I’m so very honored to have the opportunity to interview the wonderful Kiki Vagianos. She is a talented chef, baker, writer, and the creator of The Greek Vegan and Nisteia Magazine. The Greek Vegan is a very helpful and informative blog where she shares family and personal fasting and vegan recipes. Kiki guides you through each of these delicious recipes, with helpful pictures and detailed instructions.
In her magazine Nisteia, you will find gorgeous pictures, recipes, and food combinations to simplify and enhance meal planning during the fast and throughout the year. I am extremely thankful she took the time to do this interview and appreciate all the hard work that she is thankfully sharing with us! I so am excited to continue to read both The Greek Vegan and Nisteia Magazine in the days and years to come, and look forward to making all these wonderful recipes.
My name: Evgeniki (Kiki) Vagianos
My Patron Saint: Saint Mark Evegnikos of Ephesus
Company Name: The Greek Vegan
My job/what I do: I write a food blog where I record and collect traditional Greek nistisima (meat/dairy free) recipes
Where you can find me: www.thegreekvegan.com
How and why did The Greek Vegan begin? About three years ago, as a family project, my father and I decided to record and collect traditional, authentic fasting recipes in a standard and reproducible format. That meant no measuring by teacups or glasses or finger-widths and no ‘cooking until done but not burned’. Exact measurements, precise cooking times and a bit less accurate yields were much trickier to work out than we had expected. Often, we make a recipe over and over before we can get it to look and, most importantly, taste just right.
And before it’s published, each recipe is tested 2 separate times to ensure that it is perfectly reproducible.
What do you enjoy most about your job? I love recreating and sharing these simple, healthy, delicious, and lesser-known Greek dishes.
How do you choose the recipes? Well, we work a great deal with seasonal ingredients. So for example, winter is a great time to work on recipes that use root vegetables and hard squashes and cabbage. Dried fruits are fun to use too! It gives a kind of special significance to our dishes when we remember that the ingredients we use most at this time are harvested in the fall and dried, preserved or kept in cool cupboards to be used throughout the winter months. Funny to think of a time before supermarkets! But it really makes you look forward to the spring with its early greens and fresh herbs and the incredible bounty of summer and early fall. We’ve lost a lot of that excitement and anticipation being able to have fresh figs flown up from South America in January and tomatoes year round. By cooking seasonally, you are more apt to sync up with the rhythm of the seasons. Of course, by fasting, we’re able to recapture some of that anticipation knowing at the end of 40 days a feast (of the church and our tables) is waiting.
Is there anything in particular you look for in a recipe when choosing it? We look for a limited number of ingredients. We don’t have a cutoff but usually agree when there are a few too many for most people to manage. We look for simple prep and if the prep is more involved, we look for ways to break the recipe into stages to make it more manageable for home cooks with time constraints. We also look for versatile recipes where we recommend fresh ingredients first but can also suggest quality canned or frozen options for when time is tight.
What are some of the most interesting ingredients you have ever used? I love using mahlepi. Mahlepi adds a flavor quite unmistakable but very difficult to describe in baked goods and sweet breads. It comes in a powder that, how odd is this, is made from the kernels inside of cherry stones. I’d like to know who first had the idea to make mahlepi and then I’d like to thank him (or her!).
If you could tell aspiring young chefs and bakers one (or several) thing(s) it would be: Love your vegetables! And learn to let them shine. So often we cover them in sauces and cook them to death with very little of the natural, incredible flavors left for us to appreciate and enjoy. Don’t be too tempted by the razzle-dazzle dishes. Yes they can be fun and a ‘flaming anything’ is always exciting but less is more and simple can be simply delicious!
As a child, my favorite children’s book was or My favorite children’s book is: The Chronicles of Narnia – the first three books especially. And the Wind in the Door, A Wrinkle in Time, The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, the Phantom Tollbooth – there are just too, too many. Can you tell I have always loved to read?
How does being Orthodox impact your work? Being Orthodox is really the reason for my work. The dishes we feature are all fasting and, I like to think, remind us that we through them we share in a thousands-year old history of Orthodox tradition. We eat many of the same dishes at the same times of year (and days of the week) that Orthodox Christians have since the time of Our Savior. How amazing is that when you think about it?!
If I could tell our youth one thing it would be: I’ve found that for me, I am most happy and calm in my life when all aspects of my life are in harmony with my faith. We (fortunately or unfortunately) live in a modern and secular society that, in many ways, makes us feel silly or odd or out of place as Orthodox Christians when living our faith. It’s often tempting to try and compartmentalize the different parts of our lives into our school or work life, our social life, our home life, our church life.
Compartmentalizing allows us have some areas that are admittedly a little less Orthodox and a bit more secular. I think we’re tempted to do this because it seems to make it easier to straddle the fence between two such dissimilar worlds while making the minimum number of waves. In the end, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain this position and we feel the uneasiness grow within us taking away peace and calm. The temptation becomes greater and greater over time to allocate more and more pieces of our lives to the less Orthodox side of things. A slippery slope and a lifelong struggle, to be in the world but not of the world, and for each of us to navigate through with our family and spiritual father, prayer and hope. But this isn’t a new struggle and I find great comfort in that. Generations upon generations of Orthodox Christians have lived in non-Orthodox societies now and we have their many examples to follow. And no, it’s not easy some times – many times, and we all slip up and fall repeatedly. But we have Our Savior’s promise that He and His Mother and all of the saints will never leave us. You may think that being Orthodox is an unlucky chance at times but as you grow in the church and your faith you’ll realize how very, very lucky we are!