Thursday, February 2, 2012

Greece & Greek Cuisine!

Greece has many Regions & different Islands which in turn have their own distinct cooking process like in the Islands of Lesbos and Chios
Islands of Lesbos is Greece’s 3rd Largest Island with distinctive Landscape, Sea & is known for its Famous Drink Ouzo (one of the main Ingredient in Ouzo is Aniseed (some include Fennel) which is distilled over 3 times)
It is a Strong Alcoholic Drink distilled from the Wine Residuals, including Pits, Seeds & Skins
The Coffee shops in Lesbos serve the Ouzo which is consumed diluted with Water accompanied by Small Plates called Mezes H'orderves/Appetizers
There are over 11 Million Olive Trees on the Island of Lesbos

Cretan Cuisine comprises of Olives, Olive Oil and Fresh Produce
Some Olive Trees in the Island are almost 3000 Years old with Organic Olive Oil produced, the branches of this Ancient Tree were also sent to the Olympic Committee for World Peace
The Olives are ground, Cold Pressed, without Heat so that the Nutrients & Beneficial Properties of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil are preserved in its Purest Form
The Oil is filtered & is so good for health that it helps reduce Cholesterol & Coronary Heart Diseases
Even though a Cretan Diet of a Poor Family may look unappealing especially the Lunch is an essential meal for the day, but as it mostly includes Wild Greens, Beans, Grains, Vegetables Milk Products & Olives the diet is known for its Medicinal properties of Longevity

Greek Cuisine

In Greece, just like the Ancient times, the Athens Central Market is a hub of activity filled with Tourists, Food Enthusiasts & the regular Local Shoppers!
According to the Popular Greek Food Journalist & Cookbook Author Aglaia Kremezi, the most unlikely Herb Coriander was originally from Greece which was taken to India by Alexander! If given a serious thought, its Usage in the Indian Cuisine especially the North Indian Region had also started just after the Mughal Empire moved away

In the Ancient Greek Cuisine, the Coriander in its Fresh, Dried & Seeded form was used in abundance though it gradually. The Olives that are picked earlier than the Black Olives would be the Green ones & Greeks always prefer the slightly bigger Green Olives!
Other Important Vegetables in the Greek Cuisine are Large Brinjal/Aubergine (mainly came from India brought in Greece by the Arab Travellers), Green Beans are a Local favourite, & most importantly the ever present Tomatoes were only introduced in the Greek Cuisine in the 20th Century  

In Greece, the Northern Region Cuisine is mostly Plains where the Animals are found in abundance, so most of the Animal meat needs to be heavily cooked with rich spices while in the Southern Region Cuisine is a lot simpler, uses a lot of Fresh Seasonal Vegetables & Sea Food like Fish

The few Cultural Food Tricks to learn from the Greeks would be how to choose the best Olive Oil, how to pick a Good Feta Cheese, how to pick great Spices like Natural Resin Masticha & the Quintessential Herb such as Rigani (Oregano)

Olive Oil is the Main Oil used liberally for Cooking, Dressings, Salads & Dips
Olive Oil also has a Religious Importance as it is used in the Christening Ceremony
The Flower Buds of the Rigani are used more than its leaves

Masticha is the Sap from trees which grow only on Chios Island 
Translucent Droplets are referred to as ‘Tears’ It has an Earthy Musk Vanilla flavour & used for the consistency it gives to the Ice Cream, Sweets, Chewing Gum & Liqueur & even used in the manufacture of Varnishes
Halloumi Cheese is from Cyprus, usually fried & tastes great with Watermelon as a Salad also

Kasseri Cheese is mild & soft used mostly in Saganaki dishes
Kefalogravierais is a Hard & Salty Cheese
Piperati is a Barrel-aged Piquant Cheese with a Creamy Flavour, can be used for Greek Salad & is of a higher quality than Feta Cheese

Ladi is Greek Olive Oil, Ladthera refers to Dishes prepared with a lot of Olive Oil (though rare to find any that use less) such as Tomatoes stuffed with Rice, Sautéed Okra, Giant Butter Beans (also known as Gigantes) Stewed with Tomato

Mezethes (plural for Meze) are served either to enhance the taste of any Drink (Wines, Ouzo, Raki etc.) or for a Social Setting like Small or Big Scale get together of Family, Friends etc.

