As we mentioned when we first introduced Our Kouppes, many of the recipes we will feature here are heavily influenced by our parents and Greek cuisine…but not all of them. This particular bread recipe for example, although heavy with Mediterranean elements like Kalamata olives, feta, and oregano has very little to do with our parents. In fact, this bread is brought to you because of a man hero named Jim Lahey.
We were raised in a very traditional Greek home, with a large Greek extended family and many Greek friends. Our neighborhood and primary school were full of Greeks, and we happily lived and learned alongside a smorgasbord of other nationalities. As we grew up and ventured off to high school, college, and then university, as we got jobs and got involved in extra-curricular activities (that went beyond Greek folk dancing), our exposure to the people of the world grew and grew. How enriching! How wonderful!
It’s no real surprise then that we both grew up to marry Xeni. For those of you who are not Greek, and who do not understand what “Xeni” are…well, that’s you. Xeni, (the plural form of xenos (masculine) or xeni (feminine)) is essentially anyone who is not Greek. This is not meant to be an insult or a derogatory categorization; it’s just a fact. So, our Anglo-Canadian husbands are Xeni. So is our West Indian neighbour, our Japanese co-worker, and the Cameroonian cashier at our local grocery store. All Xeni. The Italian barber at the local salon is also a Xeno…but a little less so, because Italians and Greeks are the same-same…sort of.
So, we’ve been thinking. This website was initially intended to be a place where we could preserve, and then share with all of you, our parents’ traditional Greek recipes. Our goal, simple; to fill in the gaps, and answer the questions that most children of Greek immigrant parents (actually all immigrant parents) seem to have, including: “How much, really, is mia kouppa (one cup) flour?” or “What do you mean, add as much water as it takes?”. We set out to cook with our parents, document their recipes, measure out their ingredients, and take careful notes of each step and all directions. At the same time, we have captured their kitchen wisdom, even that which is quite nonsensical, and we have been sharing that too. Along with recipes, step by step photos, some videos, and helpful hints, we also share stories and memories which resonate with so many of our readers. Mia Kouppa has been a true labour of love, that has received a lot of love! Thank you, thank you, thank you, for all your support and encouragement.
For most of elementary school, we came home for lunch, and were greeted by our mom who had a nice, warm meal waiting for us. We would eat, sitting next to our mother, and we would watch the Flintstones together. This was the only time we were allowed to watch television during meals, probably permitted because our mother loved to follow Fred and Barney’s antics as much as we did. When she first arrived in Canada, it was partially by watching the Flintstones that our mother learned English. To this day, she can recite most of the episodes, and can yaba-daba-doo with the best of them.
This sauce! How could we begin to describe the wonder which is this sauce!? How could we convince you that this sauce, is something that you absolutely have to make…like, today…before it becomes difficult to find sweet, vine ripened tomatoes. Will it help if we tell you that this sauce, so basic, so simple, will elevate your dishes in ways you could barely imagine?! It’s true! It’s so deliciously true!
Thank you friends! You have been really patient…and we have been somewhat of a tease (No!…not in that way!). We realize that many of you have been waiting for the recipe to our parents’ homemade tomato sauce, which we reference frequently in other recipes. We’ve told you that if you didn’t have your own homemade sauce, that you could use passata or some other sort of tomato product as a substitute in many meals, and you’ve been very understanding…but you still ask about our parents’ sauce. And we’re happy you do!
When Greeks grill meat or fish, any meat or fish, it typically receives the same treatment: cook until done, pile everything onto a platter, and dress immediately with a generous combination of olive oil, oregano and freshly squeezed lemon juice. This sauce (for lack of a better word…Can you think of a better word?…Maybe dressing?) coats everything, and mixes together with the juices coming from the grilled goods to create something fantastic.
Some of you have said that you love to read the stories that go along with many of our recipes, and that really makes our hearts sing; we love sharing them. What we love just as much are the stories that our parents share with us, particularly when we are having one of our Mia Kouppa cooking sessions. Many are tales we have already heard, but with every re-telling, there are more details which our parents remember to add to the story. An example of this came as we were putting the finishing touches on our melomakarona. We were licking spoons coated in delicious Greek honey as our mother watched on. She then recounted how, as a little girl, she once ate so much honey that she got horribly sick and could not stand the sight of it for several months. This was a problem, because honey was a mainstay of her diet.
Several months ago we came across a video clip of an Italian-American comedian named Sebastien Maniscalco. In this particular bit, entitled “Doorbell”, Chicago-born Maniscalco compares the reaction of families today versus those of twenty years ago, when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. His portrayal of households faced with unanticipated company (which you should definitely watch by clicking here) is quite hilarious, and also, a little bit sad. As with most things comedic, an element of truth runs through it. Why do people, as Maniscalco points out, cringe at the thought of company? Why does the idea of entertaining, especially at the last minute, stress us so? We’re here to tell you that it doesn’t have to, and that with a change of perspective and some staples in the freezer, fridge and pantry, you can jump for joy when company comes calling.
During Greek Pascha (Easter) the air reverberates with greetings of Χριστός ανέστη (Xristos anesti: Christ is risen) and responses of Αληθώς ανέστη (Alithos anesti: Truly, he is risen). For many followers of the Orthodox faith, Pascha is one of the holiest and most beautiful of holidays, preceded by Holy week which begins with the Saturday of Lazarus, and continues to the celebration of Pascha on the following Sunday. Church services during Holy week remember and mark Christ’s last week before his crucifixion and also his resurrection.
Pascha is also referred to as the Feast of Feasts, and that’s no joke. On Holy Saturday night, church services celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This Divine Liturgy ends in the early hours of Sunday, after which families gather to break their fast and to play a game of tsougrisma with their dyed eggs. Traditionally, the meal served at this time is a soup called magiritsa which is made of lamb offal flavoured with a lemon-egg sauce. As kids, we would declare this lamb offal soup…awful (see what we did there?) To this day, we don’t really like it. Our parents however, still enjoy breaking their fast with this soup, while we typically enjoy a fast-food burger picked up at the 24 hour drive-through. New traditions are fine too.