By: Susanna Hoffman in collaboration with
An opening quote is a great way to get started with this cookbook: “Grinning up at me, the casserole boils and chatters to itself and fishes leap up in the frying pan.” This is credited to Euboulos, Giants, 385 B.C.E.
Why the book title? One of the reasons for relating the olive to the caper is probably their opposition and sameness: the olive was domesticated on Greek shores; the caper sprouts wildly from almost every cliff and cranney. In their alikeness, they are both cured much the same way, brined and stored in clay vessels or jars.
Workman Publishing is capable of some large production cookbooks, but The Olive and the Caper has to eclipse many. Its handsome intro could be compared with a grand musical fanfare, and they accomplished this with exquisite photographic folk and geographic studies. The early pictorial preview starts with Central Greece and its olives. They then move to the Peloponnesos’ awesome citrus, ease up to Northern Greece’s elegant capers, then swoop to the Ionian Islands and its succulent seafood, fish from the Aegean at Cyclades. Next, it’s on to Crete and her tavernas’ treats, then the preserves of Dodecanese resting at last with the bountiful fruits of Cyprus.
Author, Susanna Hoffman, a chef and anthropologist, has lived in Greece on and off for thirty years which gave her the opportunity to get into the backgrounds of the people, their foods and customs. This brings their history and geography together nicely.
It would be easy to get lost in this book if it weren’t for the loose groupings in its Table of Contents: For instance, Part One starts with “From Water to Wine,” followed by the “tapas” in Greek cuisine, “Meze.” These are broken into fascinating categories. (Not the least of which seems “A Mix of Mushrooms Marinated in Wine, Fennel, and Thyme.”) The next sections are Savory Pies, Breads, Soup for Hard Times and Good Times,” Salads, Eggs and Sustaining Grains, Barley, Wheat, Rice & Noodles. Her Vegetable Parade is broken down into Simmered, Sauteed & Fried, Stewed Vegetable Stand-outs, Crisp Croquettes and Fritters and Stuffed Vegetables then the famed Greek Casseroles. The remaining sections: Fish and Shellfish; Meat, Birds; Wild Game; Sauces, Toppings and Marinades; Fruits as the Finale and Sweets in Profusion round out this large undertaking.
Here’s some pauses during an Olive and Caper riffling:
In the meze section, Eggplant and Yogurt Spread with Red Onion and Olives.
A simple Pickled Red Onions recipe calling only for red wine vinegar, water, sugar and a bay leaf.
Zesty Lentil Soup with fresh dandelion greens, fresh oregano and a touch of tomato paste. Your reviewer made this delicious dish using green Parisian lentils.
Tomato and Bread Salad with Feta, Basil and Capers. The recipe suggests you use the book’s recipe for Barley Ring bread.
Homemade Trahana Sour Dough Noodles, again is simply made with an egg, yogurt, salt and semolina flour.
Spinach-Oregano Pesto with scallions, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Plan to serve that day.
Pork Stew with Olives, Anchovies, Cilantro and White Beans.The recipe directs the book to used freshly wilted Cilantro which is the green tossed with vinegar and salt.
For desserts: Semolina Custard Pie with Clove and Orange Syrup.
Sesame Cake with Sesame Icing. The icing is made with tahini, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.
The Greeks seem to be quite taken with many varieties of Spoon Sweets (fruits stewed down with sugar to a desired consistency): Quince and Pomegranate, Cherry and Tsikoudia, Apricot and Metaxa and Grape. There are probably as many Spoon Sweets as there are fruits.
Spoon Sweets are usually served with Greek-inspired ice creams like: Olive Oil Ice Cream, *Mastic Ice Cream and Mavrodaphne Ice Cream.
The Olive and the Caper is a beautiful book covering not only the Moussakas we find in all Greek restaurants but a whole lot of family, highly-nourishing, dishes. If you have room for only one Greek cookbook, along with some well-told Greek history, you’d be pretty well off making this book the one you keep.
* Hoffman also confides her love affair with the “very special Greek ingredient, Mastiha” (mastic).