The Greek(ish) Cookbook I’m Cooking From All Summer Long

A rapid-fire Q&A with cookbook author Georgina Hayden left me hungry for Greek food.

<p>Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Wanda Abraham / Kristin Perers</p>

Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Wanda Abraham / Kristin Perers

Whenever I get my hands on a new cookbook, I make a cup of black coffee, sit in a comfy chair with Post-It notes and a pen, and flip through it a couple of times, flagging anything that looks delicious. Because I look at so many cookbooks each year, I've become more selective. Most cookbooks get just a handful of Post-Its.

Georgina Hayden's cookbook, Greekish, on the other hand, kept me busy. I flagged the very first recipe in the book (Burnt Butter Eggs and Goat's Cheese—yum!) and didn't stop until the dessert chapter, where the photo of Hayden's stunning Baklava Cheesecake literally made my stomach growl with anticipation.

I believe that there's a sweet spot for most recipes at the intersection of effort and flavor. Or call it an effort-to-flavor ratio. In other words, how good can you make something taste while still keeping it easy and attainable? Georgina Hayden has mastered this ratio.

From her filo-wrapped feta with spiced honey to her one-pan (!) pastitsio, each recipe is distilled into a neat package of big flavor and low effort, which is why I'll be cooking from this book all summer long.

In Greekish, the fresh, bright ingredients of the Greek kitchen—from feta and lemon to pomegranate molasses and mint—give each recipe a jolt of sunny flavor, and veggies abound. Many of the recipes—especially the sides and apps, but even some of the desserts—hover around six ingredients, making them ideal for breezy summer cooking.

In anticipation of Hayden's new cookbook, which comes out on June 11, I spoke with her about her Greek roots, her cooking style, and her favorite foods to share with friends and family.

<p>Simply Recipes / Megan Scott</p> My highly-flagged copy of 'Greekish'

Simply Recipes / Megan Scott

My highly-flagged copy of 'Greekish'

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was your goal with writing Greekish
I’ve written about authentic Greek and Cypriot food in my other books and I wanted this one to be more everyday. Weeknight, post-work, school friendly. Less tied up with authenticity and more about taking hero flavours and having fun with them.

What does Greekish (emphasis on the “ish”) mean to you?
It reflects the way I feel as a second generation Greek Cypriot. My family moved over from Cyprus in the '50s and '60s, so I was raised in a very Greek Cypriot household but grew up in a hugely diverse and cosmopolitan London. I’m married to a northerner (from the north of England), so my life is a mish-mash and the ‘ish’ reflects that. It’s a bit Greek, but also a lot of other stuff.

What is the first recipe someone should make from your cookbook and why?
The one-pan pastitsio. It is one of the first recipes I developed and is what I wanted to base the book on. It's a familiar, classic recipe that I simplified—instead of four pans, you use just one and save many hours. Also the baklava cheesecake because it is delicious!

What is one recipe from your cookbook you keep making over and over again?
The youvetsi. This is a very classic Greek recipe: slow-cooked meat in wine and tomato, then you cook orzo in the sauce. I use short rib of beef in mine and honestly I just think it is stunning. Effortless and perfect when you have guests over.

What’s your favorite kitchen tool and why?
I adore my microplane grater. I grate a lot of halloumi over my pasta and food, and there is no better grater out there! Lemon zest becomes snow.

What’s your most-used pan? A wok? Cast-iron skillet? Stainless steel All-Clad? A Teflon pan you got on sale?
I have a large cast-iron skillet which I use for almost everything. It gives the best flavour, and colour, plus it goes in the oven. I am a big fan of starting things on the hob, getting a good sear, and then transferring them to the oven to slowly cook.

What cooking rule do you break and suggest we do too, and why?
Cheese and fish—I don't know where that comes from, but if you avoid the two together you are missing out on some epic dishes including prawn saganaki! I love charred spicy tomato prawns finished with feta. It's a great combo—there is a recipe in Greekish for this in kebab form.

What do you always buy at the grocery store when it’s on sale?
Anything seasonal, so at the moment I am excited about apricots and watermelon! They just don't taste the same out of summer, and I wait like a child at Christmas for them to arrive.

What’s one thing people would be surprised to learn about you when it comes to cooking, eating, food, etc.?
I will eat whatever you cook for me. I am just grateful that someone else is doing the cooking! The simpler and more homely the better. I'll always prefer someone's mother's cooking to a fine dining restaurant.

What do you make for a potluck dinner party if you really like the people?
Probably my baklava cheesecake, not because it's hard but because it takes a while and it's a showstopper. If I like you, you’re getting that.

What’s your go-to midnight snack?
Houmous, chilli crisp oil, and a fried egg.

What’s the one food you could eat over and over?
Halloumi and apricot jam sandwiches.

What’s your go-to emergency dinner?
Pilafi, a Greek Cypriot way of cooking bulgur wheat. It's tomatoey, garlicky, super easy and quick, and a great meal with a dollop of super tangy Greek yoghurt. You can add any protein you might have or just eat as is!

What’s a recipe that you make all the time for your family and you'll be remembered for?Hopefully my tava—a Greek Cypriot dish of slow cooked lamb neck, with cumin, onions, rice, potatoes and lots of tomato—or any slow cooked lamb! I have a wood oven in the garden, and take so much pride in slow-cooking my lamb the traditional Greek way. Things like kleftiko, or my favourite tava, are on rotation in the summer months.

If you didn’t have the limit of time and budget, what cookbook would you write?
Gosh this is an amazing question! I'd love to take a year-long trip around the Mediterranean coastline, learning how neighbouring countries influence each other, and learning from elders. Either that or buying a plot of land in Cyprus, building a kitchen garden, and restoring an old building. That would be a dream to write about.

Read the original article on Simply Recipes.