My culinary career might have started in Paris where I discovered that eating is not only filling your stomach, but also a social event. Not that I really learned to cook in those years. The worst dinner I ever served to friends was in Paris, when I decided to treat my friends to a real traditional Dutch green pea soup. I had no idea how to make the soup; so I emptied some tins of green peas into a pan, mixed them with some meat and I might even have added some celery and voilá, the soup was ready. In those times I had no idea that it should have been made with dried peas and when I tasted the soup with its sweet flavour of tinned peas, I decided to say nothing and presented the soup to my friends as a traditional Dutch dish. They all ate in silence, not daring to insult me and I have wondered ever since how they managed to come back to my house for dinner, knowing that I was such a lousy cook. My dog, who normally ate everything including chilli peppers, refused to eat the huge amount of leftovers, even though there were sausages in it.
Returning to Amsterdam, I had a friend who taught me that cooking was relaxing and so I got a better feeling for cooking. It was at this time that I started afresh cooking for my friends and this time I was more successful than in Paris.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland upon coming to Lesvos and discovering the vegetables and fruit coming straight from the land into the kitchen. Fruit and vegetables were not only fresh, they also came in an abundance that I did not know. Those first years I really had to struggle with buckets of tomatoes and apricots that our neighbour gave us and as a real Dutch woman, no fruit or tomato was to be wasted. There is this Dutch advertisement where you see some women peeling endless heaps of shrimps. Then one of them looks out of the window, to the sea and she gets a scare: approaching from the horizon is a large fleet of fishing boats, bringing more and more shrimps. Well, asking a Greek in the summer for one pepper, may provoke the same scenario: Greeks are so generous in their giving that you never get one but end up with kilo’s of them.
The abundance and the freshness of most of the products here on the island, set me up to do more cooking and to be more creative with the Greek products. I quickly got bored of eating every day the same dish, so I had to try other ways to get an aubergine transformed in something different than a moussaka, or a courgette prepared other than as fried slices.
And then there were all those products with which I was not familiar. Take a fig, which in Holland costs a lot of money and here in Greece you just can collect them from the trees. Or the capers to be collected from near the beaches. Or the chorta and wild asparagus, or the lovely goat cheeses available all over the island.
Greece is a Land of Plenty. Its people and its nature are so generous that it is hard not to turn into a cook. My cooking for friends has resulted in this book with recipes I use to make for dinners and lunches.
I know that there are cookbooks full of splendid photographs, but they always look so serious and their recipes too beautiful to try. To compliment the spirit for cooking, which must be light, I invited my Dutch friend Sylvia Weve to make the illustrations. I am honoured she found the time to read my recipes and the stories around the products and became inspired to make the lovely and entertaining drawings for the book. Although I am very nervous to see my recipes printed in a book, with the memory of my worst dinner-ever in Paris still in mind; I am proud to present you a book that I hope will inspire you all to do more cooking with the ingredients Greece provides so abundantly.
You can order the book through internet: Website: www.smitaki.nl
In a week or so the books will arrive at Lesvos and will be for sale in different shops.
Title: Almost Greek
Subtitle: Cooking with Greek ingredients
Publisher/Editor: Smitaki, Amsterdam (Netherlands) 2012
Translation: Julie Smit, Mary Staples, Jenifer Giannakou