CULTURE

Innovation in Greek cuisine

With his innovative fish- and seafood-based recipe dishes, master chef Lefteris Lazarou has made a name for himself as a leader of contemporary Greek cuisine. Last Sunday he celebrated 20 years at the helm of his restaurant Varoulko, first in Piraeus and now on Pireos Street, with an all-day open-house feast of flavors and the launch of a book featuring his culinary creations. Accessible to amateurs Written with food writer Diane Kochilas, herself an accomplished chef, «Varoulko,» published by Ellinika Grammata, makes the delicious recipes for which the restaurant is famed accessible to amateur cooks. How many of his readers will be as dedicated as Lazarou is in pursuit of the perfect fish as to scour Attica from the Athinas Street market to Varkiza and Rafina, is another question. A «cook’s larder» section introduces the mastic-flavored oil, the fish, seafood and vegetable stocks, and the sauces that recur as base notes in many Varoulko recipes. And what recipes they are. Always inventive, whether in presentation, like the green salad in a tiny bowl carved out of parmesan or the clam salad with grapefruit, Lazarou’s dishes play with contrasts and combinations of flavor, texture and color. There is the white soup, made of chestnuts and Granny Smith apples, and Varoulko’s signature black soup of asparagus, tinted with cuttlefish ink, which some of Lazarou’s alarmed clients have to be persuaded to eat before promptly becoming devotees of the dish. The appetizers are precisely that, appetizing. Mixed seafood, vegetables and herbs make miniature parcels in phyllo pastry. Crepes made of alternating layers of katiki cream cheese and fish roe look delectable. For something right over the top, try the Napoleon of creamed fish. Main dishes are in the same spirit, with unexpected combinations such as risotto with sea urchins and ravioli stuffed with a crayfish stew. Lazarou marries mild-flavored fish with ginger or cooks it in waxed paper with saffron and vegetable slivers, and he builds up a scrumptious pie with layers of fish, pine nuts, vegetables and phyllo pastry. Classics reworked The authors have decided to concentrate on the less elaborate dishes, at least in this volume, but they have included some of Varoulko’s unusual takes on classic recipes. Readers might like to try their hand at moussaka with prawns, cabbage rolls stuffed with crayfish, or artichokes stuffed with taramosalata. The desserts are appealing: Try the hot chocolate tart or fruits of the forest soup. Greek cookery books have improved out of sight in the past few years, both in presentation (with excellent photographs here by Vassilis Stenos and attractive food styling by Dawn Brown) and in showcasing creative Greek cuisine that uses classic ingredients in exciting new ways. This is a good example.