Savour – A Taste of Greece
Christos Sourligas on cherishing childhood memories of love, laughter and family in every bite
I am so not an aspiring celebrity chef. I wrote my cookbook out of necessity. When my mother’s doctors told us she had just months to live, my mind went into overdrive. “Does Mama have her will in order? Which funeral home is best? And when I drive Mama home after her doctor’s appointment, what’s for dinner?”
Being the typical filmmaker and storyteller that I am, I wanted to document my Mama’s Greek food recipes before she passed on. Not because I was going to miss her cooking — although I would, more than I could ever imagine. But because I had to honour this woman while she was still alive by preserving her priceless recipes so that generations to come could savour the flavours of her life. The idea being that, centuries from now, someone could pick up this book and make some of my Mama’s delicious recipes. This cookbook is bigger than her and me. It’s our family’s gift to the world. And that can never be... final.
So for a year I braved a series of intense hands-on cooking demos with her, my Baba and my sister to capture an oral history of her gastronomical treasure trove. I took some abuse along the way: “Teaspoon? What teaspoon? I go with my gut! Back off and just watch me, kiddo!” And yes, my Mama is still alive today, hanging in there like the stubborn, old-school Mama that she is.
“I love you, my son,” never rolled off Mama’s tongue because she just wasn’t brought up to express herself that way. But her succulent comfort food, prepared with such unwavering focus, speaks volumes. This cookbook is a testament to the meme of food as love: feeding her family—my Baba, my three siblings and me, the youngest—is the most meaningful way for Mama to convey her devotion to us. This is my love letter to her for the sacrifices she made to give her children the life she never had growing up in abject poverty.
Her recipes are what I call “legit rustic-mountain-village peasant food.” My family is from Arcadia, Greece, and that’s what I’m highlighting in this cookbook: the life of the simple shepherd. It’s the life idealized by Romantic poets like Byron, Shelley, Keats. Nature. Pasture. Utopia. Where the wilderness is unspoiled and the mountainous landscape so vast, it forces you to connect with the bounty that is... life. Not a single resident of my Baba’s town has ever died of cancer or of heart disease. If you walk through the town’s cemetery, you discover that the average age of death is 95. It’s isolated as h***. The mountain roads are treacherous. Cell service is difficult, Wi-Fi non-existent. And the friends I bring along for my yearly summer visits never want to leave. This is exactly the feeling and emotion my family and I have captured in this book.
Now pull up a dining chair and join me on my journey sharing my Mama’s delicious recipes, while bringing to light the real food history of the Greek working class. And as my Mama is in her final act, it’s more than fitting that a quarter of her recipes are dedicated to desserts. Funny. The only way to truly celebrate life is to wholly embrace death... morbid, but so true. “OPA!!!” (Add the sound of smashing plates here.)
SPINACH PIE TRIANGLES
Ready in 1 hour 30 minutes.
Enjoy spanakopitakia (baby cousins of the spinach pie) on the go as a mid-morning or midday snack. Combine it with any Greek dip — tzatziki, skordalia, tarama, tirokafteri or melitzanosalata — for a colourful rainbow of delights.
For the filling:
284 grams (10 ounces) spinach
10 scallion shoots
2 cups freshly chopped dill
1 cup freshly crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
For the phyllo pastry:
454 grams (16 ounces) phyllo dough sheets
- Bring a large stockpot of water to a hard boil.
- Wash the spinach, scallions, and dill. Do not cut the spinach. Chop the scallions into 1/3- inch bits. Rinse the feta through a strainer to wash off the brine and set aside.
- Toss the scallions and dill into the boiling pot of water. Boil for 2 minutes before adding in the spinach. Stir and boil for another 2 minutes. Thoroughly strain the greens through a colander, and let stand before placing into a large mixing bowl. Crack in the eggs, and toss in the crumbled feta. Combine the olive oil, salt and pepper, then mix.
- Lay out the phyllo dough sheets onto a large cutting board and slice into 3-inch-wide strips. Cover the strips with a towel so they don't dry up. Brush each strip with olive oil, piling 3 strips for use per triangle. Drop a tablespoon full of spinach filling on to the bottom edge of the strips and fold the phyllo over like folding a flag. Repeat with remaining spinach filling and phyllo, and arrange the triangles onto a well-buttered baking sheet. Brush the triangles with olive oil.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) on the convection setting. Bake the spanakopitakia for 15 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Cool and serve with a dip.
My Big Fat Greek Cookbook is available worldwide now
Published by Skyhorse Publishing.
Distributed by Simon & Schuster.
This story originally appeared in [EDIT] magazine. To subscribe, please click here.