By Anna Mazarakis
Three-quarters of a cup of creativity, two tablespoons of love, a pinch of anxiety, a few drops of doubt – these are just a few of the ingredients Alexandra Stratou listed in a Kickstarter video introducing what it took to create a self-published cookbook filled with family recipes. A year-and-a-half later, the book has won over fans around the world and has just been printed for its second edition.
“I believe every project has a recipe, and so does mine,” she says on the video. “It's a personal recipe, and that is what I'm going to tell you today.”
The project was fully funded within seven days of the Kickstarter campaign, and in the space of a month Stratou had raised the 28,753 pounds, approximately 36,050 euros, from 544 backers needed to create the 252-page hard cover book. The book, titled “Cooking to Share,” was featured in Kickstarter's weekly newsletter on the sixth day of the campaign, appeared on the Kickstarter homepage as Staff Picked and trended in the Most Popular Project section on the website.
“I never thought that I would have such a huge community supporting me in this venture,” Stratou told Kathimerini English Edition. “They were in it with me – when I finished with the Kickstarter campaign, I felt that I am making this book with all these other people.”
The first print of the book, which included an order of 1,400 copies in November of 2013, sold out fast, Stratou said. The second printing, which included an order of 1,500 copies, was delivered in the first week of August last year. It is available in select bookstores in the United States and Greece, as well as on Amazon and Stratou's website for 35 euros or 45 dollars.
Stratou grew up in Greece, then left the country for the US to attend Brown University, where she decided to get into cooking during her senior year when she made dinner with her roommate every night. She decided she wanted to go to a traditional cooking school, so for two years she lived in San Sebastian, Spain, learning in the kitchen of Escuela de Cocina de Luis Irizar.
She returned to Greece in 2009 after living abroad for seven years and worked for a catering company and a few restaurants, but said she found the experience of working in a kitchen difficult and didn't like the atmosphere in some cases. Stratou then found a job working for a food website for a year-and-a-half before the effects of the economic crisis made her decide to leave her post.
It was at this time, in 2012, that Stratou decided she wanted to find a job that would allow her to be more creative and active. Her cousin had a baby in the summer of 2012, and as the two women reminisced about the food their grandmother, Sofia, and Kyria Loula, a woman who often cooked for the family, made when they were younger, they decided to find a way to pass those recipes onto the next generation.
So Stratou and her cousin brainstormed about all the dishes they remembered eating, and Stratou then approached other members of the family and asked them which recipes they would like to see in the book. She chose Greek staples, like spanakopita and baklava, as well as recipes that had emotional family ties, like her father's tuna salad and her mother’s potato salad. These dishes are separated into chapters based on when Stratou remembers eating them – on a weekday, on Sundays, during the summer and for “traditions” like Easter and Christmas.
“With each thing that you eat, you have a setting in which you ate it, you have the feeling that you had when you ate it, you associate it with a person – it's such a complex experience and there are so many aspects to it that I feel that I appreciate each one for what it is,” Stratou said when explaining that she doesn't have a favorite recipe in the book. “I like all of them!”
The last section of the book also contains six family recipes from backers who pledged at least 200 pounds to her Kickstarter campaign, including a cheesecake and kourabie, a Greek Christmas cookie.
In all, the book includes 104 recipes. Photographs and hand-drawn illustrations of the food, as well as the author's own prose about food and reflections on food's ability to unite different aspects of a person's life, accompany the recipes.
“It's a book that has soul,” Stratou said. “It's a book that the minute you start interacting with it, gives you an atmosphere.”
The reviews on Amazon, the Kickstarter page and on Stratou's website laud the creativity of the book and recognize the love and passion that went into its production.
“My book is about my recipes and my family's recipes and the preservation of them, but more than anything, it's like a gesture,” Stratou said. “I think that gesture is universal and something that a lot of people can relate to. I'm not the only one who has that experience, and I think that's what people saw in the book.”
As others read her book and cook the recipes she has included in it, Stratou said she hopes they can have a similar experience to hers by taking a moment to remember the foods they grew up eating and perhaps even find and cook those old recipes as well.
Melitzanosalata / Smoked aubergine (eggplant) dip
While I tend to alter some recipes to reflect my personal preferences, I give you this recipe as is, because I almost feel it would be sinful to do otherwise. Such praise has this melitzanosalata – literally, aubergine salad – received, I would be depriving you the right of making something with eggplants so good that even the fussiest eaters will be left speechless. Blacken the outside of the eggplants, leaving them with a totally charred outer layer and a juicy inside.
Time: under 2 hours
3 large aubergines (eggplants)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
A few drops of hot sauce
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
Start by roasting the aubergine. You can do this in the oven under the grill, over a flame on a gas stove, or do it the way I do, in an old frying pan without any oil. Stab the skin a few times before you start to prevent the aubergines from exploding. Leave each side to char for longer than you would expect. Once blackened on all sides, plunge the aubergines into cold water, then drain.
Scoop out the inside flesh of the aubergine and place in a bowl, trying to avoid most of the skin, though do not worry if there is some, it will just add to the taste! Remove the seeds only if there are many – keep in mind that aubergines have more seeds toward the end of their season.
Drain off any excess liquid from the aubergine that’s collected in the bowl. Transfer to a food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients. Pulse to for a smooth texture (like my family makes it) or leave it a little more textured (as I do it in my house). Taste and adjust the seasoning. [Alexandra Stratou]