It is always a pleasure to discover new cookbooks by Greek-American authors, especially when their writing skills match their creativity in the kitchen. All You Can Greek: Food, Life, Travel by Eleni Saltas is already ranked #1 on Amazon in the New Releases in Greek Cooking, Food & Wine category.
Saltas was born in Salt Lake City and since childhood has been fully immersed in Utah's vibrant Greek community through dance, sports, and youth activities. Those activities eventually took her to regional and national Greek events that helped open her eyes to the greater Greek-American community. She was a camper and counselor at Ionian Village in Bartholomio, Greece where she first learned to love, of all things, vegetables.
With a degree in Exercise and Sports Science from the University of Utah, Saltas is a full time personal trainer with a specialization in training the aging body. Her passion for health and fitness led her to starting a popular fitness blog which eventually morphed into stories and blogs about healthy foods as well which, of course, means healthy Greek foods. Her blog then led her to compiling her work into her first book, All You Can Greek: Food, Life, Travel.
Saltas spoke to The National Herald about her cookbook, her favorite dishes, and her family.
TNH: How long did the book take from idea to publication?
Eleni Saltas: The idea to write a cookbook came to me about two years ago—at that point I already knew I wanted the book to be called All You Can Greek – a book about food, life, and travel that Greeks and non-Greeks could all enjoy. I sat on the name for about a year and then began to put forth real effort, like actually writing recipes, hiring a layout designer and editor, and taking pictures of all the food.
TNH: What was the most challenging/rewarding aspect of writing the book?
ES: Self-publishing comes with many challenges, and I had to wear many hats like teaching myself how to photograph, write, and work out a layout design. The most challenging aspect was not having much direction in the publishing process and I often took big steps backwards to take one small step forward. The only thing I really knew was that I wanted to finish what I started. The most rewarding aspect has been seeing the reaction from my parents and yiayia when they first held my book in their hands and turned the pages. It still hasn’t really hit me yet that I have a published cookbook so it was the proud looks and happy tears from my family that has been the most rewarding for me.
TNH: Was there anything surprising you learned during the process either about writing or about Greek cuisine?
ES: I learned you’ll go through a surprising amount of extra virgin olive oil when cooking Greek cuisine! As far as writing goes – it takes a lot of time. Some days I felt like writing, and most days I would stare at my computer screen for hours. What was worse was enduring the editing process, though I knew it was important, I became very antsy for it to be finished. Writing is a grueling but rewarding process, and everything I learned with this book will help me with the next.
TNH: What are some of your favorite recipes to make at home?
ES: Spetzofai (spicy sausage and peppers), tyrokafteri (spicy feta dip), and bouyiourdi (spicy baked feta). Do you notice a theme here? I’m in the minority of Greeks who love meals that pack heat. Don’t worry, all three of those dishes can be made mild based on the peppers you use and will still burst with flavor! On the non-spicy spectrum, the fallback meal at home is kota me patates, an easy hands off dish that I cook at least once a week.
TNH: Are you working on any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
ES: I definitely have plenty of ideas for new projects, but nothing I’m actively working on. I will say I would like to utilize my fitness and nutrition background in some sort of capacity, and there are many avenues in Greek cuisine I’d like to explore which could probably keep me busy for a lifetime. Right now I’m just happy with having the one cookbook complete.
TNH: Where in Greece is the family from?
ES: This question is best answered with a paragraph from my book: “My Greek DNA stretches across Greece from the ancient city of Olympia (Yiayia Helen Patsuris Metos) to the high mountain village of Stromi in the Roumeli region (Papou Chris Metos), through Megara in Attiki (Papou Pete Saltas) and across the sea to Gavalahori, Crete (Yiayia Stella Nepolis Saltas). Greek blood runs hot, but it’s my Cretan blood line (originally Nebavlakis but shortened to Nepolis) that proudly boils hottest of all.”