Dining with Dionysus: a cooking school in the Greek islands shows that simplicity plus necessity equals great cuisine

Cooking classes adjust how you go through the world–or certainly how you seem at what’s on supermarket shelves and in your refrigerator. So the logic of preparing food vacations, which set you in literal touch with another tradition and make you want to make an effort factors, once you look at close up how convenient and practical they are. Just about all cultures, in the end, evolve cuisines that want minimal devices and strategy (unless, of training, they happen to be French).

Aglaia Kremezi and Costas Moraitis give cooking training on the Cycladic island of Kea, the closest island to Athens, that happen to be authentic vacations. The few welcomes and entertains learners, making them feel like friends (and sending reassuring customized logistics e-mails beforehand; the Web site is www.kearti sanal.com). In just a few days, students come to understand Kremezi and Moraitis’s love of the island and what grows presently there. The couple’s strategy, based on letting what is in the backyard tell you what to make, is so adaptable that you go back home with a fresh impetus to go to the farmer’s industry.

Dining with Dionysus a cooking school in the Greek islands shows that simplicity plus necessity equals great cuisine

Dining with Dionysus: a cooking school in the Greek islands shows that simplicity plus necessity equals great cuisine

Many courses happen to be intensive and technique-heavy. That one isn’t. Instead, it really is designed as weekly that will offer you a very enjoyable check out of a customs, and show the equation every make ought to know: simplicity necessity = superb cuisine.

I was stunned by Kremezi’s tranquil approach, because I’ve long referred to her as an intellectual firebrand–on top of each piece of dietary (and political) media, the sort of researcher who won’t hesitate to visit an obscure regional event to obtain the one old girl or guy who still would make a rustic pie with phyllo layers, and then seek advice from Harold McGee, the author of On Meals and Cooking food, on why they place raki, the traditional liqueur, in the dough. (The remedy: to keep carefully the crunch. Her alternative: vodka.)

Both Kremezi and her partner spent period at English-speaking universities: she studied picture taking and cinema in England; he, biblical texts at Yale. The home where students use the week (and will verify their e-mail) is normally filled up with reference literature on art work and modern day Greek way of life, and with folk art work Kremezi accumulated while exploring her own books on the cooking food of the Greek islands and the Mediterranean (her Mediterranean Hot and Spicy will become published following spring).

A great advantage over additional cooking experiences abroad is definitely that Kremezi is so attuned to the tastes, available elements, and practices of American cooks. Five of her nine books have been written for the U.S. marketplace (the others were for Greece), and she is a hands-on consultant to two leading East Coastline Greek eating places, Molyvos, in NEW YORK, and Zaytinya, in Washington. Her dishes can need some adjustment in the home, nonetheless they are likelier than just about all to work the 1st time. And anyway, the idea of any preparing class is to cause you to trust your hands and eyes over a printed web page or computer screen.

More than long kitchen classes, convivial foods on the rock terrace under a grape arbor and extended afternoon hikes and boating excursions are the purchase of the week. American close friends who live on the island join many foods, and the excursions will be led by the American-educated Kostis Maroulis, the third partner in Kea Artisanal. Maroulis came back to Kea to revive a family group farm and sail his soultana, an extremely rare classic wooden boat he commissioned from a craftsman on the island of Lesbos. It really is his satisfaction, and he definitely take pupils in it for a sail.

Classes are each morning, and begin with an over-all debate of the elements being presented in the day’s menu. College students participate at will, assisted by two females, both razor-sharp cooks, who provide notes on approach and keep the speed moving toward obtaining lunch on the extended table. Touching, working with, and often picking elements in the back garden gives students a new confidence. I came back resolved to make my own refreshing cheese using nothing more than milk, cream, and lemon juice, and also to pick grape leaves as wrappers for transcendentally good and simple stuffed grape leaves. I even wanted to tackle octopus, if it could taste anything like what Moraitis–the organizer and general fix-it guy, who claims indifference as a cook–achieves on his grill. And I knew that one dish would become a kitchen staple: risotto made with orzo and thickened with a common Greek ingredient that magically reveals its capacity to make an instantaneous, creamy sauce.

Kea, a short ferry ride from Lavrion, a slot nearby the Athens airport terminal (though an extended travel from downtown), can be standard-concern Greek island: dramatic hills and mountains descending right to the ocean, Mediterranean bushes and trees and vines blooming just about everywhere, towns looming saturated in the mountains like enchanted metropolitan areas, crescent-shaped angling villages appearing suddenly around a bend. It is exceptionally dry, and so a distinguishing architectural feature is meticulous dry stone walls that shore up streets, buildings, and the steep terraces that make practically every bit of land tillable. The island traditionally lived on dairy and meat farming; now the economy is based on tourism and construction, and the road along the water is lined with stucco-walled condominiums for which Athenians pay startling prices. White colored wooden hives could be spotted on seemingly every terrace: honey (and yogurt) on Kea, like just about everywhere in Greece, is merely better.

The course starts with a walk around the back garden, which Kremezi and Moraitis include manufactured flourish in the eight years given that they made a decision to live full-time on Kea. Kremezi’s grandfather grew up on the island and taught her how and when to pick wild greens, an essential Greek skill. (Surprisingly, the diet on Greek islands includes anything that can be grown or found on land but very little from the sea: fish that can fetch a price goes to mainland markets. The disinclination toward fish is reminiscent of Sardinia, where the sea was associated with invaders.) We picked grape leaves on the first morning–young, very soft, matte-surfaced types, as Kremezi instructed, not shiny elderly ones–to blanch for wrappers around a rice stuffing freshened with fennel light bulb, parsley, dill, mint, and lemon.

