Famed Greek chef Nena Ismyrnoglou brings modern touches to coveted Asia Minor recipes
Discover a series of Greek regional recipes with origins in Smyrna, Istanbul, and Pontos that elicit memories of a past era, guided by the celebrated chef known for fusing historical influences with modern flavours.
Award-winning chef Nena Ismyrnoglou is known for being a pioneer of creative Greek cuisine, starting with her first restaurant, Kallisti, in 1992. Yet throughout her expansive culinary career, she has always had one foot in history and tradition and the other in modern techniques and international gastronomy trends, making her a natural fit to join Gastronomos—a leading magazine covering Greek culinary culture—in 2008.
Having grown up spending ample time in her grandmother's kitchen in Istanbul, scented with vibrant aromas of fresh herbs and spices, frying meats, and scratch-baked pastries, chef Ismyrnoglou became enamoured with the simplicity, flavour, and evolution of foods originally from Asia Minor. Also known as Anatolia, the area in modern-day Turkey has a strong Greek element to its history—and distinctive gastronomical character dating back millennia.
To highlight the impact these ancient Anatolian eats left on some of today's most popular Greek delicacies, chef Ismyrnoglou and Gastronomos have partnered with Mastercard to create a series of digital cooking demonstrations of dishes dating back to Asia Minor and its Greek dominance. The delectable journey will bring home cooks from Smyrna to Pontos to Istanbul, or, as it was called until 1930, Constantinople, with each city's geography playing a pivotal role in the ingredients within each preparation.
The epicurean experiences will take hungry, curious viewers to Smyrna to discover its signature soutzoukakia (delectable Greek meatballs), made with the finest minced beef and lamb seasoned with fragrant cumin, garlic, and red wine, served in an olive-infused tomato sauce. Then, chef Ismyrnoglou will pivot to Pontos's pastries, highlighting crispy-on-the-outside, flaky pisia (savory Greek cheese pies) filled with a combination of cheeses and fried to perfection.
Download recipe: Priceless Cookbook - Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Soutzoukakia Recipe (Greek meatballs)
Download recipe: Priceless Cookbook - Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Pisia Recipe (Greek cheese pies)
There will also be a video on how to prepare yalanci dolmadakia (vegetarian stuffed grape leaves) with roots in Istanbul, and so much more, with a focus on the stories, secrets, and legendary cooking traditions of Anatolian cuisine.
Download recipe: Priceless Cookbook - Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Yalanci Dolmadakia Recipe (stuffed grape leaves)
The best part is that the ingredients in these recipes are easy to find and more about quality and freshness than anything else. Plus, the dishes are simple to make, so viewers will feel inspired to recreate them at home. Subscribe to Priceless.com to receive an email with a link to download the first three of these exciting digital experiences with Chef Ismyrnoglou today.
Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Soutzoukakia Recipe (Greek meatballs)
SERVING SIZE: 4
- For the Soutzoukakia:
- 650g minced meat (rump or rib) or half beef and half lamb minced meat
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 4 tablespoons dry red wine
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (or 2 tablespoons cow butter)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed (or as much garlic as you like)
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted (or powdered cumin)
- 1 pinch of cinnamon, powdered
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Olive oil for frying (or cow butter)
- Flour for coating (optional)
- For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 700g fresh tomatoes, grated + 1 tablespoon tomato paste (or 1 1/2 can of canned tomatoes, crushed + 1 1/3 cup water)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup green olives, pitted and chopped (optional)
- 1 green banana pepper, diced
For the Soutzoukakia:
- If using cumin seeds, place in a small frying pan and toast over medium heat without any oil, stirring until they are dark (careful not to burn them) and release their aroma, around 2-3 minutes. Leave them to cool down and grind them into powder using a mortar and pestle.
- In a large bowl, place the minced meat and add the breadcrumbs, wine, oil or butter, garlic, cumin, sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Do not add egg.
- Leave the minced meat in the fridge for the aromas to blend and the mixture to become fluffy. Then knead well for 5-6 minutes, until the ingredients have combined and the mixture becomes smooth and fluffy.
- Shape into medium-sized soutzoukakia, in the traditional long oval shape (18pc of 40g).
- Coat with flour optionally. Given they will also cook in the sauce, they do not need to be fried completely, so it is not necessary to coat them with flour to keep them from burning.
- Heat a large and deep frying pan over medium to high heat and add some olive oil or butter. Add the soutzoukakia and sauté them, just until they get an even golden-brown colour on all sides.
