An introduction to the cuisine of Greece
Ti tha ítheles na fas?
It means, “what would you like to eat?” in Greek--or at least that’s what Google translated for me.
Greek food and Greek-inspired food has influenced the Western culinary world for centuries. Known for their tradition and variety, Greek cuisine is not just based off of the country of Greece in particular, but the many countries that surround it.
Which makes Greek very unusual in terms of food. Unlike French, Italian, or even Asian cooking, Greek is very much representative of time and location. Their main ingredients utilize aspects from the many countries in their area. The influence of yogurt and pastries was first used by the Persians while olive oil and coffee was introduced by the Turks.
Greek food is known for the incorporation of fresh vegetables and olive oil, something that is very apparent as one dives deeper in tradition and roots.
Appetizer: In Greece, they have something called “Meze.” Meze is reminiscent of Mexican “Tapas” and tastes much like a snack. Meze is a staple of Greek cuisine, using many traditional Greek flavors and foods including olive oil, olives, feta cheese, seafood, vegetables and tzatziki.
This recipe, known as “Tiropitakia” is a very simple cheese and pastry dish and a perfect way to start the meal off right.
- 8 sheets of phyllo pastry
- 170g feta cheese, crumbled (6 oz.)
- 50g Gouda cheese, grated (2 oz.)
- 50g Parmesan, or regato or Kefalograviera (2 oz.)
- 1 egg, beaten
- a splash of milk
- fresh mint or dill, chopped (optional)
- olive oil or melted butter
- freshly ground pepper
1. For the beginners at working with phyllo, check the handling tips before starting.
2. To prepare the tiropitakia, start by preparing the filling. Crush the feta cheese into a large bowl and add the grated cheese, the egg, a splash of milk, and season with freshly ground pepper. Mix well with a spoon to combine the ingredients. (At this point you can add some chopped fresh herbs if you like; some fresh dill or mint will surely lift the flavor).
3. Preheat the oven at 180C and start preparing the tiropitakia.
4. Spread one sheet of the phyllo dough on the kitchen counter and with a cooking brush drizzle with some melted butter or olive oil. Spread one more sheet on top and drizzle with some more butter.
5. Cut the sheets into three or four lanes (depending on if you like the tiropitakia to be small or larger). At the end of each lane add one tablespoon of the filling. Fold one corner to form a triangle and continue folding the triangle upon itself, until the entire piece of phyllo is used. Continue with the rest phyllo sheets and filling.
6. Oil the bottom of a large baking tray, place the tiropitakia and brush them with some melted butter on top. Bake in preheated oven at 180C for 25-3o minutes, until golden and crispy.
Salad: Following suit is the salad. While salad is sometimes mixed in with Meze in Greek cuisine, salad can be a standalone course in your preparation of a Greek meal.
To beat the heat during one of those hot summer months, think about preparing this watermelon feta salad.
- 1kg watermelon, seedless and cut into chunks (35oz.)
- 250g feta cheese, cut into cubes or crumbled (9 oz.)
- a bunch of mint, leaves only, chopped
- 1 small red onion, finely sliced
- 100g Kalamata olives, pitted (4 oz.)
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (optional)
- 1/4 of a cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsps lemon juice
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
1. To prepare the watermelon feta salad recipe start by removing the rind and seeds from the watermelon and cut into triangular chunks. Cut the feta cheese into small cubes, or bigger if you prefer, and place both into a large bowl. Slice the onions into paper-thin slices and place in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients, add the chopped mint leaves and the kalamata olives and set aside. (If you choose to prepare this watermelon feta salad recipe using cucumber too, then peel and slice the cucumber into half-moons and place in the bowl with rest of the ingredients).
2. Next you will want to prepare the dressing. In a small bowl add the olive oil, lemon juice and brown sugar and season. Whisk the ingredients to combine, taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Pour the dressing over the watermelon feta salad and toss to coat.
4. Divide the watermelon feta salad among individual serving plates and serve immediately.
Soup: Like salad, in Greek cuisine and culture, soup can be grouped in with Meze.
Fasolada is a traditional Greek bean soup, and with the right preparation, can be made easily.
- 500g dry white beans (18 ounces)
- 2-3 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
- 130ml extra virgin olive oil (1/2 cup)
- 2 tbsps tomato puree
- a pinch of paprika (hot or sweet, according to preferance)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
1. To prepare the fasolada (Greek bean soup), place the beans in a saucepan with plenty of cold water to cover them. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium and parboil for 30-35 minutes, until slightly tender. Drain in colander and set aside.
2. Finely chop the onion, celery and carrots. Add 3-4 tbsps of olive oil in a deep pan, add the chopped vegetables and blend. Sauté for about 2 minutes and add the tomato paste and continue sautéing for a minute.
3. Add the parboiled beans in the pan and pour in enough boiling water to cover the beans and little bit more and blend lightly. Place the lid on and simmer the fasolada for about 35 minutes, until the beans are tender.
4. Towards the end of cooking time, pour in the remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Boil for a few more minutes, until the soup becomes thick and creamy.
5. Serve this traditional Greek bean soup (fasolada) while still steaming hot with a few Kalamata olives and of course some village bread.
Entrée: Greek food uses a lot of lamb, something the Western world may take offense to. However, when prepared right, lamb can be a great alternative to beef due to its lower fat content. For the entrée, Lamb Souvlaki is best prepared with cuts from the lamb’s shoulder.
- 1kg lamb leg or shoulder, cut into chunks (35 oz.)
