Foods of Greece
With 20 percent of Greece made up of islands - and no part of the Greek mainland more than 90 miles from the sea - fish and seafood are a popular and common part of the Greek diet. Lamb and goat are the traditional meats of holidays and festivals, and poultry, beef, and pork are also in plentiful supply. Vineyards cover much of Greece's hilly terrain and the country has become known for its array of fine wines and spirits, most notably ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur that is the national spirit. The first cookbook was written by the Greek food gourmet, Archestratos, in 330 B.C.
The most characteristic and ancient element of Greek cooking is olive oil, which is present in almost every dish. It is produced from the trees prominent throughout the region, adds to the distinctive taste of Greek food. The basic grain in Greece is wheat, though barley is also grown. Important vegetables include tomato, potato, green beans, okra, and onions. Honey in Greece is mainly flower-honey from the nectar of fruit and citrus trees (lemon, orange, bigarade trees), thyme honey, and pine honey from conifer trees.
The terrain has tended to favor the production of goats and sheep over cattle, and thus beef dishes tend to be a rarity by comparison. Fish dishes are also common, especially in coastal regions and the islands. A great variety of cheese types are used in Greek cuisine, including Feta, Kasseri, and Mizithra.
Some dishes use filo pastry. Too much refinement is generally considered to be against the hearty spirit of the Greek cuisine, though recent trends among Greek culinary circles tend to favor a somewhat more refined approach. Traditionally, Greek dishes are served warm rather than hot.
Meze is a collective name for appetizers, typically served with wine or ouzo. Dips are served with loaf bread or pita bread. In some regions, dried bread ('paximadhi') is softened in water.
• Greek Salad - The so-called Greek Salad is known in Greece as Village/Country Salad (Horiatiki).
• Tzatziki - yogurt with cucumber and garlic puree, used as a dip.
• Taramosalata - fish roe mixed with boiled potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs.
• Horta - wild or cultivated greens, steamed or blanched and made into salad, simply dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. They can either be eaten as a light meal with potatoes (especially during Lent, in lieu of fish or meat).
• Dolmades - grapevine leaves stuffed either with rice or vegetables. Meat can also be included.
• Spanakopita - spinach wrapped in filo pastry.
• Tyropita - cheese (usually feta) wrapped in filo pastry. Many other things are wrapped in filo pastry, either in bite-size triangles or in large sheets: kotopita (chicken), spanakotyropita (spinach and cheese), hortopita (greens), kreatopita (meat pie, using ground meat), etc.
• Boureki - individually wrapped vegetable and meat fillings in filo pastry or dough.
• Tiganita - Deep Fried vegetables (eggplant, peppers or mushrooms).
• Saganaki - fried cheese (plain, but also including other ingredients such as shrimp).
• Fasolada - a bean soup defined in many cookery books as the traditional Greek dish. It is made of beans, tomatoes, carrot, celery and a lot of olive oil.
• Fakes - a lentil soup and one of the famous everyday Greek soups, usually served with vinegar and olives.
• Mageiritsa - the traditional soup at Easter usually made of lamb offal and eaten late Saturday before Easter Sunday.
• Psarosoupa (fish soup) - can be cooked with a variety of fish types, and several kinds of vegetables (carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes, onion) which are being blended and olive oil.
• Avgolemono soup - chicken, meat, vegetable, or fish broth thickened with eggs, lemon juice, and rice.
• Patsas - tripe soup
Other Famous Greek Dishes
• Moussaka (eggplant casserole) - There are other variations besides eggplant, such as zucchini or rice, but the eggplant version ("melitzanes moussaka") is most popular, so "moussaka" alone is assumed to mean "with eggplant".
• Kleftiko - literally meaning "of the thief", this is lamb slow-baked on the bone, first marinated in garlic and lemon juice, originally cooked in a pit oven.
• Stifado - beef-onion stew with red wine and cinnamon. Rabbit or game (e.g. hare) are also cooked stifado-style
• Souvlaki - Anything grilled on a skewer (chicken, pork, swordfish, shrimp). Most common is pork or chicken, often marinated in oil, salt, pepper, oregano and lemon.
• Yemista - Baked stuffed vegetables - tomato, pepper, or other vegetable hollowed out and baked with a rice filling.
• Gyros - meat roasted on a vertically turning spit and served with sauce (often tzatziki) and garnishes (tomato, onions) on pita bread; a popular fast food. Sometimes confused with souvlaki served in a similar way. Idea derived from the Turkish dish called döner kebab.
• Soutzoukakia Smyrneika 'Smyrna soujouk' - large meatballs with cumin, cinnamon and garlic and served in a tomato sauce.
• Spetsofai - a dish with country sausages, peppers, onions and wine. Originates from Mt. Pelion.
• Keftedes - fried meatballs with oregano and mint
• Grilled octopus in vinegar, oil and oregano. Accompanied by Ouzo.
• Bekri Meze 'drunkard's snack' - diced beef marinated in wine, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, olive oil and cooked slowly.
• Pastitsio - a baked pasta dish with a filling of ground meat and a Bechamel sauce top.
• Païdakia - Grilled lamb chops with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper
• Baklava - a popular sweet dessert, of filo pastry layers with nuts, sugar, syrup, cloves.
• Loukoumades - similar to a doughnut hole, loukoumades are essentially fried balls of dough drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon.
• Karidopita - a walnut cake.
• Vassilopita - Saint Basil's cake, traditional for New Years
• Tsoureki - a traditional Easter sweet bread, also known as 'Lambropsomo'.
• Koulourakia - buttered cookies.
• Kourabiedes - buttered (can also include olive oil) cookies with powdered sugar and almonds, mainly made during the Christmas period.
• Melomakarona - cookies soaked in syrup of honey (meli in greek thus melomakarona) and sugar, topped with walnuts and almonds, also traditional during Christmas.
• Galaktoboureko - custard between layers of filo. The name derives from the Greek "gala", meaning milk, and from the Turkish börek, meaning filled, thus meaning "filled with milk."
• Milopita me Pandespani - apple pie with powdered sugar
• Rizogalo - rice pudding literally meaning "ricemilk"
• Wine is the most common drink in Greece. Legend claims that wine was invented on the island of Icaria. Until the 1980's, most Greek wines were not of the finest quality, but more recently they have come up to international standards.
• Beer is widely drunk; common brands include Heineken, Amstel, Mythos, Alfa Hellenic Lager, Fix, Henninger, and Kaiser, all of which are produced locally, some under license.
• Ouzo (an 80-proof clear alcoholic beverage that is flavored with anise; it turns milky white with water or ice; the best said to be produced on the island of Lesbos).
• Tsipouro or (esp. in Crete) raki - Mostly home-brewed, a clear drink similar to ouzo, often with higher alcohol content, and usually not flavored with herbs. The city of Volos at the center of Greece is well-known for its Tsipouradika.
• Retsina - a white wine that has some pine tar added, originally as a preservative, but nowadays for the flavor; this is an Athens region specialty. It should not be aged.
• Mavrodafni - Sweet, liquor-style, red wine with higher alcohol percentage than normal.
• Metaxa - a brand of sweet brandy, 40% alcohol content.
• Greek coffee made by boiling finely-ground coffee beans is served thick and strong, and often sweetened.