One of the oddest dishes I’ve ever eaten was a savory kataifi. Kataifi is shredded phyllo dough, usually filled with a sweet custard and soaked in a honey-cinnamon syrup. This version, served at a chic Athenian restaurant that was inexplicably Celtic-themed, was filled with a savory cheese sauce. There might have been mushrooms. The very proper lady in our party was so shocked she spat it out in the most discreet way possible. Let’s see what yiayia thinks, indeed.
This is all to say that the very essence of Greek food is its place. A Greek salad from the corner deli, trapped in a plastic clamshell is one thing. But a horiatiki of blood fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, doused in olive oil, served in a battered china bowl, at a table next to a beach is another thing entirely.
It is this thing that Tessa Kiros captures so perfectly in vivid photos and true recipes. That scruffy hominess comes through in photos of improvised island kitchens and in dishes like Strapatsada—Scrambled Eggs with Tomato, Chanotiko Boureki—Vegetable Pie from Chania, Arni Fricassee—Lamb with Lettuce, or Gliko Tou Koutaliou—Spoon Sweets.
She begins the book with a charming glossary of definitions that set the mood. “Ipsilon, as in Hydra, the beautiful, car-free island. Hypervoli (exaggeration). Hyperifanos (proud). And for Hygia (health).” Recipes are divided to reflect the calendar and life that follows the seasons: traditional foods, fasting foods, Easter foods, shared foods, baker’s foods, soups, salads, and simple sweets—fruits in syrup; nothing more complicated than a honey cake.
Individually, the recipes and photos seem impressionistic. A traditional Easter dish, a solitary boat, a simple sesame bread, a tabletop composition of linen, silver, and china. Taken together they capture the particular brightness and tang of Greece. You can almost taste the feta.