From a very young age I remember learning to cook alongside my Yaya. She spoke in Greek with a few words of English thrown in every so often. My Yaya, which translates as Grandma, was born in Athens, Greece, but moved to Canada to marry my Grandpa, and although she could speak English she usually fell back into her native tongue (especially when she was talking fast). I’m not convinced she even knew she was doing it.
Without a doubt, Yaya’s favourite place to be was in her kitchen. It was a small pokey room, and 2 people busily cooking away could make it feel very small indeed. But she was proud of her kitchen. She could spend every single minute from the time she woke up until the time she went to bed cooking away in her kitchen.
You only had to step up to the driveway and you could already smell the fresh baked bread coming out of the oven. Her house was always well stocked with delicious baklava, loukoumades, galatopita and bougasta, just in case a visitor happened to stop by. Her passion was to feed people and you couldn’t walk into her house without having had a full cooked meal by the time you left. Hers was the house that every kid in town would descend on and warm welcomes were always guaranteed (along with a thick slice of bread smothered in homemade jam).
It is from Yaya that I inherited my own passion for food. Her life was cooking and feeding anyone who came through her door. Now as I cook I can still hear her giving me instructions in Greek, or see her rolling out pastry or kneading dough, or stirring a nice warm stew on the stove.
I was lucky enough to inherit Yaya’s handwritten recipes, even though I had already made the transition into vegetarianism. The first dish she taught me to make was keftethes, which is a Greek meatball. Yaya’s recipe has ground lamb in hers, but I have adapted her recipe to make my own vegetarian and delicious.
5oz grape tomatoes, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tsp tomato paste
1 sprig of mint, roughly chopped
2-6 tbl of all purpose flour
Fry the onion in the saute pan, until cooked. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and mint. Stir until everything is evenly combined.
Remove from the heat and let cool enough so that you can touch it.
Add the flour 1 tablespoon at a time, until you can form the mixture into a ball. Add the flour as you need it. You want to be able to make the balls easily, so mix in the flour until it is a workable consistency for you.
Once your balls are formed bake in the oven at 400F for 15 minutes.
This mixture was enough to form 4 fairly large keftethes.