Breakfast is not a meal that is classed as important in most Greek households, normally just a quick cup of coffee and a dry biscuit or piece of bread and they are off out of the door to get on with their day. A pastry or a spinach pie along with a drink at about 10.30-11am will keep them going until lunchtime. If you are on holiday in Greece and staying in an hotel then of course there will be a tasty array of foods to choose from, but within the Greek households this is not the case. Lunch and evening meals are normally taken later than in most western European countries and go on for quite a while as the Greeks like a meal to be a social occasion with time to talk as well as to enjoy the food.
Greek cuisine is Mediterranean in it’s make-up, making wide use of the wonderful, aromatic olive oil produced in most of the Greek regions. Greece is famous for it’s use of herbs and spices which they use in all their dishes to add extra taste, and vegetables grown in the sunshine which give a wonderful flavour to the many tasty greek meals. It’s tantalising cuisine is fresh and fragrant and served with warmth and vitality. The Greeks zest for life shows in their love of simple, well seasoned food. This land of azure, blue skies and sparkling seas offers a variety of fresh ingredients at every turn. Gardens packed full of vegetables, wild herbs scenting the air with their fragrance and they are also renowned for their healing properties, Fragrant lemon trees provide the fruit used in so many of it’s dishes, grape vines for the excellent wines and of course the olive trees, to produce the all important olive oil. Due to the mild climate most of the vegetables and fruits are grown naturally and therefore are full flavoured unlike many of the force grown products. Lambs and goats graze freely around Greece on pastures rich in herbs and therefore the flavour of the meat is unique. Lamb is the main meat used in Greece and whole spit-roasted lamb is often seen at festivities. Many everyday dishes use lamb roasted or in casseroles. Other meats used are beef, pork and chicken, which are often marinated before being used in a variety of recipes. The crystal clear water of the Aegean and Ionian sea offers a wide variety of fish and seafood, which are served grilled, baked or fried. Fish is a staple of the Greek diet.
The Greek people are extremely social people and enjoy gathering their family and friends around the table to share food and drink, a host will often spend days preparing a special meal. Sitting under the shade of a large tree enjoying Greek food with a clear blue sky is all part of the eating experience and unfortunately can not be recreated at home however much we try. Appetisers served before or with meals, or even eaten through the day on their own, are known as ‘mezedes’. Mezedes come on small plates and it is the Greek culture to sit and share food and wine with friends in relaxed easy-going way. Here we have some of the dishes that would be included on a meze….
Tzatiki – Greek yoghurt mixed with cucumber, garlic and olive oil.
Keftedakia – Beef Meatballs
Dolmadakia – Vine leaves filled with rice and onion and sometimes minced beef.
Kalamarakia – Fried squid served with lemon.
Htapodi -Octopus served either fried with lemon, or boiled with oil, vinegar and oregano.
Marides tiganites – Deep-fried whitebait served with lemon
Feta cheese – Feta served with olive oil and oregano.
Spanakopita – spinach and cheese pie
Kolokythoanthoi – zucchini flowers stuffed with rice or cheese and herbs.
There are of course many more and you will find that the various regions or islands will have their own speciality. All over Greece you will find What is known as Greek salad but in Greece is “Horiatiki salata”,this consists of Fresh tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onions, green peppers, olive oil, oregano and feta cheese. With these dishes you will be served with bread (psomí) to dip up any juices.
Soup is a Greek’s favorite dish during winter. Some of the traditional ones include: Kotossoupa –chicken soup-, Psarossoupa and Kakavia –fish soups-, Fassolatha (Fassolada)– white beans soup-, Fakies –lentil soup-, Magiritsa-lamb soup served after Resurrection – and Patsa-tripe soup, the Greek’s remedy for hangover.
Most Greek dishes contain meat some of the traditional main dishes are – Mousaka :-Made with layers of eggplant and minced beef topped with a layer of béchamel sauce. Pastitsio :-similar to the Italian lasagne, with noodles, mince meat and béchamel sauce. Paidakia :- grilled lamb’s ribs. Kleftiko :-Lamb(arni) marinated in garlic and lemon juice then slow-baked on the bone. Lachanodolmades :- Cabbage Rolls stuffed with rice and meat and simmered in a light tomato based sauce. Souvlaki :- Pork grilled on skewers with onions and and tomatoes, sometimes the pork will be subsituted with beef, lamb or chicken. Stifado :- Beef, rabbit or hare stew, with onions,red wine and cinnamon.
Popular food items in Greece include mint, dill, lemons, tomatoes, lentils, rice, cheese, varieties of olives,fresh figs,sesame seeds and pistachio nuts. Many of their dishes will include one or more of these items.
Greek desserts are sweet, light and sticky and very, very tasty. Baklava are undoubtedly the best known, they are layers of filo pastry oozing with honey and nuts and they come in a large variety of shapes. These are mainly eaten during the afternoon with a cup of strong coffee. A dessert after a meal will normally consist of a selection of fruits,and what a selection there is! grapes, cherries, figs, apricots, peaches, oranges, dates, apples, pears, melons, pomegranates and strawberries. Another favorite in Greece is their wonderful, creamy Greek yoghurt, eaten on it’s own or drizzled with honey and sprinkled with nuts, it is just fantastic. They also have a wide range of cakes and biscuits to sample, many of which are topped with honey and citrus-fruit syrups and chopped nuts feature in many of the recipes, all in all if you have a sweet tooth then you will be in heaven! Greek coffee is prepared in a long handled pot, with the fine ground coffee, sugar and water brought to the boil at the same time then served in small cups with a residue at the bottom.
Aperitifs – Ouzo is the most popular aperitif in Greece, served with water to form a cloudy, anise- flavored drink which is a perfect accompaniment to a selection of appeitizers.
The ancient Greeks considered wine to be a gift of the gods. Greece is the birth place of Dionysos, god of wine with the mind of a man and the instincts of a beast,and is where the world’s first VQPRD (quality wines produced in registered areas) wines came from, the wines of the islands of Chios and Thasos were renowned in the ancient world. Wine making, however, was neglected for many years and it is just in the last 40-50 years that traditional wine making has been revived. Greece now produces many excellent wines. Today 20% of Greek wines are exported with 90% of these to EU member countries. Information on Greek wines can be found on www.thegreekwine.com Greek wines are produced in a distinctive enviroment and from grape varieties unknown in western wine producing countries which make the Greek wines so unique. There are many excellent high quality wine available with “appellations of origin of superior quality”, but you can also find some very pleasant surprises in the local table wines.
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