Orexi!: Feasting at the modern Greek table

Orexi!: Feasting at the modern Greek table

by Theo A. Michaels


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A collection of over 80 classic and modern recipes from chef Theo Michaels; paying homage to his heritage whilst championing new modern dishes inspired by the flavors of Greece and Cyprus.

Kali orexi is the Greek equivalent of bon appétit and this enticing book will certainly whet your appetite! Organized in chapters entitled Meze, Sea, Land, Sun and Fire, Theo's recipes evoke a sense of connection to nature, seasonality, abundance, and sociable eating. Fresh ingredients sing from the plate, from juicy watermelon and glossy kalamata olives, to fragrant oregano-roasted lamb and delicate vine-leaf-baked sea bass. Meze features mouth-watering small plates for sharing from whipped dips to meatballs. The sea is woven into Greek culture and seafood is a staple; enjoy the freshest fish and shellfish dishes, cooked simply and served with a squeeze of lemon juice. Meat is a huge part of the Greek diet—rabbit, goat, chicken, and lamb are mainstays with pork enjoyed at celebrations. Cooking it over charcoal is a way of life... The Cypriots use a large rotisserie famous for its souvla (long skewer), while mainland Greece make souvlaki and both grilled and oven-roasted dishes are included here. Greek yogurt, along with artisan cheeses (feta, halloumi etc.) can be eaten hot (saganaki) or shaved into vibrant salads and the tradition of "horta" means there are also plenty of vegetable dishes to enjoy. Finally, Greek desserts are often just a sweet note to savor with a bitter black coffee or you may prefer a Greek-inspired cocktail such as an Ouzo Sour.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781788790796
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small
Publication date: 04/09/2019
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 302,553
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Theo Michaels was born in London to a large Greek Cypriot family. Making the semi-finals of BBC TV's MasterChef in 2014 spurred him into giving up corporate life to become a chef for Elsewhere Events, creating imaginative pop-up dining experiences globally. He spent 4 years living in New Jersey as a child, returning later to live in Princeton and to date he has visited 35 of the States! Theo is based in the UK.

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yiaourti kai pita

Both yogurt and pita are synonymous with Greek and Cypriot cuisines and an everyday staple. Though styles may vary slightly from country to country, region to region and household to household, they are all, in essence, just simple recipes of humble origin that are still as popular today as they were thousands of years ago. I find a romance in making both, following processes that are as old as Greek civilization itself, and then finally devouring the fruits of my labour and tasting a little bit of history.

I am sharing the recipes I use at home here. You'll notice in the yogurt recipe I give very precise temperatures, which is something I fundamentally dislike doing… But I've made it a ton of times and rarely hit them exactly, so don't be put off as a little variation is okay. Also, as a rule, the longer you leave your yogurt fermenting, the sharper it will taste; personally, I think about 5 hours is good, but it is up to you.

Pita for me is synonymous with family barbecues and it almost feels as vital to proceedings as the charcoal! A little insider knowledge: if you ever find yourself at a Greek barbecue, keep a look out for a conspicuous-looking kitchen towel that's warm to the touch with yeast-scented steam seeping out… that is where you'll find the pita!


ellinko yiaourti

Making your own yogurt is extremely easy and surprisingly satisfying. To kick-start the process, I use yogurt with 'live active cultures'. Besides being good for you, they also do the job of speeding up the fermentation process.

2 litres/quarts full-fat/whole milk
70 g/1/3 cup active live natural/plain yogurt

a thermometer


Warm the milk in a large saucepan to just under boiling point; do this slowly to avoid a grainy textured yogurt. Keep stirring to avoid it burning at the bottom of the pan. You want the thermometer to read about 93ºC/200ºF. Once you've hit that temperature, remove from the heat and let it cool to about 45ºC/115ºF.

Mix 250–500 ml/1–2 cups of the warm milk into the yogurt, and then tip the lot back into the pan with the rest of the milk and whisk. Cover with a lid and let it ferment for about 5 hours at 43°C/110°F. You can do this in the oven with the light on or in a warm spot in the kitchen.

