A lentil soup recipe passed down the generations is a reminder of just how kick-ass Greek cuisine can be
Greece is a much-neglected country; doing much of the early work on which everything else was built for a minimal share of the credit; it’s the Swann to Rome’s Edison. From the Olive Grove, Mediterranean Cooking with Olive Oil, by the Vancouver-based mother and daughter team of Helen Koutalianos and Anastasia Koutalianos, reminded me just how much we have to thank Greek cuisine for.
The recipes, some of which have been handed down the generations, seem, at first glance, to have too few ingredients; the malaise of our society which confuses complication with quality. On tasting, epiphany strikes; the simplicity of the ingredients means that one flavour isn’t masked by another. Each flavour adds its own layer to the dish, creating that depth that we often aspire to in home cooking.
One of my favourites, especially as I hunker down for winter, is Faki, a Greek lentil soup. Here’s the recipe, faithfully reproduced courtesy of Helen and Anastasia:
Faki (lentil soup)
Faki is a traditional Greek soup made with lentils. It’s simple to make, and very tasty. Serve with baked or grilled fish. (Tip: Make sure to wash your lentils well before cooking to remove any tiny stones.)
2 cups lentils, washed
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup uncooked white rice (optional)
1 fresh tomato, puréed (optional)
white vinegar, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lentils, onions, garlic, olive oil, spices and about 6 cups water. Add rice and tomato, if desired. Simmer on medium heat until lentils are soft and the stock is thick, about 30–45 minutes.
Just before serving, add a dollop of vinegar.
Makes 4–6 servings.
The book is not just delicious stews and soups. It runs the whole gamut from mousaka and roast lamb to three-layered chocolate cake and olive oil ice cream.
A former food columnist and her daughter share a love for Greek cuisine
You would think that someone like Helen Koutalianos would have had several cookbooks to her name by now. A former food columnist and Greek cooking instructor, Helen has shared her love of Greek cuisine and olive oil with many people, including her three daughters.
The girls would often consult mom for recipes but it wasn’t until Anastasia Koutalianos wrote a book proposal for a publishing program assignment (in 2008) that the idea of a recipe book really grew legs.
Authors Anastasia and Helen Koutalianos. (Image: Darla Furlani)
Why focus on olive oil?
“I think olive oil was a great starting off point. It's something I use everyday and something that North Americans are growing to love,” says Anastasia of the book’s central tenet.
At the time, Helen and her husband Basil Koutalianos’s company, Basil Olive Oil Products, had just celebrated its 10th anniversary so olive oil was top of mind in the Koutalianos house.
Where are the recipes from?
Anastasia’s childhood memories of her mother’s food column in The News meant that family recipes would play a key role in the book. More surprising is the inclusion of recipes from well-known Canadian chefs. The Koutalianos family had been importing their certified organic olive oil from Greece for over 10 years and had built great relationships with chefs and restaurants as a result; many of them jumped at the chance to be part of Koutalianos’ project.
You’ll find recipes from the following chefs:
- Robert Clark of C Restaurant
- Jean-Francis Quaglia of Provence Restaurant
- Tony Minichiello and Christophe Kwiatkowsky of Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver
- James Walt of Araxi Restaurant
- David Beston of Jericho Tennis Club
- Robert Cordonier of Hillside Cellars Winery
- Vincent Stufano of Fairmont Chateau Whistler
- Lisa Ahier of Sobo
- Liana Robberecht of Calgary Petroleum Club
- Lynda Laroche (former chef of Watermark)
- Frank Pabst of Blue Water Cafe
- Ronald St. Pierre of Locals Restaurant (in Courtney)
From the Olive Grove, Mediterranean Cooking with Olive Oil, by Helen and Anastasia Koutalianos, is published by Arsenal Pulp Press and sold in Vancouver at Sitka Books, People's Co-op Bookstore, Blackberry Books, Whole Foods locations (incl. Kits, Cambie, Robson and West Vancouver), Barbara Jo's Books to Cooks and, of course, Indigo and Chapters stores.