“Greeks, wherever they are on the planet, never think there’s enough food. There’s always more than anyone can possibly eat.” — Diane Kochilas
On the Greek island of Ikaria, children play outside after dinner while their parents enjoy a glass of wine, under a sky of shooting stars. If this unstructured existence sounds like the key to inner happiness, Greek American cookbook author Diane Kochilas can confirm that it is. She can also explain how to turn stale bread into a meal, will set the record straight on what real Greek yogurt is and holds a keen observation on how Americans and Greeks differ in the kitchen. It’s all here on her recent interview on Milk Street Radio.
For a taste of Kochilas’ chat with Christopher Kimball, check out the excerpts below. We can’t promise they won’t leave you itching to go to Greece, but we can promise that you’ll want to hear more from the author of “My Greek Table.”
On Ikaria, the island where Kochilas’ family is from
It’s not unusual to see kids out in the town square playing as their parents are having late dinners, or moving on to maybe have a glass of wine somewhere. Then friends come by. It’s a very unstructured existence, which I think is the key to inner happiness. We’re not ruled by the clock.
On transforming stale bread
There are some really interesting recipes—old recipes probably not in use anymore, but also some of the classic dips that we know, like skordalia, the garlic dip, and taramasalata, the fish roe spread that you find in Greek restaurants. Those often utilize stale bread. There’s one recipe from the island of Tinos—it’s a local recipe, almost like a bread pudding. It’s basically stale bread and artichokes and cheese and eggs, baked together.
On stress relief
For me, the two cheapest shrinks are swimming and making dough.
On real Greek yogurt
Some of the Greek yogurt in American supermarkets is pretty authentic and some of it is not. It’s been thickened with various thickening agents, it hasn’t really been strained. The greatest difference is that the American palate is not inured to sour. Greek yogurt is less sour in this country. If you go to small producers in Greece, the yogurt is incredibly sour. It’s so delicious and there are different types of yogurt in Greece so what we know as Greek yogurt in the U.S. is actually one of several different types of yogurt. There’s a wonderful sheep’s milk yogurt that comes usually in a little clay bowl with skin on top. It’s just to die for.
On Americans in the kitchen
Americans tend to be very exacting and a little bit uptight, from my experience, when they cook. I think a lot of it comes from the last 20 or 30 years when people have lived with this myth that they have no time, and it has to be convenient, and if it requires opening a package and actually emptying it into a pot and then actually heating it, that’s way too much work.
On Greeks in the kitchen
In most Greek dishes, you learn to be flexible. If you don’t have parsley in the house and you have basil or vice versa, you can most likely switch things out without ruining a recipe or without changing its identity. So just relax, pour yourself a glass of wine and have a good time.