troll added the food photography for many of the recipes, generally of the finished dish.
This book is a great choice for those wanting to learn more about the history of Greek cuisine along with trying some new and delicious recipes. Seafood lovers will enjoy the large amounts of fish, eel, mussels, shrimp, crayfish, squid, and octopus dishes. There is also a nice assortment of appetizers, soups, salads, vegetables, meat based dishes, sides, and desserts. I do wish there was a more organized index or list to look up specific recipes. Most of the ingredients are easy to find for the average home cook. Some products that may require a trip to the specialty Eastern European market include ouzo, kefalotiri cheese, and kadefi dough, The recipes range in difficulty from easy to more advanced. Check out the rest of the books available in the Culinaria Series.
With today being Thanksgiving, I wanted to share the recipe for Rodankhas de Kalavassa Amarilla (Pumpkin Tarts). These Pumpkin Tarts come from Thessaloniki, a city known for its Jewish population. Until the Holocaust, the Jewish community made up over half of the city with 56,000 people. Following World War II, only 2,000 returned. Their cuisine had a marked impact on Thessaloniki. These Pumpkin Tarts are made with a flour olive oil based crust (no butter!) and a cinnamon spiced walnut pumpkin filling. I arranged a few walnut pieces on the top for decoration. The tarts are baked until the crust is golden brown.
I made the crust with whole wheat pastry flour, but all purpose or white pastry flour will also work well. Slowly add the flour to the water and olive oil until you get a soft dough. I only needed around 3 cups, though 4 may be needed.
If you use 1/2 pound pumpkin puree, then you won’t need to dice and simmer the pumpkin until tender.
I also made Soutzoukakia (Ground Meat Rolls in Tomato Sauce), Kapamas (Meatballs in Egg and Lemon Sauce), Koulouria (Sesame Rings), and Spanakorizo (Rice with Spinach).
Soutzoukakia are elongated rolls of ground pork seasoned with bread crumbs, garlic, and cumin. They are lightly pan-fried before simmering in tomato sauce. Chad turned them into a sandwich by arranging a couple between two slices of bread. This dish was relatively easy, but full of flavor.
Kapamas are beef meatballs held together with breadcrumbs, eggs, onion, parsley, and oregano. After sautéing in olive oil, then simmering in water, they are served hot in an egg and lemon sauce. We served them with rice. This one was my personal favorite.
Koulouria are made by coating rings of dough in sesame rings and baked until the outside is crisp encasing the soft interior. Proofing the yeast takes 24 hours to prepare, but overall isn’t complicated. Make sure the rings have plenty of space in the center. Mine puffed quite a bit during baking, but were still quite delicious.
Spanakorizo is a rice dish cooked with a large amount of finely chopped spinach. It is lightly seasoned with onion, dill, and lemon. This dish came together quickly and paired well as a side for the Kapamas (Meatballs in Egg and Lemon Sauce). At first, I was a bit concerned by the sheer amount of spinach, but it ended up being perfect. To save time, you can even use finely chopped frozen spinach.
Disclaimer: I received this book from H.F. Ullmann Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Rodankhas de Kalavassa Amarilla (Pumpkin Tarts)
Adapted from Culinaria Greece: A Celebration of Food and Tradition
5-6 mini tarts
1/2 cup (125 mL) Greek extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (125 mL) water
3-4 cups (500 grams) white or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 pound (250 grams) pumpkin flesh, diced
1/2 cup (125 ml) water
1 generous cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (100 grams) ground walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Walnut pieces for garnish
To make the pastry: In a small saucepan, bring to olive oil and water to a boil. Remove from heat and add to a large bowl. Slowly mix in flour just until dough comes together. Season with a large pinch of salt and knead on a lightly floured surface until soft and smooth. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, cover with a towel or plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Grease 5-6 mini tart pans with olive oil.
On a lightly floured surface, roll one of the halves of dough into a thin sheet and cut out 6 inch circles. Line the greased tart pans with the circles. Repeat with other half of dough.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
For the filling: Combine the water and diced pumpkin in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until the pumpkin pieces are fork tender. Mash the pumpkin until smooth, adding a little more water if needed. Mix in the sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium low heat, stirring often, until slightly thickened.
Divide the filling among the tart pans lined with the pastry crust. Decorate the tops with walnut pieces. Bake in preheated oven until the crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Serve warm from the oven.