Characteristics of Greek Cooking
The Greeks love vegetables of all types. In fact, mixtures of vegetables layered in a baking dish then topped with crumbs are often used as a main dish with cheese and a salad.
As with all countries, Greece embraces many cooking styles. However, as a food style in general, several characteristics stand out – the wide use of olives, grapes, lemons, herbs, lamb, seafood, sauces, and vegetables and the famous Greek pastry.
The Greeks use both the fruit and the leaves of their large grape crop. A portion of the fruit is used to make wine which is the common beverage at meals for Greeks from poor to rich. The tender grape leaves, stuffed with ground meat or other stuffings, make a delectable main dish.
Another indispensable ingredient in the Greek cuisine is lemon. Lemon halves or wedges or lemon juice are used as a matter of fact when cooking meats, fish, vegetables, and poultry. A lemon half impaled on a fork is used as a basting brush for roasted and broiled foods, and lemon wedges are always on the table at mealtime to be squeezed over foods at will.
Besides lemons, Greek cooks use herbs generously. Garlic and oregano are used in lamb dishes, thyme or oregano with fish, dill with eggplant and in spinach pie, marjoram and thyme with a bay leaf in tomato sauce. Baked fish, stuffed grape leaves, and rice stuffing for poultry are all, by Greek standards, improved with mint.
Lamb is the most popular meat of Greece. Traditionally at Easter, the Greeks roast a whole lamb over an open fire pit. Other favorite ways of serving lamb include stuffed, in casseroles, and in stews. Ground lamb and herbs are often mixed and used as a stuffing for grape leaves.
The Greeks are extremely fond of sauces. The most famous Greek sauce is an egg lemon sauce called avgolemono sauce. This all purpose sauce is used over meat, fish, vegetables, and in soups. Other basic Greek sauces include a tomato sauce and a very strong garlic sauce that is relished by garlic lovers but served only in the presence of understanding friends.
The Greeks love vegetables of all types. In fact, mixtures of vegetables layered in a baking dish then topped with crumbs are often used as a main dish with cheese and a salad. Tomatoes and green peppers are stuffed with a rice and meat mixture for baking. Artichoke hearts soaked in lemon water may be baked with onions and a lemon oil sauce, or crumbed and deep fat fried. Vegetable salads are another important part of this cuisine. Tossed salads often include wild chicory or dandelion greens as well as the standard lettuce, romaine, and tomatoes.
Eggplant is probably the most popular vegetable in Greece. It is served fried, stewed, and stuffed. Eggplant slices are also used in several moussakas with ground lamb or beef, white sauce, and cheese. On other occasions, eggplant halves are stuffed with a meat and cheese mixture, then topped with avgolemono sauce.
The Greeks are known for their rich sweet breads and pastries. Most of these mouth watering delicacies are too rich to eat as dessert, so they are reserved for visitors and special occasions. In fact, most holidays are celebrated with a bread or pastry.
Although Greece has a cuisine dating from antiquity, Americans have not been aware of many Greek specialties until quite recently. Now, increased tourism to this land of the Spartans and Athenians has sparked an interest in Greek cooking. Since most Greek dishes use ingredients readily available in the United States, Americans can enjoy this cuisine, too.