Get Her to the Greek (Food)

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Constantino – TS49

Today we’re learning how to cook Greek cuisine. Laurie Constantino has been cooking Greek food for more than 30 years. She’s written cookbooks on the subject, presented demonstrations, and today she is teaching a one-on-one class with her student, Nora.

They are currently fire roasting an eggplant, and the recipe? “Melitzanosalata,” says Constantino. “You chop up the eggplant, you chop up the red peppers, you mix olive oil and garlic and some herbs in, and you serve it as either as a dip or a spread. It’s really good.”

Nora and Laurie
Nora and Laurie
Nora originally came under Constantino’s tutelage with one simple goal in mind. She says, “I wanted to learn how to cut an onion, because I could never cut an onion the same way or evenly or correctly at all. So Laurie said she wanted someone to teach how to cook, and I said I could probably learn how to cut an onion if I did that.”

Now several lessons into her training, she seems to be handling herself well, but things did not begin that way. Nora says, “I cut myself on knife lesson day. I think my first cut was on day one. It was totally my fault. [Laurie] makes it look really easy, but it’s not.

Today isn’t just about teaching for Constantino, she’s also testing out a few recipes for her second cookbook, including a dessert corn cake and an eggplant pilaf. The new book will feature dishes from her massive cookbook library, mostly from what she calls her community cookbooks: books that were either self-published or not at all.

Constantino discovered her love for Greek cooking after she married her husband, who is Greek. She says her favorite thing about the cuisine is its simplicity, and its emphasis on using local ingredients. “It’s the original locavore style of eating – making what you have locally that’s in season – and it’s all based on freshness. If you’re in Greece and you say to a woman, “I love your melitzanosalata,” she’ll say, “Oh no it’s not me, it’s the ingredients, they’re fresco fresco fresco.”

Speaking of ingredients, it’s time to check on our eggplant that’s still roasting on the oven top. Laurie says, “I’m trying to teach her in a way that she doesn’t need to rely on a cookbook. She can, but she understands all the ingredients because that’s really what you need to do to be able to cook easily, knowing how different ingredients react.”

And after about five minutes, it’s time to see how the eggplant is reacting to the paper bag it’s been steaming in. Nora isn’t just learning to cook today. She’s also doing her own research for an essay, which will be featured in Constantino’s cookbook. The book will showcase all kinds of profiles on cooks and their experiences with the recipes.

Constantino says that the profiles part of her research has been a real delight. “I was sitting in the living room surrounded by all these cookbooks, and I felt like I was in some kind of pow wow with all these women who were giving me advice on how to cook everything. It was sort of Zen, sort of spiritual. It’s people who are long dead, their recipes are their legacies.”

Today is a one-on-one session, but Constantino frequently teaches Greek cooking classes to the public, including several this month at the Central Lutheran Church in Anchorage. She says coming to the decision to teach was complicated, but the reason was simple. “Food is all about making people happy, and welcoming people and making everything better. It really felt like a positive way to spend my time, and then people just started asking me to do classes.”

It’s looking like our session is just about over. Our melitzanosalata is ready, save for some final touches. Nora approves, pronouncing it “really good!”