I love Greek food. No, that’s not right, I don’t just love Greek food, I adore it, and I happen to think that Greek cuisine is one of the most underrated on the planet. I know plenty of people who have never tried Greek food, don’t really know what Greek food consists of, or even worse, think that they don’t like Greek food. (Note that I say think that they don’t like Greek food – it is my firm belief that nobody who has tried real, proper Greek food can possibly dislike it.)
In July Mum and I spent a week in Lindos, on the island of Rhodes, and I’ve been meaning to write about all the wonderful things that I ate since then. (Forgive the delay, I’ve been busy starting two jobs and a new degree, gaining a place on a graduate scheme, and freelancing whenever I can, but I promise not to neglect this blog any longer.)
Five reasons why I love Greek Food
1. The dips. I’m a very dippy person. Best part of Mexican food? The guacamole. Best part of an Indian? The mango chutney. Best part of… You get the idea. The Greeks have many, many amazing dips. I’m sure most people will have tried homous: that wonderful chickpea and garlic creation, and many will have heard of tzatziki: that lovely yoghurt and cucumber delight, but one of my favourites is the lesser known melitzanosalata, a delicious aubergine and olive oil dip. I’ve made it loads of times, and it’s really quite easy. I would highly recommend giving it a go, the recipe is below. Also, whilst we’re on the subject of dips, this summer I tried taramasalata for the first time. I’d always been put off by the bright pink colour and the words “fish roe”. I now realise that I could not have been more wrong, and I have been missing out for years. With all the evangelism of a recent convert, I must insist that if you too are afraid of the bright pink fishiness then you should face your fears, let go of your preconceptions, and give it a try. It’s absolutely delicious.
Dips, (anti-clockwise from front), tzatziki, melitzanosalata, taramasalata, houmous
- 3 medium aubergines
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2-3 shallots or 5 spring onion bulbs, finely chopped
- 2-3 fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- Pierce the aubergine with a fork and char it on the grill, or over an open flame until it turns black and is very soft. Set to cool and drain on a rack with paper towels underneath. As soon as it can be handled, peel the skin away (it will come off easily).
- Place in a bowl and chop roughly, then stir in garlic, onions , tomatoes, and herbs.
- Mix the oil and lemon juice well and add slowly, then dd salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve chilled or at room temperature, with pitta bread.
2. The seafood Greece has a very long coastline and thousands of islands. That means that it’s a good place to eat really delicious fresh seafood for not-very-much money. I’m of the opinion that fish never tastes as good anywhere as it does on the beach, and Greece has plenty of them. The Greeks cook many different types of fish in many different ways, but one of my favourites is simple battered fresh calamari.
Calamari and chips on the beach.
3. The cheese France may be the unrefuted cheese capital of Europe, but Greece is a pretty good contender. Halloumi, when cooked properly, is one of the most delicious hot cheeses, feta is lovely, especially in a good Greek salad, and cheese saganaki (fried cheese) is absolutely wonderful. On a day trip to the island of Symi we had some saganaki with seasame seeds and honey. It was out of this world.
4. Ouzo Now this is going to be controversial, but I love ouzo – Pernod, ouzo, raki, I love them all. However, even if you don’t like drinking the stuff, try cooking with it. It is surprisingly good. On the beach I had prawn saganaki cooked in ouzo, after our waitress recommended it. I’d never have chosen this dish myself, but it was so good that I bought a bottle of ouzo to bring home to cook with, (which I later ended up drinking in a field somewhere in Staffordshire instead, but that’s a story for another day.)
Prawn saganaki with ouzo.
5. The vegetarian food In Greece it’s pretty easy to eat meat-free. Even if you’re a proper vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, there are loads of dishes to choose from. I found that plenty of restaurants did a vegetarian version of Greece’s national dish, moussaka, most sold falafel, and even more served stuffed peppers or tomatoes. However, my favourite, favourite Greek dish has to be dolmades, or stuffed vine leaves. Sometimes these have mincemeat in, but more often than not they’re vegetarian. You’ll find different versions all over Greece, but they’re always stuffed with rice and onions, and often also with chopped tomatoes or a tomato sauce. They’re absolutely delicious, and although a little time-consuming, they are surprisingly easy to make (trust me, I’ve made them.) The recipe is below.
Clockwise from top: stuffed pepper, broad beans, vegetarian moussaka, dolmades.
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 300g long grain rice, cooked
- 1 tsp dried mint
- 50ml olive oil
- 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 lemons, juiced
- 16 vine leaves, ready cooked
- Place the onion, rice, tomatoes and dried mint into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Add the olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Place a generous spoonful of the mixture into the centre of a vine leaf and roll up tightly. Repeat.
- Pack all the stuffed vine leaves into a pan, cover them over with water, and cover with a tightly-fitting lid.
- Bring the water to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the leaves are tender and the stuffing is cooked.
So there you have it – Greek food in a nutshell. If you haven’t tried Greek food before but are tempted to give it a go, then may I recommend Dimitris in Manchester, Kosmos in Fallowfield, Theo’s in Hebden Bridge, or better still, a trip to the island of Kos…