It’s the simplicity that strikes you first. A basic rectangle of yogurt so thick it resembles a block of cheese. It’s at the center of a shallow plate, an ample slick of golden honey pooling over and around, rough crumbled walnuts on top. That’s it.
It’s breakfast at Stani, one of Athens’ last traditional dairy bars, breakfast shops that serve up sweets such as loukoumades, fried pastries sauced with honey, and galaktoboureko, semolina custard wrapped in phyllo and cut into squares.
And, of course, yogurt. One bite and you realize the yogurt, made with goat milk from local farms, is anything but simple. Rich and sweet, but never heavy or cloying. Flavors clean and pronounced, utterly satisfying.
It’s a valuable lesson with which to start the day. Because as you eat across Athens—enjoying a riot of seemingly unrelated seafoods, produce, pastries and wines—you soon see the thread that connects them all: simple flavors allowed to shine.
That’s certainly the lesson plan followed by Ketty Koufonikola-Touros, the woman behind the city’s nearly 35-year-old Café Avissinia. She offered to teach me the rustic cooking of Greece. And working at a round white marble table in her kitchen that smells of oregano and mint, she assembled dish after simple dish, bright and bold. Fasolada. Arakas. Keftedes.
But the star was the simplest yet—fasolia piaz. White beans, red onion, avocado, a heaping tangle of fresh herbs, all dressed with just lemon juice and oil. It was at once creamy, crunchy, savory, tangy, fresh and vibrant—so much more than the sum of such simple parts.
Back at Milk Street, we stayed mostly true to the original. We opted for canned cannellini beans rather than dried butter beans, but used an easy trick to overcome their tendency to be bland. Heating them briefly, then dousing them with the dressing allows them to better absorb flavors as they cool. The result: a boldly seasoned bean salad we’d managed to make even simpler than—but just as delicious as—the original.