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A new light on Greek food

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
As I watched the love of my life chew through a hummus and pita wrap for lunch last Thursday, I gained the enlightenment and inspiration I had been needing. Greek food. For the most part, I love it, save a few items that I'm not so fond of. Boyfriend and I further discussed the wrap and it's delicious origins for the extent of the lunch break and it had me thinking, "the Mediterranean diet seems very healthy, maybe I should look into it."

Turns out, I was right, for once. The traditional diet of the Greeks is indeed one of the healthiest in the world of cuisine. As I passed on the information to the boyfriend, he became as interested as I was, seeing as how we have been looking for a good *different* diet lately.

Through about 3 hours of simple research, I have found that the Greeks: eat between 6 to 9 servings of vegetables a day~ eat a lot of seafood and lamb~ eat around 5 meals a day~ Cook a lot of things as fresh as they can~ and use a decent amount of fat in their cooking, it's just from a lot of olive oil~.

But I want to know MORE! I want to know everything I possibly can about this cuisine! I want to know delicious and healthy recipes, cultural facts, and personal stories. I know we have some people who are from Greece and all of you guys are just brilliant, I know I've come to the right place.

I'm off to go research the wonderful world of Google and tomorrow, I go to the library and my favorite Greek Restaurant. Wish me luck!
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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post #2 of 11
Hello Gummy-Bear!

I have been to Greece a few times, so I'll share my experience.

First, I don't mean to rain on your parade, but I don't think the Greek food is exceptionally healthy. It's certainly rich in fresh produce, and in that way is healthier than processed foods, but I'm not sure the Greek diet is any healthier than the Italian diet or the French diet. If you're truly interested in a healthy diet, I would turn to Crete rather than Greece in general.

Having said that... well first of all I noticed that a lot of Greek people like to go to the "Taberna" to talk politics over a plate of olive oil, simply dipping bread in it. That's usually 10am or so, a little before lunch.

Olive oil, olive oil, olive oil. After all, Greeks have wonderful olives.

Greek yogurt with honey. Try it, it's wonderful!

The Greek seem to eat a lot of lamb.

Lots of salads with very fresh veggies. I mean the veggies that are still crunchy!

Lots of incredible fresh fruits. We used to rent a motorbike and stop every 1/2 mile to pick up figs from a tree on the side of the road and have a feast.

Feta cheese. Mostly imported from France!!! Go figure that one out.

I'm not a big fan of their spirits and/or wines, so can't really comment on that. They seem to like Retzina and Ouzo quite a lot.

For me the best experience was probably to make a fire on a beach on a small Greek island, buy a few sausages and stuff, only to have a Greek fisherman stop by to ask us if he could grill his fish on our fire. I said sure, as long as we'd get to taste it! DEAL! Incredible night.

They have one of the best bread I've ever had. And I know my bread really well and take it really seriously!!

Funny thing about the Tabernas on the islands: their menus are all the same. It doesn't matter where you go, you'll have the same menu as somewhere else! The difference is in the execution obviously. The best places don't even have a menu. They'll start describing what they have in Greek, and it usually ends up with you going in the kitchen as they take lids off and show you what's available.

A typical Greek meal may contain: faba beans or butter beans (fassolia), spanakopita (spinach, feta in a sort of filo dough), grilled meats (lamb is a big star), potatoes, lemon sauce (avgolemono, delicious), hummus, eggplant dip, rice, moussaka (with a LOT of bechamel and sometimes even potatoes - honestly I find the frozen industrial moussaka that you can buy in France better than any moussaka I've had in Greece), pastisio (baked pasta with meat sauce), etc etc....

Hope that helps a little bit.
post #3 of 11
I'm so glad you're liking greek food, you're right that many greeks tend to live a very healthy lifestyle... but! I'm sorry to say that in recent years the typical greek lifestyle has been giving way to touristy style restaurants and processed foods. We greeks are beginning to follow in the food steps of American fast food. I go there every year and I'm shocked to see children overweight, eating cheetos, and playing video games. A lot has changed but the food that has made Greece famous is still as readily available as the new McDonalds that are popping up everywhere.

Here are some things to know when embarking on Greek food. Greece is as regionally diverse as Italy. Each island and region is distinctly known for certain dishes and produce. Stuffed grape leaves for example are made all over greece but how they are made and what they are stuffed with vary quite a bit from region to region.

I've been to many parts of Greece and I can safely say that the healthiest diet I have come across is from my own island, Krete. What makes it the healthiest is the following.

Weeds weeds weeds: No Kretan meal is complete without boiled dandelions, swiss chard, escarole, etc. Whatever is green we boil, then serve drizzled with olive oil and lemon. We boil enough to have for 3 days or so.

Legumes: Our diet is very high in beans, lentils, favas, split yellow peas, you name it we make it into soups, purees, and main courses.

Vegetables and herbs: If a Kretan does not have their own vegetable and herb garden then they know someone who does. Purslane is something that Kretans put in their salads for as long as I remember, and just recently I read that purslane is a miracle herb.

