I must start this review with a confession. Greek food is, for me, the ultimate comfort food, and it can be hard to review a book about one of your favourite things – how do you make an impartial assessment about something you’re anything not even faintly impartial about? However the real greek at home makes this easy. This relatively slim volume (192 pages) captures the delicious essence of Greek food. It is a carefully selected tasting plate of recipes; each one playing its own individual part, and is lavishly illustrated with photos of both the Greek countryside and of the day to day gathering and preparation of food.
This is not just a cook book. It is a reflection of the way food is intertwined through the very fabric of Greek life. As Theodore Kyriakou says in his introduction, “recipes can be the most wonderful shorthand for a sense of place; they can express the kind of philosophy that is so deeply ingrained it becomes more like an instinct; and they can speak for the accumulated wisdom of generations.”
Each chapter represents and describes a different facet of Greek life, including sections (among others) on; festival food; dishes from the mountains; lent; island life; and food from the big city. Recipes are interspersed with anecdotes – from the Spartans to Saint Spyridon to metropolitan manners – the reader is given a taste of the many influences that inform day to day living. Each individual recipe is introduced with a short reminiscence that is both informative and beguiling.
The book is not arranged as a traditional cookbook and this can be slightly frustrating if you are looking to compare, say, dessert recipes. There are dessert recipes in each chapter, rather than a dessert chapter as such. However the indexing is comprehensive and recipes are filed under category as well as individually and the careful cook should have no problem in locating just what they desire. This would be more of an issue if the book was longer but does not seem problematic in a volume of this size.
The recipes themselves are well set out and clearly explained. They range from the expected, such as baklava, to the unusual – the leek pilaff for example. They are not illustrated (with a few exceptions) but they are easy to follow. There does not appear to be any large scale misplaced attempt to simplify or alter things for a non Greek market and I found this very welcome (although it’s worth noting that it has been produced, in the first instance, for a UK market). This is not a book that compromises Kyriakou’s relationship with food and it is the richer for this.
This is a great addition to any serious cook’s bookshelf. It is one of those cookbooks that fosters browsing for inspiration and information, as well as being wonderful to cook from. It is wonderful to find a volume that is so carefully prepared, with such attention to detail. This is a book that I will cook from for many years to come, not necessarily on an everyday basis, but it will certainly become a well thumbed addition to my cookery library.
Theodore Kyriakou was born in Athens and moved to London to work as a chef. He is now the chef/proprietor of The Real Greek restaurant and The Real Greek Souvlaki, both of which are in London. He is also the co-author (with Charles Campion) of Real Greek Food and the Livebait Cookbook. Charles Campion is a food writer and restaurant critic. He is a past winner of the Glenfiddich “Restaurant Writer of the Year” Award.