Since half of my boyfriend’s family is Cypriot, I’ve always had a passing interest in Greek food. (Well, not always- but definitely for the past few years.) This interest was always purely theoretical, though; aside from feta cheese, basil and olives, I never actually liked Greek food very much. For me, it was too reliant on meat, deep-frying and things stuffed with other things.
I was surprised, then, to find out how much I liked the idea of this book. Vefa’s Kitchen was published this year by Phaidon Press*, and is the London-based publisher’s Greek equivalent to its previously-published Italian food bible, The Silver Spoon. Vefa Alexiadou is, as Google tells me, much like a Greek Delia Smith or Julia Child: a cookery writer and television presenter for 30 years, she is considered the leading authority on Greek cuisine.
*In the interest of transparency, a disclaimer: Some of you might have noticed that I’ve reviewed several Phaidon books here. Though I do have a friend who works for the company and gets a (very much appreciated) employee discount, all are paid for and none are freebies. As a sucker for good design and good food, I just really like them!
To start off, let’s talk about that good design. I loved the look of this book from the first page. While slightly less playful with type and illustration than its Italian counterpart, Vefa’s Kitchen more than makes up for it with wonderful photographs. They cover everything you’d want in a book like this, from evocative images of postcard-perfect Greece to simply-styled, modern but timeless food photography. The rest of the book is lovely too, with a watercolour “Greek key” cover design and matching page-keepers.
Like any good foreign-food manual, Vefa’s Kitchen kicks off with an introduction to Greek cuisine, which includes an informative (and surprisingly interesting) breakdown of the different Greek regions, their histories and native foods. It then moves on to its 21 recipe-filled chapters, which include Mezedes, Pasta, Shellfish, Pork, Lamb, Bread, Cakes, Candies and Preserves, and Menus from Celebrated Greek Chefs. Phew.
I was surprised, perhaps naively, by how approachable many of the recipes here seemed. While there is an awful lot of pickling, frying and yes, stuffing things into other things, there are also many dishes which are familiar and comforting to a Western palate. Feta Omelette with Egg Noodles (pg. 271) is just Greek enough to make you feel like you’ve achieved something new, while Sesame Bread Rings (pg. 528) look like little Greek bagels. If it’s Greek food you want though, Eggplant Fritters (pg. 100), Octopus Stifado (pg. 332), Moussaka (pg. 419) or Sweet Cheese Tarts (pg. 548) will do you nicely.
The recipes here are also very well organized, with a ton of information included. Incredibly (and usefully) all weights and measures are given in both metric and imperial, and oven temperatures in Celsius, Fahrenheit and Gas Mark. I particularly like the attention paid to the recipe names: each one is given in English, in Greek and phonetically.
Of course, not everything is calm seas and smooth sailing. Like The Silver Spoon, Vefa’s Kitchen suffers somewhat from a lack of space. While the type and layout here make the recipes easier to read, instructions are still crammed into a too-small space in a paragraphical format. Numbered steps or shorter paragraphs would have been preferable, particularly when dealing with foreign ingredients and techniques.
Perhaps it’s unfair of me to keep comparing Vefa’s Kitchen to The Silver Spoon. After all, if you like Greek food but hate Italian (or vice versa), they’ll be no contest. I simply can’t help it though; these two tomes are from the same publisher, and both are attempting to summarize a nation’s cuisine in fewer than 1000 pages.
Taking that into account, I’ve decided to give Vefa’s Kitchen a three-star rating, one less than its sister. The look, photography and draw of this book make it more appealing, but given that I haven’t quite been converted from my all-consuming love of Italian food, I’ll probably use it less often. Someone who loves Greek food might feel differently though, so if that’s you- you can’t go wrong with this one.