Provided by Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO)

The unique tastes of Greece guarantee that you are in for many culinary surprises during your stay in the country.  Contrary to common belief, you will discover that Greek cuisine is not only moussaka, souvlaki and choriatiki salata, but has a wide variety of dishes that can meet the culinary demands of both meat-eaters and vegetarians in an extremely satisfying way. 

Things could not be different, anyway, in the country that gave birth to symposiums and the Epicurean philosophers.  It was, in fact, Archestratos who, in 330 B.C., wrote the first cookbook in History, and reminded us that cuisine is a sign of civilisation.

Greece has a culinary tradition of approximately 4,000 years.  Nevertheless, like most national cuisines, Greek cuisine has both influenced others and embraced ideas from its eastern and western neighbours.

Traditional Greek cuisine

What distinguishes traditional Greek cuisine is a combination of the following factors: unique ingredients, the Greek philosophy regarding eating and sharing meals, as well as the country itself and the atmosphere in general.

The basic ingredients: Greek cuisine has four secrets: fresh ingredients of good quality, proper use of herbs and spices, the famous Greek olive oil and its basic simplicity.  Greek olive oil deserves a special mention.  Present in almost all Greek dishes, and in most of them in abundant quantities, it is of excellent quality and very good for health.  Then there are the vegetables and herbs.  Due to the mild Greek climate, greenhouse cultivation of vegetables is not widespread.  Therefore, most vegetables are grown outdoors and are very tasty and full of aroma.  You will be delighted with the taste of Greek tomatoes, lettuces, carrots, onions, parsley and garlic, not to mention the rich flavour and aroma of fresh fruit: grapes, apricots, peaches, cherries, melons, watermelons, to name but a few.  The herbs collected by most Greeks on the mountains and in the countryside are renowned for their taste, scent and healing properties.  When eating one of the many different Greek dishes, the aroma of oregano, thyme, spearmint or rosemary will inebriate you.  Do not forget also to try the Greek cheeses and particularly feta.  As lambs and goats in Greece are free-grazing and pastures are very rich in herbs, meats have a unique taste not to be found anywhere else in the world.  Seafood from the Mediterranean Sea is far more tasty than that from the oceans.  In the Aegean and the Ionian Seas, the waters are crystal clear and abound with fish.  Charbroiled fresh fish is considered a treat.

The Greek philosophy: The time of day when the Greeks gather around a table to enjoy a meal, or some appetizers (mezedes) with ouzo, is a time held in reverence by all the inhabitants of this country.  For the Greeks, sharing a meal with friends, either at home, at a restaurant or a taverna, is a deeply rooted social affair.  The Greek word symposium, a word as ancient as the country itself, if translated literally, means drinking with company.  The atmosphere in typically Greek restaurants and tavernas is very relaxed, informal and unpretentious.  Food preparation, on the other hand, has its own sacred rules.  Good amateur cooks are held in great esteem in their social circles.  A good housewife, in Greece, means a good cook.  And a good cook can spend days preparing a meal for his or her friends.

The atmosphere: Try having a glass of ouzo or wine, accompanied by barbecued octopus or any other Greek dish, while sitting beneath the shadow of a tree, at a small tavern by the sea, on one of the Aegean islands.  Then, when you go back home, try repeating that experience by preparing the same dish and serving the same drink.  No matter where you decide to have it, you will soon discover that it does not taste the same.  Do not try again.  There is nothing wrong with the delicacy of your palate or your cooking skills.  The Greek meal experience, namely the combination of what you eat and where you eat it, cannot be repeated, exported or duplicated.  It is something you can only find, taste and enjoy in Greece, like the blue of the Aegean Sea.

Greek cooking recipes: Greek cuisine is based on olive oil, herbs and spices. The Greeks enjoy tasty and well-cooked food.  Hereunder you will find the recipes for some of the more traditional Greek dishes:

Moussaka (With Eggplant)Ingredients

Ingredients
  • 1 lb chopped meat
  • 3 tablespoons butter or lard
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onions
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 or 4 round eggplants (medium size)
  • Salt, pepper and grated nutmeg
Ingredients for white sauce (Bechamel)
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • salt, white pepper and grated nutmeg

Brown onions in butter or lard. Add chopped meat, mixing constantly until mixture becomes crumbly. Add tomato sauce, wine, water, salt, pepper, parsley and nutmeg. Cover pan and cook for one hour over low heat. In the meantime, cut the eggplants lengthside in slices about ? inch thick. Salt them, let them strain in a colander and fry in deep fat. Let the fried eggplants strain again. Prepare a thick white sauce (Bechamel) with milk, flour, butter, salt, white pepper and grated nutmeg. Add eggs. Arrange eggplants in shallow pan with a few breadcrumbs. Remove chopped meat from heat, add half the grated cheese and half of the breadcrumbs. Spread evenly over the eggplants. Pour the white sauce evenly over this and sprinkle the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Pour some melted butter over the top and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool slightly and cut in squares. Good for 6-8 servings.

