🍴 Chops and Slices: 5th Bite – Greek Cuisine

! Please note: I am not reliable for any craving, mouth watering, or stomach growling.

I love food from the Mediterranean — happy food from the sunny climates next to the sea.

Steeped in history and lapped by the Mediterranean sea, Greece is home to some of the finest ingredients in the world.

While Greek cuisine may not be a potential soulmate, it has provided nourishment for the soul for millions of people for thousands of years. Offering an incredibly diverse array of food and drink, each Greek meal is not just a delicious experience, it is also a step back through Greece’s history. The culmination of thousands of years of cooking, sharing and (of course) eating, Greek food is history on a plate.

While the basis of Greek food has remained the same for thousands of years, the Greek diet has also been influenced throughout the years by traditions from both the East and the West. Around 350 BCE, Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire’s reach from Europe to India, resulting in northern and eastern influences being absorbed into Greek cuisine.

Alexander’s empire at it’s height reached India to the East.

In 146 BCE, Greece fell to the Romans, leading to Roman influences in Greek cooking. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, dishes had to be known by Turkish names, which remain today for many Greek classics. The latest change was the introduction of potatoes and tomatoes from the New World, after exploration of the Americas began about five hundred years ago.

As they say though, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While Greek food has changed throughout the millennia, the idea of eating as an experience rather than just nourishment has remained unchanged.

You can’t rush a Greek meal. Eating in Greece is not just about the food but the experience; it’s about spending time with family and friends and savouring the moment. The meze tradition, a collection of small dishes at the beginning of the meal shared amongst diners, spread from Greece to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and is as essential to Greek food as olive oil.

From hummus and pita, dolmades, souvlaki and spanakopitas, Greek meze offers many variations and everyone is sure to have a favourite. Think you’ve had dolmades before? Probably, but each region has its own variation on the classic grape-leaf wrapped rice parcel; some with mincemeat, some with a combination of thyme, dill, oregano, fennel or pine nuts. Think you’ve tried all the regional varieties? Possibly, but these are also likely to vary from household to household.

Greek food is inherently healthy, which only adds to its charm. Greek cooking incorporates plenty of olive oil, vegetable, grains, beans, chickpeas and other legumes, fish, some dairy, and not too much meat (with lamb being the most prominent). Of course there’s also wine, cheese, olives and yoghurts.

Greek olive selection

Even today, Greeks eat predominantly what’s grown nearby. This is why vegetables have such a huge impact on Greek food, as Greeks tend to utilise what’s in season and often shop in local marketplaces, a tradition originally necessitated by the remoteness of many of the country’s regions and islands.

Most people outside of Greece have heard of creamy and delicious feta, but fortunately for the cheese lovers amongst us, Greece also has a large variety of fresh cheeses. Mizithra is a soft, white cheese often found crumbled on salads, graveria is a hard golden-white cheese eaten diced, or fried as saganaki. There’s also kasseri, kefalotyri, anthotyros, manouri and metsovone for the cheese die-hards out there.

Of course, if you’re after feta (and why wouldn’t you be), it can be found by the tub at local markets throughout Greece. One of the most satisfying purchases in Greece can be buying a tub of feta and knowing that it all belongs to you….trust me, this is an experience like no other.

The creamy and delicious feta

While not as ‘traditionally’ Greek as some other dishes, moussaka remains a firm favourite with its inherent mix of flavour, textures and gooey goodness. While variations on moussaka are found throughout the Mediterranean and Balkans, Greek moussaka is famous for its many layers and combination of fresh vegetables and meat.

If you’ve never had moussaka, the basic ingredients are easy to find in your supermarket or local food markets; sautéed aubergine, minced meat, fried tomato, onion, garlic, cinnamon and potato, finished with a layer of fluffy cheese and béchamel sauce. Perfect for a winter day, moussaka is always a crowd-pleaser, and for good reason.

The many-layered Moussaka

Classic dips such as tzatziki, fava (creamy pea puree) and melitzansalata (aubergine) are the perfect accompaniment to any Greek meal, especially when paired with fresh pita, a drizzle of olive oil or a squeeze of lemon. There is also the delectable creamy taramasalata (fish roe), made with either a potato or bread base, which is best with a drizzle of virgin olive oil or a squeeze of lemon.

Taramasalata (fish roe dip)

I love classic Greek dips because they’re great for any time of the year… Enjoy at home in winter before dinner, in the park in the summer with a picnic or with friends with a glass, or bottle, of your favourite drink.

For a sweet treat, look no further than delicious baklava, layering honey, filo and ground nuts (just remember to bring a napkin!). Loukoumades are another favourite…the Greek version of donuts, these bite-sized sweet honey puffs are deep fried to crispy, golden perfection. Galaktoboureko is a custard-filled pastry that is wickedly sweet, or for something simple, pour a dollop of thyme honey over fresh Greek yoghurt. Classic!

The classic baklava
Loukoumades, the Greek donuts

Whatever your Greek dining preferences, there is one aspect of Greek cooking that you can never forget — Greek dining is not just about the food but the experience. So round up your friends, families and loved ones, and treat yourself with a taste of Greece!

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