Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is one of the most famous in Europe (in a constant battle with Italian and Turkish on this front) and probably the world. Life in Greece has always considered food a crucial part, and some claim that the Greek writer Archestratus wrote the first-ever cookbook around 350 BC. What is certain is that Greek food has greatly influenced eastern and western cultures through the ages. Here are other factors that make Greek cuisine so special:

LOCAL INGREDIENTS

Greek cuisine relies heavily on fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The country’s Mediterranean climate allows means a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs are available every season to create signature dishes and more. Olive oil, olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, and herbs like oregano and thyme are integral to many Greek specialties.

SEAFOOD

With an extensive coastline and thousands of islands, Greece prominently features seafood in its cuisine. Commonly included are fresh fish and other fruits of the sea, such as octopus and squid.

MEZZE CULTURE

“Mezze” or “Meze” originates from Persian and means to taste or relish. The Mezze experience is certainly a big part of life in Greece, as people gather with friends over small plates of delicious food! Meze refers to a variety of small dishes served as appetizers or snacks, encouraging communal dining and the sharing of multiple flavors in one meal. It’s unmissable!

DOLMADAKIA (STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES)

Dolmadakia, also known as stuffed grape leaves, is a traditional dish in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. The word “dolmadakia” comes from the Turkish word “dolma,” which means “to be stuffed.” The dish consists of grape leaves filling with a mixture of rice, pine nuts, and various herbs and spices. Sometimes, people fill the leaves with minced meat such as lamb or beef.

The filling includes ingredients like mint, parsley, dill, and sometimes cinnamon or allspice. People often roll the grape leaves into small, cigar-shaped parcels, creating a compact and neatly wrapped package. They commonly enjoy them with a drizzle of olive oil or a side of yogurt.

OLIVES & OLIVE OIL

Olives and olive oil are extremely popular in Greece. Greece is known for its high-quality olive products and is one of the world’s leading producers of both olives and olive oil. Fun fact: there are over 140 million olive trees in Greece! Obviously, olive trees are an integral part of the Greek landscape, and the country has a long history of olive cultivation dating back thousands of years.

Greek cuisine heavily features olives and olive oil in a variety of dishes. Olives are commonly served as appetizers or snacks and are also used in salads, stews, and main courses. There are many different varieties of olives in Greece, each with its own unique flavour. The rich and fruity taste of Greek olive oil contributes to the distinctive flavours of many Greek dishes.

MOUSAKKA

Moussaka is a traditional loved Greek dish. It is a layered casserole-type dish that typically includes eggplant, minced meat (usually lamb or beef), tomatoes, onions, and a béchamel sauce. The dish is seasoned with various herbs and spices, such as cinnamon and allspice, giving it a distinctive flavour.

The preparation of moussaka varies slightly across different regions and households, but the core ingredients remain the same. After layering the ingredients, the dish is baked until the top layer becomes golden and the flavours combine.

OCTOPUS

Octopus is a popular and widely enjoyed seafood in Greece. It is a common ingredient in Greek cuisine, and there are various traditional dishes featuring octopus. Grilled octopus, often served with olive oil, lemon, and herbs, is a popular appetizer or mezze dish in Greek tavernas. The octopus is usually tenderized and then grilled to perfection.

Another well-known Greek dish is “ktapodi kokinisto,” where cooks slow-cook octopus in a tomato-based sauce with onions, garlic, and various herbs. This method of preparation results in a flavorful and tender octopus dish. Octopus may also feature in salads or pasta dishes, showcasing the versatility of Greek culinary traditions. Because of Greece’s coastal location and rich seafood resources, people readily find and appreciate octopus as a prized, nutritious part of the Greek diet.

FETA CHEESE

In Greece, Feta cheese enjoys extreme popularity and holds a significant place as one of the country’s most iconic and traditional cheeses. It is made from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s and goat’s milk, resulting in a white, crumbly cheese.

Feta’s versatility allows it to feature in salads, pastries, and as a topping for various dishes. With its tangy and salty flavor, it adds a distinctive taste to Greek salads and many other dishes.

GREEK Salad

A Greek salad also known as “horiatiki” in Greece is one of the most popular dishes that people will have as a main dish, alongside another dish or par of a mezze. It is a classic, refreshing dish that typically includes a combination of fresh vegetables, olives, feta cheese, and a simple dressing. A typical Greek salad is made up of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives, feta cheese, bell peppers, oregano and olive oil.

KEFTEDES

Keftedes are essentially meatballs, typically made with ground meat, breadcrumbs, and various herbs and spices. Cooks use ground beef, lamb, or a combination of both. They season the mixture with ingredients such as garlic, onions, oregano, mint, and parsley.

After forming the mixture into small balls, chefs either pan-fry or deep-fry keftedes until they achieve a golden-brown exterior. They mostly serve them as an appetizer, part of a meze spread, or as a main course. Sometimes, they accompany them with pita bread, sauces, or dips like tzatziki.

TZATZIKI

Tzatziki is a classic Greek sauce or dip appreciated for its refreshing and tangy flavor. It consists of strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and various herbs like dill, mint, or parsley. These ingredients combine to create a creamy and flavorful sauce. It’s often served as a condiment or accompaniment to various dishes.

To prepare tzatziki, grate cucumber and then squeeze out excess moisture. Mix the grated cucumber with yogurt, minced garlic, olive oil, and chopped herbs. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Pair tzatziki with grilled meats, gyros, souvlaki, or use it as a dip for pita bread and vegetables. Tzatziki adds a cool and zesty element to dishes and is a popular addition to Greek cuisine. Its popularity has spread beyond Greece, and people often enjoy it in Mediterranean-inspired dishes around the world.

SOUVLAKI

Souvlaki is a Greek street food consisting of skewered and grilled pieces of marinated meat. Cooks use lamb, chicken, pork, beef, or a combination of these for souvlaki. It is often served with pita bread and accompanied by various toppings and sauces, such as tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and tzatziki.

The word “souvlaki” itself comes from the Greek word “souvla,” which means skewer. Greek cuisine considers the dish a staple, enjoyed both as street food and in restaurants. Souvlaki boasts a delicious, smoky flavor from grilling and a combination of marinated meat. It’s widely recognized as an iconic representation of Greek culinary traditions. When served in a restaurant, it usually comes on a platter with vegetables, chips, pita bread, and tzatziki.

GYROS

Gyros, similar to Souvlaki, is a very popular street food in Greece. It consists of seasoned meat (often pork, chicken, or a combination) stacked on a vertical rotisserie and slowly cooked as it turns. The rotating spit ensures even cooking, resulting in flavorful and tender slices. Typically, gyros is served in a pita or flatbread with various toppings and sauces. Cooks often marinate the meat with a mixture of olive oil, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and other spices.