Greek cooking is fun for many reasons. The fact that some recipes have existed for thousands of years always creates excitement among those who are preparing Greek food. Greeks approach food with a combination of seriousness and nostalgia, thinking back to the dishes they grew up on. They don’t eat to live but rather live to eat. A meal is always a social and lively occasion which reflects on the true meaning of companionship and family. Cooking seems to be a way of ‘speaking to someone’s heart’.
A Greek Tradition
Greek cuisine has five key secrets: good quality, fresh ingredients, distinctive flavoring using herbs and spices, Greek olive oil and simplicity. The traditional Greek diet is (of course) very Mediterranean: fish, meat, vegetables, herbs and grains.
Being a maritime nation, the Greeks incorporate plenty of seafood into their diet. Fish and seafood is a staple in Greek cuisine. Enter the local catch of fish, mussels, clams, shrimp, lobster, squid, sea bass, anchovies, crab, cod, cuttlefish, sardines, octopus, sea urchin and more! Just a little lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and you have heaven on a plate! Simple and fresh.
Greece is also a major consumer of meats such as lamb, beef, pork and chicken. Traditional vegetarian dishes are widely available in Greece. Greek vegetarian dishes are made with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions, potatoes, green beans and wild greens (horta), to name just a few. Beans and legumes are often added. After dinner, Greeks often treat customers to seasonal fruits such as karpoozi (watermelon), peponi (honeydew) and apples, pears, cherries or oranges. Figs, which are ripe from mid-August to September, have to be tasted to be believed!
Classic Greek Dishes
Moussaka: a rich oven baked dish of eggplant, minced meat, tomato and Béchamel sauce – it’s Greek comfort food
Soulvaki: marinated meat such as chicken, pork or lamb cooked on a skewer; can be eaten straight off the stick or wrapped in pita bread; often served with tzatziki sauce
Spanakopita: Greek spinach pie that has a rich phyllo crust filled with spinach, onions, cheese and herbs
Fasolada: a white bean soup sometimes called ‘the national food of the Greeks’; made of beans, tomatoes, carrot and generous amount of celery; sometimes served with a variety of salty side dishes such as olives or anchovies
Horiatiki: a traditional Greek salad made of tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, onions, olives, feta cheese and herbs
Paidakia: Greek lamb chops marinated in olive oil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, mustard and peppercorns; usually served with roasted potatoes
Tzatziki: made from Greek yogurt, olive oil, garlic, chopped cucumbers and dill or mint
Galaktoboureko: a traditional Greek dessert made from a crispy phyllo pastry crust, filled with creamy custard, sprinkled with melted butter and bathed in scented syrup
Loukoumades: Greek honey dumplings; pastries made of deep fried dough soaked in syrup, chocolate sauce or honey and often sprinkled with sesame seeds or chopped walnuts
Greek Cultural & Culinary Terms
mezes – a collection of small dishes usually served with various dips, spreads and accompaniments
brizola – chops (beef, pork or lamb)
psari – fish
retsina – a white wine infused with pine flavoring
ouzo – an anise-flavored apertif
meli – honey
octopodi– octopus, traditionally served grilled
lathera– dishes cooked in oil; often vegetarian
taverna – a small restaurant serving traditional cuisine
kafenio – a cafe where people often socialize and play card games
metaxa – a spirit that is a blend of brandy, spices and wine