Greece is steeped in thousands of years of history, a land which ranges from almost barren mountain sides with just a few trees sprouting through the craggy face to lush valleys which roll down into plains and on to the gorgeous azure seas of the Aegean and Mediterranean. The Greek’s have had plenty of time to refine their cuisine from the ancient Greeks love of the humble olive, fig and honey to traditional dishes like spit roast lamb and modern haute cuisine, gastronomic Greece has it all to offer and does so in abundance!
Spectacular seafood, the freshest vegetables, sanguine wines and desserts you just can’t get enough of. Greece is home to some of the world’s finest fresh ingredients and they are celebrated in a plethora of wonderful dishes. As we’re coming up to the summer and lots of us will be planning our next holiday in Greece I thought I’d share my top 10 Greek dishes you can prepare at home now and then try them next time you are in Greece.
1. All things olive
Of all the food’s on this list the olive has to be the most quintessentially ‘Greek’ of foods. Pick up any ancient Greek story and you can be sure the olive features as a staple of the diet. The fruit of the olive tree was a gift from the gods to the city of Athens. Aside from the fruit itself olive oil is a staple of just about every Greek dish, from the base of most cooked foods to being a salad dressing.
Olives (in all their varities) feature in too many dishes to count but I like them best mixed with a little feta cheese, maybe a little parsley accompanied by some crusty Horiatiko Psomi bread drizzled with olive oil.
2. Fish and Seafood
With one of the longest coastlines in the world Greece is a nation of islands, there are over 1400 of them (though only 227 are inhabited). With all that sea it’s no wonder that the nations’ dishes are filled with fish and seafood. I remember first trying a seafood salad filled with big chunks of octopus, it was a little intimidating but gorgeous when I tried it.
My favourite seafood recipe has to be prawn saganaki, an over baked dish of prawns in a wonderful spicy tomato sauce topped with feta cheese. I have made this a few times and it’s always a winner.
3. Feta Cheese Pie
And talking about feta cheese, one of life’s real treats, what better way to celebrate Greeces number one cheese than in a crispy filo pie. Made with a feta and spinach filling they are available in most restaurants and also make for a handy street food to eat on the go. I tried this in the first cafe I visited in Athens and immediatly became addicted.
You can make a feta and spinach pie really easily at home with just a few ingredients and in just under an hour too. It makes for an excellent packed lunch or a snack on the go!
Keftedes, wonderful vegetable patties or balls which come in varieties including tomato and courgette. They make an excellent starter pared with a glass of white wine to cut through the crisp fried patties. I have made these too many times to count and whilst they are one of my favourite foods there much better back in Greece!
Souvlaki or grilled meat & vegetables may (to the uninitiated) look a lot like a kebab skewer you are familiar in with in the UK, but trust me the’re not. There are so many ways to serve this from in a pitta with salad, chips and tzatzki to on fresh on the skewer or plated up with fried round potatoes.
I love them either in a wrap or served on a plate, the perfectly marinated meat and the sweet heat of paprika. delish!
One of the top Greek dips, often served as part of a Mezze of dishes and perfect for serving with either warm bread or some fresh veggies. Try to avoid the super pink variety you often find in the supermarkets, it’s electrically coloured with food colouring and can have an odd taste, instead get in the kitchen and try making some yourself, this is a great recipe.
For me it is best enjoyed with with bread and olives.
7. Stuffed vine leaves or Dolmadakia
Grape leaves have been used as a food wrap in Greece since the days of Alexander the great. Here in the UK you can buy Dolmadakia ready made in packs and jars, though it’s often worth avoiding these as they are not the best example of Greek food. Eaten as a finger food, the stuffed grape leaves are filled with rice, mince and a mix of herbs.
They can be served warm or cold, throw in a few pine nuts and they are gorgeous, moreish and filling!
I almost started with this dish as it’s just about my favourite on the list (along with the other 9) I have written about these wonderfully sweet and sticky gems before where I also shared a recipe for making your own Baklava at home and enjoying them with a strong black Greek coffee. Layer phyllo pastry with a nutty filling and drench in homemade syrup. Super sugary with a nutty twang, yum.
I’m lucky enough to live in a part of London where you can pick up real Baklava easily, but I still like to make my own now and then.
9. Greek coffee
And talking of Greek coffee, it’s next on my list. I’m a big coffee addict and this could have easily come in top of the list. Forget what you can pick up in a chain cafe in the UK, this really is rocket fuel in terms of strength. It is prepared in special briki pots (or in a saucepan if you don’t have one). The coffee is rich and thick, just don’t have it too late in the day else you’ll be up all night!
This is probably one of the most widely recognised Greek dishes and it often gets the same treatment as Italy’s lasagne does – in that what we often find in the UK bares only a little resemblance to the traditional recipe. Layers of aubergine, mince and creamy sauce combine to make a hearty meal so enjoy with a simple salad and a glass of white wine.