Family, food paramount for 3 Greek sisters


TORONTO – Three sisters who came to Canada from Greece as children are celebrating their heritage through photos and recipes in a followup to their first award-winning cookbook.

While they put together “Three Sisters Back to the Beginning: Timeless Greek Recipes Made Simple” (Adelfes Publishing), Betty, Eleni and Samantha Bakopoulos helped fix up their ancestral home in a village on a mountaintop above Kalamata in southern Greece.

The sisters spent summers there with their grandparents, and the family decided to renovate the house built in the early 1900s for future generations.

“You’re not hooked up to the Internet, you’re playing soccer till midnight, people are taking care of you whether they’re relatives or not,” Eleni said in an interview from Guelph, Ont. “People in those villages will buy kids ice cream just because and treat them like family. So they feel very free there. And just swimming in the ocean and crab hunting in the river and really simple stuff.”

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Eleni’s cover photograph shows her sons and father walking through the front gate of the house last summer. The cover of the first book, “Three Sisters Around the Greek Table,” was of Betty’s three daughters. Samantha has been promised that her family, when it comes, will be on the cover of a third book.

“We didn’t want to do the typical thing people would expect in a Greek cookbook which was beautiful pictures of Greek islands,” says Eleni. “We really wanted to be about the Greek lifestyle that we knew it to be, how food is connected to family and relationships and friendships and it really brings us all together.”

The second book incorporates recipes omitted from the first book due to space (both volumes are self-published). They also included dishes from the Greek islands and the north.

The final chapter, “Back to the Beginning,” includes recipes that are more time-consuming, such as phyllo pastry, sausages with orange and fennel, yogurt and egg noodles.

“Women in the south don’t often make their own phyllo, but we were really lucky the summer we were writing the book we had two women visiting from the north and that’s their specialty,” says Betty, who also lives in Guelph. “We got to spend endless days together working on the phyllo. It was such a communal, wonderful event and those recipes all made it into the book.”

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Betty, 42, did most of the recipes while Eleni, 40, was the photographer and Ottawa-based Samantha, 33, did the graphics, along with some of the recipes.

Eleni says many people are unaware the Greek diet relies heavily on vegetables, along with fish, yogurt, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and honey. The palate is fresh and citrusy and a burst of flavour comes from herbs. Meat is eaten only a few times a week.

The sisters say there’s a misconception that Greeks consume a lot of meat, perpetuated in part by the 2002 film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

They nabbed a Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the foreign category in 2009 for “Three Sisters Around the Greek Table,” which also won in the cookbook category at the 2011 New York Book Festival.

The sentence “Food is love” is repeated throughout both books.

“For us that’s really what food is,” Eleni says. “Whenever we do talks or demonstrations, we try to get people to switch the way they think about food and to think about it that way. You have to eat three times a day at least or more. And if you look at it as a chore, then you dread it.”

Instead, they want readers to savour preparing delicious food for themselves, their families and friends.

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“Greeks really do pride themselves on inviting people into their home and around your table and eating. You’re showing them that you care about them, that you love them, whether it’s your neighbours or your friends. It really is a Greek lifestyle thing,” says Eleni.

“We always grew up around the dinner table,” Betty adds. “Everything we did was always in the kitchen around food, and so that sentence ‘food is love’ really means a lot to us.”