Zaytinya Adviser Pens Vegetarian Cookbook
Vegetarian dishes have long been a large part of Mediterranean diets, especially on the Greek Isles where there’s little space for animals to graze. With simple, often very straightforward preparations, the region makes the most of the bounty of vegetables available.
Aglaia Kremezi, who first introduced Greek cooking to an American audience with her James Beard Award–winning book The Foods of Greece, recently published Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts ($35, Stewart, Tabori & Chang).
Many DMV diners are familiar with Kremezi’s food even if they don’t recognize her name. Chef Jose Andres consulted with her on the original menu for his Zaytinya Mediterranean mezze restaurant in Penn Quarter. Kremezi said Andres traveled to the Island of Kea off the southern coast of Greece where she lives with her husband and operates a cooking school. “I told him the first thing he had to do was find someone who could make phyllo,” she told DC on Heels last week at a book signing. She continues to consult on the menu and visits the restaurant every January for the Grecian festival of Choirosphagia .
The book contains 150 recipes she grew up with and learned from her mother and grandmother. Although many people associate Greek food with lamb, gyros and moussaka, a big part of the Greek diet is vegetarian.
“There was no meat. I mean, there were goats and sheep, but basically to drink milk and to make cheese. And hens to lay eggs. So meat is a festive thing,” Kremezi said. “The country doesn’t lend itself to meat. It’s quite mountainous, and there’s no way to produce enough meat to feed everybody. People made do with whatever they could cultivate and forage.”
Opening with detailed descriptions of essential ingredients and the basic preparations that make the most of seasonal shopping at farmers’ markets, she takes readers from mezze and soups to mains and desserts, with dishes like toasted red lentil and bulgur patties; roasted cauliflower with zahter relish; pseudo-moussaka, a meatless version of the classic; quince stuffed with wheat berries, nuts and raisins; and rose petal and yogurt mousse.
Kremezi is also the author of The Foods of the Greek Islands and Mediterranean Hot and Spicy. She blogs for Atlantic Monthly and writes for Saveur, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and other publications. Her blog, Aglaia’s Table chronicles food and life on Kea.
Here are four recipes from the cookbook:
- 1 large vine-ripened tomato
- 4 slices feta cheese (about 2/3 pound)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, sliced into thin rings
- 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or a few pinches Maraş pepper or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- About 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Greek oregano, or more to taste
- Thick slices of fresh, crusty bread
- Preheat the oven to 430˚F
- Spread a double layer of paper towels on a large dish. Core the tomato carefully, slice horizontally into 5 to 6 pieces, and spread them on the paper towel to drain.
- Oil a shallow 8- or 9-inch baking dish, or four individual ramekins, and spread the tomato slices at the bottom, reserving 4 nice slices for the top.
- Sprinkle with some jalapeño and bell pepper slices.
- Arrange the feta pieces on top, place one tomato slice on each piece of cheese, and finally place 2 or 3 bell pepper rings on the tomato.
- Drizzle liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and the remaining jalapeño, and transfer to the middle of the oven.
- Bake for 15 minutes, or until the feta turns a light-golden color and the oil is sizzling.
- Serve immediately with warm bread.
Sautéed Olives and Carrots with Preserved Lemon and Thyme
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 2/3 pound full-flavored, brine-cured black olives (like Pelion or Niçoise), rinsed and dried on paper towels
- 2 cups Orange and Olive Oil Carrots (recipe follows)
- 1/4 preserved lemon peel, rinsed, dried, and cut into thin strips
- 2 teaspoons dried thyme, or Eastern Mediterranean Spice and Herb blend
- 1 teaspoon Maraş pepper or chili pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 lemon, halved, each half cut into 4 wedges (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet.
- Add the garlic and toss for a few seconds until fragrant and discard.
- Add the olives, carrots, and preserved lemon to the skillet and sauté over medium-low heat, stirring carefully for 2 to 3 minutes, until just heated through.
- from the heat and add the dried thyme or spice blend and Maraş pepper, and toss.
- Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish, sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges, if you like.
Orange and Olive Oil Carrots
- 1 1/2 pounds medium carrots, preferably organic, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds (use a mandoline or a food processor)
- 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- Maraş pepper or freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, heavy-bottomed sauté pan and add the carrots.
- Sprinkle with the salt and sauté, tossing often, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the carrot slices are coated with olive oil.
- Add the orange juice and cook, uncovered, tossing often, for about 10 minutes, until the carrots are tender and the orange juice has evaporated.
- Add pepper, taste, and correct the seasoning. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Crispy Cheese Pie (Lazy Woman’s Pie)
- Olive oil, for brushing the baking sheet and the phyllo
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup milk
- 2 sheets homemade phyllo or 4 sheets frozen thick phyllo, thawed according to the package instructions
- 2 cups crumbled feta or a combination of feta and ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (optional when using frozen phyllo)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, thyme or marjoram
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Maraş pepper or a good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 430˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.
- Make the egg wash: In a bowl, whisk together the milk and the eggs.
- If using homemade phyllo: Stretch or crimp one sheet of phyllo as necessary to fill the baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with half of the feta or ricotta.
- Pour half of the egg wash over the feta or ricotta and sprinkle with herbs and Maraş pepper, if you like.
- Lay the second sheet of phyllo over the egg wash and brush with olive oil.
- Crumble more feta or ricotta on top and drizzle with the remaining egg mixture.
- Sprinkle with more pepper, to taste. Proceed to baking.
- If using frozen phyllo: Lay one sheet of frozen phyllo on the baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with half the Parmesan, then lay one more sheet on top and brush again with olive oil.
- Sprinkle half the feta mixture over the second sheet.
- Place the third sheet on top, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan, then lay the last sheet on top and brush again with olive oil.
- Crumble more feta on top and drizzle with the remaining egg mixture.
- Sprinkle with more pepper, to taste. Proceed to baking.
- Bake on a rack in the lower part of the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Check to make sure the pie is well browned at the bottom. If the top browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil and continue baking. If it is well browned underneath but the top is not yet crispy enough, heat the broiler and bake for a few minutes right under the broiler.
- Serve at once, cutting pieces with a pizza wheel.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.