News Column

Festival celebrating everything Greek this weekend

May 12, 2014

By Paul Stephen, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.



May 12--It's time to start loosening those tongues and practicing those Mediterranean pronunciations.

This weekend marks the 22nd year for the St. Nicholas Greek Festival, Wilmington's premier tribute to Hellenic food, culture and faith. And with an average annual head count estimated at 20,000, you definitely don't want to stumble when it's your turn to order the tiropita or loukoumades.

For longtime festival fan Gena Sadler, it's a chance to get just a little bit closer to a major travel fantasy.

"I love all things Greek -- the food, the culture, the people. It is on my bucket list to visit there, and this year I actually might get to go," Sadler said. "The Greek Festival is always a wonderful event. Everyone is so friendly, the food is perfect and the atmosphere is just so happy."

While live music, traditional dancing and tours of the stunning St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church aren't to be missed, the incredible array of edibles is easily the biggest draw.

For serious foodies, the cooking demonstrations are a must. Stella Babson has been tasked with organizing a team of cooks well versed in the classics, and six sessions during the three-day festival will help the curious master Greek coffee, spanakopita, baklava and dolmades. She's taught cooking lessons at the festival for 14 years, and the demos have been part of the festivities since day one.

Babson's specialty is baklava, an iconic Greek dessert built around paper-thin phyllo dough, chopped nuts and honey. While some versions call for pistachios, Babson prefers walnuts, but has been known to give it a Southern spin with pecans. The version she teaches is one she learned years ago.

"I was actually named after my grandmother, who came from Greece, and the recipe is hers," Babson said. "Now what I'm doing is passing it on."

Among the trickier aspects she'll be sharing is the secret to cutting the distinctive diamond shapes baklava is cut into. If nothing else, she hopes to demystify the treat so people feel comfortable taking a stab at it in their own kitchens.

"One of the things, and this is why I enjoy going through the demonstrations, is that it's really not that hard. It's just a little time consuming," Babson said. "As I go through the steps and break it down for them, they usually say, 'Oh, that's not so bad.'"

Greek coffee, a potent brew made from finely ground beans brought to a boil in a specialized pot, is worth mastering. Babson said the lessons would extend into some of the lore surrounding the beverage.

"There's a tradition we do after we drink our coffee," she said. "What kind of design it makes in the bottom of the cup when it dries can tell what will happen in your life."

If you can only catch one session, Babson recommends steering toward the spanakopita class. The dish typically involves spinach, feta cheese and egg, and the version she'll be teaching is simplified by baking a large batch that's cut into individual portions.

"Even if it's the kind that you wrap in a triangle, that's not too difficult of a skill to learn," Babson said.

If cooking isn't your thing, be sure to make at least one pass through the dinner line. A drive-thru option exists for anyone in a hurry, with a sampler platter of pastitsio, moussaka, spanakopita, dolmades and tiropita for $15.

Paul Stephen: 343-2041

On Twitter: @pauljstephen

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(c)2014 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com

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Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC)


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