NOTE : Moussaka can also be made with only potatoes, or potatoes and eggplants, or with eggplants, potatoes and pumpkins.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Rice (Tomatoes Yemistes me Rizi)

Ingredients
  • 10-12 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • dry breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup currants (dried)

Wash tomatoes and cut the top from the stem end. (These must be saved and used later as lids). Scoop out pulp with teaspoon and sprinkle with sugar inside. Heat ½ cup olive oil in frying pan, and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice, stir well and cook for a few minutes. Add half the tomato pulp, drained and chopped, ½ cup hot water, the currants, the parsley, the remaining sugar, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Fill tomatoes with mixture, leaving room for the rice to swell. Replace the lids and arrange in shallow baking pan. Force the remaining tomato pulp through a sieve and pour into the pan. Pour 1 tablespoon oil over each tomato and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake in moderate oven for 1 ½ hours. Serve cold. Makes 5 servings

NOTE : A few green peppers can be filled with the rice mixture as well and baked with the tomatoes.

Meatballs (Keftedes)

Ingredients
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 lb minced veal or beef
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • chopped parsley
  • butter or olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons white or red wine

Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter until soft and mix thoroughly with the minced meat, breadcrumbs, milk, salt, pepper, parsley and egg. Shape mixture into balls 1 inch in diameter. In a large frying pan saute the meatballs in butter or oil until they have turned brown on all sides. Pour the wine over the meatballs and heat for a few minutes.

Serve hot. Makes about 3 dozen meatballs for appetizers.

Stuffed Grapevine Leaves With Rice (Dolmadakia me Rizi)

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb chopped onions
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 tablespoons mint or dill
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 50-60 fresh grapevine leaves
  • or 1 15oz. can of grapevine leaves
  • 1 lemon

Heat ½ cup olive oil in a frying pan and saute the onions until soft. Add rice and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients, except grapevine leaves, lemon and ½ cup olive oil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. Rinse the grapevine leaves in cold water. If fresh, put them in boiling water and boil for 3 minutes. Strain and rinse in cold water. In the centre of each leaf (shiny surface of leaf downwards), place a heaped teaspoon of the filling. Fold ends of leaf over the filling and roll it up. (Do not roll too tightly, as the rice will swell). Cover the bottom of a shallow saucepan with vine leaves and place a plate over the "dolmadakia" to prevent them from opening. Cover and simmer over a low heat for about 1 hour. Allow cooling in the saucepan. Serve them as a cold entree with yogurt or as an appetizer.

Lamb Stew in Clay Pots With Pasta (Yiouvetsi)

Ingredients
  • 2 1/4 lbs lamb shoulder
  • ½ cup butter or olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped finely
  • 4 ripe medium-sized tomatoes
  • 1 lb manestra (small pasta the size of rice grain)
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • salt and pepper

Cut meat into 5-6 serving pieces and put it a casserole (yiouvetsi). Add butter, onion, peeled and diced tomatoes, salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and bake in a hot oven for 1 hour or until tender. Add 6 cups boiling water and manestra. Stir well. Cover and continue baking for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve at once with cheese. Makes 5-6 servings.

Lamb Fricasse With Lettuce (Arni Fricasse me Maroulia)

Ingredients
  • 2 ½ lbs breast or shoulder of lamb cut up into portions
  • 2 medium onions sliced
  • 5 spring onions with green stems, sliced
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 small lettuces cut as for salad
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup chopped parsley or dill
  • 3 egg yolks

Saute meat and onions in butter. Sprinkle flour over meat and mix well. Add lettuce, water, salt, pepper and parsley or dill. Cover and simmer until meat is tender (about 1 hour). Remove from heat. For egg and lemon sauce: whisk egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of water. Add lemon juice. Add, by spoonfuls, about ½ cup of the lamb gravy, whisking continuously. Pour egg mixture gradually over meat and gravy, stirring all the time. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Lamb on Skewers (Souvlakia)

Ingredients
  • 1 leg of lamb, boned
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pepper
  • oregano

Cut lamb into 1-inch cubes an

Spinach Pie (Spanakopita)

Ingredients
  • 3 ½ lbs spinach
  • 4-5 spring onions, chopped
  • 3/4 lb feta cheese
  • 2-3 eggs, beaten
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped parsley and dill
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb filo pastry

Wash the spinach and chop it finely. Add 1 tablespoon salt and rub it in with the hands. Leave for an hour. Squeeze it well. Add 1/3 cup olive oil, the onions, the feta cheese crumbled, eggs, parsley, dill and pepper. Take a buttered baking pan 10'' X 14'' X 2'' and line with one pastry sheet. Brush liberally with oil. Add 6 more pastry sheets, brushing each with oil. Fill with spinach mixture and cover with more sheets of filo pastry. Brush the top sheet with oil and carve the top three sheets with a sharp knife into 3-inch strips from one end of the pan to the other. Sprinkle the top with water, to prevent the pastry sheets from curling upwards. Bake the spinach pie in a moderate oven for 40-45 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into squares.

