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My Big, Fat Greek Cookbook

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Several years back, the movie “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” proved a crowd-pleaser with its humorous Cinderella tale of a young Greek woman for finds romance.

Now comes “How to Roast a Lamb” (Little, Brown and Company, $35) from chef Michael Psilakis of New York’s Anthos and other restaurants, a big, fat Greek cookbook that should romance you into trying an ethnic cuisine that many of us eat but not as many of us cook.

Why is that? I can hear a few people say that they don’t have a spit in their front yard for roasting the lamb, as they did in the movie. That’s true; but jokes aside, the real reason stems more from our unwillingness to spend money on an ingredient like lamb or seafood and possibly not serve it to its best potential.

We’re scared of the waste. We’re scared our families may not like it. We’re scared of the time involved.

That’s where Psilakis wants to help. He fills his book with stories of his childhood, his business life, how he became a cook, and the passion that drives his cooking. He does it in such straightforward style that you get swept up in it. He doesn’t sugar-coat matters, though he romanticizes them a bit, which is true to his Greek character. He remembers, for example, being a rebellious teen fighting with his mother and even wanting to ruin the surprise birthday party she had worked so hard to give him.

But he gets carried away by fast Cretan dance for the men that his godfather has decided to turn into a group strip-tease, to the delight of the women around them. “We danced at a feverish pitch,” he writes. “As I looked around the room, for a moment I stepped outside myself. I could see the sheer joy, delight and reckless abandon on the faces of everyone around me. These were the people I shared my life with and the people who loved me. These are the moments in life that are frozen in my mind forever — and they are priceless.”

Psilakis goes on to write that “when I look back on my life to the snapshots that populate my memory, many of my fondest memories are of events that happened at the parties we hosted at our house when I was growing up. Entertaining, however, and especially throwing big parties, can seem like a daunting proposition. But a good party doesn’t have to be a huge party. Gather together any number of people you want — 30, 20 or 15 of your close friends and family. With a couple of days’ advance planning, a little organization and the help of your friends, you can create memories of your own to last a lifetime.”

Makes me want to start planning now. And I just might add Psilakis’ Warm Feta With Tomato, Olive and Pepper Salad to the menu. Or his Potatoes, Olives and Capers With Anchovy Vinagrette. Or the Taramosalata, a spread made with carp roe. The list of dishes to try is fairly endless.

[amazon-product]0316041211[/amazon-product]Psilakis explains in extensive detail how to make each dish, so that the directions are simple and easy to follow. He also offers plenty of variations, so you can remake the dish in various ways.

Yet there is a drawback, at least to me. I loathe recipes that send you back and forth to other sections of the cookbook in order to find yet another recipe that you have to make in order to complete the one you want. In other words, the list of ingredients for Shrimp With Orzo and Tomato calls for “1/4 cup Garlic Purée (page 264)” while the Grilled Porgies sends you to page 270 for a mustard sauce called Ladolemono. This might be acceptable if the practice were limited to, say, vinaigrettes. But it seems to be in every third recipe in the book.

That said, in the end, Psilakis has demystified many Greek dishes for non-Greek cooks (with the help of Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton’s rustic photography), broadening our culinary repertoires to include some great new fare.

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One Response to “My Big, Fat Greek Cookbook”

  1. Some updated information (3/9/10): the book is a finalist in the “Chefs and Restaurants” category from International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).