In Cooking with Loula, Alexandra Stratou shares her family’s collection of Greek recipes, like this flakey kotopita chicken pie, as well as the story of her tight-knit clan and the cook that became family. Loula was the family cook who had started working for the author’s great-grandmother at a young age. She continued her tenure with the Stratou family through the following generations.
As the years ticked by, the author knew that in order to preserve the recipes and history of her family she needed to retrieve them from Loula. During weekly meetings at the cook’s home, she set about gathering recipes and family stories from the perspective of an “outsider.”
Loula passed away during the writing of the book and the remainder of the family’s recipes were retrieved from other relatives as well as people who had worked in the kitchen with Loula. The result of this gathering of generations’ old recipes is the story of a family told through food. Part cookbook and part memoir, Cooking with Loula: Greek Recipes from My Family to Yours contains a beautiful selection of photographs accompanying many of the dishes and a thoughtful, personal look at Greek cooking from a family’s kitchen.
The recipes are organized into five categories: Weekdays, Sundays, Summer Holidays, Traditions and Essential Recipes. Included before the index is a helpful recipe list delineating recipes by “time and course”: recipe name, page number, cooking time and what meal course it best falls under. This list and the method in which the book is set out will benefit our schedules as we judge what can be made for a weeknight supper and what recipes require more planning and preparation for our Sunday meals or entertaining.
One of my favorite passages is in the chapter covering Sunday meals. “Every Sunday as I was growing up we met religiously at my grandmother’s for lunch with the family. The lunches built in me a sense of belonging within a clan of wildly different people with a similar set of elementary values.” This is the reason that family meals are making a resurgence – connecting in the simplest of ways – over a meal with those we love – sharing food and memories.
Classics such as Spanakopita, Pastitsio, and Moussaka are included with a varied selection of recipes from Beef Stew with Smoked Eggplant Puree, Lemon Chicken Stew to Deep-Fried Salt Cod. Sweet and savory baked treats include Aunt Eleni’s Galaktoboureko (a gorgeous phyllo type cake the family served on Easter Sunday), a Chestnut Pavlova, Layered Chocolate Birthday Cake, Kourabiethes, a Christmas cookie, and Mosaico a butter cookie based cake surrounded by chocolate.
One dessert I plan on making this New Year’s is Vasilopita, a cake flavored with brandy and orange wherein you wrap a coin in foil and hide it beneath the cake – whoever gets the coin is gifted with good luck for the new year. I love the idea of embracing a new custom and will be trying something new each holiday from various books I have covered over the year.
I made the Kotopita, a chicken pie enrobed in phyllo, and it was perfect. It’s hard not to love a chicken pie with flaky layers of phyllo pastry surrounding it. The filling was delicious, almost quiche-like, and easily adaptable to include asparagus or other vegetables to change things up. I served the pie with a green salad and roasted rainbow carrots.
Kotopita Chicken Pie
- 1 pounds small whole chicken
- 2 onions, quartered
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 8 black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1 / 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon semolina
- 8 large eggs beaten
- 1 / 4 cup milk
- 1 tbsp Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 package phyllo dough
- If using the whole chicken, wash it and pat dry. Put the chicken and the onions in a large pot, add
- tablespoon of salt and the peppercorns. Add enough water to half-cover the chicken, and bring to a boil.
- Cook, covered, until the onions start softening, then simmer, uncovered, until the onions are so soft they disintegrate and there is no more than a ladleful of water left. Remove the chicken from the pot, reserving the onions and cooking liquid, and shred the meat once cool enough to handle. Discard the skin and bones.
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shredded chicken, the disintegrated onions, and the cooking liquid. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the Parmesan, semolina, eggs, milk or cream, and salt to taste. Make sure that the filling is juicy and moist—do not worry about it making the phyllo soggy, as it has enough eggs to pull it together.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- Brush a 13-by- 9-inch (33-by- 23-centimeter) baking dish or pan with olive oil. Start the pie by laying a phyllo sheet on all four sides of the baking dish. Each sheet should partially cover the bottom of the dish, with the rest hanging over the edge. Brush every piece of phyllo that you lay on the dish with oil. Then place five sheets in the center, brushing each with oil. Add the filling and spread it out evenly.
- Place five more sheets of phyllo over the filling, then fold over the overhanging sheets that you started with.
- Cut any excess phyllo away with scissors or a knife and use your pastry brush to tuck the phyllo in around the edges of the dish. Score the top with a sharp knife, marking the pieces you wish to cut later. Sprinkle with a little water.
- Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, until the phyllo is golden brown.
Cooking with Loula is a great book to incorporate some Greek flavors into our meals. The recipes are accessible and not overly time-consuming. The chicken pie, once the chicken is cooked, took about fifteen minutes to throw together. It baked for an hour while I was busy doing other dinner preparations.
Special thanks to Artisan for sharing this recipe with Sunday Supper Movement.