In the cookbook world, there is a longstanding beauty versus brains dichotomy. We judge a cookbook by its stunning photographs (admiring each page, then promptly relegating the book to the coffee table) or by its encyclopedic recipe index and straightforward prose (ah, now this is going to be a good book to actually cook from).
It is the rare book, such as the recently released Food from Many Greek Kitchens (actually an American re-release of the original edition via an Australian publisher), that manages to capture, and hold, our attention on both accounts.
Author Tessa Kiros, a stunningly elegant woman herself, is half Greek, half Flemish, but grew up in London and South Africa. The prolific cookbook author now lives in Tuscany with her husband and children. Yeah, we wanted to hate her, too. But this is an authentic, traditional, and gorgeous Greek cookbook.
You know, the sort of solid, well-researched book that just happens to have stunning photos, not one dependent on them for attention. Because it is really Kiros' authentic recipes, like hortopita (a savory pie filled with wild greens, fennel and dill), kokkoras krassatos ("wined rooster" -- rooster simmered in red wine, tomatoes and spices and served over hilopites, homemade egg noodles) and pastelli (sesame and pistachio honey candies), that keep us turning the pages.
On first glance, the book's organization seems haphazard with its emphasis on "Traditional Foods" and "Ready-Cooked Foods," but also events ("Easter Foods") and manners of dining ("Shared Foods"). But look a little more closely, and it works.
Each recipe begins with its Greek name (tomatokeftedes are tomato fritters) followed by a brief description of its origins or when to serve the dish: "Santorini will offer you amazing tomatoes, fava, capers, wine, seafood, views, volcanoes... [and] these lovely fried things." The photographs by Manos Chatzikonstantus of both everyday Greek life - laundry, lounging, ocean blue country kitchens - and those midia (mussels with feta and peppers), paidakia (grilled lamb cutlets with oregano), and barbounia tiganita (fried red mullet) are pretty impossible to resist.
So, too, are these sesame bread rings that Kiros says she likes to nibble on for breakfast or throughout the day. As she instructs at the end of the recipe, the koulouria should always be stored with sesame seed fallout in mind. She suggests munching on the fallen seeds as a snack, or using them sprinkled on other dishes. Beautifully -- deliciously -- intelligent, indeed.
Koulouria (Sesame Bread Rings)
From: Food from Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros
1 ounce fresh yeast, or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
6 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
3 teaspoons bread flour
3 tablespoons water
1 cup sesame seeds
1. Crumble the fresh yeast or sprinkle the dried into a bowl. Add the sugar, 10½ ounces lukewarm water and a handful of flour. Whisk to smooth any lumps. Leave until it starts to activate and bubble, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the flour, the salt and oil and mix with a wooden spoon until a loose dough forms. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 7 to 8 minutes or until the dough is smooth and spongy. Wipe out the bowl with an oiled paper towel and put the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap, then a dish cloth, and leave in a warm spot for about 2 hours, until puffed and doubled in size.
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3. Preheat the oven to 400° and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. For the flour paste, mix the flour and water in a bowl until smooth.
4. Knead the dough briefly, then divide it into equal parts. Roll, stretch and coax each piece into a thin rope about 16 inches long (Make the first 6 and while baking, prepare the next batch).
5. Brush each rope lightly with the paste, and sprinkle sesame seeds all over, then roll through the seeds that have dropped on your work surface so that they're covered all over. Turn each rope on itself, forming a ring, pressing the ends together to seal. Place on the baking sheets and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Sesame seeds that have fallen onto the trays can be used elsewhere.