Anthea Scouffas doesn’t need a big, fat Greek gathering to get cooking in her Lawrence kitchen. Growing up as the only daughter of five children, Scouffas learned to prepare traditional Greek dishes from her grandmother (Yia-Yia) Melpomene Karadimopoulos.
Scouffas, the engagement and education director of the University of Kansas’ Lied Center, and her partner, Sharon Graham, enjoy entertaining at home.
“I think of my Yia-Yia Melpo and my Aunt Anthea when they would get invited to cocktail parties and artist lectures where people would gather and talk,” Scouffas says. “They would wonder: ‘Where’s the party? There’s no music and dancing.’ ”
Q: Can you articulate what your Greek heritage means to you?
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A: The Scouffas family is originally from the Anatolian peninsula, which is now part of Turkey. In the early 1900s, my father’s side of the family immigrated to the United States and ultimately ended up settling in the Champaign-Urbana area, near the University of Illinois, which is where I grew up.
My father met and married my mother, Eva Belle Karva, who was the daughter of Polish immigrants living in Illinois. My mother was a very good cook and learned how to make all the traditional Greek dishes from my Yia-Yia and Aunt Anthea and even spoke Greek, so I naturally identified with my Greek heritage.
Being Greek means to be part of one big, extended family. Food is just a natural part of gathering together, and we don’t need an excuse or occasion to celebrate.
Q: When growing up, did you take delicious food for granted?
A: I am the youngest of five children and the only girl, so I grew up in the kitchen. Now I appreciate the wonderful dishes that were made and often wish I had recipes, as my Yia-Yia never wrote down anything, she just cooked by feel.
One of the special dishes my brothers and I remember my aunt and Yia-Yia making was rizogalo or Greek rice pudding. For years, we would try to re-create the recipe, and now, thanks to the internet, I have found a recipe that tastes just like a bit of my childhood.
This rice pudding takes me back and is a direct memory of times when we ate rizogalo as a family. This pudding has lemon rind and requires a fair amount of stirring. My Yia-Yia’s cooking was simple, yet sophisticated, but not overly complicated.
Q: The addition of lemon seems essential in many Greek dishes. Are there any other distinctive flavors that distinguish Greek food from other Mediterranean cuisines?
A: Ingredients like lemon, olives, nuts, honey, mint, cinnamon, dill and garlic are all flavors that find their way into Greek dishes. Of course, we love to use feta cheese and olive oil. The beautiful produce sold at the Lawrence Farmers Market also inspires my cooking. When the zucchini is fresh, I enjoy making a taste of summer with a quiche that also includes, dill, cottage cheese, tomatoes and feta.
All my brothers also cook and it’s a way for us to stay connected by sharing recipes and talking about food. Before a meal, we will say “Yasou!,” which when holding a glass, can be a toast to health. For me, saying, “Yasou!” before a meal means, “Here we go!”
Q: Tell me about your Lemon Chicken Soup recipe.
A: This is my version of Yia-Yia Melpo’s recipe. She would boil a whole chicken, then take it out of the water and bake it for a short while with olive oil and lemon.
The water she used to boil the chicken would then be used to make Avgolemono Soup, made with lemon, eggs and rice. This was her way of making two different meals from the one chicken, which was a great way to stretch what you had.
From a young age, I was taught how to make Greek chicken soup. But now, I add the chicken back into the soup and use orzo instead of rice. The eggs add richness to the broth, but you must temper them before adding them to the hot liquid, or you will get scrambled eggs in your soup.
I also like to make this soup for people who are sick. One of my friends going through chemotherapy said a bowl of this soup was the only thing she could eat. There’s just something about this soup just makes you feel better.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Greek Lemon Chicken Soup
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 (3- to 4-pound) whole fryer chicken
2 cups orzo
3 lemons, juiced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 lemon, thinly sliced, used for garnish, if desired
Place chicken in a stockpot and fill with water 2 inches above the bird. Bring liquid to a boil on stovetop over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly with lid and simmer about 2 hours, or until meat is falling off the bone.
Carefully remove chicken from stock and place into a large bowl. Set aside.
Bring stock to a boil and stir in orzo. Boil for 10 minutes, or until orzo is al dente, and turn off heat.
While orzo is boiling, debone chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces. Set meat aside in a bowl and discard bones.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk lemon juice and eggs together until well combined. Temper the egg mixture by gradually ladling some of the soup into the lemon juice and egg yolks while whisking constantly.
After egg mixture and stock are well combined in bowl, slowly pour contents into stockpot of soup, while whisking constantly. Add deboned chicken back into broth, allowing it to become heated through. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle hot soup into bowls and garnish with lemon slices, if desired.
Per serving, based on 6: 373 calories (19 percent from fat), 8 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 252 milligrams cholesterol, 47 grams carbohydrates, 29 grams protein, 830 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.