NEW YORK – Evan Karas (Karapanagiotides) is a self-taught chef ready to help people make restaurant-worthy food at home. He spoke with The National Herald about food and family, his Greek heritage, and his latest project, launching his own Evan Karas YouTube channel. Karas also shared his recipe for Greek pita bread which will be featured in the premiere video on his YouTube channel.
THE NATIONAL HERALD: Tell us a bit about yourself, where you were born and raised, and where in Greece is the family from?
EVAN KARAS: I'm a self-taught `chef' – feel free to use that term very loosely – who loves exploring the world of food and finding out more about myself with each recipe.
I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area, but I'm equally at home in the United States as I am in Greece. When I'm in Greece, Kilkis is home, which is where my father's family is from. I have family and close friends there, so when I'm there, it's home.
TNH: Did you always have an interest in cooking or want to pursue a career in the food industry?
EK: Food has always been a huge part of my life. I practically grew up working in pizza shops and other restaurants, but I never considered it a career option. However, my fondest food memories take me back to my grandparent's house in Kilkis, waking up in the morning to pick up freshly made bougatsa, and bringing it back to the house to sit on the balcony and enjoy it together. More than anything else, my interest in food has come from those same memories created around the table with the people that I love.
TNH: What made you decide to start this new project now?
EK: I decided to take my love of cooking more seriously in the fall of 2019 by tackling traditional Greek recipes, mostly the elusive and authentic Thessaloniki-style Bougatsa recipe. After tons of trial and error, I think that I've gotten pretty close to the original thing.
Once that happened, I started posting photos on social media and was overwhelmed with positive feedback, responses and private messages from friends asking how soon a restaurant would be coming! I'm not gonna lie, it crossed my mind, but when COVID-19 hit I decided to shift to creating the Evan Karas YouTube channel and other social accounts to help people overcome the fear and intimidation of making restaurant-worthy food in their own homes. Who knows? If viewers even improve on what I have to offer, I'll be thrilled knowing I inspired them to try.
TNH: What can we look forward to with your new YouTube channel?
EK: Currently, I am wrapping up filming for my first batch of recipes on Evan Karas and hope to launch by the New Year. That being said, my goal is to help viewers gain the confidence to learn how to make restaurant quality food from the comfort of their own home.
I will be introducing Greek recipes, of course, like pita bread, bougatsa, koulouri, phyllo, and tsoureki, but I will also have videos of recipes from around the world, like how to make pasta from scratch, sourdough bread, mouth-watering pizzas, English muffins, and more, all from scratch.
When people finish watching these videos, I want them to say to themselves, “I can make that!”
TNH: How has your family reacted to this new project?
EK: So far, they're all benefiting from being my taste testers, so no complaints! I'm lucky to have such a strong family that supports my creative side, but also gives me the honest feedback I need to continually improve and perfect my craft.
My mom has been a huge influence on me branching out and trying new things. She also started a new food venture this past year called Deelightful Bake House that makes baked-to-order cakes and cookies in the Philadelphia area. Watching her take a risk to follow her passion inspired me to do the same.
TNH: What does Greek food mean to you?
EK: Everything. Greek food, and the rich history that comes along with it, is inspiring. Think about it. Greek culture has been around for thousands of years, and with each generation, Greeks have continued to evolve and perfect their recipes.
But, the most beautiful thing about Greek food is that one bite can transport you to a different place. That's how it is for me, at least. A bite of sweet bougatsa takes me to mornings with my grandparents in Kilkis; a souvlaki on a stick brings me to the festivals in the village square that last long into the next day; grilled lavraki takes me to the beaches and salty air of Parga, where my wife, Katie [nee Papadopoulos], and I got married. My whole life has revolved around Greek food and the beautiful moments that come along with it.
TNH: Do you have a favorite holiday recipe you love to make?
EK: My favorite holiday recipe to make is tsoureki. It took me 500 attempts to perfect, but I'm not complaining, my house smelled amazing! There's something about pulling apart a fresh tsoureki with your family that makes me extremely happy. Side note, never cut the tsoureki bread with a knife. It should only be pulled apart to fully enjoy the stringy dough on the inside!
More information about Evan Karas is available online:
Youtube: Evan Karas
Recipe by Evan Karas: Greek Pita Bread from Scratch
Ingredients (makes 14 pieces):
- 640 grams (5 cups) all purpose flour (high gluten preferably)
- 480 ml (2 cups) water at room temperature
- 9 grams (2 teaspoons) instant yeast
- 8 grams (2 teaspoons) sugar
- 50 ml (4 tablespoons) extra virgin Greek olive oil (I use a Greek brand called Moires)
- 11 gram (2 teaspoons) salt
- Start by combining the water, yeast and sugar in a bowl. Whisk together and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
- After the yeast mixture has sat for 10 minutes, combine in your mixer bowl the flour, salt, and olive oil.
- Add in the yeast mixture and start mixing at low speed, gradually increasing to low/medium speed for 10 minutes or until the dough has become smooth and elastic.
- After the dough has become smooth and elastic, place the dough onto a floured work surface and knead for another minute to form a ball.
- Place the dough ball into a well-oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and let it rest/rise for at least 1 hour, preferably an hour and a half, in a warm environment. Yiayia's Tip – let the dough rise in your oven with the oven light on to create a warm environment.
- After the dough has finished rising, remove and stretch the dough ball into a log shape and cut it into 14 separate pieces and shape them into dough balls, approximately 80 grams each.
- Using a floured rolling pin and surface, roll the dough balls into flat circles, about 1/8 inch height. Cover the dough balls with a towel.
- One-by-one, place the rolled out dough into an oiled cast iron (or non-stick) skillet over low/medium heat and flip when air bubbles form on the top, approximately 1-2 minutes depending your heat level.
- Once flipped, let the other side get golden, then remove the pita from the pan, approximately 1-2 minutes.
- Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack.
- Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle flaky salt and Greek oregano (other suggestions are za'atar or any spices you like) on top and serve!