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A Conversation with Aglaia Kremezi – Author of Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2014
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts



 Aglaia Kremezi fairly floats into the room.  Wisps of casually arranged auburn hair delicate as ripe corn silk are tempered by a pair of serious wire-rimmed frames that hint at her former life as an editor and journalist.  She is utterly composed and cheery all at once.  This well-known authority on Greek cuisine has come to the States to promote her newest cookbook, see friends and consult with Michael Costas, Executive Chef at José Andrés’ Greek-inspired restaurant Zaytinya.

After penning five cookbooks on the foods of Greece, Kremezi has of late directed her attention to vegetables, broadening the subject by including the whole of the Mediterranean.  Kremezi lives with her husband, Costas Moraitis on the small Greek isle of Kea.  For this cookbook she has put together 150 Mediterranean plant-based recipes tested in her kitchens at Kea Artisanal, where she conducts cooking vacations for students from around the world.  Many of these historically authentic vegetarian dishes are far more lavish than meat-based dishes.

Cookbook Author, Aglaia Kremezi chats with Whisk and Quill - Photo credit by Jordan Wright

Cookbook Author, Aglaia Kremezi, chats with Whisk and Quill – Photo credit by Jordan Wright

Whisk and Quill – What do you think of the current shift to a more vegetable-based diet?

Kremezi – I think that it starts for the wrong reasons, because people think they have to eat healthier, and afterwards they consider the flavors.  To me it’s the opposite.  I far prefer the flavors of vegetables to the flavors of meat, even though I’m not vegetarian.

How many of your recipes are gleaned from early culinary sources and how many are tweaking through doing?

It’s both really.  As you know, because you are a chef too, you take inspiration from this, that and the other and you add your own personal touch.  They have my personality but they are taken from various countries from all over the Mediterranean and from friends’ kitchens.

I hear you and Paula Wolfert are great friends and that you Skype regularly.  Do you ever cook together?

Oh, yes, in Sonoma and Connecticut.  I’m on my way to Sonoma now to spend time with her before I go back to Greece.

The photos in your new book are so vivid, I want to eat the pages.

Penny De Los Santos took the photographs.  She’s been to Kea for Saveur and I knew her work.  I did take a few of the pictures, but she took all the rest.  They are all taken in our house, garden and our outdoor kitchen.  In the photos she used the plates given to me from my mother and our tablecloths, cookware and pottery that we have collected over the years.

The photographs are supposed to be the ‘hooks’ to draw people into the kitchen and make them cook, because people have neglected cooking.  They rely too much on take out.  A lot of companies are very quick to bring vegetarian products to market, but you never really know what’s in them.

Can you tell me some herbs or seasonings that are your favorites?

I like both the Aegean Herb and Hot Pepper Spice Mix, and also the Lebanese Seven-Spice Mixture.  That one has cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, allspice, pepper and nutmeg.  It’s very aromatic and a bit spicy.  It’s the basic spice in Lebanon and they use it in tabbouleh.  Both spice recipes are in the book.  Also I make my own preserved lemons and there is a recipe for that too in the book.

What are your favorite kitchen tools?

Wooden spatulas and spoons, my mandolin, a very good knife and scissors.  I have scissors everywhere!  I even use them when I am baking bread to score the tops of the loaves.  It works better than a razor.

Your book is going to make readers want to plant their own gardens in order to harvest the many vegetables and herbs you spotlight in your seasonally-inspired recipes.  Do you get most of your fresh ingredients from your garden?

Yes, especially herbs.  Our seasons are different than yours.  Now we are planting lettuces.  I just was in Japan and got some kun choi seeds.  And we have 10 or 12 kinds of oregano, like the Lebanese zaatar, which is a cross between oregano and thyme.  I love farmers markets too.  I was at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sunday and today I’m heading over to the market in Penn Quarter to buy apples.

Tell me about your cooking classes on Kea.

It was my husband’s idea.  Because we had the garden and we live in the middle of nowhere.  We are on the more remote part of the island, the north side.  It’s not the side with all the villas like the Hamptons.  It is where we can have a garden and it’s less exposed to the harsher weather.  Also it was nice to have people from all over the world come and join us every now and then.  We love having people around our table.

We have six-day classes.  We cook and eat and taste wines and cheeses and honeys from all over Greece.   We also do hikes and make travel arrangements for guests who want to explore other islands.

Why do you think this book is so important?

The whole idea started from the interactions I had with the people in our classes.  I found that things that I didn’t even think of showing people how to cook – – things I considered self-evident – – like how to braise green beans with tomatoes and onions for example.  But they were amazed and they were asking me for the recipes.  I realized that people don’t really know how to cook vegetables at all.  In the book I have all these variations from country to country around the Mediterranean.  For example, I give recipes for two entirely different eggplant spreads, both the Arab and French Provencal versions.  Each use roasted eggplant.  It’s an example of what I’m trying to do in this book.  It’s these variations that really interest me.  I do a lot of research and call up my Turkish friends for advice and suggestions.

Kremezi will be in DC at the Sips & Suppers event on January 24th and 25th 2015 along with Alice Waters, Joan Nathan, David Chang, Mike Isabella, Spike Gjerde, Cathal Armstrong, Erik Bruner-Yang, Michael Friedman, Carla Hall, Haidar Karoum, Charles Phan, Jamie Leeds and Peter Jacobson.

Tunisian Chickpea Soup (Leblebi)


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