After the 5 hours is up, transfer the pan to the fridge to cool and set. Once chilled, decant it into a sterilized jar and it will keep for a couple of weeks. If this regular yogurt doesn't float your boat and you want something more unctuous, then I suggest you go Greek! Which is just a simple case of straining… Line a colander with some muslin/cheesecloth, pour in the yogurt, tie the ends of the cloth and put the colander in a saucepan in the fridge. Leave for 1–2 hours until you have thick and creamy yogurt.



Light, fluffy Cypriot-style pita is traditionally thinner and cooked until the steam inside puffs up and creates a stuffable pocket. To keep these supple, envelop them in a kitchen towel while they are still hot from the oven.

400 g/3 cups plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting a 7-g/¼-oz. sachet dried active yeast
2 generous pinches of sugar
2 generous pinches of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
250 ml/1 cup warm water


Preheat the oven to 230°C (450ºF) Gas 8 with a baking sheet inside.

Sift 340 g/2½ cups of the flour into a mixing bowl and add the yeast, sugar and salt. Mix briefly. Drizzle over the olive oil and pour in the warm water. Gently mix everything together into a 'shaggy mess' with a wooden spoon. Knead this 'mess' for about 5 minutes. If it's too sticky, add the remaining flour and keep kneading until fully incorporated. Once the dough has a springy texture, pop it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Leave for at least 45 minutes and up to 2 hours to rise; it should double in size and be extremely light and aerated. Knock the air out of it and divide into 8 balls. Flatten with the palm of your hand, cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 15 minutes. Roll each ball to 5 mm/1/4 inch thick, quickly place the pitas onto the hot baking sheet and back into the oven as quickly as possible to avoid losing heat. Once puffed up with steam, they are done.


pita horis zymi

Unleavened bread is made without any raising agents, such as yeast, so this recipe couldn't be easier or quicker. These Greek-style pitas are soft and pliable and great for wrapping around meats and salad.

215 g/1 cup Greek yogurt
260 g/2 cups plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon olive oil salt butter, for cooking


Add the yogurt, flour and olive oil to a bowl with a pinch of salt, and mix with a wooden spoon to combine everything.

Then knead with your hands until a soft dough ball appears. It will seem too dry at first, but persevere, and add a little more yogurt or flour if needed.

Cut the dough into six pieces. Roll out each piece to 5 mm/¼ inch thick. I usually fry these in a frying pan/skillet on a medium heat in a little butter (but you can use dash of olive oil if you like) for a couple of minutes on each side.

Once cooked, wrap in a kitchen towel to keep warm or let them cool; either way they're great.

Tip: If you want more gyro-style flatbreads but don't have the time (or inclination) to make pitas from scratch, you can add a heaped teaspoon of baking powder to the flour in this recipe at the start; it won't officially be unleavened but is a good 'cheat' to know!


MEZE meze

We have all come together to eat, family and friends, a sacred occasion but not a rare one. This time the congregation is eating out at a local taverna, one of many in North London, amidst the Cypriot community living in the neighbourhood. The word taverna is derived from the latin taberna which can mean inn, shop, shed or even workshop and I rather like the romantic notion that the latter is exactly what it is. A cook's workshop, where they can fine-tune their offerings for their dining guests' pleasure. Nothing too pretentious, just good food cooked in a traditional way.

We enter the taverna and walk to the table, all of us urgently strategizing where to sit – you only have a few seconds so the pressure is immense. Yiayias and bapous have an automatic rank of seniority that only comes with age and instantly dictates their seats but the young (basically the army privates of any Greek family) who have not yet earned their stripes are not given a choice. The old with the old, the young with the young. If you procrastinate too long you may get a seat in the wrong division, but that's okay – you'll jump to another one as soon as a call of nature leaves it free. Conversation starts to warm up as the piles of charred pitas arrive along with an array of colourful whipped dips and bowls of glossy olives. Once we are all settled in, a second wave of dishes appears; small plates, some steaming hot, some chilled, all delicious. I hear the music from Zorba the Greek playing in the background (and briefly wonder if it's just in my own head) as the animated conversation around me reaches a crescendo and plate after plate of lovingly made food continues to appear on the table in front of us.