Even awful stuffed grape leaves will be good, but they were much better than any I’d acquired, for the vivid and cooling tastes; Kremezi manufactured a type with ground meats, as well. Stewing the stuffed leaves in drinking water mixed with adequate essential olive oil and lemon juice can be key, and they are better the second day. (The recipe is in Kremezi’s Foods of the Greek Islands, on the short list of books every cook should own.) Stuffing and wrapping the leaves is not as easy as it looks, we learned as we got turns. We started to be sufficiently competitive that people tried to keep an eye on where ours have been placed under the upside-downward plate that will keep the deals from coming aside because they simmer.

Grape leaves in brine will be fairly simple to find, frozen entire leaves (an improved substitute) harder, but with some ingenuity you may locate a source for clean ones within your own neighborhood. Close friends from the study course came house and scouted (and purloined) new grape leaves growing on the trellis of a cafe in downtown Washington. I’m looking for a local gardener myself–and for a fig tree. The milky substance inside the fleshy leaves protects and moistens fish as it grills, and charred fig leaves make a great side snack.

Some of the food we ate with such pleasure would be hard to duplicate at home, just like the lamb chops from a neighbor’s creature, rubbed with a Middle Eastern spice blend and grilled over a hardwood fire (always a sensible way to grill lamb; single-cut chops will be the better to grill, for convenient lifting and plentiful burnt bits). And it will be a concern to locate octopus as effective as what Moraitis bought from the island fishmonger, which Kremezi marinated over night in oil, wines vinegar, red wine, garlic, oregano, and red pepper. I’m up for a try, though, given that the vinegar in the marinade obviates the usual pounding, and provided the number of converts to the chewy, charred, meaty tentacles.

It will likely be impossible, sadly, to find the sweets Kremezi enterprisingly experienced shipped from neighboring islands for us to taste, including baklava filled with nuts and a sweet olive mixture, which is surprisingly good (you can order it from demeterspantry.com). The syrup-drenched baklava we realize, made out of paper-thin dough, is normally still left to professional cooks (three bakeries and cafes promote competing baklavas in the tiny port nearby the couple’s house; regardless of how very well fed, by the finish of the week each student acquired were able to hit all of them). Rather we rolled Kremezi’s pasta-skinny, vodka-laced phyllo dough on cornstarch, and layered it with different fillings for the rustic savory pie referred to as pita, which is certainly more like lasagna than like baklava.

Other dishes are encouragingly doable: roasted halves of tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers stuffed with a rice combination similar to the one for grape leaves but with currants, pine nuts, and grated cheese; yellow-split-pea mash, lush and sweet and pleasantly floury, with a caper-and-onion stew flavored with sweet red wine like Marsala or the Greek Mavrodaphne. (Wines are overlooked but important Greek goods. The Mavrodaphne was one of the that struck the group during an night time wine-and-cheese tasting led by a specialist the couple earns from Athens.) And even reluctant bakery makers wished to make an effort the fast, functional flatbreads Kremezi dished up at nearly every meals. She proudly telephone calls the recipe “Aglaia’s Bread,” since it took her such a long time to understand the proportion of semolina, all-goal, and whole-wheat flours for the dough, that can be topped with whatever leftovers happen to be lying around.

The recipe that exemplified the week, and Kremezi’s design, was one she tossed off on the previous day time and says she creates all the time: risotto with orzo, the pasta shaped like ovoid grains of rice, and grated zucchini, lemon, and feta. It’s foolproof, and can become adapted to any number of vegetables you discover at the farmer’s market or (overgrown) in your backyard. It shows how crumbled feta becomes a thick, creamy sauce that absorbs and amplifies additional flavors–and what a difference the two cornerstones of Greek cooking, olive oil and lemons, can make to a seemingly familiar dish.

To serve six as a primary lessons or eight as a area dish, heat up seven to eight cups of poultry or veggie broth or, if you don’t have broth, drinking water. In a big skillet, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil and add four or five cloves of peeled and thinly sliced garlic and four cups of diced or grated zucchini or yellow squash. Saute, stirring, for 10 minutes over medium-high warmth; the squash will exude a good deal of liquid. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, a pound of orzo, and salt and pepper to flavor, and stir to coating the pasta with oil. Pour in three cups of broth and continue to cook for about 20 moments, stirring regularly and adding even more liquid as wanted. The pasta could be al dente, for the risotto result, or cooked entirely through, as you prefer.

Remove the prepared orzo from heat and add 1/4 glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice, three tablespoons of grated or shredded lemon zest, and 1 1/2 cups of feta cheese, mashed with a fork (and today: magic sauce). Choose the least salty feta you can get (if you receive the feta fetish, as you should, order many of the barrel-aged fetas from www.zingermans.com), and save a number of the crumbs for garnish. Snip over the risotto whatever combo you prefer of fennel fronds, unique dill, and mint. That’s, allow garden let you know how to time of year an irresistibly Greek, and basic, dish.


Much a slideshow about cooking food an Kea, narrated by Corby Kummer, visit www.theatlantic.com/greece.

Corby Kummer is an Atlantic senior editor.

Kummer, Corby