Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: The Olive and the Caper

Finally, after years of living close to Greektown in Toronto, I decide to read a Greek cookbook.  I suspected there was more to Greek cooking than roasted meats, grape leaves, fried cheese, moussaka and potatoes.  That is not the interesting part of this cookbook.  The Olive and the Caper was written by Susanna Hoffmann, a food anthropologist who spent many years in Greece.

This cookbook will give you all the recipes that you remember from the restaurants but even more importantly, you can begin to understand what is happening in Greece right now.  Greece has had a history of hard times.  Before the meltdown, there was the end of WWII and the deep poverty that caused many of the Greeks to leave.  There are tons of peasant dishes, along with dishes that probably had some early form in ancient times.  Stories of how Ancient Greece became Modern Greece are located in sidebars and special sections.  Reminds me of another great Workman effort, All Around the World Cookbook by Sheila Lukins.

Sprinkled among the recipes are little tidbits such as; why Greeks don't eat corn (reminds them of poverty) and the fact that lasagna is possibly a Greek invention.  If you don't have a good mediterranean cookbook, then I would suggest you look at this one.  I am probably only going to use a few recipes (Sesame Soup, a greek style barbeque sauce and some sweet savory desserts) but the anecdotes have me seriously considering purchasing a copy.  (I got this one from the library.)

The one revelation that I will take away from this book is about a food that is dear to my heart.  I am partially from Slavic descent and two things struck me.  The first is that Slav comes from slave, which were what northerners were for ancient Greeks.  The second is that cabbage rolls can be served cold with a yoghurt sauce.  When I make cabbage rolls, I often sneak down the first night they are in the fridge and grab the tomato soaked, red greased rolls and gobble them in a few bits.  It never occurred to me to purposely make a lighter filling and intend the cabbage rolls to be eaten with a tangy yoghurt or some thickened lemon sauce.  In fact, you could think of cabbage rolls as a large dolmades.  So, instead of arguing amongst the Poles, Ukraines, Armenians and anyone else, it is possible that the Greeks invented the cabbage roll.

Regardless of the origin, the possibilities of what a cabbage roll can be have expanded for me.  That is the most that I hope for when I read a cookbook.  One morsel of inspiration can feed both my imagination and my family for many times to come.

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