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Lemon Oregano Chicken

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Frame travel maps of Greece and hang them in the kitchen. When you eventually take your trip to the Greek Isles, you'll have the geography memorized.


An Introduction To Greek Cuisine

By John Lister

Blue doors on a Greek house Greek food is a product of the country’s hot climate and island make-up, but it relies on simple ingredients making it easy to reproduce anywhere in the world.

The basic staples of a Greek diet are fresh fish, simple vegetables, olive oil (used in most dishes), feta cheese (a crumbly cheese made from goats’ milk) and a preference for lamb and goat over beef or poultry. Greek bread is traditionally white and crusty, with a slightly sour taste.

Appetizers are known as meze, though this term is also used for a style of restaurant meal where diners are served as many as 20 small dishes over several hours. The most common appetizers include:

  • Tzatziki (plain yoghurt with cucumber and garlic)

  • Dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables)

  • Greek salad (or simply ‘Country salad’, consisting of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and olives)

The main course will often be locally-caught fish (particularly sea bream and red snapper, served in a salty crust), but specific dishes include:

  • Moussaka (strictly speaking a general term for casserole, but most commonly one with eggplant, minced beef, tomato and béchamel sauce)

  • Stifado (a stew with red wine and onion, most commonly with rabbit or beef)

  • Souvlaki (grilled lamb and vegetables served on skewers)

  • Kleftiko (marinated lamb cooked very slowly until it virtually falls apart)

  • Gyro (thin slices of barbecued meat served with tomato, onion and tzatziki in pitta bread)

While there are some local desserts (such as baklava, made with filo pastry and syrup), a simple dish of plain yoghurt, ground nuts and honey is most common.

Wine is common with most meals, and locally-produced specialities are common. Alternatives include retsina (a white wine with pine tar added) and ouzo (a highly alcoholic spirit made with aniseed). Greek coffee is served strong and thick and usually heavily sweetened.

It is traditional for Greek meals to be prepared and eaten slowly and socially; there is little culture for fast food, particularly on the islands. Because the climate makes fresh food so easy to grow, there is very little use of processed ingredients.

Greek restaurants are common in most major cities around the world. While the ingredients may not always be of the quality of those in the country itself, the recipes and principles of cooking are usually much more authentic than those used for other foreign cuisines.