...try them, they can make you dizzy with delight...


...from an Hellenic kitchen...

To conjure up memories of the worst week of my life will not be a pleasant experience for me.
And then to reveal it on the web would certainly not have endeared me to Theophili but if the story is to be told at all it must be told in full.

For all his largesse, pseudopallikaria and filleting wit, if there was one person in the Koukas household who could stop Theo in his tracks and reduce him to an ingratiating, fawning, grovelling flunky, it was Stavroula, his mother.
A burly lady in her mid-sixties, hair streaked with grey and dragged to a bun. If you dared stare you might just make out her emerging goatee with its wiry moustache and a glare that could cut through steel.

She would appear in the kitchen without warning and simply stand in the doorway with her right index finger raised, smile generously and softly say, 'Ena'. This was meant to indicate she was about to begin her inspection, and if she found anything that did not meet with her approval, she wouldn't hesitate in letting it be broadcast - although sometimes, if she was in a particularly bad mood, she would say nothing and simply stand in the doorway until the last poor wretch in the kitchen cottoned on, then she would sweep through the rooms like a cyclone and be gone without a word. This would be followed some time later by a lecture from Theo and then staff changes would be announced.

I had met her only once before, while sitting outside the Neo one morning, sipping my breakfast of coffee. She had materialised alongside me with the words, 'I went to Athens once when I was a girl. I didn't like the travelling so don't go anywhere now.' After that she communicated little except for the day she handed me some mashed up moussaka in a bag, 'I dropped this just now. Here - eat. Too good to waste.'

In the week before I started, Stavroula had been staying with her sister and I don't think I gave her a thought. And then came the day Theo left for business in Kasos and I was in the kitchen alone, well, except for Kosmas, the waiter and a young couple from Belgium, who were kitchen helpers and waiters. Stavroula appeared and decided she would show me how she expected the kitchen to run. I was to forget everything Theophilus had told me, she would train me in her way.



Greek children are adored by their families and especially by their grandmas and, like all kids, the children love their pets so I won't go into detail about the look in grandma's eyes when I asked her to stop little Stavrouli, her friends and her cat from running riot and squealing in the kitchen whilst I was chopping sides of lamb with an axe, or the time she threw a pan of par-fried chips across the kitchen at me - 'You kant even cook ships!!' - and then told me that from that moment I was only to do the washing up. I won't mention my gloom, or how I cried myself to sleep (joking), but to say I was pleased when Theophilus returned would be like saying Perseus was mildly pleased when he decapitated Medusa.
I don't think I saw Stavroula again after Theo came home, and perhaps to make amends he took me on for the season.

If there is one thing I learned from Stavroula, apart from her insistence that almost everything be served with chunks of sliced lemon, it was that most traditional Cretan cooking contains little meat - and since my own preference is for fish and vegetables - I would like to include some of her favourite recipes here for you to try -

- 'too good to waste' -

Psarosoupa Medusa - Medusa's Fish Soup...
...follow the recipe and scare your friends...

2 1/2 - 3 lbs. mixed sea creatures
(fish, octopus, sardines, smelts and any other small whole fish)
4 pints water
2 large, sliced Onion
2 diced Carrots
2 stalks, chopped Celery
chopped Parsley
1/2 cup Olive Oil
4 diced Potatoes
no snakes.

Just clean and wash the fish. Cut big ones into thick slices, leave small ones whole.
Put the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables (except the potatoes), salt, pepper and oil. Boil for 45 minutes then simmer, add the pieces of fish and then the potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes.
I think enough for 5, maybe 6 people...


Spanakokalitsoyna - Spinach Pies from Kriti...
...a favourite of mine...

Phylo, or filo, pastry sheets
(if you want to make your own, email me for the recipe)
2 1/2 lbs. spinach, washed and chopped
1 tb salt
1 lb mizithra or cottage cheese
2 eggs beaten pepper
olive oil
1 egg slightly beaten
sesame seeds

Let's see, prepare the dough without eggs, cover and leave to rest for an hour.
Sprinkle the spinach with salt and rub it in by hand.
Leave it for an hour; then squeeze it well and add the cottage cheese, 2 eggs, pepper and 4 tbs of oil.
Roll out the dough on a floured pastry board to about 1/8" thickness.
Cut into 4" squares. Place 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture in the centre of each square.
Moisten edges, cover the filling by folding in the four corners and press firmly together in the centre.
Brush with egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a moderate oven for about 35 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes about 24 spinach pies (enough for one person)...(joking)...(?)


Psito Psari - Baked Fish...
...truly a memory...

Large glass of Kourtaki Retsina
3 lb fish in 3/4"slices
salt and pepper
lemon juice
1 can fresh or chopped tomatoes
1/4 pint white wine
1/2 pint olive oil
2 minced cloves garlic
2 tbs chopped parsley
dry breadcrumbs

Drink the Retsina.
Catch or buy the fish then wash it and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Place in a baking tray. Combine rest of the ingredients except breadcrumbs; cook for 20 minutes then pour over fish. Sprinkle everything with the crumbs; bake uncovered in a hot oven for 45 minutes or until golden.
More than enough for 4, so maybe 5 or 6.


Kleftiko Arni
- a dish invented by Greek freedom fighters (Kleftai, meaning 'the hidden ones') in Crete.
To prevent their enemies from locating their mountain hideouts by the smell of cooking, they wrapped and cooked all their food in parchment -
...this is still a popular dish in Greece today and I include it in memory of Stavroula Koukas...

1 medium boneless leg of lamb
Garlic cloves, essential
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano or 1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbs. fresh rosemary, chopped
5 Tbs. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Parchment paper
1/2 lb. Graviera or Feta cheese, sliced thickly

The day before the party - and your guests won't believe their luck - wash and dry the leg, make small slits in the thickest parts and insert the cloves.
Salt and pepper the whole leg and sprinkle generously with the herbs and spices.
Mix the oil and lemon juice together and trickle over the leg.
Cover and marinate the leg for 3 hours or overnight.

Next day preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Spread out a sheet of parchment paper and rub it with oil.
Lay leg (the lamb's) on the paper and lay the cheese on the leg.
Roll the paper around the meat and secure with string, making a sturdy parcel.

Place in a shallow pan and bake for 1 to 2 hours, depending on how you like it.


Nerantzi Glyko
- bitter orange peel preserve -
...you will smile! I love this when I need a sugar-boost...

10 thick-skinned bitter oranges
(so you can scream your head off - they won't take offence)
3 lbs sugar
1 pint water
1 lemon
1/4 pint syrup, glucose

Grate orange skins lightly to remove zest. Discard the pulp for this recipe (good with yoghurt).
The pith is left intact but loses bitterness after soaking overnight and with boiling.
Rinse and cut the peel into sixths. Roll up each piece tightly and using a needle thread 18 rolls together and tie at the ends of the thread to prevent unrolling.
Put the rings of the peel in a large saucepan with plenty of cold water and leave until the following day.
Drain and pour fresh water over. Boil the rolls until tender, changing the water at least twice to remove bitterness as previously mentioned. Drain and remove the thread.
Boil the sugar with the water for a few minutes and add the orange peel rolls.
Boil for 15 minutes, remove from the heat and leave in syrup until next day.
Take out with fork or slotted spoon and set aside. Boil syrup again until it is thick and sheets off the spoon like lightning. Add the orange peel rolls, the lemon juice and the glucose.
Simmer for a few minutes more until thick once again and sheets off the spoon like before.


...believe me these recipes will take you to Greece...







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