Hello everyone, if I’ve seemed grumpy for the past several months, I apologize. I’m pretty sure I suffer from undiagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder. But now I’m ready to talk, ready to smile and ready to come out of my hibernation. I love spring and summer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens to be the time of year when my favorite events start popping up: Greek Food Festivals. I think we should just call this time of year Greek Food Festival season.
The season kicks off with the Saint Nicholas Festival in Oakland, right across the street from the Main Library. Usually the season ends with Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in the North Hills, with several others in between. Last year we were extra lucky, with Saint Nicholas doing a mini festival in the fall.
I’m not Greek, so I don’t know what it is about Greek food and culture, but dining out, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to the Greek band and enjoying Greek dance equals an amazing spring/summer evening. My kids often end up dancing when audience members are invited to join the dancers, and it’s an all around good time. This year I intend to recreate some of the Greek food festival flavors at home.
I don’t have much experience making Greek food. I’ve made this spanikopita recipe several times, I’ve made some Greek salads, and I’ve made this honey cake, but other than that, not very much. That will change this year with the help of my garden, some local businesses and some Greek cookbooks from the library.
My garden this year is being planned with the end goal of cooking Greek food in mind. I’m planting cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, lettuce and more. We also have useful perennials like mint, sage, thyme and oregano that will be useful in celebrating the glory of Greek food. I also plan on utilizing ingredients from some of Pittsburgh’s Mediterranean supermarkets like Pita Land in Brookline, the Greek Gourmet in Squirrel Hill and Groceria Merante in Oakland.
Some of the books I’ve looked at so far are:
Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die by Diane Kochilas — The subtitle of this one says it all: recipes that are healthy and delicious, to be enjoyed slowly with friends and family.
The Greek Vegetarian: More than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece by Diane Kochilas — Another great selection by the author of Ikaria. To me Greek cooking evokes fresh and delicious vegetables. The first thing I plan on making from this book is the Spinach and bechamel lasagne.
The Real Greek at Home: Dishes from the Heart of the Greek Kitchen by Theodore Kyriakou — Great cookbook with excellent photography and information on the ingredients.
By far my favorite title has been this one, so please give it a try:
The Greek Cook: Simple Seasonal Food by Rena Salaman — There are several things I love about this book. One is that it is divided into seasons. I try to cook using what is fresh and in season; it’s cheaper and more delicious. Another thing I love about this book is the excellent photography of all of the recipes. One precaution about this one though, some of the recipes don’t have volume measurements, which got me into trouble when I was making a recipe and it called for 3 oz of Greek yogurt, and I didn’t have a scale (although some of the ingredients in the recipe did include volume measurements too). Other than that, this is a great cookbook.
Unrelated note: While you’re requesting all of the above cookbooks, you should also check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is one of my wife’s favorite movies. Its sequel is in theaters now, maybe good viewing before heading off to one of the Greek food festivals listed above!
Enjoy Greek Food Festival season!