Pros: historical reference, understanding of local products and producers, unique recipes
Cons: no resource guide and certain ingredients are difficult to find.
While Greece may be struggling financially, one part of the country that will remain forever strong is its fascinating cuisine. Although many people don’t realize this, Greek cooking is incredibly diverse and so much more than the ubiquitous dishes such as gyros, moussaka, and roast lamb. If you have never had the pleasure of travelling through Greece and enjoying the people and the food then let “The Country Cooking of Greece” be your guide.
Chronicle books have put together “The Country Cooking of….” series which currently includes Ireland, Italy, France, and Greece. While the Irish and Italian books were authored by Coleman Andrews (co-founder of Saveur magazine) France was authored by Anne Willan and Greece by Diane Kochilas. They are wonderful cookbooks filled with excellent photography and the recipes are not your standard fare.
There is no finer ambassador of Greek cuisine in my opinion than Diane Kochilas. Chronicle books made the right choice to have her as the point person for this book. For her entire career Kochilas has had a singular focus writing numerous books (all on Greek cuisine), consulting for some of the top Greek restaurants, and running her own Greek cooking school. She was also featured in one episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown television series and was robbed of best Moussaka in my opnion.
The Country Cooking of Greece is an incredible book just on the sheer size alone. With 14 chapters containing over 250 recipes and 150 photos the 384 page book contains a staggering amount of information about Greek cuisine. But this is not just a cookbook it is a hybrid being a history book, travel guide, photography book, and cookbook all at once.
The book is divided into main staples of Greek cuisine (salads, beans, eggs, vegetables, chicken, meat, sweets, etc). Chapters begin by explaining the history of the food item, what it means to the Greek people and how it has evolved as part of their culture. This is one of the best components of the book in my opinion as it really gives the reader insight into the Greek people and their culture. There is clearly a pride the Greeks have for not only their cooking but also the time they put into the creation and/or the cultivation of the ingredients they use.
Another element of this book that I enjoyed is the many spotlights on local producers of various Greek specialties. From a gentleman who prepares a delicacy of dried grey mullet roe to a lady bee keeper the Greeks are very passionate about what they produce. It really encourages you to visit Greece and just roam the countryside in search of these amazing local delicacies.
As you work your way through the book you may encounter a bit of frustration with some recipes and the ingredients they require. While it is fairly easy to source excellent Greek honey, olive oil, and oregano it can be difficult to source ingredients such as borage, purslane, eel, or even Jersey beefsteak tomatoes. Your best bet will be to try to source odd ingredients at places like your local farmer’s market and a fish monger. Obviously if you can’t find Jersey beefsteaks your local farmer’s market will have excellent replacements. It is an odd miss for such a complete book not to have a resource guide for products. While many of the ingredients can be found with some work sadly, some can only be found in Greece such as Botargo (grey mullet roe, salted, dried and then dipped in bees wax).
Of the several recipes I tested all of them worked well and the flavors were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the ouzo-braised cabbage with pork sausage. Other recipes of note are the Santorini tomato fritters and the pan-fried semolina cake from Zakynthos. The recipes are well laid out and presented in an easy to read fashion.
Overall I feel that of Diane Kochilas’s books this one is her best, truly and outstanding effort.