By Vefa Alexiadou
Mediterranean cuisine is a bit muddled - many Mediterranean countries share similar dishes (albeit with different names) and, with nationalistic pride, all insist their versions are the best. Greek cuisine is considered (by the Greeks, anyway) to be the 'mother' of Mediterranean cuisine and although it would take a food historian to prove this definitively, there's no doubting that the country's food greatly influenced that of its neighbours.
Vefa Alexiadou, a Greek cookbook author and instructor, argues in Vefa's Kitchen that her country's culinary influence goes beyond the Mediterranean: starting with the so-called Mediterranean diet that is embraced by nutritionists who say a diet of vegetables and grains with olive oil, moderate amounts of meat, seafood and wine, will help us lead longer, healthier lives.
At Greek restaurants throughout the world, you can order a meal without looking at the menu: most of us know it will list taramosalata; spanakopita (spinach pie); moussaka; stuffed vine leaves; braised octopus; and leg of lamb flavoured with oregano, garlic and lemon. And Alexiadou gives us recipes for each of these dishes. But the book (which has more than 700 pages) is filled with dishes that are not well known outside Greece: stuffed omelettes with garlic crust; cornmeal pie from Epirus; lenten spaghetti with tahini; haloumi ravioli from Cyprus; bonito (mackerel-type fish) baked with fava beans; pork with sauerkraut and bulgur wheat from Drama; and fennel pie from Crete.
Alexiadou describes dishes from all over the country, stressing the culinary importance of different regions.