It's All Greek to Me
Thinking of having a BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING? Maybe your family descends from Greece and you have yiayia’s recipes handed down from the early 19th century and you spend hours each week preparing time-honored recipes for family holidays and special occasions. And then again, maybe you just love Greek food like me.
As for this Italian, I am always on the locavore trail looking for local dishes to serve to friends and family and I have discovered an old family friend who makes some of the most authentic Greek appetizers and desserts this side of Athens.
Kansas City, meet Kathy Skinos … our resident Greek expert and one of the best Greek chefs in Kansas City. I sat with Kathy for lunch recently and she gave me a fascinating history of her family and how the food is part of her heart and soul.
But before we got down to business, Kathy and I chatted about one of our favorite movies, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and one of our favorite scenes when the main characters, Ian and Toula, discuss food and family.
After all, what else is there in life?
Ian: What do you do for Christmas with your family?
Toula: Uh, my mom makes roast lamb.
Ian: Mmm … with mint jelly?
Ian: And .. .?
Toula: And … I’m Greek, right?
Toula: So, what happens is my dad and uncles, they fight over who gets to eat the lamb brain. And then my Aunt Voula forks the eyeball and chases me around with it, trying to get me to eat it, ‘cause it’s gonna make me smart. So, you have two cousins, I have 27 first cousins. Just 27 first cousins alone! And my whole family is big and loud. And everybody is in each other’s lives and business. All the time! Like, you never just have a minute alone, just to think, ‘cause we’re always together, just eating, eating, eating! The only other people we know are Greeks, ‘cause Greeks marry Greeks to breed more Greeks, to be loud, breeding Greek eaters!
As a child, Kathy learned to cook traditional Greek dishes from her mother, Georgia Skinos, who along with her father John opened Georgia’s Greek Restaurant in 1981 in Kansas City, Mo.
The restaurant quickly became a popular landmark in the Kansas City area for all who enjoyed traditional Greek food. Kathy wanted to share her family’s treasures and decided to open Katina’s Greek Café, which was launched in 1999, using recipes passed down through generations of her mother’s family.
Kathy’s family comes from Corinth, Greece and the village of Nemea, an area similar to Napa Valley. Just listening to her talk about her special recipe, passed down generations, for a rustic lamb cooked on the grill, her mother’s tzatziki sauce, and her love of entertaining at home, I could tell she misses her mama and dad but carries on the tradition through her recipes.
Believe me, Kathy’s affinity for Greek food—and preserving the generations-old dishes—shows!
I first tried Kathy’s tiropitas at a demo she was giving at the Hen House Market. I was overwhelmed. So fresh and crisp. I knew from the first bite it was an heirloom recipe. Kathy is working on several new flavors: mushroom and onion, kalamata olives and sundried tomato, and roasted garlic, lemon and capers.
I have tried spanakopitas before at catered events around Kansas City and was not impressed—but when I had my first bite of Kathy’s spanakopita, I was in big, fat Greek heaven. The phyllo is the crispiest and flakiest I have ever had, the filling moist and flavorful with fresh spinach and exceptional feta cheese. Kathy tells me there is really no secret to her plump spanikopitas, just thicker phyllo dough that bakes better and doesn’t break apart. And the best part? There are no preservatives, so you’re enjoying the real deal.
Kathy’s specialty is her handmade baklava, a rich, sweet pastry popular throughout Greece. Hers is exquisite, made with a secret syrup perfected by her family that’s flavored with real orange and lemon, 40 layers of phyllo, chopped nuts, and a generous soaking of the syrup and honey. The result is a dessert so delicious (baklava was traditionally served to royalty, but numerous ethnic groups claim it as their own) and an example of human ingenuity in developing food that not only nourishes the body, but also brings happiness to the mind and spirit.
Kathy’s Greek appetizers come packed in aluminum trays that are baked in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the phyllo dough is golden brown and flaky. The baklava is already baked; simply thaw, serve and enjoy.
“You can taste the passion I have for my products and my Greek heritage with every bite,” says Kathy. “Every piece of pastry is hand-rolled by family friends.”
Kathy tells me even after working and cooking for 60-plus hours a week, she frequently cooks and entertains at home. Her favorite is lamb, rustic on the grill, Greek potatoes, and her mama’s suziki. Cooking for pleasure is Kathy’s pastime, and obviously with that beautiful smile every time I see her, she is energized by it.
Believe me, I can tell when one has passion and love for their work, upholding tradition and authenticity and love for family recipes!
Katina’s Greek Café’s extensive line of pastries and appetizers is available at Hen House Markets, the Cosentino’s Market in Brookside, and The Power & Light District. A complete assortment of the appetizers and baklava can also be found in select Dean & DeLuca stores, including Leawood, Washington, D.C. and in New York City at the Madison Avenue and SoHo locations.
Ευχαριστώ Katina! Grazie!
Tzatziki Greek Yogurt Dip
Makes 2 ½ cups
I am honored that Kathy has shared her family recipe for tzatziki, which I’ll share with my Italian family this coming holiday season.
• 3 cups Greek yogurt
• 1 long cucumber, seedless, peeled, and finely chopped
• 3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin Greek Olive oil
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, or more or less to taste
• 1 – 2 tablespoons fresh lemon to taste
• 3 – 4 garlic cloves, pressed to be like paste
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
Stir in yogurt, cucumber, garlic, salt, oil, and lemon juice. Cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve with kalamata olives and pita bread for a delicious Greek dip or in lamb gyros.