What’s not to love about Greek food? A mix of Mediterranean and Ottoman sensibilities, many classic dishes, such as moussaka and tzatiki, lay claim to Arabic, Persian and Turkish roots. Built upon seasonal produce, simple cooking techniques and a healthy glug of olive oil, the cuisine is all about enhancing an ingredient’s true flavours, whether that’s through chargrilling seafood, marinating feta or encasing spinach in pastry for the much-loved spanakopita.
The Greeks do heartier fare masterfully, too. They’re big on charring meats, adding cheese – hello, Kefalotiri-baked chicken – and stuffing just about everything, including zucchini flowers, squid, vine leaves and eggplant. In Greece, cheese comes in various forms – see pantry essentials, below – and weaves deftly between mains, like moussaka, and desserts, such as this ricotta cheesecake. Filo pastry is also prevalent across the sweet-savoury board. It’s everything from haloumi cigars to a sweet semolina pie.
To cook like a Greek you’ll need plenty of tomatoes (fresh and canned), lemons, good-quality olive oil, honey and filo pastry (kept fresh in the fridge). Embrace your olive varieties – think Throumbes (sun-dried), Tsakistes (green) and kalamata, which vary from small to colossal. Cheese is also important. Try sheep or goat’s milk feta, hearty haloumi, kasseri (mild and soft), Kefalograviera (hard and salty), Kefalotyri (similar to pecorino), and Piperati, a creamy variety that’s perfect for salads. Finally, herb up with mint, parsley, dill and the dried, oregano-like rigani.
Go green: Greek olive oil, often green in hue, packs a stronger flavour and aroma than Italian and Spanish varieties. It’s also said to contain ore antioxidants, too.
Baking secrets: Keep filo pastry in the fridge and bring it to room temp before using. Cover with a damp tea towel, when using, to ensure it doesn’t dry up or break.
The thicker, the better: If you like you yoghurt Greek-style, i.e. super thick and creamy, drain it through muslin and toss away the liquid.
Zesty business: When recipes call for lemon zest, choose under-ripe (green) fruits. The smell and taste is stronger than in ripe ones.
Brush hour: A pastry brush is a handy utensil. Use it to brush butter or oil onto filo pastry (for Greek sweets), as well as vegetables and meats.
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I have a thing for savoury breads that border on being cakes: from zucchini bread to jalapeno cornbread. I've taken inspiration from those and today I present you with another rendition, made with spelt flour, shredded kale, a good dose of feta and a number of fragrant herbs. And to keep it all moist, I've added olive oil and Greek yoghurt. I like to toast this under the grill and serve it up with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for a decadent Sunday brunch. If you're not feeling fancy, simply serve it with a cup of tea for a nutritious snack.
Greece’s best-known food, the souvlaki, might date back to ancient times, but shops specialising in meat cooked on sticks and gyros didn't appear in the country until after World War Two. Since then, the satisfying skewers have taken the world by storm, and for good (read: delicious) reason. We've used chicken in this recipe, but pork or lamb would work equally well. Serve your souvlaki with tzatziki or Greek yoghurt, as well as the chopped salad and cos leaves, if you like.
The Greek mantra of ‘eat eat eat’ holds true in Amorgos, where we were treated to these delicious stuffed aubergines (eggplants) known as papoutsakia. In Greek, the name means ‘little slippers’, very much like ciabatta, which, in Italian, also means slipper. These eggplants are reminders of the same shoe shape, but definitely taste better than what they are named after!
These easy meatballs can be served with a salad, on pasta, in a roll...
While moussaka is largely attributed to Greece, variations can also be found in Turkey, where it includes green capsicum, and Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia, where it is made with potatoes, pork and a yoghurt topping. Our moussaka recipe is a modern take on the Greek version, with slow-cooked shredded lamb instead of minced, and eggplant and béchamel sauce enriched with kefalograviera (hard, sheep’s milk cheese).