- Fry them in lots, so the pan temperature does not drop and they do not stick together without changing colour.
- Using a skimmer, transfer the soutzoukakia from the pan to paper towels so the extra fat is drained.
For the sauce:
- In a shallow and wide pot, heat the oil over medium to high heat, and add the tomatoes and the cup of water. As soon as the liquid comes to the boil, add the sugar, pepper, cinnamon, salt and freshly ground pepper, reduce the heat to medium and let the sauce simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until it thickens.
For the last stage:
- Carefully place the soutzoukakia in the pot with the sauce, add the olives (optional) and cook over medium to low heat (gentle bubbling) for about 5-6 minutes, until they are cooked through and the aromas and flavours all blend in.
- If the sauce does not cover them, do not under any circumstances add water. Turn them over halfway through, so the sauce covers them completely.
- Serve the soutzoukakia with rice and yoghurt.
Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Pisia Recipe (Greek cheese pies)
SERVING SIZE: 40
- 800g all-purpose flour
- 1 sachet dry yeast
- 250ml water or fresh milk, full cream
- 1/4 cup butter, melted (or olive oil)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Oil for frying
- 450g feta cheese, crumbled, mixed in with 400g kasseri cheese, grated (for the filling)
- In a large bowl, sift the flour and add the dry yeast, salt and sugar. in a basin, mix the water or milk with the butter or olive oil and slowly add to the bowl with the flour.
- In the end, the dough must be moderately firm and not stick to the hands at all. Shape into a ball, wrap in a cling film and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
- On a clean floured work surface, roll out the dough using a rolling pin or a stick into a thin 2-3mm pastry. Once rolled out, it must not pull back, but stay in place. Because the dough contains yeast and will rise, it must be rolled out thin.
- Using a cookie cutter or a saucer, cut out round or square pieces and fill with the cheeses (or other filling of your choice). Carefully fold the ends into a crescent shape, pressing with the fingers and adding a bit of water so the ends stick together.
- Pour 2-3cm of oil into a deep frying pan and heat up, but don't let it smoke. Add the pisia a few at a time and fry for 1-2 minutes on each side. Place on paper towels to drain the extra oil and serve.
Chef Nena Ismyrnoglou's Yalanci Dolmadakia Recipe (Stuffed grape leaves)
- 350-400g tender vine leaves (50-60 pieces)
- 6 cups onion, finely chopped (8-10 onions)
- 8 spring onions, finely chopped
- About 2 cups of short-grain rice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 lemon, juice only
- A bit of dill, finely chopped
- A bit of parsley, finely chopped
- Around 1 1/2 cups olive oil
For the vine leaves:
- For fresh vine leaves, blanch in a deep pot with lots of boiling water for around 3 minutes, until soft and pliable.
- For vine leaves in a jar, blanch for about 1/2 - 1 minute, to get rid of the taste of brine. Remove from the pot with a skimmer and leave them to strain in a colander.
For the filling:
- Place the onion in a pot with salt and around 4 1/2 cups of water and let it simmer until the water has evaporated.
- Add half of the olive oil, remove the pot from the heat, and immediately add the rice, sugar, salt, and spring onion. Stir and cover the pot to let the filling cool down and the rice expand.
- Once the filling has cooled down, add the lemon and herbs and stir.
For the folding and cooking:
- Choose the thicker leaves (4-5) and line a wide and shallow pot with them. Set aside another 5-6 thick leaves for later.
- With the rest of the vine leaves, take one at a time, place some of the filling in it, fold and roll up.
- Careful not to roll them up too tight (because the vine leaves will tear from the expanding rice) or too loosely (because they will come apart while cooking). Also make sure the filling is sealed within the leaf; otherwise, it will spill out while cooking.
- Arrange the dolmadakia in the pot one next to the other, but not too tightly, in rows, fold-side down. Cover with the vine leaves set aside.
- Pour in the rest of the oil and cover with an inverted plate to weigh them down while cooking. Pour in 1 cup of boiling water and bring to the boil.
- Around 5-6 minutes later, pour in another 1 1/2 cup of boiling water. Simmer over medium heat, covered, until they absorb all the water.
- Remove from heat and let it cool down for a while (covered with the vine leaves so they retain their colour) before removing from the pot.
- Serve with yoghurt sprinkled with spearmint, freshly ground pepper and olive oil.