For those not in the know, my title is from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” in which John Corbett plays Ian Miller, a vegetarian high school teacher. His fiancee Toula’s Greek family doesn’t understand the meat-free concept. Thankfully, Diane Kochilas, author of several definitive cookbooks on Greek cuisine, does.
Although your first impression of Greek food might be the flaming cheese appetizer saganaki or greasy lamb or chicken gyros, many Greek recipes were meatless, particularly those that coincided with the fasting required by the Greek Orthodox calendar (48 days before Easter, 40 days before Christmas, and lesser fasting periods throughout the year in which meat and animal products were not allowed). The Lenten dishes in particular, called Lathera (“oiled”), consist of hearty bean stews, stewed eggplants, and other braised dishes with loads of olive oil as flavoring agent.
In addition to a brief cultural and culinary history of the Greek Islands, Kochilas also provides primers on various varieties of Greek olives (kalamata, conservolia, halkidiki, megaritiki, thrubolea), cheeses (feta, teleme, sfela, batsos, touloumotiri, galotiri, kopanisti, kasseri, graviera, kefalotiri, etc.), and a section devoted to bread (after such luscious descriptions of Greek bread, the book is noticeably lacking in bread recipes; a sore oversight). Greek flavor combinations of lemon, dill, olive oil, eggs, oregano and garlic, tomatoes and cinnamon, and others are also discussed in the introduction.
The book is dominated by vegetable and grain dishes, including a simple variation on the ubiquitous Greek salad. The recipes open with meze, or Greek appetizers similar to tapas. Some of the more unusual offerings include eggplant puree with walnuts, potato-garlic dip with walnuts, harvest pumpkin-chestnut puree, and spicy lentil and wild rice salad.
Main dishes are usually a grain-veggie combo, including numerous recipes for orzo (a rice-shaped pasta), bulgur, rice pilafs, and polenta. Soups include potatoes stewed with kalamata olives, tomato and rice, and artichokes stewed with potatoes, tomatoes, and mint. There is an entire chapter devoted to stuffed vegetables, and another to savory pies and homemade phyllo dough, including spanakopita, savory pumpkin pie in a phyllo coil, and onion pie with raisins, dill, and nutmeg.
The final chapter covers egg dishes perfect for a light brunch, including a baked omelet with chestnuts and feta, asparagus frittata, and scrambled eggs with fresh tomato and parsley.
This is a wonderful addition to any kitchen, particularly vegetarian / vegan ones, as many recipes are meat-and-cheese free. A classic variant of the much-touted Mediterranean diet, it places great emphasis on seasonal produce, whole grains (bulgur, wild rice) and dried beans, and olive oil (if you’re watching your fat intake, you’ll want to drastically decrease the oil called for in recipes, which many times can be 1/2 cup or more). The recipes are clearly written, and each chapter offers the cook a background on traditional Greek cuisine and regional cooking.
The only downside is that it may be difficult to locate the myriad of Greek cheeses (and olives) that Kochilas lovingly describes, particularly if you live in a small town that’s not close to a Greektown. Also, I generally stick to a very-low-fat diet with no added oils, so I scaled back on the 1/2 cup or more of olive oil called for, but that’s more a matter of personal taste (I recently read where Greeks have the highest per capita consumption of olive oil at 26 *liters* a year!!).
My Amazon Affiliate link: The Greek Vegetarian: More Than 100 Recipes Inspired by the Traditional Dishes and Flavors of Greece