As the bottom of each plate starts to peep through, a waiter discreetly slips it under another full one and another wave of mezedes hits the table. This time the scent of the ocean arrives with it: deep-fried calamari, octopus, grilled fish, an aquatic precursor to the meats. Lemons are juggled across the table, pinches of salt scattered across dishes, the concept of eating together is not contrived, it's just the way it is done. Soon the smell of charcoal, charred lamb and rich stews meanders through the air, making the carnivores salivate as if the previous hours of food hadn't existed. Then the meats arrive, again as before, small dishes, rich in flavour and just enough to share with a little left over. More pitas are ordered, wine glasses are topped up – kids sneak a sip whenever the watchful eyes of the higher-ranking family members wander. Heated debate, that to an outsider might sound like a family intervention, is just the whispering of sweet nothings for us, and I am guessing it's the same for all the other Greek and Cypriot families as well.

There comes a point when the food slows, empty dishes and plates start to disappear from the table and the unconscious hankering for something sweet is satisfied when a selection of bite-sized desserts arrive. Baklava, glyko – one or two bites is just enough to sate the need for sugar and are washed down with a strong Greek coffee and a shot of zivania (a clear Cypriot brandy). So what makes a meze? Simply put, it is small plates, any of your choosing, brought to the table on what appears to be a conveyor belt of food – the only criteria is that you have good company to share it with. The food is, of course, divine, but we all know it's not really about that… it's about the family, the friends, the conversation and the human connections. Philosophizing, making controversial statements designed to raise embarrassed laughter, debating about life, love and the world with a little local gossip thrown in for good measure – you know, all the important stuff in life. To share food is to create a bond and the tradition of breaking bread is as old as time itself with one purpose; to build relationships. So many cultures have their own tradition of small shared plates from Spanish tapas and Venetian cicchetti to Moroccan kemia. Sometimes it is as simple as a small selection of nibbles to be grazing on with a glass of wine at sunset, sometimes it is a substantial feast eaten as a meal, but there are no rules other than to enjoy the food, the company and yourself!


tsipoura me karpouzi ceviche

On hot afternoons in Cyprus, sometimes I'd be quietly lazing about, with only the scent of the sun-kissed earth between the lemon trees and sound of the waves meandering through the air for company… Suddenly I'd hear shouts of 'Karpouzi! Karpouzi!' as a gravelly voiced old farmer drove through the village in an open-top trailer piled high with watermelons. But I didn't mind being startled and falling off my chair… they were damn good watermelons. My ceviche is inspired by those moments and the memory of eating the sweet fruit with the juices running down my chin and the salty breath of the sea.

1 sea bream fillet (120 g/4¼oz.)
1 garlic clove freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons
70 g/2½ oz. watermelon, flesh diced into 1.25-cm/½-inch cubes
20 g/¾ oz. red onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon finely diced fresh red chilli/chile a generous pinch of freshly chopped coriander/cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil salt crisply toasted pita bread, to serve


If it isn't already prepared, prepare the fish fillet by skinning and deboning it, and cutting away the darker meat that runs lengthways along the fish where the skin was. The easiest way to do this is, once the fillet is skinned and deboned, simply turn it over (skinned-side up) and cut a 'v' lengthways along the middle. Once done, cut the flesh into 1.25-cm/1/2-inch cubes.

Gently crush the garlic clove to just break the shell but keep the clove whole, more or less.

Add the garlic, cubed fish and lemon juice to a bowl, ensuring the fish is completely covered by the lemon juice. Let it 'cook' for 15 minutes, by which time it will have turned opaque.

Remove the fish from the lemon juice, shaking off any excess liquid, and place the fish in a clean bowl (reserving the liquid). Add the watermelon, red onion, chilli and coriander a little at a time, tasting to ensure the flavour is evenly balanced. Once done, add the olive oil, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of the reserved lemon liquid.

Serve immediately. It goes well with some crisply toasted pita bread.

Tip: You can substitute sea bream with sea bass. Always ensure you use the freshest fish possible.



