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Oct 21, 2017

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Greece Trap
by Laura Holmes
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.3

Ask people to name their favorite cuisine and the answer is usually Chinese, French or Italian. Greek never, ever comes up. Why? ‘Cause Greek food is like drunk Uncle Charlie at a family picnic - tolerated but never talked about. Maybe it’s all those consonants. Who can pronounce those dishes, much less cook 'em? Well, think of me as a family therapist. I’m going to walk you through the food of Greece, and soon you’ll be itching to get into the kitchen and whip up a batch of baklava. (Just don’t ask me to spell anything.)

The history behind Greek cuisine is based in geography. Greece is about the size of Louisiana, but the geography ranges from mountains to cities to beaches. Surrounded by water, and with more than 1,400 islands, the main staple in Greece is seafood. Because different parts of the country encountered different cultures throughout history, there are regional differences as well. In mainland Greece you might find entrees such as casseroles and grilled meats, while on the island of Corfu you might find a fillet of beef sauteed in white wine and vinegar, or any number of fish and seafood entrees. Thessaloniki, which has been settled or invaded at various times by Byzantine Greeks, Ottomans, Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition, Turks, Armenians and Germans, has its own specialties, such as rabbit stew and various eggplant dishes. With 10 million people in Greece, there are zillions of variations on the cuisine.

Besides sea creatures, other major ingredients in Greek cuisine are olive oil, vegetables (including eggplant, peppers, onions and cucumbers), lamb and olives. Cheese is a big thing, too, with the most popular being feta, kasseri, graviera and manouri. Herbs and spices are used with abandon, so be sure to stock up on parsley, mint, anise seed, oregano and garlic. Pucker up: lemons are used in almost every dish.

Grilling and stewing are the most common ways to prepare food, and luckily for those of us with less-than-Julia-Child cooking skills, these are two of the most painless, foolproof cooking methods.

Greek cuisine comes down to ingredients; pick the freshest you can find and you’ve won half the battle. With the country’s warm climate, everything is seasonal, so locals tend to shop the markets every day. Since Greece gets 3,000 hours of sun a year, it’s no surprise the food is incredible - those crops are lovin’ the sun, so everyone eats fresh fruits and veggies.

Known for their laid-back lifestyle that gets started after the sun goes down, Greeks tend to eat late and in large amounts. A typical mainland meal starts with hot and cold appetizers (called mezedes) that are served family style. These include keftedes (meatballs) and melitzanosalata (mashed eggplant with oil, lemon and garlic.) The main course is usually a casserole or grilled meat or fish. In the winter, hearty soups are very popular as well. Vegetables are usually served in a casserole rather than plain, and yes, people in Greece actually eat Greek salad (a combo of feta, tomatoes, olives and cucumbers.)

In the country where Dionysus got his name, wine is, of course, served with every meal. Greece produces a lot of the juice (reds from western Macedonia and Crete, dry whites from Chalkidiki, Cephallonia, Santorini, Patras, Lemnos, Crete and Attica, and dessert wines from Patras and Cephallonia.) Ouzo, the traditional aperitif that tastes like anise, is something you must try, if only to feel the burn. Remember: no pain, no gain.


Tsatsiki
(serves 6)

1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 cucumbers
4-6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 t red wine vinegar
1 T olive oil
1/2 t salt

Peel cucumbers, remove seeds and cut into small dice. Place in a bowl with the salt. Add garlic, vinegar and yogurt, and mix well, then add oil. If you're feeling crazy, add either chopped dill or mint at this point. Serve with pita bread.

Octopus in Wine
(serves 6)

1 lb. cleaned fresh or unthawed frozen octopus
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups dry red wine
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a saucepan on medium heat and add octopus. Cook on low three to four minutes. Add wine, salt and pepper, and continue cooking five to six minutes, or until sauce has thickened. Serve warm or cold.

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
(serves 6)

6 tomatoes (preferably beefsteak)
6 green peppers (the bigger the better)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 cup tomato juice
1 bunch parsley (Italian or curly), finely chopped
1 cup cooked rice*
1 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Sugar

Cut the tops of the tomatoes and peppers, being sure not to cut them off completely. (They should act as a lid.) Remove seeds. Save tomato pulp in a separate bowl. Set aside hollowed vegetables in a baking dish. Meanwhile, saute the onions in1 cup olive oil and cook for five to six minutes. Add the reserved tomato pulp, parsley, salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup water and simmer on low until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stuff vegetables three quarters full with rice mixture. Fill each tomato and pepper with 1 t water and close the lid. Pour remaining olive oil in the baking dish and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit about one hour.

* You can stuff the tomatoes and peppers with any type of cooked rice, although arborio is preferred in Greece. Prepare rice according to package directions.

Spiced Lamb Stew
(serves 6)

3 large eggplants
1/2 cup raisins
4 T red wine vinegar
3 lb. lamb stew meat (ask your butcher)
6 T olive oil
2 onions
4 cloves garlic
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 T honey
1 T cinnamon
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
1/4 bunch mint, chopped
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the eggplant into large cubes, sprinkle with 3 tablespoons coarse salt, and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat 5 tablespoons olive oil and brown lamb meat in two batches. Transfer to large baking dish.

Reduce the heat to medium and sauté onions and garlic until soft, about five minutes. Transfer to baking dish.

Rinse eggplant and dry thoroughly. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté eggplant until soft, about 4 minutes. Transfer to baking dish and mix well.

Add tomatoes, honey, cinnamon, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix well. Cover and bake 45-50 minutes.

Serve hot.

Baklava

What would an article about Greek food be without a baklava recipe? (Baklava is a layered dessert made with pastry, nuts and honey.) But we're not giving you one. Unless you want to spend a few days in the kitchen with phyllo dough, just suck it up and go buy some baklava. Less pain, more gain.

This is the dessert for your friends who say they don't like dessert. It's served in the summer.

Greek Honey Cream with Fruit and Nuts

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped cashews, toasted
1/4 cup chopped pistachios, toasted
1 cup honey
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Mixed fresh fruit

Mix honey in an electric mixer until thick and pale (about two minutes). Whip heavy cream in another bowl until stiff peaks form (about 3 minutes). Fold nuts into cream and fold cream into honey. (Note: folding is just a fancy way to say mix lightly.)

To serve, place a dollop of cream in bowls and top with fruit.

Recipes provided by Eleni Samara
Greek Honey Cream with Fruit and Nuts recipe provided by iChef.com.

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