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'Vefa's Kitchen': Their Big Fat Greek Cookbook

"Vefa's Kitchen," by Vefa Alexiadou (Phaidon; $45; 650+ recipes)

Vefa! Don't be cross. I realize that choosing this week's Dinner in Minutes recipe, Grilled Zucchini and Halloumi Salad, from such a complete and varied recipe collection might be as preposterous as offering Champignons Sautes au Beurre as a typical dish from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (Vol. 1).

Vefa (last name Alexiadou; in her country, she’s earned “Martha” status) was asked to edit the compendium because she’s known as the matriarch of Greek cookery, with more than 10 cookbooks to her credit. Her tips and recipe notes are those of a thoughtful instructor.

For me, the cookbook has managed to one-up its 2007 predecessor, “1080 Recipes,” by Simone and Ines Ortega, in several key ways. The appeal of Mediterranean cuisine is still strong, thousands of years after the writer Athenaeus chronicled the ancient Greeks’ preference for seasonal, healthful eating.

Where “1080” had illustrations and small photo plates, “Vefa’s” has more and larger photos of simply styled food. Greece’s regions and islands are described in terms of geography and indigenous ingredients; the text is punctuated with stunning scenes of mountains, sun-washed churches and shimmering water. (Sounds hokey or travel-mag, but it’s not; thumbing through causes one to remember happy youth-hostel days on Crete.) The recipes are arrayed more effectively, with delineated prep and cooking times, plus measurements in cups and weights. I do wish the book’s designers had not chosen to wield so much blue type, nor made it quite so small.

Ruffled Milk Pie, easier than it looks. (Phaidon)

Hundreds of seafood and vegetable dishes are to be expected, but a full fourth of the cookbook focuses on breads, pastries and desserts. One of my favorites thus far is the Ruffled Milk Pie. Eggs, butter, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla transform store-bought phyllo dough into a treat that looks like it took hours to make. And that’s another one of “Vefa’s” charms: so many options that use common ingredients. I’ll try to remember to peruse the book’s pumpkin recipes next Thanksgiving. And game pies. And fruity stews for winter.

As long as my attention is momentarily lodged in the fall and beyond, I’ll mention that Phaidon will follow the success of its Italian “bible” cookbook, “The Silver Spoon” (2005), with “The Silver Spoon of Pasta” (350 recipes) and “The Silver Spoon for Children.” The latter reveals 40 recipes through illustrated directions. Look for those titles to be released in September and October, respectively. And the British publishing house's next country to be feted and vetted is France, in “I Know How to Cook,” by Ginette Mathiot. It will feature all the classic recipes you’d expect, updated by the estimable Clotilde Desoulier of

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  July 7, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Books  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, cookbooks  
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