At Play In A Greek Kitchen

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William Brinson for The New York Times. Food stylist: Suzanne Lenzer. Prop stylist: Deborah Williams.

Click the image to the right to go to the story (and take a few minutes to watch the video), which contains a brief cooking lesson in the form of a travelogue. It will either get you reaching for your cookbook, or your travel planner. As we prepare the opening of a restaurant facing a harbor whose waters have hosted ships from the Mediterranean for thousands of years now, we find ourselves with a soft spot for any and all mentions of the foods from that faraway region.

5a979914-eca2-4613-b6ea-e92213533640_2.707f21163a3b20e8172a52d4e1bf533b.jpegWe have been offering authentic Malabar cuisine, in its present day form, in multiple venues over the years already.  Now it is time to go back to some of the less considered influences. For that reason, a quick trip to a kitchen in the Greek islands is a welcome diversion. In his article Life of Pie the food writer Mark Bittman has described the same food in the same location where Amie and I recently ate what we thought was the best hortopita, a variation on the more well known spanakopita, we had ever tasted. And by chance we were on a scouting mission on the island of Ikaria, so this article and the forthcoming cookbook are both perfectly timed for us:

When Diane Kochilas said we were making phyllo, I confess I was intimidated. But as Kochilas taught me, although “phyllo” means “leaf,” that leaf need not be the paper-thin type we’re accustomed to seeing in flaky Middle Eastern pastries. It may be, as it is here, a thin but readily made dough, rich in olive oil, smooth to the touch and easy to handle.

Kochilas’s father is Greek, but she was born in New York and now divides her time among Athens, where she has primarily lived since 1992; the island of Ikaria, where she runs a cooking school; and Manhattan. It’s mostly thanks to her 10 books that I know a bit about cooking Greek food.

In her Athens kitchen this past fall, Kochilas and I made hortopita, essentially a massive pile of mixed greens, herbs, leek and winter squash, all encased in the phyllo. It’s a bit of work, to be sure, but Kochilas has codified the process so that it’s straightforward, and the results are both delicious and impressive.

We got together because I had asked her how to make strapatsada, a simple dish of eggs scrambled into grated tomatoes with which I’d become enamored. But this was a flimsy excuse, because she could (and did) describe how to make the dish in five minutes. And so we tackled the pie.

Read the whole story here.

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