A Glimpse of Greek Cuisine

For an in-depth (and fun) look at Greek cuisine visit Matt Barrett’s A Guide to Greek Food.

Greek culture revolves around food. Whether it’s a wedding, a baptism, a funeral, a name day or just an ordinary day, someone somewhere will be ‘decorating’ it with food. For a Greek, life’s joys and sorrows always come accompanied by good food and plenty of company. The rest of the Western world may be in a constant rush but in Greece, pre-packaged, single-serving fast food is still a rarity. Why? It’s simple. In Greece it’s a sin to eat alone!!!

Greece is still a very traditional country and that means a wide variety of special foods for special occasions. Easter is awash with the smells of baking tsoureki, a sweet bread, and an entire lamb roasting on a spit. The second most important holiday, the Annunciation on August 15, brings the familiar deep fried cod balls with garlic sauce. At Christmas every sweet shop, orzaxarioplasteio, will have enormous trays of snow white cookies called kourabiedes and honey-drenched melomakarona. On New Years Day and throughout January, Greeks in groups eatvasilopita (“king’s pie”) and whoever finds the coin embedded in their piece will have luck for the forthcoming year.

Olive oil – the secret of a successful dish
Greece is the largest olive oil producer in the world and unsurprisingly, olive oil rules its cuisine. A typical recipe can call for a cup or more of olive oil. Non-Greek cooks are tempted to fudge on this until they learn that substitutions or reductions in olive oil always diminish the flavor and authenticity of the dish. Enter the kitchen guilt-free — olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and studies suggest that increased olive oil consumption is associated with a decrease in coronary heart disease. Greeks practically bathe in the stuff.

Photo of Greek saladWhat is a “Greek salad”?
“Greek salad” is a staple on many a menu, even found in ethnic eateries like Mexican or Italian restaurants. Yet, these Greek salads are imposters! A true Greek horiatiki, or village salad, doesn’t contain lettuce or crumbled feta cheese. The ingredients are simple and consistent: big chunks of juicy tomatoes, thick, crisp cucumbers, red onion and green pepper slices. Drench this mixture with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Sprinkle in fresh oregano. Garnish with a few Greek olives. Add a generous slab of feta cheese. That’s it!

Feta and a Cornucopia of Cheeses
These days feta is as common to the American palate as Velveeta cheese was in the sixties. The difference is feta is healthy and tasty. Made from sheep and goat’s milk, Greeks let it age in large barrels for two months before consumption. Feta is practically the national food of Greece. In 2005, Europe’s highest court ruled that feta cheese is a traditional Greek product and non-Greek European feta producers are not allowed to call their product “feta.”

While feta is Greece’s most famous dairy product, there are a dazzling array of other delicious cheeses in all regions of Greece to sample:

Anthotiros – Similar to mizithra; soft and unsalted with a full fat content. (Crete)
Batzos – Sweet-sour, semi hard cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. (Macedonia, northern Greece)
Kloro – Soft cheese from sheep’s or goat’s milk (Santorini island)
Formailla – Strong, cylindrical hard cheese made from sheep’s milk (Parnassos, central Greece)
Galotiri – Very strong, white, easily spread soft cheese (Thessaly, central Greece)
Graviera – Aromatic hard cheese made from cow’s milk, similar to Swiss cheese (various regions)
Kasseri – Semi hard slightly tangy, yellow-white sheep’s milk cheese (various regions)
Kathoura – Soft goat’s milk cheese similar to mozzarella (Ikaria island)
Kefalograviera – Tangy, pale yellow hard cheese made from cow’s or sheep’s milk (various regions)
Kefalotiri – Tangy, salty hard cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. (various regions)
Kopanisti – Tangy, easily spread blue-veined sheep’s milk cheese (Cyclades islands)
Krasotiri Gilomeno – Hard sheep’s milk cheese preserved in wine. (Dodecanese islands)
Ladotiri – Hard cheese matured in oil. (Zakinthos island)
Manouri – Mild, soft sheep’s milk cheese (various regions)
Metsovone – Smoked hard cheese (Metsovo, northern Greece)
Mizithra – Soft sheep’s milk cheese similar to manouri. (Chios island)
Petroto – Hard cow’s milk cheese pressed between two stones. (Tinos island)
Pretza – Creamy, very strong soft cheese (Zakinthos island)
San Michali – Tangy hard cheese made from cow’s milk. (Syros island)
Sfelia – Strong cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. (Peloponnese peninsula)
Telemes – Like feta, but made from cow’s milk. (various regions)
Tiri Tiraki – Cow’s milk cheese (Tinos island)
Toulousmotiri – Strong soft cheese made from goat’s milk. (East Aegean islands)
Xinomizithra – A type of high fat cottage cheese, usually tangy and salty. (Cyclades islands)
Halloumi – Spicy, high fat content hard cheese (various regions, originally from Cyprus)