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A Taste for Sharing

Church workshops to teach the secrets of making Greek pastries.


For years, we've been telling you about the annual Ventura County Greek Festival hosted by the folks at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Camarillo.

We've probably had you drooling over the desserts, lip-smacking over the souvlakia, fantasizing about the falafel--causing you to wait impatiently for the actual event.

But no longer must you wait, at least for the sweets.

As usual, the women at the church have gotten a jump on the pastry preparation for the June 5-7 festival. They've already begun working on the 35,000 pastries they will need to feed the festival throngs. And, for the first time, they've issued an open invitation to volunteers interested in lending a helping hand and learning to prepare some of these items.

On April 27 and 29, the volunteer pastry committee will lead baklava workshops; on May 5, 6 and 20, galataboureko custard will be prepared; and on May 12 and 13 the group will bake butter cookies called kourambiethes. "People can learn the whole process from start to finish," said Lynn Mikelatos, co-owner of The Greek restaurant at Ventura Harbor.

Mikelatos came up with the plan to hold the workshops, and will be on hand to guide the participants.

"People are always asking me, 'How do I make this, how do I make that?' " Mikelatos said. The workshops are a great opportunity for them to come in and learn, she said.

Those at the baklava class will learn the tricky yet critical technique for working with filo dough.

"If you've never seen it done, it's really difficult to work with," Mikelatos said. "It's paper-thin. If you don't work with it quickly or keep it covered, it will start to crumble. They will learn how many layers are needed, how to do the nuts."

Mikelatos will send participants home with a recipe for the dishes.

"These are special desserts," she said. "They are really not that hard, just time-consuming."

Workshops will be held at St. Demetrios church, 400 Skyway Drive, at the Camarillo Airport. For reservations and more information, call committee leader Katherine Pappas at (805) 482-1273 or Mikelatos at her restaurant, at (805) 650-5350.

Most likely the dishes on the menu April 24 at Ventura's Ash St. Gardens will be easier to digest than pronounce. The seven-course "Dinner at Ali Baba's Den," as owner Todd Winokur has dubbed it, will include gusht (a garbanzo bean and pureed lamb dip), bourani (sauteed eggplant dip) and moustakiar (yogurt and dill dip).

There also will be some abgusht (three-bean soup with lamb, onions and tomatoes), a salad called shirazi (chopped salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and lemon) and a couple of kebabs--jujeh (made with marinated chicken) and khoubideh (ground sirloin, pureed potatoes and onions). Kebabs will be served with basmati rice, stewed tomato and a hunk of raw onion.

For dessert, Winokur will serve a selection of sweets, including baklava. "They are all authentic recipes from Middle Eastern people I know," Winokur said. "There's nowhere to go locally where you can have Middle Eastern food. I think it would even be a good idea for someone to open a Middle Eastern restaurant."

To round out the evening, belly dancers will provide the entertainment. The dinner will begin at 7. The Gardens is at Ash and Main streets. For reservations, call (805) 648-6139.

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