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Greek monastic food gets cookbook treatment

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/food/story/3316749/ Greek monastic food gets cookbook treatment Food_Divine_Diet By DEREK GATOPOULOS Associated Press Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 2 4:10 PM
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      http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/food/story/3316749/

      Greek monastic food gets cookbook treatment
      Food_Divine_Diet

      By DEREK GATOPOULOS
      Associated Press Writer

      Posted: Aug. 1, 2008

      MOUNT ATHOS, Greece — In a secluded Orthodox
      Christian sanctuary, the phone is ringing again
      for Father Epifanios Milopotaminos.

      Ever since he wrote a cookbook sharing his
      secrets for feeding his fellow monks,
      Milopotaminos' cell phone rings constantly with
      requests to speak at seminars, appear on
      television and do cooking demonstrations.

      He's an unlikely candidate for sudden celebrity;
      in the nearly four decades since he took charge
      of cooking on the secluded Mount Athos sanctuary,
      little about what he does has changed.

      "It's the same way meals were prepared 100 years
      ago, or 50 years ago," Epifanios says of the
      meat- and dairy-free diet, much of it cooked over
      a log fire. "It's a clean diet that people once
      ate across the eastern Mediterranean."

      This year he shared that diet, collecting 126 of
      his recipes in a book that provides a rare
      glimpse into life in this community of some 1,500
      monks in 20 monasteries that strictly limits
      outside access, including barring women.

      And people appear to like what they see.

      "People are curious because we use different
      ingredients and different methods," he says.

      Epifanios already has appeared on a popular Greek
      cooking show and his publisher, Synchronoi
      Ozizontes, says the leather-bound cookbook has
      sold 12,000 copies, a healthy figure for the local market.

      Athens nutrition scientist Paraskevas
      Papachristou says books such as Father Epifanios'
      get a great deal of attention because Greeks generally want to eat healthier.

      Whether people actually make the recipes is
      another matter. Papachristou says the interest is
      at odds with an overall trend away from
      Mediterranean diets because people cook less and eat more convenience foods.

      Published in April, "Cooking on Mount Athos" (so
      far available only in Greek) offers
      unpretentious, tasty recipes. Don't expect
      arugula with balsamic vinegar. Rather, lots of
      chickpeas and bitter wild greens.

      "Monks at Mount Athos don't eat meat," says
      Epifanios. "The word butter is never mentioned in
      the book, and we don't add flour to thicken
      sauces. We just let the ingredients boil down."

      Epifanios' catalog of recipes is divided into
      seafood - with and without backbones, according
      to different fasting categories - or vegetables.
      No desserts at the Holy Mountain.

      Slow cooking suits the heavily bearded monks, who
      rise well before dawn and spend much of their day in prayer.

      "We have a lot of time, without families, wives
      and children to tend to," Epifanios says.

      "Everyone has a secondary job. One monk may be a
      librarian, another may write books, or make
      wooden carvings, or weave prayer knots, or be an
      icon painter, an incense maker, a winemaker, or a cook," he says.

      Unlike the typical Greek priest, Mount Athos
      monks have a ruffled appearance, many with hands
      hardened from manual labor. They often can been
      spotted on the mountainous peninsula driving a tractor or a worn-out van.

      Dinner, and its unhurried preparation, is where
      the talking takes place. Monks, migrant workers
      and guests sit around Epifanios' table peeling
      potatoes, slicing vegetables and topping up
      glasses with monastery made-wine or the potent grape-residue spirit, tsipouro.

      On special occasions, it's the same food made on
      a much larger scale. The monks use two hefty
      wooden poles to place pots more than a yard wide onto outdoor fires.

      Epifanios - who calls himself a cook, not a chef
      - says his meals are rooted as much in centuries
      old church practices as in common sense.
      Unfashionable ingredients such as broad beans,
      artichokes and okra, which many older Greeks
      still associate with poverty and often are
      ignored by the young, remain staples here.

      "People are less in touch with their natural
      surroundings nowadays," Epifanios says. "They
      used to eat what they found around them and what they could gather.

      "Now they try Chinese, Indian food, and dishes
      from - I don't know - Finland before they realize
      that what they really liked all along was the
      meals their grandmother made them."

      Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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