Eleni Saltas, a fourth-generation Greek-American living in Salt Lake City, Utah, recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of her cookbook, “All You Can Greek.”Eleni was featured on Hellenic News of America’s hit Instagram live show, “Live with Aphrodite,” hosted by publisher Aphrodite Kotrotsios in July. Eleni talked to viewers about her Greek heritage, her cookbook and her favorite recipes. On the show, she cooked up some mouthwatering tyrokafteri and spanakorizo. She also shared a few of her cooking secrets. To find those out, watch the video on Hellenic News of America’s Instagram page.
AK: What is your educational background
ES: I’m a graduate of the University of Utah with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science
AK: When did your family settle in SLC?
ES: Most of my family came to the United States around 1906, and settled in Utah around that time, in the early 1900s.
AK: As a fourth-generation Greek American, what challenges do you face to keep your Greek heritage alive?
ES: As communities spread out in America, it becomes tougher and tougher to stay involved in church or youth events. There’s always something else to do or a “better offer” it seems. I do my best to put forth the effort to stay involved in activities and cultural events.
AK: What helps you keep your Greek heritage/traditions alive?
ES: We have a pretty tight-knit Greek community in Salt Lake City where youth stay involved in church, sports, and Greek dancing. Plus over the years, I’ve been lucky to be able to travel to social events in America and Greece to open my eyes to different people and other ways of life.
Also, cooking has now been the biggest tie to my Greek heritage as I make family recipes and create new ones. Learning the history behind the dishes is what I enjoy the most and especially love to share with others because we are starting to lose or forget these things when our parents or grandparents pass away. I was pretty young when two of my grandparents passed away, and they had stories I never got to hear or tell. It wasn’t until recently that I became interested in preserving old family recipes and stories. Storytelling through food helps me preserve our traditions.
AK: How often do you visit Greece? Is it easy to get there from SLC?
ES: I am able to get to Greece about every other year or so, visiting family but always aiming to see something new as well. Ideally, I would go every year, but work doesn’t allow for it. It’s not too difficult to get there from Salt Lake City since we have a big airport hub here in Utah. Lots of flying time in total yes, but always worth it.
AK: Where is your family from in Greece?
ES: My dad’s family is from Crete and the mainland, mostly Megara. My mom’s family are all from the mainland including Olympia, Athens, and Stromi.
AK: Who/what inspired your passion for cooking?
ES: Both my Yiayias were a big inspiration for me for sure. My Yiayia Helen Metos passed away when I was six, but she left behind a treasure trove of recipes that I hold dear. My Yiayia Stella Saltas, now at 93 has always been an inspiration to me in and out of the kitchen. But the woman who launched me into the world of cooking was actually my Aunt Mary Saltas Mannos, who at 95 taught me how to make loukoumades. She lived to be 103, so I hope to emulate her in many ways.
AK: What’s your favorite Greek dish?
ES: This changes depending on my mood and the season, but right now it would definitely be yemista. I love stuffing fresh garden tomatoes with herbs and rice for a nice summer meal.
AK: Share with us your favorite recipe!
ES: Since we are still in the peak of summer and it becomes difficult to keep up with the prolific yield of zucchini, here is a favorite recipe to use up your garden zucchini.
Kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters)
Ingredients: 2 medium zucchinis, grated (about 1 pound) 3 green onions, thinly sliced
1⁄4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1⁄4 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of chili flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 2 eggs
3⁄4 cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil, for frying Directions:1. Wash and grate the zucchini (skins on and stem removed). Sprinkle with salt and transfer to a clean dish towel. Squeeze out the liquid by hand. Remove as much moisture out as possible for a crunchier fritter. 2. Combine the zucchini, onions, pepper, chili flakes, dill, and mint in a large bowl and mix together. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and eggs and mix until the ingredients are well combined. 3. Gently mix in the flour, careful not to overwork the mixture. Add more flour if the mixture looks too moist. 4. Heat a large frying pan to medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Scoop a spoonful of the mixture and add to the pan. Press down on the patty lightly to flatten. Repeat the process until the pan is full, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. 5. Pan fry for 3 minutes, and then flip with a spatula. Both sides should be golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack, or a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oils. 6. Repeat the process until all the mixture is used. Serve warm.