Small fish: I say small because Kretans are not interested in salmon, tuna, or any other big fish. The only time they deal with big fish is when they buy the head of a large fish to make fish stock. Little fish like sardines and red mullets are preferable to greeks because they can eat it whole, boy do they not like the idea of filets!

Olive Oil: Not canola, not peanut oil, not vegetable oil, not corn oil, not crisco, only olive oil. Butter will be used in sparing occassions to make sweets but there are recipes for every kind of sweet you can imagine that uses olive oil instead. Funny story: A couple of years ago I held a dinner party at my parents house in Krete, and invited several of their friends. I made my famous roasted potatoes and everyone was commenting on how tasty they were and asked me how I prepared them. As soon as I mentioned butter as an ingredient the whole table simultaneously put down their forks in protest. They refused to eat another bite of potatoes and were very suspicious of anything else on the plate. Quite a reaction eh?

The Lamb Myth: Greeks like lamb, that much is true. Lamb is served on big occassions like easter, maybe Christmas, and the Feast of the Virgin Mary in August. But it is not eaten often as it tends to be extremely fatty. Greeks do not sit around eating lamb everyday or even every week for that matter. Meat is just not that big a deal in our diet in Krete. It might be an accompaniment and it is generally not the tastiest part of our cuisine. My husband's family however is from Cephallonia and their idea of a meal is full of meat meat meat, mostly beef. Kretans don't eat beef at all. At my in laws house meat is served unaccompanied by vegetables. At our house meat is an afterthought and my Grandmother and Mother eat it reluctantly. When putting away left overs at the end of a meal my Mom tosses the meat, and saves the salad. So it all depends on where you're from but lamb is not everyday food.

And here's the big secret: Local, seasonal, and fresh. Greek salad is not composed of lettuce, tomato, green pepper, olives, cucumbers, and feta. Lettuce grows in the winter, tomatoes grow in the summer, never shall the 2 meet in a salad in a greek home. If you see it served like that in a restaurant then you'll know it's hybrid greek food.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #4 of 11
Get the two books by Diane Kochilas:

The Food and Wine of Greece

The Glorious Foods of Greece

Lots of food info, recipes, regional insight and other such goodies.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #5 of 11
Whilst I love Greek food and have lived on a couple of islands and also visit one or other every year, I find it can be repetitive - the same food served at the tabernas, no matter where you are eating!

I think a good idea is a balanced MEDITERRANEAN diet, aspects of Greek, Italian, Spanish and French makes for an interesting spread of dishes.
post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
YAY! Thanks, both are in my Amazon shopping cart. When my paycheck finalizes they're coming to my house!:roll:
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thank you for the heads-up Ishbel, I'll start looking into that as well to see what I could find.
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
Koukouvagia and French Fries,
Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences, ideas, and opinions with me. After reading your posts, I have gotten some more information I need and I'm no less excited, I just need to be careful to make sure I get the healthy recipes. I now have to research Tabernas and a few other things mentioned. I'll get on that right after my first priority, school (yuck).
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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post #9 of 11
Gummy Bear,

Tying in with Koukouvagia's comments, you might want to check out Regional Greek Cooking, as well. It explores the varied cuisines of Greece that she spoke of.

Don't forget, too, when you're ready to order any books, to use the direct link to Amazon found at the top of the forums home page.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 
Thanks, I'll check it out.

Also thank you for the reminder, I'll make sure I do that this time.
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
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post #11 of 11

Go Greek!

Hey, GB -
you sound as interested and excited about food and cooking as ever! Your boyfriend is a lucky guy.

We had two three-week vacations (quite a few years ago) travelling around Greece and some islands with a knowledgable and experienced guide and fell in love with the place... And the food, because our guide, from many years of experience, knew the mom-and-pop places that didn't just crank out the steam-table tourist food which is so ubiquitous, at least during the tourist season.

We were told that, during the season, there were more tourists in Greece than there were Greeks. Made for crowded restaurants and short-cuts in the food.

Phil is right on about the cookbooks. May I also suggest

Flavors of Greece by Rosemary Barton, and

The Mediterranean Cookbook by Anna Macmiadhachain, Mary Reynolds, Claudia Roden, and Helge Rubenstein. (Don't sound very Greek, do they.)
Published in 1979 by Lyric Books Limited. You'll have to run it down on the used book market, since it's long out of print, but you will find it well worthwhile. We've used it for years.

Funny story- couple years ago we were in a parking lot in Illinois and the car next to use had custom plates that read KPHTI. My wife frowned at it a moment and just then the driver walked up. She said to him, "Oh, you're from Crete, are you... We just loved our visit there." The guy was just DELIGHTED that she had recognized his approximation of the Greek alphabet and talked to us about the Old Country for twenty minutes. Lot of fun. :roll:

Hope you have a great time in your new culinary quest.

And, Happy New Year.

Mike

Oh, and the work "Greek" does not exist in the Greek language. They are Hellenes

M ;)
travelling gourmand
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travelling gourmand
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