Chef Theo Michaels’ Modern Greek Cookbook Orexi

Orexi by Theo A. Michaels. Photo: Amazon

Theo Michaels is a British-born, Greek Cypriot chef known for his cuisine inspired by the flavors of Greece and Cyprus and his travels. He creates innovative, family-friendly food and is also a cookbook author. His latest cookbook, Orexi: Feasting at the Modern Greek Table, is a collection of over 80 classic and modern recipes.

Orexi pays homage to Michaels’ heritage while championing new, modern dishes featuring the flavors of Greece and Cyprus.

After reaching the semi-finals on Masterchef 2014, Michaels resigned from a corporate position to follow his passion for food. Since that time, he has established himself as a chef and author based in the UK where he lives with his wife and three children. Michaels is a weekly food columnist for Best Magazine, and has regularly appeared on ITV This Morning, The Food Network, BBC Radio, and in the press.

Orexi is the Greek word for appetite and with excellent photography by Mowie Kay, the book certainly offers an appetizing feast for the eyes. Organized into chapters titled Meze, Sea, Land, Sun, and Fire, the book includes recipes that evoke a sense of connection to nature, seasonality, abundance, and sociable eating.

Fresh ingredients are key components of these dishes, from juicy watermelon and glossy kalamata olives, to fragrant oregano-roasted lamb and delicate vine-leaf-baked sea bass. The Meze chapter features mouth-watering small plates for sharing from whipped dips to meatballs. The sea is, of course, an inherent part of Greek culture and seafood is a staple.

Michaels offers the freshest fish and shellfish dishes, cooked simply and served with a squeeze of lemon juice. Meat dishes including rabbit, goat, chicken, lamb and pork are also featured and as noted in the book’s description, “cooking it over charcoal is a way of life…The Cypriots use a large rotisserie famous for its souvla (long skewer), while mainland Greeks make souvlaki, and both grilled and oven-roasted dishes are included here.”

Greek yogurt and cheeses, including feta, saganaki and halloumi, among others, are also covered in the book, as well as horta, salads, Greek desserts and even Greek-inspired cocktails such as the Ouzo Sour.

Among the recipes are grilled octopus, slow-cooked squid (kalamari stifado), red wine-marinated pork with coriander seeds (afelia), watermelon and halloumi bowls, and a Greek vegetable tart as well as a variety of souvlakia to try.

Purists may be shocked to find a recipe using canned beans, but for many home cooks today with hectic schedules, such shortcuts are a way for busy families to enjoy the flavors of Greece and Cyprus. Be warned, there is also a “halfway pastitsio” recipe that I can only imagine was created specifically for my uncle who hates the bechamel that traditionally crowns the classic dish. The recipe is basically pasta with meat sauce, so there really is no need to get pastitsio lovers’ hopes up and dash them with the total lack of bechamel.

What emerges most of all from this book is Michaels’ great love of food, family, and entertaining. As he writes in the introduction, “Personally, I believe the heritage of Greek food is not simply about the ingredients, but is a combination of the people, their lands and history, and the adaptability of a nation that are all bound by an unbroken thread woven through the tapestry of Greek and Cypriot culture.”

Orexi: Feasting at the Modern Greek Table by Theo A. Michaels is available online.