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 – most of us have been exposed to some aspect of Greek history while in school, but it is even better when we get to eat something instead of study!
Being Greek myself, I can honestly tell you the number one item we make use of most is olive oil (lemon, basil, and oregano, too). We use that delicious healthy stuff on everything. From cooking to salad dressings, Greek olive oil is our liquid gold. My family used to joke that there were more olive trees in Greece than people. I do not know if that is true, but if you ever visit, you will see why they said that!
As a side note, I think the best comes from Crete. However, Kalamata (where my family lineage hails from) makes some tasty olive oil as well.
The Greek “snacks” or Greek appetizers are called: Mezés. It is a collection of small dishes served before a meal and is traditionally accompanied by either Greek wine or ouzo (if you’re old enough!). One of my favorite mezes is a simple one: A large slice of feta cheese drizzled with olive oil and a dash of oregano (recipe here). However, there are some other popular ones as well: hummus and pita, souvlaki, dolmades, spanakopites, and fish spread.
As for the main components of a Greek dish, Greece also incorporates many other ingredients such as:
- Meats (lamb being the biggest)
- Olive Oil
- Greek Grain
The main grain I say Greeks use the most of in Greece is wheat: semolina pastas, flour, breads, food toppings, etc.,
Vegetables In Greek Cooking
Vegetables have a huge impact on Greek food, as with many other Mediterranean countries. Greeks tend to utilize what is in season, and often do shopping in local marketplaces (αγορά – agora) daily. So, if tomatoes are in season, expect many dishes containing that to be cooking in Greek kitchens and served at local restaurants. My γιαγια (yia yia is grandma in Greek) used to love summer because eggplant was in season and she would cook her favourite Greek dish, moussaka, and other dishes containing eggplant from July onwards.
Greeks really only have a small arsenal of seasonings: oregano, bay leaves, basil, and dill. Granted they use others, these are the most common. I would add that many dishes I had from Greek relatives growing up contained cinnamon (like on top of Pastisio).
Greeks love cheese! Maybe just as much as lemon. Most people outside of Greece know about Feta, but there is actually a nice array of cheeses used in Greek cuisine. These include: Kasseri, Kefalotyri, Graviera, Anthotyros, Manouri, Metsovone and Mizithra.
Where To Experience Greek Cooking
Taverna’s are the place to really experience a Greek meal. Just remember that eating in Greece is never rushed. They take their time, engage in discussions, and spend time with family and friends. It is all for the experience. This mindset is shared all over the Mediterranean, so keep that in mind while traveling.
*Greek food fun fact: When you serve your first Greek meal, or when you’re out at a Greek restaurant and the foods comes, you can tell everyone: καλή όρεξη (kali orexi – kah-LEE OR-ex-ee) which is like saying, “enjoy your meal!” Like the French term: Bon Appétit!