What Is Taperakia? For These Greek Moms, Sending Meals to Their Kids is an Act of Love
For Greek celebrity chef Vassilis Kallidis, peppers stuffed with rice and herbs is the ultimate comfort food. Part of the yemista (γεμιστά)—a staple Greek dish that also includes stuffed tomatoes and, sometimes, zucchini—it's the taste Kallidis grew up with. But it's not the memories of his childhood that make yemista special for him now, more than two decades after he left his home in Thessaloniki. Instead it's the taperakia (ταπεράκια)—plastic containers full of those peppers—lovingly prepared and sent to him in Athens by his mother 500 kilometers away.
Economou became interested in taperakia as a student in the United Kingdom, when she watched her friend receive regular shipments of spinach pies and meatballs from his mother in Greece. Later she learned that this wasn't an isolated occurrence. More and more women she met were sending prepared dishes to their children, some going as far as creating weekly menus and splitting their tuppers into single-sized servings.
Some of this practice, Economou argues, comes from the mothers' fears that their children can't cope on their own. Kallidis agrees. "For my mom, I'm not a celebrity chef," he says. "I'm away from the nest, I'm supposed to suffer." Taperakia is one way a mother expresses concern for a child's well-being. For Dimitris Dimitriadis, who's been receiving taperakia from his mom for years, this "ritual-like preparation of food [is a] gesture of love and care."
Children's opinions on taperakia vary. For some it's a welcome taste from home—"It was exciting [to receive] it and [my roommates] thought it was cool" says Katerina Bournou, who studied in Manchester, England—but for others their mom's homemade food is something they haven't yet had a chance to miss. Grown-up enough to own a restaurant in Athens, Kallidis, who still gets taperakia from his mom, now sees it as symbolic. "I don't want to waste even a single grain of rice from [her] tuppers," he says. "Because it comes from my mom it's more precious than gold to me." For him—as for his mother—her lovingly prepared stuffed peppers and grape leaves are a way to communicate, to be together while apart, and to maintain their bond across time and distance.
MoussakaThis version of the classic Greek dish layers eggplant with an aromatic meat sauce and creamy béchamel for a satisfying summer casserole. The eggplant slices are commonly fried, but here we broil them to cut back on calories. Graviera, a hard grating cheese, is popular in Greece. Look for it with other specialty cheeses at well-stocked grocery stores, or substitute Pecorino Romano.
Ntolmadakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)Stuffed grape leaves are common throughout the Middle East. The stuffing varies, as does how they're served, but in this typical Greek preparation they're vegetarian and served cold with yogurt on the side. The quality of jarred grape leaves varies. We found that Yergat and Sadaf brands were the most tender and had fewer damaged leaves per jar.
Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)Crisp phyllo layered with herb-flecked spinach and salty bits of feta yields a hearty and satisfying vegetarian main course. Hartwort grows wild in Greece and is often cooked with other greens in dishes like spanakopita, the classic savory spinach pie that's become popular well outside Greece's borders.
Sokolatakia (Chocolate-Dipped Walnut-Stuffed Prunes)Adjust these boozy, nut-stuffed, chocolate-dipped prunes to suit your taste buds. While prunes are traditional for the bite-size Greek treats, you can substitute apricots, dates or dried figs, or play with the flavor by using rum, cognac, amaretto or cherry liqueur in place of the whiskey.
Karidopita (Walnut Cake)This syrup-soaked walnut cake—a traditional Greek dessert that's often served for holidays—gets its structure from breadcrumbs instead of flour. It's delicious unadorned, but feel free to top it with unsweetened whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or warm chocolate sauce for an extra layer of decadence.
Biftekia (Spiced Beef Patties)This style of preparing hamburgers is popular in Greece. The seasoned beef patties stay moist and delicious thanks to the liquid exuded when grating the tomato and onion—be sure not to drain any of it away. Serve with roasted potatoes and a green salad.