May 28, 2013

Modern Mediterranean with Melia Marden + Giveaway

I get a lot of cookbooks in the mail each season. It is always a treat to admire the work of my fellow authors. Every so often one book really stands out and catches my eye. That is the kind of book that I cook from immediately and ends up on my bookshelf for a few years, maybe longer. This spring one of these cookbooks is Modern Mediterranean: Easy, Flavorful Home Cooking by Melia Marden. Her simple Mediterranean dishes are inspired by her childhood summers spent in Greece and frequently served at The Smile, the restaurant at which she is executive chef. The extraordinary color photographs by Lucy Schaeffer pack a stunning visual punch. I am thrilled that Melia stopped by for an interview today and I am even more excited to be giving away a copy of her book!

Modern Mediterranean

1) Your story of growing up in Greece is extraordinary. I love how each recipe is a trip down memory lane. What recipes are the most nostalgic for you?

Definitely the stuffed tomatoes were something I only ever ate in Greece in the summers and would think about for the rest of the year. It seemed like such a simply perfect lunch when I was a kid so in the recipe I tried to recreate the flavor that I alwayslooked forward to so much. The zucchini simmered in tomato sauce was a dish my mom made all the time when I was growing up so being able to make it for myself now feels comforting like reliving a basic part of my childhood.

2) What Mediterranean dishes did you most want to introduce to your readers. Some of these dishes may come across as quite exotic to someone not familiar with this cuisine!

One of my favorite meals is the Moroccan chicken with lemon and olives and the couscous  with vegetables in spiced broth. If you aren’t used to cooking with Moroccan spices it might seem intimidating but they’re both easy to make and delicious and can become a dinner staple. I also love the roasted sardines w/grapes and parsley – it seems like an odd combination but the salty fish pairs really well with the sweet juicy grapes.

3) I have two young children and am constantly trying to expose them to new flavors and cuisines. What dishes would you recommend as “starter” meals for the under 5 set?

Definitely the spaghetti with tomatoes and mozzarella and the zucchini pizza have been successful with children. They’re sort of a healthier take on classic kid favorites. I’ve gotten a good response from friends with children about the lemony roast potatoes as well.

Modern Mediterranea

4) One of the things I adore about the dishes in this book is that they are naturally healthy without being designed for any specific diet. I find that Mediterranean cuisine tends to be this way because it is lighter in general. What are some of your favorite dishes that are naturally light and healthy?

I love Mediterranean food because they use so much olive oil it’s healthy but filling at the same time. I really love having the minted sugar snap peas as a afternoon snack, they’re crunchy and salty but light and clean as well. The seared chicken breast is a nice dinner option, the chicken is lean but so smothered in flavorful olives, capers, and garlic that it’s really satisfying.

5) So now it is May in the Northeast. What would be your ideal Mediterranean meal for summer?

The tomato, nectarine, and mozzarella salad is my favorite in the summer when both the tomatoes and nectarines are ripe. I also try to grill as much as possible while I can so I make the grilled Mediterranean sea bass and grilled asparagus w/preserved lemons.

6) Wine! Okay, I have to be honest, the first time I read this book I mentally paired several dishes with some of my favorite white wines. What are some classic Mediterranean beverage pairings with these dishes?

I love a nice dry rosé from Southern France with the summery fish dishes, especially the fish stew. In Greece they drink retsina, which is white or rosé wine fermented with pine resin. It’s an acquired taste but I’ve grown to love it over the years.

7) What is next for you and your wonderful restaurant? I am planning to come for a visit this year!

Things are thankfully busier than ever at the restaurant. We opened a take-out location called Smile To Go last year and recently starting expanding our catering program. We’ll see what comes along this year!

To Win a Copy of Modern Mediterranean:

1) Leave a comment sharing your favorite Mediterranean dish

2) Subscribe to Kelsey Banfield on Facebook

3) Contest runs from May 28th at 7:00am through June 4th at 7:00am. Winner will be announced in the June 7th newsletter.

Photos by Lucy Schaeffer. Courtesy of Stuart, Tabori & Chang