When life gives me lemons, I make Caribbean, Greek, Asian and Middle Eastern food…and lemonade
Angela is a curious individual, particularly when it comes to food. She is Greek with an international taste for food, stemming from living in three different countries. She considers herself a global citizen, therefore all food options are open… Caribbean curried goat, rice and peas with plantain and all the relative trimmings for Sunday lunch would not be out of place at her table. She loves to savour new tastes, experiment with new ingredients or use familiar ones in new ways. For her, food is an adventure, it’s exciting and a way to connect with people.
My culinary heritage is Greek. My parents were born on a small island in the south east of Greece. They lived during the Italian occupation, in a time when food was very scarce…Families worked the land and lived off it, and what they didn’t have they exchanged with other villagers, oil for sugar, flour for rice, vegetables, fruit, eggs for meat etc. However, much of what they produced went to the Italian soldiers.
I was born in Canberra, Australia. This means that I probably didn’t experienced much of what was traditional to what my parents were accustomed to: boiled wild greens, fava, seasonal eating, etc. My mother always tells me that she grew up on eggs and bread, seasonal fruit…because they were so poor. However, as I grew up, I remember experiencing more and more of what is traditional Greek food such as avgolemono chicken or fish soup, stuffed cabbage leaves, artichoke salad, pastitio, greens, Greek salad or moussaka. Avgolemono chicken soup was used when we were ill, as was trahana (grains and fermented yoghurt or milk) which was made into a soup. Greeks used to smuggled trahana into Australia on returning from Greece and it was considered precious. More lavish dishes like moussaka were served when we had visitors or special occasions.
Olive oil and lemons are the main ingredients used as a base for cooking and dressings in my parents’ home. And this is very much the same in my own home. My parents get them from cultivating the land as they have olive groves and citrus orchards. In my case, I bring back to London ten kilos of olive oil from Greece every year while I buy lemons from my local Turkish shops.
I cook Greek a few times a month, from traditional food to regional foods, artichoke and broad bean salad, grilled fish, fava, boiled greens, i.e. dandelion, vlita, mustard and chicory, with lemon and olive oil. Most of my cooking involves using olive oil, lemons, and lots of herbs. I cook from scratch, so there are always lemons, onions, garlic, tomatoes, herbs and spices, both fresh and dry in my kitchen. However, what I find interesting is that from these ingredients I can cook food from various cuisines, from Caribbean to Asian and African.
My first experiences with cooking international food took place quite early. I remember making French onion soup when I was about thirteen years old. It was a disaster. I did everything correctly apart from adding water. I still ate it and thought it was delicious. Another time my mother asked me to cook spaghetti. I opened the pack and noticed that the pasta seemed dusty. I decided the pasta needed washing so I rinsed it and then added it to the boiling water. Three big blobs emerged! That was when I was about 16. When my mother had to go to Athens for whatever, I used to open any cookbook I could find and experiment on my father and brother. I made Chinese spicy prawns and rice, Italian Carbonara, Austrian snitzel.
Where my parents grew up, food came from the land, therefore their diet was seasonal. Anything that wasn’t grown i.e. rice, pasta and sugar was acquired through exchange or from the few shops that existed on the island. There were no markets. This obviously changed when my parents moved to Australia. A whole new world opened up for them, food wise. My father eventually had a greengrocer shop and I remember him bringing home avocados, mangos, pineapples and bananas. I always believed that I got my love for cooking and experiencing new tastes from my mother, but now looking back, I realise that my father was a huge influence with the unusual fruits and vegetables he brought home.
My mother is very health conscious. She believes in using good quality ingredients, a faith she had instilled in me as well: to use the best cuts of meat, day fresh fish, home grown vegetables. Although this can be difficult for me in London in regards to ‘freshness’, I still try to get the best I can. Olive oil was either the older one meaning last year’s or older and the new…this year’s. Older olive oil is used for cooking and new oil is only for salad. I do the same in London. What is left from this year’s oil gets transferred into the ‘old’ oil bottle. One particular habit I don’t or can’t follow however is my mother’s way of having cooked the day’s meal by 10 am, ready for whenever everyone is ready to eat. In my case…it takes the whole day.
Living in London, I have an abundance of choice as to where I get my food from, compared to my family in Greece. If I want to cook Indian, I go to the Pakistani shops, if I want to cook Malaysian, Korean, I go to Asian supermarkets, if Greek or Middle Eastern, I go to the Turkish shops, African from the African shops. I go to farmers markets and at times I have used delivery boxes from local farms to eat more sustainably. I’m known to walk to the end of earth to find an ingredient for a specific recipe.
I love to experience new tastes. Once someone told me they had marmite and peanut butter on toast for breakfast and as soon as I got home I made a marmite and peanut butter sandwich just to experience that taste. I loved it! I’m curious about using ingredients in different ways, i.e. thyme or pepper in sweets/desserts, or sweet ingredients in savoury dishes. I’ve been flirting with veganism…but have decided to be more of a flexitarian, so my compromise is to bake vegan desserts. I love the challenge of making something without the ‘usual’ ingredients like eggs, milk, butter, etc. For me, the added bonus is that vegan desserts often are less caloric than ‘normal’ desserts.
My partner is African so it was important for me to learn how to cook African food. Not so much to please him but for my own curiosity…And, of course, it is a win – win situation. I cook from a variety of cuisines, my favourite being Caribbean, Mexican and Asian, in particular Malaysian and Indonesian.
As I mentioned before, I have been drawn to different cuisines from a young age. When I pick a cuisine and then a dish, for example Asian, I make the full ‘shebang’: the main, the salad, any accompaniments, the dessert and the drinks. I love exploring recipes, looking through cookbooks and planning menus. However, the Greek comes out in me when I cook for friends. I love to have people round my house to share food. It’s not necessarily that I will cook Greek food, but I will cook for the 5,000 even if I have five people over. I want everyone to enjoy themselves tasting something different and to help them leave feeling full and content.
When I take food for lunch to work, I will always ask if anyone wants to taste. I want people to also experience new tastes. I don’t understand people who say they don’t like something without having tasting it. Sharing food, for me, is a connection, bonding, accepting and breaking barriers.
Throughout my adult life I have created supper clubs, either at work or amongst friends. At one of my work places with over 100 employees in the building, I connected people from different departments through the supper club. We would meet once a month at a restaurant, sometimes there were only five of us sometimes there were twenty of us. We all had a love for food and it was a great way to socialise outside of work. We preferred cuisines lesser known, so we visited Filipino, Romanian, Russian to name but a few.
When I was living in Rhodes, I had friends from various parts of the world. I created a sort of supper club where we would meet often for informal dinner parties and we would cook our nation’s food. We’d have Swedish smorgasbords, Norwegian fish dinners or Austrian specialities or sausages and snitzel. Often some of the ingredients were brought in Greece especially for our dinners, such as the whale steaks or Austrian sausages.
Food for me is an exploration… it’s an endless adventure that will continue throughout my life. Taste, taste, taste! Share, share, share! Cook with love and enjoy the process and the meal. There is a whole world out there of tastes to experience.