It’s All Greek To Me

Still known for their simple locally grown foods and fish, the country of Greece serves up some wonderful dishes, many of which date back to early inhabitants of Macedonia and Sephardic Jewish cultures, along with a Turkish influence. Known for their wines and liberal use of olive oil, tapenades, lentils and honey, they top off many dishes with spicy capers, providing an interesting contrast of mild yogurt, cucumbers, eggplant and anything which can be harvested from the ocean. (If you are squeamish, you might want to pass on the squid, sea urchins and other unrecognizable critters.)

Dating as far back as 4000 BC, cheeses, especially Feta and KaserI, made their appearance and have continued to dominate the top selections ever since, both usually made from sheep’s milk. Tomatoes arrived late to the party but have been widely embraced, teaming up with other fresh vegetables and feta cheese to round out the almost mandatory and wonderfully savory Greek salad which is eaten with most meals. When you venture into a Greek restaurant, you will undoubtedly see these favorites, any of which will delight your palate (don’t worry about pronouncing them, pointing will work just fine):

Barbouni – a small fish, usually eaten whole and pan-fried;

Dolmades – grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice, don’t even think of buying them canned (fresh only);

Gigandes – giant beans baked in a tomato sauce along with plenty of fresh herbs (not anything like American canned beans);

Gyros – that familiar vertical spit of roasted beef or lamb you see in many restaurant windows and a popular street food, usually stuffed into pita bread liberally covered with a creamy cucumber sauce;

Horiatiki – traditional Greek salad of lettuce and veggies with feta cheese, olives and a light vinaigrette dressing;

Keftedes – meatballs cooked with herbs and onions;

Kokoretsi – seasoned lamb intestines, along with other organ parts (well, okay, you might want to skip this one);

Mousakka – an eggplant-based dish with spiced meat and béchamel sauce, an absolute must-try;

Avgolemono – chicken soup with egg and lemon juice;

Spanikopita – flaky crust, savory spinach pie, another classic;

Souvlaki – mall pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables on a skewer;

Pasticcio – baked pasta dish with meat and béchamel (white) sauce;

Pita bread – part of the general Mediterranean influence, a popular sandwich and gyros bread;

Saganaki – very popular appetizer, frequently ignited table side with much flare, a crusty, tangy cheese sure to prepare your taste buds for what’s to come; (if your waiter seems a bit enthusiastic, make sure you stay far back when he ignites it)

Feta or Kasari cheese – sheep or goat’s milk, crumbly in texture, cured in brine, wakes up most any dish;

Tzatzik I – known for their liberal use of yogurt, Greek sauce made from strained yogurt, cucumbers and garlic, balances out some of their spicier fare;

Baklava – the best known and adored dessert, a rich pastry with layers of flaky phyllo filled with nuts and honey, very sweet and decadent;

Favorite beverages to accompany any meal:

Retsina – white or rosé “resonated” wine (contains tree resin)

Roditis – popular dry white wine

Ouzo – anise-flavored aperitif widely consumed country-wide, often an acquired taste

Well, there you have your basic Greek Food 101. It boasts everything you look for in ethnic cuisine and can be enjoyed by most everyone. Vegetarian friendly, much of it low sugar and low fat, spicy or plain depending on your order. If you are fortunate to live in or near a large city, there is usually an area considered “Greek town” which features authentic foods and a joyous atmosphere. But it’s best not to throw your wine glass into the adjoining wall, especially if it still has wine in it. That may be frowned upon. Although you are certainly allowed to yell “opa” at any time.

Growing up outside of Chicago, author Dale Phillip was fortunate to have access to many wonderful ethnic cuisines, Greek food among them. The city hosts a popular section called “Greek town” featuring numerous authentic restaurants, and she instantly embraced the many dishes offered. Spanikopita (spinach pie) and saganaki (flaming cheese) top her hit parade of favorites, always accompanied by a fresh, crisp Greek salad. She invites you to view her many articles in Food and Drink, and her blog:

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