As March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, reading a good book can offer some welcome relaxation as the weather keeps us guessing, especially in the New York tristate area. During Great Lent, try reading books that inspire and encourage faith with spiritual themes, and the Holy Bible is a good place to start.
Greek cookbooks are also helpful this time of year for those looking to try some delicious, nistisima dishes. Many churches have released their own cookbooks to help with fundraising. You may be impressed with the effort that goes into creating these church fundraising cookbooks, though the recipes themselves may differ from your own. As with any cuisine, the various regional differences make the foods unique and even in one’s own family, the way each person makes a certain recipe can vary widely.
Yiayia always liked to see at least two inches of oil on top of all her foods in the ladera category, she took the word very seriously. However, most people today would probably opt for a drizzle of the best quality Greek extra virgin olive oil rather than a vast quantity on top of their food. Tastes may have changed, but it is nice to see the Greek traditions are still being passed down through food in communities across the country. Here are a few books to add to your March reading list.
Among the church cookbooks, Popular Greek Recipes compiled and published by the St. Irene Ladies Philoptochos Society from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Charleston, South Carolina is currently in its 60th anniversary edition and its 17th printing.
The Philoptochos chapter was organized in 1947 and renamed after St. Irene the Great Martyr in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book features over 400 updated, traditional favorites, heart-healthy Lenten, vegetarian and vegan recipes, menu suggestions, mealtime prayers, and helpful hints and variations. Dedicated to Presbytera Despina Trivelas, the founding editor of Popular Greek Recipes who at age 92 continues to cook for her family, the book includes menus for strict fasting, perfect for this time of year, and a Greek-English glossary.
Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska by Laurie Helen Constantino is available online through the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Anchorage. The book is 256 pages and includes 194 recipes, many of them favorites from Anchorage’s popular Greek Festival. All the proceeds from the sale of the book go to the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church Building Fund.
The novel Red Dyed Hair (Vammena Kokkina Mallia) by Kostas Mourselas follows Emmanuel Retsinas (call him Louis), the “almost man,” and spans four decades of contemporary Greek life as seen from the bottom of the barrel. Louis the sometime circus daredevil, part-time yacht captain, full-time subverter of propriety, morals, order, is a destroyer, builder, provocateur, and catalyst extraordinaire. The novel is a mixture of social satire and political history. First published in 1989, it was also the first novel written by Greek playwright Mourselas.
The English translation of Red Dyed Hair appeared in 1996. As noted in the book’s description, “In scene embedded within scene, Red Dyed Hair spins a tale of social and personal cowardice and treachery against a distant backdrop of courage betrayed at the cost of death.” The book is available online. Mourselas was born in Piraeus in 1932. He studied law, went into the civil service, and was dismissed by the junta in 1969. Since that time, he devoted himself completely to writing professionally- theater, television, film, journalism, essays, and prose. His works have been performed by the National Theater of Greece, the Art Theater, the National Theater of Northern Greece, the Municipal Theaters, as well as abroad in France, Germany, and Cyprus. Mourselas passed away on July 15 at age 85.
Red Dyed Hair by Kostas Mourselas. Photo: Amazon