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Greece is a nation that has been in the news so much lately. Sadly, it’s now newsworthy for the financial crisis which is swamping this small country: 10 million people and 51 thousand square miles, a little larger than Pennsylvania. That land area includes thousands and thousands of islands in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

Here’s a trick question: how long has Greece been a country? Gee, we have the Trojan War, Classical Greece, …

The answer? For less than 200 years: the revolution from the Ottoman Empire ended in 1830. And in those centuries between Troy and 1830, what was happening? Greek civilization was cultivated in the cities like Athens and Sparta and on the islands of the sea. And, and, in the many Greek colonies that spanned from Spain to the shores of the black sea. Naples, for example, was founded by the Greeks before 1000BC.

With centuries of exploration, expansion, contraction and finally consolidation, Greek culture has developed a most adaptive cuisine. Rocky and dry, the islands of Greece are surrounded by seas filled with a whirl of treasures. The small island farms, carefully and artfully cultivated, generate an abundance of vegetables, fruits, poultry, sheep, and goats that eventually grace rustic tables.

The physical separation of all those islands naturally leads to the development of specific island cuisines.

Author Rebecca Seal has captured many of these treasured dishes from across the Greek seas in The Islands of Greece. Beautifully photographed by Steven Joyce, these recipes will capture your attention and surely have you turning to your kitchen.

We just had a weekend meal of Chicken Baked in Yogurt and Greek Vegetable Bake. You’ll see posts and pictures in the coming days. You probably want a jump start and should take a look at The Islands of Greece in your local bookstore. I promise you that, once you start flipping pages, you are adopting this book and going home and, most importantly, you are cooking.

Because Greece is not a rich country, these are not radically complex recipes, ala Paris. Because the Greeks are culinary clever with all those centuries of recipe refinement, there is an approach here that makes the very most of every ingredient. Greek food relates to Italian with this “simple but wonderful” philosophy. Here, because it is Greek, you’ll find an intensified love for yogurt, cheese, dill, tomatoes, and eggplant.

Here are the main chapters in the book and some of the island-authentic recipes awaiting you in The Islands of Greece.

Breads and Pastries comes with lovely ideas that, if you are empanada fan, will have your rolling out dough in a flash:

Sfakian Cheese Pies with Honey

Wild Greens Pies

Onion and Cheese Pies

Mezedes & Salads introduces you to, well, Greek Tapas:

Tomato Fritters from Santorini

Zucchini Crisps

Roasted Eggplant and Caper Salad

Red Peppers Stuffed with Cheese

Vine Leaves Stuffed with Pork

Fish and Seafood is the cardinal chapter of this book. If you live on an island, seafood is destined for your plate:

Chargrilled Octopus

Baked Sardines

Squid Braised with Garlic and Rosemary

Squid Ink Risotto

Fava and Mussel Risotto

Meat is a chapter any protein lover can readily read and fall in love with:

Chicken in Red Wine Sauce with Pasta

Slow Cooked Lamb with Chickpeas

Pork Meatballs

Rabbit Stifado [cinnamon, onions, and wine]

Chicken Baked In Yoghurt

Vegetarian Mains & Sides will make you reconsider your opinions on eggplant, zucchini and the other veggies you always pass by in the produce section of your supermarket:

Eggplant Baked with Feta Cheese

Caramelized Onion & Goats’ Butter Pasta

Greek Vegetable Bake [potato, onion, eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes; see the picture below!]

Desserts, Sweets, and Drinks make sure that your meal is quite and satisfyingly complete:

Figs Poached in Wine

Cretan Herb Tea

Pomegranate & Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta

The typical recipe has less than a dozen ingredients and can be assembled in a short time. The cooking time, like for the Greek Vegetable Bake, can take some time. But you can put that to use sampling that bottle of Greek wine you buy to accompany your meal.

And I really do suggest that you use The Islands of Greece to fashion a complete meal. You are sure to find a first course, a main, a side or two, and a dessert that let you create a beginning-to-end meal.

Rebecca Seal has toured the Greek islands, exploring the food, learning the recipes, and then lovingly presented them in The Islands of Greece. The pathway is obvious: first this book, then a cruise ship. Do start with this book, though. It’s a grand introduction to foods that have thousands of years of history and evolution. Greek cuisine is perfect for an American summer. Think me wrong? Look at this picture and tell me you don’t want to pick up a fork!