A Taste of Greece

The Mediterranean diet — which draws mainly on fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, fish, unprocessed cereals, olive oil, yogurt and cheese — has long been hailed for its heart-healthy, anti-aging properties. But you don’t have to tell Princess Tatiana that.

Since marrying Prince Nikolaos of Greece and Denmark, the former Tatiana Blatnik, who served as an event planner for fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, says her adopted country has “added a new chapter to my culinary identity and allowed me to redefine what home tastes like.

“Greek cuisine — being simple but never simplistic, unpretentious but still seductive and authentic, but always evolving — taught me an invaluable lesson,” she writes in the introduction to the new “A Taste of Greece: Recipes, Cuisine & Culture” (teNeues Publishing Group, $35, 208 pages). “There is no need to camouflage one’s true essence and hide behind unnecessary flavors, either in the kitchen or in life.”

The book is, however, no mere cookbook. Rather, Tatiana, working with co-author Diana Farr Louis, has created the work to shine a light (and profits) on Boroume, Greece’s largest food rescue organization, which has provided more than 4.5 million meals to those in need since its founding four years ago.

But who says food rescue can’t be fun? In the pages of this book, you’ll find notable names —  including the princess’ former boss, Von Furstenberg, actress-singer Rita Wilson, novelist Victoria Hislop and The Huffington Post founding editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington. Greek either by ancestry or affinity, they share with us their passion for a culture that is the backbone of Western civilization and their memories, along with their love of a cuisine that is not all fruits and vegetables. There are Huffington’s Christmas cookies and Wilson’s Greek New Year’s Cake.

“Once in a while we all need to add a bit of spice,” Tatiana writes.

To say nothing of a sweet treat.

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“I love Greek food! All the elements that make up Greek food are wonderful, from the olives to the seafood to the honey. …Cruising around the Greek Islands means that the fishermen come to you, and they often have fresh octopus. I love it slow-cooked so that it is tender and juicy, and then grilled quickly to give it a char and some smoky flavor. Finish that with some lemon, and it’s perfect.”

1 2-pound octopus, fresh or frozen (thawed)
2 bay leaves
 10 peppercorns
 ½ cup vinegar (optional)
 Olive oil to taste
 Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
 Freshly ground black pepper to taste
 Dried oregano to taste

Rinse the octopus well.
 Using a sharp knife, cut the octopus just below the eyes to remove the hood. Squeeze or cut out the beak and the cartilage on the other side of the beak.
 Rinse the octopus again, drain it, and place it in a large saucepan. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns and, if desired, add the vinegar and 1 cup water.
Cover and cook over medium heat until softened, 30 to 35 minutes. (Alternatively, cook the octopus in its own juices, without the water and vinegar. It will emit quite a bit of liquid but do keep an eye on it and add water if necessary to prevent it from sticking.)
While the octopus is cooking, light a gas or charcoal grill to medium-hot. Remove the octopus tentacles from the head. To expand the grilling surface and help them to cook faster, cut gashes lengthwise in the tentacles.
Brush each tentacle with olive oil, place them on the grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.
Slice the tentacles very thinly, drizzle with a little oil and lemon juice, sprinkle with pepper and oregano and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

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“There is a special ritual observed in the cutting of this cake, which has had a good luck charm or coin inserted into it,” Tatiana and Louis write. “The head of the household makes the sign of the cross over the cake three times with the knife, cuts it in four and then starts slicing it. The first slice goes to the Christ Child; the second to St. Basil (Ai Vassilis), the Greek Santa Claus; the third to the poor; the next for any absent relatives. Only then does he portion out the pieces for himself and the family members present, in order of age. But you don’t have to wait until the holidays to enjoy this.”

3 cups  all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup finely ground blanched almonds
Grated zest of 1 lemon plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled slightly
½ cup brandy

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
Sift together the flour and baking soda. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, add the sugar slowly, and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each egg is completely absorbed.
Stir in the ground almonds and the lemon zest and juice. Then beat in the flour and the milk alternately, a little at a time. When you have finished the milk, start trickling in the brandy.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Let cool, turn out onto a plate, and serve. Serves 8 to 12.

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