Grand Dishes – two girls, a bunch of grannies and a cookbook

Grand Dishes - two girls, a bunch of grannies and a cookbook:
An interview with Anastasia Miari

Athens based journalist Anastasia Miari is freelancing for big newspapers like The Telegraph, The Independent, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Inspired by her ‚yiayia‘ (Greek for grandmother) and warm family feasts, she and her partner Iska Lupton took it upon themselves to put together a cookbook full of traditional recipes stemming directly from the kitchens of grannies from across the world.

Before we talk about your lovely project, we’d like to get to know you a little bit better first. So, who are you?

I’m half Greek half English – raised between Corfu and the UK and now live in Athens. I’m a journalist – focusing mainly on food, travel and lifestyle writing. I love to eat. I am the life and soul of the party and there’s nothing I love more than hosting dinners at my house, then going out dancing, fuelled with good food and plenty of good wine. I’m forever seeking out the sun, good music and new friends to enjoy both with. I’m in love with every single one of my friends equally and feel like they’re the family I have chosen for my life’s journey.

‚Grand Dishes‘ – What are we talking about here?

Grand Dishes is a project I thought up, inspired by my Greek grandmother (yiayia). It’s a collection of recipes and stories from grandmothers of the world and it all began because I wanted to collect my own yiayia’s recipes – because she makes the tastiest food I’ve ever eaten and I know she won’t be around forever (although she’s having a good try!) My good friend Iska Lupton also has a granny who cooks superbly – she is German. We came together to make Grand Dishes because we knew everyone has or knows a special grandmother who can cook like no one else in the world. It’s the recording of recipes but also of life lessons and stories from women who are the last generation to not have recorded everything as we do now.

What does food mean to you?

LIFE! Food is a life source. It’s the provider of joy. It brings family and friends together. It unites people over a table, a hot stove, a simmering pan. It recalls memories that were long forgotten. Food to me is so much more than nutrition for the body. It feeds the heart and mind.

As far as I know, you are a successful journalist, writing for newspapers such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The independent. Why did you decide to start writing a cookbook?

The Grand Dishes project became more popular and I realised that there really is a vital need to share these womens’ stories and recipes at a time that we’re all obsessed with having things fast, instant and convenient. We wanted to present their lives and preserve their methods and techniques in a beautiful, physical way that the grandmothers themselves can relate to. Websites are so ephemeral! My granny knows a book. She’s not so down with Instagram.

Which was the most flattering and the most awkward moment you experienced during your travels?

Every time we walk into the house of a new granny – wherever in the world – from Cuba to Moscow – it’s a humbling experience to just be so welcomed in to the homes of strangers and have them so willing to cook for myself and Iska. I loved being in Cuba in a tiny flat, hearing the story of one granny who was actively involved in Castro and Guevara’s La Revolucion. The most awkward was in Sicily when a nonna had cooked for 7 hours, then her son in law dropped the entire tray of pasta on the floor after retrieving it from the oven. AWKWARD.

Are you still in contact with the grannies and grampies you visited and cooked with?

ALL of them! We talk a lot. Some of them call us for regular chats on the phone. We’ve really made friends with these women. It’s been QUITE an experience.

How did you find all those amazing and wise souls around the globe? Did you notice any similarities between the grannies around the world? In respect to the way they cook or to the character, ..?

We found them through our networks and friends at first then soon enough, people started to approach us. In some countries, like in Mexico, I just asked anyone I would speak to and soon enough, I’d always find a granny. They’re everywhere. Similarities – they’re always really into using ingredients from the source and cooking seasonally. As in, they’re not used to buying in ready made sauces or pastry. It’s everything from scratch. Even things like bread. In character, they all get to an age where they really know themselves. They’re so confident and know how to assert themselves because they’ve lived a full life and they know who they truly are. A grandmother is wisdom distilled.

Let’s get down to business: Where and when can we buy the cookbook?

You can preorder The Grand Dishes Cookbook here: granddishes.com. The Grand Dishes book will be published in March 2021 with award-winning publisher Unbound. 10% of the book’s profits going to the Campaign to End Loneliness, a charity that shares our positive perspective on later life.

What’s next for you now?

I’m working on a podcast series relating to travel and food. Currently in the editing stages of that. Aside from that – cooking a LOT on lockdown.

 

Are you in need of an easy summer desert? Sneak Peek: Try Nicoletta's Sicilian Watermelon Jelly - a sweet taste of summer in a glass - promise!

Feeds 6 

Takes 20 minutes, plus steeping and cooling time

Ingredients

1 watermelon (2½-3kg), flesh deseeded roughly chopped

1 handful of jasmine flowers, plus some for decoration (optional)

75g cornflour

150-200g of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the watermelon

100g dark chocolate chips, or shards of finely chopped dark chocolate

Method

Push your chopped watermelon flesh through a fine-mesh sieve or whizz in a blender until smooth and measure out 1L of juice. If you have extra save, chill and serve with mint for a refreshing drink.

Put the juice in a large bowl with the jasmine flowers and let steep for a few hours, then remove and discard the flowers. 

Pour the juice into a saucepan, add the sugar to taste and whisk in the cornflour. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil and thickens. Time 1 minute and remove from the heat. 

Pour into a large glass bowl or individual ramekins (or champagne saucers for glamorous presentation!) and let cool. Refrigerate until set and cold. 

Before serving, garnish with chocolate chips (so as to imitate the watermelon seeds) and jasmine flowers.