The foods of Greece are legendary. It doesn't take long to come up with a lengthy list of dishes and ingredients associated with the Greek table: feta, olives and olive oil, figs, oregano, mint, rosemary, yogurt, phyllo, avgolemono, moussaka, taramosalata, skordalia, baklava, tzatziki, dolmades … is your mouth watering yet? While it's possible that there is at least one Greek restaurant in every decent-sized American town, it's also true that Greek food, with its emphasis on freshness and simple technique, invites home cooks to learn its beauty and insights.
To get you started on this vibrant path, we explore five beloved Greek cookbooks — some classic, some brand new — recommended by food writers and teachers who are familiar with this delicious cuisine.
1. Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors by Erik Cosselmon and Sara Remington
Our food editor-at-large, Christine Gallary, has taught from Kokkari as a part of the San Francisco Cooking School's Cook the Book series for several years now. It's her most popular class and the one she has taught the most often.
"I think Kokkari is a good book for home cooks, especially in the summer months when you're looking for lighter fare that you can cook or take outdoors. If you can get your hands on some good Greek yogurt, Greek oregano, and olive oil, you're halfway there with making tasty food from this book!"
Christine finds most of the recipes in Kokkari to be fairly simple, but her favorite is the moussaka, a hearty casserole made with roasted potato slices layered with a rich lamb ragu and topped with a white sauce that turns custard-like and beautifully browns in the oven. "Each component is not difficult on its own, but it all comes together marvelously. I made this dish for a holiday gathering and got raves all around."
She also enjoys making the pita bread. "Who doesn't like warm, pillowy flatbread fresh from the griddle? With a selection of spreads like hummus and tzatziki, this is my favorite kind of lunch."
2. The Food of the Greek Islands: Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean by Aglaia Kremezi
Aglaia Kremezi is one of Greece's most respected and beloved food writers. Her bestselling cookbooks are considered the final word on Greek cuisine and have won numerous accolades and awards.
A recent title, The Food of the Greek Islands, is a favorite of chef and food writer Michele Anna Jordan who says that it's "so much more than a collection of recipes. It provides a very vivid sense of place and is rooted in both tradition and home cooking, which is my specialty." While Michele does cook from other Greek cookbooks (see The Olive and the Caper below) "it is Kremezi's book that I turn to most often for a true sense and flavor of place. I've used it in a number of classes on Mediterranean cooking, and the recipes always surprise and delight my students."
For The Food of the Greek Islands, Aglaia wanted to be sure that the whole range of Greek cuisine was well-represented. She collected "marvelous and diverse recipes from the rich and cosmopolitan islands as well as the extremely poor ones." For example, "the sumptuous, Venetian-inspired Pastitsio of Syros is celebrated alongside Poor Man's Caviar, a delicious meze/relish of olives, capers, spring herbs, and lemon.
Paging through this book is as much an education in Greek island life as it is a cooking manual. "Even in the arid, wind-ravaged rocks, where practically nothing could be planted, island women collect capers or wild fennel fronds and braise them with onions and wine to create a relish to serve with fried stale bread. Braised capers are used as a topping for mashed grass peas (lathyrus) that have sustained people around the Mediterranean since Neolithic times, or with fava beans. This latter dish, called 'Santorini fava,' is now considered a delicacy!"
3. Greek by George Calombaris
Jenny Hartin is the cookbook promotions manager at Eat Your Books and creator and founder of the enormously popular The Cookbook Junkies® Facebook page. She owns over 4,000 cookbooks, but out of all of them, the international titles resonate most with her.
Jenny recently highlighted Mediterranean cooking for Eat Your Books where she mentioned a few Greek favorites. But immediately after that she discovered an Australian chef who "really blows up my skirt — George Calombaris and especially his book, Greek. While this is not old-school Greek cooking, George's passion is contagious and the recipes in this book demand to be made."
George Calombaris is best known in Australia where he is a restaurateur and host of Australia's MasterChef. Greek is his fifth cookbook, a modern, edgy take on traditional Greek cuisine. It has only been published in Australia so far, but it is well worth seeking out.
So far, Jenny has made Spaghetti, Anchovies Parsley, Garlic, and Breadcrumbs; Spanakoriso (a kind of spinach risotto); and Gnocchi Avgolemono. "While this might not seem like a great deal of recipes, I've only had the book two weeks and I've had to review and cook from many other titles in the meantime." So the fact that she was compelled to tackle three recipes is impressive. She has also marked almost every other recipe in the book for future projects. Jenny calls Greek "NY graffiti meets delicious hip Greek food" and says it "will inspire a new generation of cooks to embrace this cuisine."
4. The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking by Susanna Hoffman
Chef, cookbook author, and teacher Michele Anna Jordan has worked from a lot of cookbooks over the years, so when she's enthusiastic about a title, you know that it has to to be something special. In this case, she points to a 700-page classic that is as much of a travel adventure story as it is a comprehensive manual for Greek cooking.
Although she finds The Olive and The Caper "a tad over-designed, I still treasure it. The book is so warmly engaging that it almost feels as if sunlight were emanating from each page. The cuisine itself is a sunny cuisine and Hoffman captures that aspect beautifully, as do the book's photographs."
There are 325 recipes in all and a 16-page full-color photo section in the front. Michele finds that "the recipes are realistic and well-written and can serve either as a roadmap to a specific dish or as inspiration for any cook comfortable with the style of the Mediterranean. Interspersed throughout the recipes are essays and sidebars that highlight people, ingredients, dishes, and the discrete regions of Greece, including its islands and their unique styles of cooking and sharing the pleasures of the table."
5. The Complete Book of Greek Cooking by The Recipe Club of St. Paul's Orthodox Cathedral
Finally, what list of Greek cookbooks would be complete without this classic? The Complete Book of Greek Cooking grew from a fundraising project developed by a group of 17 women called The Recipe Club, all members of St. Paul's Orthodox Cathedral on Long Island, who were hoping to raise money for the church's mortgage. Their story, told in detail on the cathedral's website, includes the fun fact that the runaway success of their cookbooks has allowed them to go on to pay for "two chandeliers, two large mosaics, the wonderful organ, the downstairs kitchen, and liturgy books in the cathedral for the members."
The book itself offers both authenticity as well as practicality, as it is written by Greek immigrants and their descendants who have lovingly and carefully adapted the cuisine for American kitchens. There are recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts, and it includes a comprehensive appendix with information on Greek coffee and wines; how to work with phyllo, kadaife, and grape leaves; and how to prepare squid, mussels, and artichokes. All the classics are here, such as moussaka, spanakopita, avgolemono, and the many kinds of phyllo pastry that will take you well beyond baklava.
This tried-and-true volume, first published in 1991, will still hold its own next to your more contemporary books on this ancient and still relevant cuisine.
The original 17 members of The Recipe Club of St. Paul's Orthodox Cathedral
Of course there are dozens of Greek cookbooks available these days, so this tiny list of five titles is likely to be missing one of your favorites. Please share your most beloved Greek cookbook in the comments!