Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce.
From lunches for Urs Fischer to gallery dinners for Gavin Brown, Mina Stone got her start cooking for artists, so it only makes sense that her first restaurant, the upcoming Mina's, will be housed in Long Island City's MoMA PS1. Run by Stone and business partner and artist Alex Eagleton, Mina's will soon bring the pair's takes on homestyle Greek cooking to the museum space. Mina's is set to open in early November, but we got a sneak peek when Stone, Eagleton, and chef de cuisine Natasha Price took a trip to the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen.
Though Stone and Eagleton met in New York, they're bound by a shared Greek background. With a Greek mother, Stone grew up going across the ocean for family visits; Eagleton, meanwhile, grew up in Athens. When Stone and Eagleton arrive for a visit to the MUNCHIES rooftop garden, the goal is to show us the homestyle Greek food they both grew up with.
Stone comes with a plan to make spanakorizo, a rice pilaf typically made with spinach, but inspiration strikes when she sees the garden. Instead of spinach in the spanakorizo, Stone opts for the Swiss chard that grows abundant on the rooftop, and decides to whip together a quick Greek salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, purslane, and herbs to go alongside it. "It's kind of like a Georgian version because it's like a Greek salad but full of herbs," Stone says as she picks through the rooftop-grown greenery. "I feel like this Greek salad isn't going to be fair to the rest of humanity."
Back inside the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen, Stone shows us how to make spanakorizo just the way her family did. After quickly cleaning the greens, she explains the process. "So, there's one annoying step—my mom and grandmother did this—which is that they boiled the chard. You don't have to do it, but it makes for a cleaner appearance. I think it does also have a cleaner flavor," Stone says. She chops the chard and then drops it into boiling water for just a minute or two. When the greens have softened slightly, she pulls them out and sets them aside.
In another pot, she sautés green onion, half a bunch of dill, lemon juice, and salt in olive oil. Lots of chefs rely on heavy-handed use of butter, but to Stone, the key to cooking is good Greek olive oil and plenty of it. "I use a lot more olive oil than I think is normal to everyone else. I think it's important to note because I think it really changes the dish," she says, pouring more glugs into the pot. "There's a peppery quality to Italian oil. I think Greek olive oil almost tastes like heavy cream. There's no bite to it, it has a very clean finish, and it's not even overwhelming."
Stone adds uncooked rice, the blanched Swiss chard, and water, and then covers the pot. "Now, this is a trick my mom told me: For all these dishes, you shake them instead of mixing them. You put the lid on and you shake instead of stirring them around," Stone says as she demonstrates. "Big secret—I don't know if you should let that one out," Eagleton responds with a laugh. Covered, it takes around 10 minutes for the rice to cook.
While we wait, Stone prepares the salad. As she chops vegetables and picks at herbs, she and Eagleton tell us more about what they hope to do at Mina's. As Stone puts it, she wants to cook food that emulates the way people eat at home: meals that people want to eat over and over again and, anticipating as a chef, what they'll want to eat again the next day. Accordingly, Stone hopes to sustain not just museum-goers but also locals in search of a simple, creative meal.
"I feel like it's Greek and it's food I grew up with that I don't think is available at Greek restaurants… Bean dishes, like chickpeas and white beans—white bean soup is like the national dish of Greece. Lentil soup, I grew up on it. Braised green beans, all the vegetarian dishes," Stone says. Dishes like souvlaki and lamb might be most people's associations with Greek food, but according to Eagleton, that's not the reality for most meals. "It's a big misconception that food in Greece is lamb. It's a lot of vegan dishes. Meat's a luxury," he explains.
Soon enough, the rice has absorbed all the liquid, and the puffed white grains make a bold contrast next to the dark green chard. Taking it off the heat, Stone adds the remaining dill, seasons it with salt, and drizzles on more olive oil. "Some people add feta, but I'm not of that camp," she says. A lot of what she makes, she explains, is meant to stand alone: the rice, for example, is naturally vegan, but one could choose to add feta or smoked fish on the side.
Instead, feta goes into the salad, which sits in a big bowl with cucumbers, peppers, purslane, assorted herbs, tomatoes, and kalamata olives. Stone finishes the salad with chunks of cheese, a sprinkle of dried oregano, and yes, a splash of olive oil.
Stone and Eagleton move everything to the big dining table. "Classic food for a bad economy," Eagleton says, looking over the salad and rice. Before we dig in, Stone stops us. As she drizzles on another glug of olive oil, she says, "One more—I'll give it one more go." With that, we sit down to share a vegetable-forward, homestyle Greek meal, just like one big family.