One of the mainstays at our family's kitchen table is a bowl of pantzariasalata. At its heart, it is sliced beetroot with a light dressing of olive oil, vinegar and raw slices of garlic. Here salt-baking the beetroot both intensifies the flavour and seasons it, while the wild garlic leaves and flowers maintain that traditional flavour combination but in a slightly more subtle way.

1 egg white
350 g/1¾ cups coarse rock salt
150 g/¾ cup sugar
4–5 small beetroots/beets (about 350 g/12 oz.)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 small garlic clove, peeled
12 wild garlic/ramps leaves freshly ground black pepper olive oil, for drizzling red wine vinegar, for drizzling

a roasting pan or deep-sided baking sheet, lined with baking parchment


Preheat the oven to 180ºC (360ºF) Gas 4.

First make the salt crust by whisking the egg white, then folding in the salt and sugar. You should have a wet cement-type consistency; add more salt if needed.

Put a little of the salt mixture in the centre of the parchment on the prepared roasting pan to make a bed for the beetroots to sit on. Group the beetroots together on top of this, add the thyme sprigs and spoon the remaining salt mixture over the top, ensuring the beetroots are fully covered. Bake in the oven for 1½ –2 hours, depending on the size of the beetroots.

Once done, leave to cool for 10 minutes before breaking open the salt crust. Remove the beetroots and, while they are still warm (but cool enough to handle), peel the skin off. If they go cold, the skin is harder to peel. Slice the beetroots into discs about 5 mm/1/4 inch thick. (A good life hack is to rub olive oil on your hands before touching the beetroot and it stops it staining your fingers!)

Slice the garlic as thinly as you can scatter it over the beetroot. Season with black pepper and drizzles of olive oil and vinegar. Roughly slice the wild garlic leaves, leaving a few whole just for show, and gently fold all the ingredients together. Serve at room temperature.

Tip: If you have wild garlic flowers you can add these to the salad as a final garnish, dotted over the salad after you have plated up.


ouranio toxo salada me tomades

There is almost nothing as wonderful and satisfying to eat as a naturally grown tomato. Bursting with colour, sweetness, and a heady summer aroma that lingers in the air, a beautiful plump tomato is a gift from the Gods. Buy tomatoes in season and never store them in your fridge. I always include a few of the plum variety in this salad to ensure sweetness and then simply anoint them with a pomegranate molasses and white balsamic dressing to complement their ripe flesh. Served flat on a plate, rather than elbowing each other in a bowl, this recipe treats tomatoes with the respect a gift deserves.

500 g/1 lb. 2 oz. ripe heirloom tomatoes
¼ red onion
2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley a pinch of Greek dried oregano
4 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper olive oil, for drizzling


Slice the tomatoes about 1.25 cm/½ inch thick and gently layer them in a serving dish. Slice the red onion as finely as you can and scatter over the tomatoes, followed by the chopped parsley.

Season generously with the oregano and some coarsely ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt flakes.

Drizzle over some olive oil, just a couple of shakes to let it seep through the crevices between the tomatoes.

Mix together the balsamic vinegar and pomegranate molasses to give you a rich purple dressing (you can up the quantities of this and store for another day; I love it). Sprinkle some of it over the tomatoes and finish with a light scattering of pomegranate seeds.

There is nothing more to do. At a push, a few shavings of Kefalotyri cheese won't hurt it, but tomatoes are very self-conscious and would hate to feel overdressed.



This salad is inspired by kolifa, a dish served during A mnimosino in the Greek Orthodox church. Mnimosino is a memorial service for loved ones who have passed. Kolifa is a symbolic and decorated dish and (I don't know why I feel guilty about this) it tastes delicious. Whenever I've attended church for one of these services, the family will have made their own version of kolifa and, using a tea saucer, scoop out a portion, pop it into a little food bag and hand one to whomever is within reaching distance. I never say no. Paying homage to the headline ingredients of wheat berries, pomegranate seeds, raisins, almonds and sesame seeds, every family makes their own version of this special dish.


Excerpted from "Orexi!"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Theo A. Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of Ryland Peters & Small.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

YOGURT & PITA Yiaourti kai pita,
MEZE Meze,
SEA Thalassa,
SUN Ilios,
FIRE Fotia,
SUNDOWNERS Thysi iliou,

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