Food and Cooking

Greece has a culinary tradition dating back several millennia. Foods like trahanas (a grain-based dairy soup), skordalia (a potato-based appetiser) and pasteli (a sesame seed and honey sweet) all date back to ancient Greece. Over the centuries Greek cuisine has adopted and modified numerous culinary influences, especially from the Middle East, Turkey and Italy. The names of some of Greece’s most popular dishes reveal their origin: moussakas (Arabic); keftethes (Persian); pastitsio and makaronia me kima (Italian); baklavas, yuvarlakia (Turkish).

Loukoumades

Greek Cooking Today

Greek cooking today is typically Mediterranean. The ingredients most often used are olive oil, grains and bread, wine, fish, various meats (including poultry and rabbit), yoghurts and cheese, and fresh vegetables. Meat is a large part of Greek cuisine, with a wide variety of meat-based dishes eaten as main meals and snacks. As Greece is surrounded by the Aegean and Ionian Seas fish and seafood are also central to the Greek diet. Olive, lemon, basil, garlic, oregano and thyme are commonly used in Greek dishes, especially in fresh salads, as is the famous feta cheese.

Today Greeks in Australia and in Greece eat foods from around the world, their cooking influenced by many food traditions. However, for Greek elders eating traditionally prepared Greek food remains an important part of their lives. The vibrancy of traditional Greek food is important to their sense of self and cultural identity.

Sharing a Meal

Sharing food with others is important in Greek culture, and cooking and eating are important social occasions. The quality of the food is an important topic of conversation and swapping recipes is common when people share a meal. If you are invited to a Greek home for a meal you should take something to share, for example, a bottle of wine, sweets, or an appetiser. When you leave you may well be offered food to take with you and it is polite to accept such a gift.

Here is a list of the most common Greek foods. To make these dishes, perhaps with your client, see Greek Recipes. Bear in mind that you could also use this information for planning other activities, such as an outing to a Greek restaurant, or visiting Greek delicatessens to shop for the ingredients.

Appetisers

Meze (singular) or mezethes (plural) is a collective term for appetisers, which are usually served with wine or ouzo and freshly baked bread or pita bread. They include:

  • Deep-fried vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, peppers and mushrooms
  • Dolmades: vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables, sometimes including meat
  • Greek Salad or horiatiki: tomato, cucumber, onions, olives, feta cheese and olive oil
  • Horta: boiled wild or cultivated greens, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and eaten as a light meal (especially during Lent)
  • Marides tiganites: deep-fried whitebait, usually served with lemon wedges
  • Saganaki: a popular fried cheese
  • Spanakopita: baked filo pastry stuffed with spinach and cheese
  • Tyropita: baked filo pastry stuffed with cheese (usually feta)
  • Skordalia: thick garlic and potato puree usually accompanying deep-fried fish
  • Tzatziki: yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip
  • Tarmosalata: dip made of fish roe mixed with boiled potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs
  • Loukaniko: fried home-made spicy sausage
  • Fava: yellow split-pea puree or other bean purees, sometimes made of fava beans

Soups

  • Trahana: most ancient Greek soup, a wheat-based dairy soup similar to porridge
  • Fakes: commonly cooked lentil soup
  • Fasolada: very traditional Greek soup made of beans, tomatoes, carrot, celery, onions, garlic and olive oil
  • Revithia: chickpea soup
  • Soupa avgolemono: refers to any chicken, meat, vegetable or fish broth thickened with eggs, lemon juice and rice
  • Magiritsa: traditional Greek Easter soup made with lamb offal thickened with eggs and lemon juice
  • Patsas: tripe soup often eaten after a late night
  • Psarosoupa: Fish soup which can be prepared with a variety of fish types and carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes, onion and olive oil

Meat and Seafood

  • Baked lamb (arni sto fourno): common Greek dish often baked with potatoes and a variety of different herbs and vegetables
  • Giouvetsi: slowly baked lamb with rice-shaped pasta (kritharaki)
  • Paidakia: grilled with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Souvlaki: most well-known Greek meat dish, lamb, chicken or pork marinated in oil, salt, pepper and oregano then grilled on a skewer
  • Gyros: meat cooked or roasted on a spit and is usually served with tzatziki, salad and pita bread
  • Keftedes: fried or baked meatballs
  • Pilaf: chicken and other meat
  • Moussaka: eggplant, meat and bechamel baked in a casserole dish
  • Pastitiso: pasta, meat and bechamel baked in a casserole dish
  • Soutzoukakia: large meatballs with cinnamon and herbs baked in a tomato sauce
  • Spetsofai: sausages, peppers, onions and wine
  • Stifado: beef or rabbit onion stew cooked with red wine, cloves and cinnamon
  • Octopus: grilled and dressed with vinegar, oil and oregano

Vegetarian Dishes

  • Lahanodolmades: cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and herbs, spiced and topped with egg and lemon sauce
  • Spanakorizo: boiled spinach and rice
  • Bamies: cooked okra with a tomato sauce
  • Fasolakia: fresh green beans stewed with tomato sauce, potato and/or zucchini
  • Gigantes: lima beans baked with tomato sauce and different herbs

Desserts and Sweets

  • Baklava: famous baked dessert, layers of filo pastry with crushed nuts, sugar, syrup and cloves
  • Galaktoboureko: baked sweet custard, filo pastry and syrup
  • Kourabiethes: shortbread almond biscuits dusted with icing sugar, a year round but traditionally Christmas sweet
  • Melomakaron: cinnamon and clove biscuits soaked in honey syrup and topped with crushed walnuts, traditionally baked at Christmas but enjoyed throughout the year
  • Loukoumades: Greek doughnuts, small fried balls of dough soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Rozogalo: rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Koulourakia: traditional Greek Easter biscuits
  • Tsoureki: traditional sweet Greek Easter bread
  • Karidopita: walnut cake with a honey syrup
  • Loukoumi: Greek version of Turkish delight
  • Glyko tou koutaliou: literally means to ‘spoon sweets’ referring to stewed sweets soaked in syrup which can only be eaten with a spoon
  • Vasilopita: traditional cake for New Year’s celebrations

Drinks

Wine and beer are the most common drinks in Greece, with many Greek wines recently coming up to international standards and beers produced in Greece have recently gained in popularity. There are also some distinctly Greek alcoholic drinks which are widely known and enjoyed by Greeks and non-Greeks alike.

  • Ouzo: distinctively Greek alcoholic clear drink flavoured with aniseed. Turns milky white when water or ice is added. The finest quality ouzo comes from the island of Mytilini (Lesvos)
  • Tsipouro (also referred to as tsikoudia or raki in Crete): home-brewed clear drink, very high alcohol content
  • Retsina: wine with pine tar (resin). It should not be aged
  • Mavrodafni: red wine with a sweet liquor flavour, high alcohol content
  • Metaxa: famous Greek brand of sweet brandy with a 40 per cent alcohol content
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