- 80ml olive oil (approx. 5-6 tbsps)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 red onions, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme or some fresh thyme, chopped
- 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika (optional)
- 1/2 tsp cumin (optional)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 10 metal or wooden skewers
Ingredients (Tzatziki Sauce):
- 1 cucumber
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 of a cup extra virgin olive oil
- 500g of strained yogurt (18 ounces)
- 1-2 tbsps of red wine vinegar
- a pinch of salt
1. To prepare this Greek lamb souvlaki recipe, cut the meat into equal sized (3 cm) chunks and set aside.
2. Prepare the marinade for the lamb souvlaki. In a large bowl add the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, the herbs and spices and season with freshly ground pepper – don’t add salt yet. Whisk all the ingredients to combine. Add the meat and the chopped onions and blend to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, chill and let marinade for at least 4 hours. It’s best to leave the meat for the lamb souvlaki marinade overnight, to soak up all the wonderful flavours. (If you are at home blend the marinade once in a while).
3. In the meantime prepare the tzatziki sauce for the lamb souvlaki. Pour in a blender the olive oil and grated garlic and blend until combined. Remove the skin and the seeds of the cucumber and grate it into a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper and leave aside for 10 minutes. Wrap the grated cucumber in a towel and squeeze, in order to get rid of the excess water. In a bowl, add the cucumber, the blended garlic and oil, the yogurt, 1-2 tbsps of red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and blend, until the ingredients are combined. Store the tzatziki sauce in the fridge and always serve cold.
4. To assemble the lamb souvlaki (skewers), you can either use wooden or metal skewers. For this lamb souvlaki recipe, you will need about 10 skewers, depending on the size of each lamb souvlaki. If using wooden skewers, cut them to fit your griddle pan and soak them in water. (This will prevent them from burning.) Lift the chunks of lamb out of the marinade and thread the pieces, comfortably, on the skewers. At this point don’t forget to season your lamb souvlaki with salt.
5. Heat a grill, barbecue or griddle pan and cook the lamb souvlaki for about 10-15 minutes, until cooked to your liking.
6. While your lamb souvlaki is cooking, prepare the pita breads. Preheat the oven to 250C. Use a cooking brush to lightly oil the pita breads on both sides and season with salt and oregano. Place a large oven tray at the bottom of the oven and place the pita breads on top of the tray. Bake for 2-3 minutes. (Alternatively barbecue the pita breads, until nicely coloured on both sides).
7. Enjoy this delicious Greek lamb souvlaki recipe with pita bread and tzatziki sauce.
Vegetable: When the heaviness of the entrée burdens your patrons from eating anymore, give them this classic Greek vegetable dish to mix up the meal.
Briami (Greek-oven roasted vegetables)
- large zucchini, washed and scrubbed and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 4large potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices
- 3 -4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1large onion, peeled, cut in half, each half cut into thirds, large wedges (Spanish or Bermuda)
- 2large tomatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1⁄4lb hard cheese, cut into large chunks (I use 'kefalograviera or 'myzithra' which you may not have, something like Parmesan would be excelle)
- 1⁄2cup olive oil
- 1⁄4cup water
- 1tablespoon oregano
- 2tablespoons fresh spearmint, minced (or 1 tsp dry)
- 2tablespoons cut cilantro(optional)
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- Preheat oven to 420 degrees F.
- Put everything in a very large baking pan. Pour water, olive oil on top and add herbs. Season generously.
- Put your clean hands in the pan and give all the veggies a toss so herbs, and oil and salt and pepper go on everything.
- It looks like a lot but don't worry - it'll 'melt' down considerably during cooking.
- Roast for a couple of hours, stirring everthing up a couple of times to allow veggies on bottom to come up and brown nicely too. What you're after in terms of texture is for the vegetables to 'melt' into each other, but without losing their individual shape. NOTHING crisp-tender going on here - just meltingly, comfortingly, deliciously tender.
- This is delicious with good crusty bread (lovely juices) and feta cheese on the side- like we eat it.
- Will probably serve 6 hungry people, or maybe not. We go through it fast. It's even better the next day.
Dessert: End your delicious Greek meal on a sweet note with this delicious recipe for “Perfect Lenten Chocolate Brownies.”
- 150g tahini (5.3 0z.)
- 150g orange juice (approx. 3 oranges / 5.3 oz.)
- 50g cognac (1.8 oz.)
- 200g dark couverture chocolate (7 oz.)
- 150g all purpose flour (5.3 oz.)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 150g icing sugar (5.3 oz.)
- 100g walnuts, whole or roughly chopped (3.5 oz.)
- zest of 1 orange
1. To prepare these delicious Lenten chocolate brownies, start by melting half of the chocolate (100g). To melt the chocolate it is best to use a bain-marie (or double boiler), a piece of equipment used to heat the chocolate gently and gradually to fixed temperatures so that it doesn’t burn. If you don’t have a Bain -marie, break the chocolate into small pieces and drop into a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water and place the bowl on top so that it rests on the rim of the pan (the bowl should not to touch the water). Place the pan, with the bowl on top, over low heat until the chocolate has melted, whilst stirring occasionally. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool down.
2. In a large bowl add the tahini, orange juice and cognac and whisk to combine. Pour in the melted chocolate and whisk again until incorporated. Add the flour, the baking powder and sugar and blend with a spatula, folding gently the mixture with light circular movements from the bottom up. You don’t want to overwork the mixture. Add the chopped walnuts and the rest of the chocolate (cut in pieces) and blend.
3. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line one square baking tin (approx. 22*22cm) with parchment paper and grease with vegetable oil. Dust with cocoa powder and get rid of the excess cocoa. Tip in the brownie mixture in an even layer.
4. Bake the brownies in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, until they have formed a shiny and dry slightly cracked layer but are still moist underneath (be careful not to over bake them). Set aside to cool down for about 20-30 minutes.
5. Serve these delicious Lenten chocolate brownies, while still warm with melted couverture and fresh strawberries.