Kounoupidi Kapama a.k.a. Greek Braised Cauliflower
I first posted the recipe for my yiayia’s kounoupidi kapama in a Huffington Post article back in 2013, shortly after she died. I can hardly believe it’s been six years since my grandmother, Vasiliki, passed away. I have a photo of the two of us posted on my About Us page. It was taken in front of the house in Sedona where I grew up. I was about seven or eight in that photo. I still remember being so excited to show off my loaf of Easter bread that we’d made together. My grandmother was an immigrant from Greece. She and my Papou owned a successful restaurant in Manhattan, Kansas called The College Inn Café. In fact, the napkin in this photo was from their restaurant. It’s part of my treasured collection, along with an apron, a chef’s knife and an ancient whisk. Cooking had given them a new lease on life in America. That love of food never left my grandmother and it quickly seeped into me.
One of the things I enjoy most about cooking is the way it connects us. My grandmother may no longer be with me, and some of her recipes (like that Easter bread) are lost for good. But there are other recipes, such as this kapama, that bring her right back to me. As soon as the aromas of tomato and cinnamon fill the kitchen, I see her, standing over the pot. One bite and I’m transported back in time. Below is an excerpt from my Huffington Post article: Lost Recipes. These are the smells and memories of my childhood, and this is the recipe that brings them (and her) back.
My first memories of my grandmother’s cooking stretch back to when I was barely old enough to reach the kitchen counter. She had turned the garage in our Riverside home into a makeshift kitchen, complete with an electric stove, box freezer, and worktable. Of course, we had a kitchen in our house, but one is never enough in a Greek household. The yellow Volkswagen Beetle had been pushed out of its rightful home, which was now overrun with ceramic crocks of homemade tangy Greek yogurt, a hodgepodge of jars filled with freshly cured olives, pots of sweet smelling rizogalo, and tins filled with braided butter cookies called “koulourakia.”
I would spend hours watching her cook. When I got a little older, my yiayia would let me help her in the kitchen. We made bread. We’d shape it like Playdough, pressing and rolling it into little twists and rounds. She’d let me brush the egg on the dough and sprinkle it with sesame. As the bread baked, the kitchen grew warm and the scent of toasting sesame filled the air. This was better than Playdough!
Even after I became a chef, we continued to cook together. I would follow along as she doled out instructions. I watched as she roughly chopped onions and carrots into a jumble of non-uniform pieces and whipped up sauces in an altogether unorthodox manner. She had no formal training. She simply cooked by instinct, and her intuition in the kitchen was always spot on.
Greek Braised Cauliflower a.k.a. Kounoupidi Kapama
One large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup canned tomato sauce
2 cups fresh tomatoes (about 2 large tomatoes), diced
2/3 cup water
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup frozen peas
Clean the cauliflower and cut into thick pieces. Dry the cauliflower thoroughly with paper towel or a clean dish cloth. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and heat over medium-high. Once the oil is hot, add the chunks of cauliflower, allow them to cook for several minutes, or until nicely browned. Rotate the cauliflower chunks until they are nicely browned on all sides. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, and water. Add the ground cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add the cinnamon stick and reduce to medium-low. Cook for 30 minutes, or until fork tender. Once the cauliflower is cooked through, add the peas. Cook for two additional minutes. Remove from heat and allow the dish to sit and cool for 20 minutes before serving.
I suggest serving this dish with plain rice and a wedge of feta cheese.
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