She might have lived in Washington, D.C., for the past 36 years, but Gregoria Korologos takes pride in her Utah roots.
Korologos grew up in a strong, closely connected Greek community in Salt Lake City in the 1940s and ‘50s, where she lived with her family, including her grandmother, YiaYia, who taught her how to cook Greek food — and whose most important tip of all was to “always use real butter. Never use Crisco or margarine.”
Although now retired, Korologos spent many years working on Capitol Hill as office manager for U.S. Sen. Jake Garn and Utah members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Dan Marriott. Over the years, she has shared her homemade Greek pastries with her Senate and House colleagues and others who have been lucky enough to benefit from her YiaYia's cooking lessons.
YiaYia took care of all the cooking in the Korologos household because Chris and Irene Korologos worked at the Brown Derby, the business they owned and operated on 400 South between Main and State streets in Salt Lake City. (After World War II, the name was changed to the Bomb Shelter, which closed in 1963 after Chris Korologos' death.)
Chris and Irene married in 1932 in the Salt Lake Greek Church, and Irene’s mother, and her and sister, Maxine, lived with them along with Gregoria’s siblings Mike, Tom and Elaine. Gregoria remembers her YiaYia getting up early every morning to make a hot breakfast of oatmeal or cream of wheat or bacon and eggs for the family.
She also boiled a chicken every morning and made homemade chicken sandwiches for all the kids to take to school for lunch. After returning home from school for a snack, or stopping for a malt at Coomb's Drugstore, Korologos and her siblings went to Greek school to learn the Greek language and culture.
“We never had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the other kids. My father went to Vetter’s Meat Market, the local butcher shop, and bought T-bone steaks and good cuts of meat because he thought that would help us grow up big, strong, and healthy,” she said. “Dinners at home were usually Greek stews and soups, pastichio (Greek lasagna), spinach pie or lamb chops.”
Her YiaYia also insisted on using high-quality Greek olive oil, which was bought at Lingo's Market. “She said we should always use fresh herbs and fresh ingredients. She always taught me to allow for plenty of cooking time, too. It could take five or six hours to make baklava or Greek pastry, and you can’t rush it. It takes a lot of stamina to make really good Greek food the way my YiaYia taught me.”
Korologos said her YiaYia was noted for making the best spinach pie in town. Spinach pie is a vegetarian dish made with spinach, feta cheese, eggs, lettuce, fresh parsley, dry parsley, mint, dill and sauteed onions and rice. "YiaYia always made her own filo dough.” (See recipe below.)
She remembers her YiaYia spreading the dough out with a broom handle on a big table in the kitchen, and then all the kids went around the table stretching the dough out to get it thin enough for Greek pastry dough.
Korologos learned how to make several Greek pastries from her YiaYia, including kourambiethes, a Greek almond shortbread cookie; melomakarouna, a coarse-grained cookie soaked in honey; and koulouria, which is a traditional Greek Easter cookie made with two small strands of dough twisted together and brushed with egg-milk mixture and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
“We ate those cookies all year round,” Korologos said. “YiaYia also made paxemathia, a Greek type of biscotti that had plenty of yogurt in it, and she always made her own yogurt. We always made baklava until my mother received a cookbook from some of her friends in New York City and came across a recipe for pastry and nut triangles called trigona.”
To make trigona, Korologos said, “Toast almonds in the oven, use tons of butter, of course, because that’s what Greeks do, and eggs and sugar. You roll them in triangles and bake them and then dunk them in simple syrup and honey. They are all individually wrapped and individually dunked — a lot more complicated than a Utah Jell-O salad.”
For Greek parties and celebrations, Korologos' mother dyed cases of Easter eggs. She remembers different Greek clubs hosting dinners and dancing in the basement of the Salt Lake Greek Church for Easter and Christmas and for Greek Name Days. “And, of course, YiaYia always took her spinach pie.”
“Another important tip for Greek cooking,” according to Korologos, “is to make plenty of food. Greeks hate to run out of food. It’s better to throw it all away after a special event than to not have enough!”
One of her favorite memories was coming home from school and smelling the sugary, buttery aromas of fresh Greek pastries right out of her YiaYia’s oven. Korologos still loves the smell of Greek cooking and attends all of the Greek festivals in the Washington, D.C., area and assists in the Greek churches.
YiaYia’s Spinach Pie
3-4 pounds prewashed spinach (preferably organic, small leaves)
1 head lettuce
1 bunch parsley
1 pound crumbled feta cheese
4 medium-size onions, grated
1/2 cup uncooked rice
3 tablespoons dried parsley
3 tablespoons dried mint
3 tablespoons dried dill
6 eggs, well-beaten
1 pound filo
1/2 pound butter
salt and pepper
Wash lettuce and parsley well. Squeeze the water out of it. Chop spinach, lettuce and parsley. Grate onions and sauté with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
Add rice, dried parsley, mint and dill to onions, and mix well. Sauté until onions become soft. Do not let them get brown. Stir constantly. If needed, add additional olive oil. Add rice, herb and onion mix to spinach mixture.
Add feta cheese and eggs.
Add salt and pepper as desired.
Mix well all ingredients.
Prepare a 20- by 12-inch baking pan and coat pan generously with olive oil.
Place eight sheets of filo in pan and pour spinach mixture on top of it. Then place small pieces of butter on top of spinach a couple of inches apart. Place six to eight pieces of filo on top of spinach mixture. Brush filo well with about ¼ pound of melted butter.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.
Eat warm, cold or re-heated.
1/2 pound walnuts, ground
6 paxemathia, ground (biscotti)
1-1/2 pound almonds, roasted and ground
1 pound sugar
6 eggs well-beaten
3 cups melted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 to 2 pounds filo
Mix first seven ingredients together until well-blended. Cut filo sheets in fourths lengthwise and butter each sheet. Top with 1 tablespoon of mix and fold filo over the mix in a triangle shape, continue folding the triangle shape along the entire strip of filo. Brush melted butter on tops of triangles and place on a cookie sheet
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
5 cups sugar
4 cups water
a few cloves (about 3 or 4)
1-inch slice lemon rind
1-inch slice orange rind
1 cup honey
Add all ingredients together in a large pot and mix well. Slowly bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Discard spices and rinds and stir gently. Dunk each triangle in the syrup to coat well. Place on wax paper to cool.
Laurie Snow Turner is a writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She blogs at lauriesnowturner.com.