Take a ‘Greek Journey With Fork and Pen’

As the weather heads for SoCal high summer, I inexorably turn to Mediterranean cooking—Cal-Med, as it becomes here, infused with what I find at the farmers market and in my own garden. There’s no better food for eating outside than dishes from countries with a Mediterranean shoreline. This year I’ve had a couple of new cookbooks from the region to pore over. First up is the self-published “A Greek Journey With Fork and Pen” ($18), a charming travelogue memoir with recipes from sisters Elizabeth Sardonis Songster of Lake Forest, and Georgia Sardonis Cone, who lives in Vermont.

As the sisters say in their introduction, the recipes in the book are “a combination of those we grew up with, those of new friends we met on our travels, and those of chefs we interviewed at the tavernas where we ate.” Growing up in a large, extended family, Greek on both sides, Cone and Songster were steeped in the cuisine and customs.

Traveling to Greece together with their husbands, they’ve visited sites important to their family and places entirely new, picking up dishes everywhere. In the book, the travelogue includes entries from all four, including Elizabeth’s husband Dan and Georgia’s Floyd. Floyd provides a glimpse of how a dish snags the interest of traveling cooks. He mentions the four had a new meze, baked feta, and “[t]he girls really raved about it, so I’m sure we’ll be having it again.” How right he was: the recipe, which is indeed worth raving about, is in the book. You can also find it on Elizabeth’s blog, Beyond Baklava. It was a fabulous addition to the meze I put together from “A Greek Journey.” You’ll find the two other recipes below, a hummus-like yellow split-pea dip, and an intensely flavored olive-caper spread. Just add some nice fresh pita (easy to find in Orange County’s many Middle Eastern markets), a glass of retsina wine, and a patio.

Elizabeth Sardonis Songster will be at the 35th annual A Taste of Greece festival at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, where the book will be available for purchase. She’ll be happy to sign a copy for you—find her working at the gyro stand or near the pastries. The festival runs from Friday, June 21 to Sunday, June 23, and details are available on the website.

Yellow Split-Pea Dip

(Makes about 3 cups, 6 to 8 servings)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cups water

2 cups dried yellow split peas

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon salt

Black pepper to taste

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers

4 green onions, chopped

1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano

In 3-quart saucepan, heat ¼ cup olive oil and soften onion. Add water, bring to boil, add split peas and bay leaves. Boil gently about 45 minutes, removing any foam that appears and stirring occasionally until water is absorbed and peas are mushy. Add water as necessary if peas get too dry during cooking. Remove bay leaves, season with salt and pepper to taste, and puree with immersion blender or mash with wooden spoon. Cool to room temperature. Before serving, stir in lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Transfer to large bowl, garnish with capers and green onions, and sprinkle with oregano. Serve with pita.

Greek Olive Spread

(Makes about 1 cup)

½ pound pitted Kalamata olives

½ pound pitted green olives

5 garlic cloves

1/2 cup capers, preferably salt-packed

6 tablespoons lemon juice

½ cup flat-leaf parsley

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano

1 teaspoon white pepper

3 tablespoons breadcrumbs, if necessary

Rinse olive and capers in cold water, drain on paper towels. In food processor, chop garlic. Add olives, capers, and lemon juice; process to smooth paste. Add parsley and process until incorporated. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, oregano, and pepper and process until blended. Adjust seasoning. If mixture is dry, add additional oil. If too moist, stir in breadcrumbs. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or longer. Serve with pita.

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