It was in the late 1900s that researchers began see the results of various diet studies and the affect our diet has on our health. One of the biggest observations to come out of this body of work was that a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart, can reduce risk of developing certain diseases, can improve memory and learning, decreases risk of depression, and more. Greek cuisine uses many of the oils, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, grains, dairy, and seafood that researchers say improves health outcomes. On the flip side, Greek cooking does makes wide use of certain types of food that are not part of the classic Mediterranean diet that researchers studied. And honestly, that's a good thing because the red meat, cheese, butter, and sweets that are unique to Greek cuisine are too delicious to wipe from our recipe collection…
Classic Greek Dishes
When we think of classic Greek recipes, a few different main courses come to mind. Chtapodi sti schara is tender, grilled octopus cooked for several hours in vinegar, olive oil, and oregano. Gyros are lamb, pork, chicken, or beef roasted on a spit and served in pita bread with tzatziki sauce, grilled tomatoes, and onions. Kalamari is fried and breaded squid. Keftedakia are fried Greek meatballs. Paidakia is grilled lamb chops seasoned with oregano and lemon juice. Moussaka is like a Greek version of lasagna. It's made with eggplant, lamb, or beef with potatoes and a savory Greek yogurt topping. This dish can can take around three hours to prep and cook, but it's completely worth it when you see the look on your family's faces.
This recipe is made in three parts. While baking breaded eggplant, you can sauté the meat and prepare the spiced meat filling with onions, garlic, red wine, cinnamon, allspice, tomato paste, and tomatoes. When all of the spiced meat ingredients are simmering, prepare the egg sauce topping with egg yolks, butter, flour, and milk. After combining the ingredients, simmer over low heat until it thickens. After assembling the moussaka, bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden brown.
Vegetarian Greek Food
One of the best things about Greek vegetarian recipes is that they're so versatile. They taste great as is but pair very well with seasoned chicken breasts, grilled lamb, or a variety of fish. Spanakorizo is a stew with spinach and rice, cooked in lemon and olive oil sauce. This is a perfect recipe for eating with lemon chicken and pita chips on the side. Greek salad is fantastic on its own with feta cheese and Kalamata olives, but you can also fill a Greek pita with salad greens, feta cheese, olives, grilled chicken or turkey, and topped with a little balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. This salad also goes with Greek lentil soup, or bourou-bourou, a vegetable soup with pasta that is very popular on the island of Corfu.
The reason we love Greek desserts and sweets so much is because they're so different from the ordinary chocolate cake, mousse, or scoop of ice cream that is so prominent in American cuisine. We're especially fans of any dessert made with phyllo dough, which is thin, unleavened dough with butter or oil. It's used to make pastries and other desserts. Baklava is a famous Greek dessert made by wrapping nuts and honey in phyllo pastry. Diples are very popular around holidays and for weddings and it tastes a little like funnel cake topped with powdered sugar, except this fried dough dessert is topped with walnuts and honey (some Greek restaurants serve it with powdered sugar). When you fry dough into small ball shapes, cover it with honey, sprinkle with cinnamon, and serve with sesame seeds, you have loukoumades, which have been described as small, crusty donuts. Cookie recipes are also popular in Greek cooking. They're often made with flour, butter, and sugar and topped with crushed walnuts, honey, powdered sugar, and sprinkled with cinnamon powder.
In Greece, coffee shops are very popular. They're known as kafenia and that's where we first encountered mezedes -- also known as appetizers. These small dishes, which are curated specifically to serve with wine, ouzo, coffee, and other beverages, are easy to make at home and they're a pleasant surprise when guests come over for Greek coffee and Greek-style croquettes. These addictive fried rolls are stuffed with a number of different fillings, from ground meat to mashed potatoes, cheese, and the béchamel sauce used as a topping for moussaka. And when you're in Greece -- or just hosting Grecian night at home, you must serve grape leaves, known as dolma. You can stuff them with rice, vegetables, or ground meat. Another side dish that emigrated from Greek islands to American shores is fava, a pure of fava beans, split peas, or lentils. It's perfect for dipping your choice of Greek breads.