Serve hot or cold. Makes 20 pieces.

Fish Roe Salad

In an electric blender put 2 slices stale bread in small pieces, 3/4 cups of water, 4 oz. tarama (fish roe), 1 cup olive oil and the juice of 1 ½ lemons. Blend at medium speed until mixture is smooth.

Garlic Sauce (Scordalia)

Ingredients
  • 6-8 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar

Clean and crush garlic with salt in a mortar. Add the mashed potatoes. Pound well until a smooth paste is obtained. Add olive oil and vinegar alternately in very small quantities, stirring the sauce with the pestle. Or, mash potatoes in an electric mixer, add garlic paste and olive oil with the vinegar very slowly until completely absorbed. Continue to beat until the sauce is stiff enough to hold its shape. Serve with boiled or fried fish. Makes 6 servings.

Blender garlic sauce : In an electric blender, put 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 or 3 tablespoons vinegar, 1 cup soft breadcrumbs, ½ cup of water and 5 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend until garlic sauce is smooth. If the garlic sauce is thin, add 1 to 2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs.

SWEETS

Baklava

Ingredients
  • 1 lb filo pastry
  • 1 ½ cups melted butter
  • 1 lb walnuts or almonds, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
For the syrup :
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • juice of 1 lemon

Place 1 pastry sheet in well-buttered 9 X 13 inch baking pan and brush with butter. Place second pastry sheet on top of the first and butter again. Repeat until 6 layers of buttered pastry sheets have been built up. Mix walnuts or almonds, breadcrumbs, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Sprinkle top pastry sheet with a thick layer of walnut mixture and place two buttered pastry sheets over this. Repeat in same manner until all ingredients have been used, ending with 6 pastry sheets. Brush top with remaining butter and trim edges with sharp knife. Cut diagonal lines over the length of the pan to make diamond-shaped pieces. Sprinkle with water. Bake in a moderate oven for about 1 hour until golden.

Syrup preparation : Boil sugar, water and lemon juice for 10 minutes. Pour the syrup over the baked baklava after it cools. Wait a few hours to serve. Makes 30 servings.

Milk Custard Pie (Ghalaktoboureko)

Ingredients
  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cups fine semolina,
    cream of wheat or rice flour
  • 7 cups milk
  • grated lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ lb filo pastry sheets
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
For the syrup :
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Beat the eggs with the sugar until thick. Add semolina, milk and flavouring. Cook over a low heat until mixture thickens stirring continuously. Remove from heat. Add 3 tablespoons butter. Butter a baking pan 9 X 12 X 2 inches and spread 2/3 of pastry sheets, brushing each sheet with melted butter. The edges of the pastry sheets should exceed the top of the pan. Spread milk mixture over the pastry sheets and turn in the edges of the sheets over the cream. Cover with remaining pastry sheets, brushing each with melted butter. Pour any remaining butter over top. Cut through the first 3 sheets in 3-inch squares and sprinkle with water. Bake in a moderate oven for 45 minutes.

Syrup preparation : Boil sugar, water and lemon juice for 5 minutes. Pour lukewarm syrup over the ghalactoboureko. Allow cooling before serving.

Almond Cookies (Amygdalota) - From the island of Hydra

Ingredients
  • 1 lb blanched almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons fine semolina
  • 1 lb icing sugar
  • 1 ½ cups orange flower water
  • butter
  • cloves

Mix the almonds with 2 tablespoons sugar and grind them fine. Or use commercially ground almonds. Add remaining sugar, semolina, and 6 tablespoons orange flower water. Stir this mixture to soft dough. If too stiff, add 1 to 2 tablespoons orange flower water. Break off small pieces the size of a walnut and shape these into "pears". At the end of each, insert 1 clove for the "stalk". Arrange on a buttered and floured baking sheet and bake in an oven for 20 minutes. When the almond pears are cool, dip them quickly into orange flower water and then coat with icing sugar. After a few minutes coat them again in icing sugar.

Christmas Honey Cookies (Melomakarona)

Ingredients
  • 2 cups olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 7-8 cups sifted flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon soda
For the syrup :
  • 2 cups honey
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Beat together the first 4 ingredients. Sift flour, baking powder and soda 3 times. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the oil mixture and stir gently. Pinch of small portions of dough the size of an egg and form into little patties. Roll them to make oblong rolls. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes. Boil honey, sugar and water for 5 minutes. Pour syrup over melomakarona. Allow 15 minutes to soak. Take them out of the syrup and place on a large plate. Sprinkle with shopped walnuts and cinnamon. Makes 40 servings.