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The Aegean Table: Lebanon goes Greek

Would you like to experience a taste of Greek food in Lebanon County? How about sampling various Greek specialties and then purchase foods to take home to share with your family and friends? You don’t have to travel far. There is a quaint little shop at 849 Oak St. in Lebanon where you can find many different products to awaken your taste buds to new and wonderful flavors. At The Aegean Table, you can taste various Greek olive oils, balsamic vinegars, spreads and many other products before you buy them. The owners of the shop, Laura Zeppos and Rita Vranesic, will discuss how to use the various products to make everyday meals extraordinary and healthy the Mediterranean way. Also available for purchase are homemade Greek delights such as Spanakopita, Baklava and Rizogalo (Greek rice pudding); a selection of olives, including Kalamata and Feta stuffed, feta and kefalotyri cheese. On a day you don’t feel like cooking, stop in to buy everything you need to make a Gyro including pita bread, gyro meat and Tzatziki sauce. On occasion, the ladies may make other specialty items such as Ravani, which is a citrus cake. Check out their Facebook page for new dishes to come.

I enjoyed my time interviewing owners Zeppos and Vrraesic, both passionate about food and people. Zeppos grew up in the food business. After coming to the United States, her Greek family owned the Eatwell Diner for more than 50 years. She helped in the diner for many years before going to college. She and Vranesic met in 1994 while working at the same organization in Lebanon. Zeppos worked as a behavioral specialist, and Vranesic was the director. They instantly became friends with many things in common, especially food and cooking. In 1996, the ladies opened their first food venture, RC Deli, at the same location. The business did well for 20 years.

The ladies both enjoy the healthy benefits of a fresh Mediterranean diet. They changed their way of eating several years ago using olive oils and balsamic vinegars in cooking and baking. They would have to travel to other cities to purchase ingredients to use in their business and at home. They decided in August 2015 that it was time to introduce the Lebanon area to the oils, vinegars and other products they were using. They also wanted to focus more on Greek foods. The Aegean Table opened its doors in February of this year.

According to Zeppos, eating healthy is not a diet, it is a change in the way we eat. Both Zeppos and Vranesic have lost weight since changing the way they eat, but more importantly, feel better. Vranesic grew up in a German/Croatian household with lots of Pennsylvania Dutch foods. After changing her way of eating, she has lost about 60 pounds over the last five years.

These ladies compliment each other.

“Rita and I are like sisters," Zeppos said. “Rita loves cookbooks, recipes and the mechanics of making food. I love talking to people.”

Both love the chance to interact and share with their customers. Both feel it’s doing something fun and different. Vranesic stated it’s fun and exciting when customers share how they use our products and their ideas.”

“The Greek olive oils comes from my family to yours,” said Zeppos.

Katerina of Katerina’s Finest is her cousin. Zeppos feels it is very important to know where all the products come from. There are different products including balsamic vinegars and oils from Sutter Buttes. This is a company from northern California. All products are labeled with ingredients, nutrient values, serving size and dates. The Aegean Table keeps a smaller yet versatile inventory to guarantee freshness.

“Our products are a way to make everyday meals special,” Vranesic said.

Some of her favorite products are the fruit balsamic vinegars and vanilla balsamic vinegar. There are many fruit flavors to choose from, including peach, blueberry, blood orange, lemon and many more.

One of the favorite ideas she shared was to caramelize onions in a fruit balsamic vinegar on the stove then add the mixture to the Crock-Pot with a lean pork tenderloin. Drizzle with honey and cook in the Crock-Pot.

Zeppos’ motto for the Mediterranean way of eating is, “Slow down and enjoy the foods.”

“Have a small glass of wine and enjoy the experience,” she said.

One of her favorite marinades is a combination of Parmesan Asiago Tamponade or Lemon Olive Oil mixed with fresh basil used with chicken or pork. She stated vinegars can be used as a natural meat tenderizer. Salmon and chicken are her favorites to cook with a mix of dark cherry or apricot balsamic vinegar mixed with raw honey. She also loves to grill fruit.

The ladies would love for you to visit their “table” and sample their products. You will enjoy the experience, especially meeting and sharing food ideas with them.

Recipes shared by the Ladies:

Watermelon & Feta Salad
4 cups of cubed chilled watermelon
1/4 cup California Lime olive oil, 
1 1/2 tablespoon White Balsamic vinegar
3/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese.
Put watermelon in a large bowl. 
Whisk together lime olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Pour over melon and gently stir to coat. Sprinkle with mint leaves and Feta, toss gently and serve chilled. 

Grilled chicken and Romaine Salad
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 large head romaine lettuce
Parmesan Asiago spread 
Greek extra virgin olive oil
In small bowl mix 1 tablespoon Parmesan Asiago spread and ½ cup Greek extra virgin olive oil until well blended. Set aside.
Brush chicken with additional olive oil. Spread additional Parmesan Asiago spread on chicken. Using a fork poke holes in chicken to let flavors get inside. Cook on grill until done. Remove from grill, and let rest. Slice into pieces for serving.

About 10 minutes before chicken is cooked, cut head of romaine half lengthwise. Brush the flat side of lettuce with olive oil and Parmesan Asiago spread mixture. Put lettuce face down on grill and cook until slightly charred.
Place on serving plate charred side up.
Top each lettuce with sliced chicken breast and serve with remaining oil mix on the side.
Serves 2.

Pita Chips
Brush pita chips on each side with Greek olive oil or any flavored olive oils. Bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes or until lightly brown. Cut into pieces with a pizza cutter