Calliope's Real Greek Food

cooking & stories in my Brooklyn kitchen


I grew up surrounded by food being cooked all day long.  I have vivid memories of family and friends being involved in the cooking process before holiday dinners or name day celebrations*. 
These memories, of the smell and taste of food, its preparation and - very often - the loud dispute over a baking tray still make me smile.  
First, it was my great grand mother Finia, and the smell of onion and garlic being sweetened in the pot to make kassiotikes skordomakarounes {finger-rolled pasta, boiled and then tossed in sautéed onion and garlic in olive oil, topped with yoghurt and cheese}.
Three generations of women were making right in front of my very eyes, the famous tiniest dolmas of the island of Kassos, dolmaes.  No one can make them as tiny as them! 

As kids, we would dress up for the yiortes {evening celebrations} at my aunt Vaggela’s house where she would prepare the most delicious pastitsio {a baked pasta dish including layers of ground beef in tomato sauce, béchamel and cheese on top} and basboussa, {cake made with semolina flour, coconut and lemon flavored sugar syrup} “only for the kids”, as she would say.  
My grandfather Savas was a master of pickles and fried sweet green chili peppers with garlic.  He would go nowhere without shata pepper {a type of ground hot chili pepper} in his pocket.  I watched him season everything with this mysterious spice that he would bring from his trips to Cairo along with domestic pigeons (!) that I was too embarrassed to tell my friends we were eating them as a delicacy, chez moi!  I am going to spare you the stories about our famous fried lamb brain...

Easter cookies and tsoureki {brioche-like bread, formed of braided strands of dough} would be an endeavor to reach perfection with my favourite great aunt Marika in charge; there was always a touch of drama there, too; it had to be the Middle Eastern spices, I can’t explain it otherwise…
I could not really tell the difference between my great aunt Anna’s finikia {olive oil cookies with orange juice & zest; rolled in a mixture of cinnamon, sugar and walnuts after being baked}, and the ordinary melomakarona {olive oil cookies with orange juice, dipped into a syrup made of honey, water, orange zest and cloves and then rolled in ground walnut, sugar and cinnamon}, but there must have been something about them, because we had to pay her a visit just to try them on the day she had baked them! Her living room would turn into a tasting room with other members of the family bringing their Christmas delicacies in and waiting for a verdict from the majority.

And then, there was of course the younger generation of cooks, with my mum Anna as a star chef, literally making every single treat from scratch for all my birthday parties until I was 12, having at least two or three dishes to choose from for dinner and of course still making the best gemista {stuffed vegetables with rice, raisins and pine nuts} on earth!  
And my aunt Fifi, baking her secret apple pie recipe that she promised she would share with me for these lessons, but I am not to share with my mom! 
So many wonderful people have formed my palate with all kinds of miraculous tastes and flavors.  
I feel I should thank each one of them – the ones who are still here and those who have passed away – for showing me how to share love; how to share food.
It is a family matter for food to matter so much in our house and I am so proud of it that I wish to share it with more people!  
*In the Greek Orthodox tradition, every day is dedicated to a Christian saint or martyr.  Name days, celebrating the day of the year associated with one’s given name, are more important than birthdays in Greece.