From Greece, With Love

Maria Zoitas
Maria Zoitas

When Maria Zoitas immigrated from Greece to America in the 1970s, she knew she wanted to bring with her a piece of her heritage. For more than 40 years, Zoitas and her family have shared their love of Greek culture and cuisine through Westside Markets in Manhattan.

Now, she has given her delicious food to the masses in the form of a cookbook. With more than 175 recipes complete with stunning larger than life photos of food, Mediterranean Cuisine-Made With Love: From the Greek Island of Lefkada to Manhattan’s Westside Market is now available to add to your cookbook repertoire.

Tell me about yourself. Did you always love being around food?

From an early age, I always loved cooking. It was my passion and always a dream that I would have the opportunity to cook for so many people. But at the time, Greece was in an economic misery. Once I got married, we left for America along with many other Greeks. I immigrated to the USA 45 years ago; my first experience with cooking at a supermarket was at Madison Street, where my husband owned a small market with his partner. I worked at the market as well as a cashier and also worked at the butcher department. I had a small burner that I would cook for my husband and his partner and there was always plenty to feed a few more. I have three children and after they were grown, I returned to my calling and began cooking in our Westside Markets.

Maria’s famous cheesecake launched the prepared foods section at Westside Markets decades ago. (Photos by Bill Milne)
What is your earliest memory of being in the kitchen?

When I was 11 years old, I remember helping my mother cook for the workers we had in the olive fields. I used to help her cook marmalade-style desserts from various fruits like figs, apricot, raisins and grapes. I realized that it was my passion to cook and I always yearned for everyone’s approval. In my later years in America, I would always entertain my husband’s large family; that was my indicator that one day I would be cooking for a huge audience.

As an immigrant from Greece, what has it been like to bring your culture and food here to America?

As a young girl, I was taught to cook using the natural ingredients that we had at our disposal. Organic olive oil and spices, organic vegetables and fruits, homemade strained yogurt. At the time I didn’t realize, but this way and style of cooking represented many things about me and where I come from. This style of cooking turned out to be one of the healthiest forms of cooking and it has shaped me in learning to use fresh ingredients. In my opinion, and maybe I am biased, the Mediterranean cuisine is the best in the world. This was the style of cooking that I was surrounded by and taught as a little girl. You have to make every meal with love and give it the attention it needs.

You and your husband have owned Westside Market for more than 40 years. What can people find there?

The same way I cooked for my family I cook for our customers, and Westside Market is a food oasis in New York. We have an unrivaled selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, hundreds of soft and hard cheeses from all over the world, a huge prepared food section made with the finest ingredients, fresh breads, coffee, fresh juices and many Greek specialty items.

Your cookbook is gorgeous! What are three of your favorite dishes to make?

I love cooking and try to cook as natural and as healthy as possible. Two of my favorites are classic Greek dishes: Moussaka and spinach pie. They remain some of the most-requested dishes at the markets. The third recipe is the cheesecake, which is the dish that launched our prepared foods section many years ago. When I first came to New York, cheesecake was very popular in the city so I decided to create the very finest version, using the best quality ingredients we could find. It has sold more than 1 million pieces.

You live in Whitestone, which has its own impressive Greek population. What are your thoughts on Long Island’s Greek community?

Long Island has a great Greek-American community. The communities are growing, as housing is more spacious and affordable and life overall in Long Island is less stressful than that of New York City.

Why should someone add Made With Love to their shelf?

Anyone interested in authentic Greek cooking, using natural ingredients, would love this book. Also, anyone who has a passion for Greece and Greek culture—as there are many photos from Greece and information about Greek cuisine throughout the book.

Mediterranean Cuisine-Made With Love: From the Greek Island of Lefkada to Manhattan’s Westside Market is available on Amazon and other locations where books are sold.

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