Travel to Greece to discover Mediterranean flavors without leaving your kitchen.
When it came to food, the ancient Greeks revered three things: bread, wine, and olive oil. They also stressed the importance of civilized, convivial eating – sitting down around a table to share a meal – which, like baking bread, fermenting grapes and pressing oil, was considered one of the signs of a civilized society. These days, not much has changed. Bread, wine and olive oil, along with fresh veggies, are the cornerstones of Greek cuisine. Known as the Mediterranean diet, it’s considered to be one of the healthiest models for eating.
Top 10 Greek foods
Eating Greek always starts with appetizers known as meze or mezedes. These can be simple things such as olives and feta but will also include dips, such as taramosalata – a delicious fishy, garlicky paste made with salted smoked fish roe called tarama.
Vine leaves stuffed with herb-flavored rice and sometimes mince are another popular meze dish or even a light meal. Often cooked with lemon, they have a lovely fresh flavor.
3 Horiatiki (Greek salad)
The classic Greek salad is a refreshing summery mix of tomato, cucumber, feta, olives, onion and green capsicum, dressed with olive oil. Purists say it shouldn’t include lettuce, but crisp iceberg leaves make a nice addition.
4 Keftedes (Meatballs)
Meatballs may not sound like an interesting appetizer but these tiny snacks are very tasty. They’re made with lamb mince, finely chopped onion, mint, and parsley. The addition of breadcrumbs gives them a smooth texture.
5 Spanakopita (Cheese & spinach pie and Tiropita (Cheese triangles)
These famous Greek delicacies are made with flaky filo pastry. An accomplished Greek cook will make his or her own pastry, rolling the dough with a little oil to make it separate into layers. Pittes – the plural of pie – can be stuffed with everything from crumbled feta and leeks to mashed pumpkin and even sweetened sesame paste (tahini).
Every cuisine has its comfort food. For the Greeks, this nourishing soup is definitely a candidate! It’s made from a good chicken stock with a special egg and lemon sauce that’s beaten through at the last minute. It’s frothy, tangy and very comforting indeed.
7 Arni (Lamb)
Lamb is the most popular meat in Greece. A national specialty is lamb with olive oil, lemon, garlic, and rosemary. It’s slow-roasted and comes out of the oven, or off the spit, falling off the bone.
This well-known main meal combines lamb and eggplant, baked in a rich white sauce. More comfort food.
9 Braised octopus in red wine
Greeks have a technique for cooking octopus that results in an amazingly tender meal. The trick is to cook it slowly in its own juices, and then add red wine with an onion and bay leaf towards the
end of cooking.
10 Baklava, Kourabiedes, and Galaktoboureko
Greece is heaven for people with a sweet tooth. Sweets and pastries are rich, sticky, nutty and syrupy. Baklava uses ground nuts baked in buttery filo pastry before being drenched with sugar syrup. Galaktoboureko is baked filo smothered in custard, and kourabiedes is Greece’s answer to shortbread, baked with almond meal and coated in icing sugar.
The Greek Kitchen
Most of us would have the equipment needed for Greek cooking, but here’s a quick checklist to get you started.
- A heavy-based saucepan with a tight-fitting lid will take care of any stovetop requirements – such as simmering chicken stock for avgolemono, cooking dolmades or braising octopus.
- Good-quality baking dishes are essential for making moussaka, pittes and baked lamb, as well as for sweets and other goodies.
- A blender or food processor is a good shortcut for pureeing and blending, although some Greek cooks say dips such as taramosalata are best made by hand. The main thing is not to over-process them and ruin the texture.
- A long-handled copper pot, known as a briki, is essential for Greek coffee. Add finely ground coffee to the water and bring almost to the boil. When the foaming brew reaches the brim, remove from heat. Let the grounds settle before pouring. Don’t stir it before drinking.
Learn the Lingo
As the saying goes, it’s all Greek to me, and that’s because the language is written using an ancient alphabet that’s possibly the oldest in use today. It’s not all that hard to learn, as the letters substitute quite easily for English sounds. Most restaurants and Greek shops in Australia will also list names using our alphabet. There are a couple of tricks that will help, though.
Try these to get you started.
- As with Latin languages, such as Italian or Spanish, each letter is pronounced individually. “A” is
pronounced “ah”, “e” is pronounced “eh”, “i” is pronounced “ee”, “o” is a short “o” and “u” is mostly written “ou” as in moussaka (moo-sah-kah). Taramosalata is said “tah-rah-mo-sah-lah-tah” and horiatiki is “hor-ree-ah-tee-kee”.
- There are two different “d” sounds in Greek. A hard “d” and the delta, which is said more like a “th”. So dolmades, where the second “d” is a delta, is said “dol-mah-thess”. The same goes for keftedes, which is “keff-teh-thess” and mezedes, which is “meh-say-thess”.
Keep these ingredients handy in your kitchen for making traditional Greek fare.
Essential for Greek cuisine. Use mince for keftedes (meatballs) and moussaka, diced lamb for souvlaki (kebabs), and whole pieces, such as the leg or shoulder, for baked lamb with rosemary, garlic and lemon.
Fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and capsicum
The basis for the traditional Greek salad, horiatiki.
Used in dips and layered with lamb in the classic dish, moussaka. You’ll also need eggplant for papoutsakia, which is a similar dish to moussaka.
Used for marinating lamb, and for making the egg and lemon sauce (avgolemono) that’s whisked into avgolemono (egg and lemon soup).
Pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas and dried beans
Used in a number of dishes, including a pureed bean soup called fasoulada.