Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts may be Aglaia Kremezi’s best cookbook yet. Or, at least it’s my favorite! I’ve been taking this book to bed with me each night this week, devouring every word and making lists of ingredients to add to my pantry and recipes to try.
The book, a collection of simple, fresh vegetarian dishes comes from Aglaia’s home kitchen on the island of Kea and features beautifully shot photos by one of my favorite photographers, Penny De Los Santos. I love looking through the pages and seeing familiar dishes we made, places we visited and people that I met during my weeklong stay on Kea at the culinary school run by Aglaia and her husband, Costas. It brought back many wonderful memories.
A few weeks ago I was honored to be invited to Aglaia’s book launch luncheon at Bustan, a pan-Mediterranean restaurant here in NYC. It was so lovely to see her again. The chef, Israeli native Efraim (Efi) Nahon, recreated several dishes from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts as well as introduced us to some items on their menu. It was a truly fabulous meal.
Aglaia tells us that she is not really a vegetarian but she ate very little meat growing up as it was saved for once or twice a week and for special occasions due to its price and availability. She mainly ate vegetables that were grown in her family’s garden. These recipes that she shares are the same ones she grew up with. They aren’t new, faddish or in style. They are the traditional, regional dishes that have been around for years and they correspond to the healthy, vegetarian cooking that is now popular.
The book provides detailed ingredient descriptions and preparation techniques that will make the most of your garden or farmers’ market fare so there will be as little waste as possible. She also provides wonderful head notes with stories about each recipe and alternative variations for several. There are even menus to help you plan seasonal dishes and an extensive sourcing listing. It’s an invaluable resource for Mediterranean cooking.
At Bustan, one of the dishes we tried was the Pseudo- Moussaka with Spicy Tomato Sauce, Walnuts and Feta. This dish, with the warm rich flavors is perfectly balanced with sweet and spice. I loved this flavorful dish and I had to made this recipe first. It was just as good as the one at the restaurant and although there are several steps to follow, it was quite easy and now that I’ve made it once, it can be easily recreated. Half of the walnuts could easily be replaced with chopped meat to make a non-vegetarian version.
I also made the Roasted Cauliflower with Musa’s Zahter Relish. Roasting cauliflower is such a great technique as it maintains a slight crunch and intensifies the nutty flavor. The Zahter Relish is like a dressing or sauce that you drizzle over the cooked vegetable. It’s incredibly bright and savory and we decided it was quite like a Chimichurri sauce and would also be delicious over a steak and other grilled or roasted vegetables. Aglaia also suggests adding a bit of white wine to it and serving it over fish. How wonderfully versatile!
For the mezze course, I made the Grilled Feta, Tomato, and Pepper with Olive Oil and Oregano (Bouyourdi) and the Garlic Spread known as Skordalia. I was quite generous with the garlic cloves and certainly warded off evil for at least several hours. They made great accompaniments to the roasted red pepper sauce, olives, and fresh hunks of country bread that we ate with them.
For lunch on Thanksgiving day, I also made the Crispy Cheese Pie (Lazy Woman’s Pie) a variation to the cheese pie made by Balkan women in their wood ovens. We needed something while cooking the traditional fare and this was a quick and easy preparation of feta, ricotta and herbs in a phyllo crust. It’s such a great lunch that I’ve frozen half to take slices with me to work next week with a side of salad greens.
There are so many more recipes in the book that I am looking forward to making. Some, I’ve made before, like the Flourless Almond Cookies from Kea and the Spinach and Cheese Pie and a version of the Stuffed Summer Vegetables with Rice, Farro and Pine Nuts. But there are so many that I need to try. I’m excited for each of them.
I see Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts as one of my favorite cookbooks and plan to use it often and I’d recommend it to anyone vegetarian or not.
*This post includes my affiliate links to Amazon where you may buy the book.