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In Greek cooking, grandmothers know best

The instructors at the Middletown School of Mediterranean Cookery are
parishioners of SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. The real
sources of wisdom, though, are the yia-yias.
Yia-yia (pronounced yah-yah) is Greek for grandmother.
As the parishioners demonstrate recipes and techniques, show how Greek
cooking can be part of a healthy diet and busy lifestyle and create a
Greek feast for their students, the grandmothers are there.

“My yia-yia made her own phyllo dough,” says Evan Carras, showing his
version of spanakopita at the recent fifth session of the school. “I use
frozen.”

“My yia-yia didn’t read or write, so she didn’t use recipes,” says Cynthia
Hollister as she demonstrates melomakarona, an orange-scented shortbread.
“Her recipe doesn’t use eggs, because she was from a very poor part of
Greece. Her family actually sold her as a young woman.”

“My mother and my yia-yia used to always make this for Thanksgiving,” says
Christina Papakirk, showing a stuffing with chestnuts and ground meat
called yemisi.

“I made it for the first time this year.”

Spyro Sinis-Terezis, the parishioner who got the cooking school off the
ground, promised that at the next session she would have her mother-in-law
from Greece demonstrate some yia-yia techniques, including making homemade
phyllo dough.

Sinis-Terezis, of West Chester Township, got the idea for the cooking
school from a church in South Bend, Ind.

“It’s to raise money for the church, but people do love Greek food, so the
community really appreciates it.”

At the last session, attendees were mostly Middletown neighbors, or
friends of parishioners. The church basement was transformed into a
cooking school and dining room, with a makeshift kitchen up front and a
demonstration mirror.

Tables decorated in the Greek colors of blue and white were set with
plates of feta cheese, Greek olives and bread. The teachers made enough
food to serve all the students, making the learning session also an
hours-long feast.

Tom Retzios made a dish called yarithes me feta, or shrimp with feta.

“My goal is to never take more than 15 minutes to cook anything,” he says
as he makes the simple oven-baked rice dish, which involved a little
jarred marinara sauce and shrimp. It was made unmistakably Greek with a
sprinkling of feta cheese on the top.

Sinis-Terezis is an advocate of the Mediterranean food pyramid, in which
meat is eaten infrequently, though she demonstrated a simple lamb stew
with greens.

“Meat is for celebrations,” she says. “When my in-laws visit and cook
meat, they only serve it if the whole family is there to enjoy it.”

For Lisa Christakis, the church’s Presvytera, or priest’s wife, Greek
cooking is more than a cultural tradition; it has religious significance.
The Greek Orthodox tradition, she says, is built on hospitality and love.

For the cooking class, Christakis made an okra stew, sweet with tomatoes
and olive oil.

Vegetarian dishes are common in Greek cooking, not only because meat
traditionally was scarce, but the Orthodox faithful keep a vegan fast on
Wednesday and Friday all year and during Lent (Orthodox Lent begins March
14 this year).

“It’s not just about giving up or sacrificing,” says Christakis, “It’s
about making your body lighter for prayer, making room for God.”

The health benefits of the Greek diet – a plant-based diet with olive oil,
a light use of meat, a healthy dose of wine and lots of vegetables – are
undeniable, and that’s one reason that Greek cooking stays so relevant in
the lives of Greek Americans.

That, and the memories of yia-yias the food evokes.

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Comments

Eleni 25-11-2008, 07:32

Were can I find the yemisi recipe you made. My
yia-yia died, and so did my mother (unexpectedly0 and so did the recipe. I loved it but have not been able to find a recipe that is close to what they made. I am hoping to try and find it or somewhat similar. I would love my family to experience my Thanksgiving stuffing childhood memories.
Thank You
Eleni

Reply
Christina Papakirk 30-01-2009, 05:31

Eleni,
I’m so sorry to hear about your mother and yiayia. I, too, lost my mom at a young age. Whenever I make gemisi, I make sure to use her special silver dish and spoon to serve it. Here is the recipe from the Popular Greek Recipes cookbook published by the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Charleston, South Carolina:
1.5 lbs ground round
0.5 lbs chicken livers (I omit these–yuk!)
1 cup green or white onions, chopped
4 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1-4 oz. can button mushrooms drained/sliced
0.5 lbs boiled chestnuts, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup white raisins
1 cup long-grain rice
2 cups chicken broth
In a deep saucepan, saute onions in butter until soft but not brown. Add ground meat, livers, salt and pepper. Stir lightly over moderate heat until browned. Add mushrooms, chestnuts, pecans, raisins, rice and broth. Bring to a boiling point, lower heat and simmer until rice is cooked. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Eleni, I usually make it the day before and then heat it up with extra broth (just be careful it does not stick to the bottom). Also, if you don’t feel like messing with chestnuts, use pine nuts.
Kali Orexi!
-Christina Papakirk

Reply
Webmaster 31-01-2009, 11:54

Christina
Thank you very much for your recipe! I received your message and I will see to it that Eleni will be informed. Okay?
Greetings mazalien

Reply
Tommy D 11-03-2009, 03:07

So I’m thinkin’ that Sia could kick Chrissie Hynde’s ass.

Reply
In Greek cooking grandmothers know best Maza Weblog | Cast Iron Cookware 27-05-2009, 01:30

[…] In Greek cooking grandmothers know best Maza Weblog Posted by root 22 hours ago (http://www.mazalien.nl) Vegetarian dishes are common in greek cooking not only because meat tommy d from your flag united states says so i 39 m thinkin 39 that sia could kick chrissie hynde ass comment bottom all rights reserved powered by wordpress Discuss  |  Bury |  News | in greek cooking grandmothers know best maza weblog […]

Reply
Lily Evans 22-06-2010, 05:14

I love to taste some greek foods because they are very spicy.”.”

Reply

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