Stoforno literally means 'in the Oven'
Dishes such as Lamb with Lemon Potatoes, Lamb Shoulder Meat with Baby Fennel & Parslety, Beef in Tomato Sauce, Lamb cooked in a Clay Pot are all prepared using this method

Tiganita refers to 'Shallow Fried Food in Olive Oil'
The Greeks love Fried Meatballs, Potatoes, Sardines & Pumpkin Balls
A popular Entrée is Fried Eggplant/Zucchini Slices

Psito means 'Roasted' which is the Greeks Favorite for Pork, Wild Boar & Lamb just like the Most Famous Greek dish, Ograten (literally means 'a Dish covered with Béchamel Sauce with Cheese')
Moussaka (a layered dish of Beef and Eggplant topped with Béchamel Sauce and Cheese)

Avgolemono is the light and delicious Egg & Lemon Sauce, known to adorn Spring Artichokes and Peas as well as add Flavour to Pork Fricassee & Fish Soup

Yachnee is a Hearty Tomato based Stew often served with Tiny Pasta shapes

Vrasto means Boiled and usually applies to Wild Greens picked during the Rainy season

Stifado indicates the addition of Small Pearl Onions and Cinnamon to a dish, the most famous being Slow cooked Beef/Rabbit

Kokkonisto means Red and this is always a Tomato based Oven Baked dish, usually with Beef/Chicken

Plaki (means Flat/Spread out) which usually refers to Fish arranged Flatly in a Baking dish and Baked in the Oven

Saganaki refers to the Skillet/Heavy Cast Iron Frying Pan used in the cooking process 

One of the Popular Meze Greek Cheeses either Kefalotiri or Keflograviera is dusted with Flour and Fried in Olive Oil in this style of Vessel is also referred to as Saganaki

A Classic Watermelon & Feta Salad is also very popular in Greece

Tzatziki is a great Cold Dip for Vegetarians made of Strained Yoghurt, Cucumbers, Olive Oil, Garlic, Pepper, Lemon Juice, Parsley/Mint/Dill
A Vegan Tzatziki can also be made with Soy Yoghurt & with the same ingredients as the Original

Filo are Thin Pastry Sheets which are brushed with mostly Melted Butter before cooking, is used in many ways to Wrap or Roll fillings in either Main Course Dishes or Sweets
Filo Pastry is liberally used in Greece like about once or twice a week

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie):
The tip is to use the best pick of the crop for this Dish
Can use about half a packet of Filo Pastry on the Bottom & other half on the Top
Brush up with Melted Butter on every Layer & also in between every layered sheet

In a Bowl, Whisk the Ricotta Cheese, Eggs, Nutmeg Powder, Breadcrumbs, Pepper Powder, Olive Oil, Shredded Spinach Greens & Put the Filling in the Filo Pastry
Cover the Bottom Layer with another set of Brushed Filo Sheets one by one
Wrap the Sheets to the sides of the Baking Pan so that the extra can be cut
Cut into Diamond Shaped Pieces
Bake for about 45 Minutes & Serve Fresh!

Gyros (Yeeros):
The Vegetarian Version of this Classic Sandwich can be made with Whole Wheat Pita Bread with Slices of Lettuce, Onion, Tomato, Cheese, Cucumber, Garlic, Dill flavoured with Sauces like Tzatziki, Tahini, Hummus, Yoghurt, Oregano, Cumin, Mustard etc.

Bean Skordalia:
Skordalia is traditionally a Sauce/Dip usually made with Potato flavoured with Garlic, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice & Parsley but a little change can be to add White Cannellini Beans instead & keep the Lemon Juice, Garlic & Olive Oil to make a Dip

An Urban Dish invented by Nicolas Solemon Vaz (originally an All Arab Recipe transformed by him!) It is a Casserole Dish made with Vegetables, Meat but I tried to modify it for us Vegetarians with Cottage Cheese (Paneer) & retain the original Béchamel Sauce

In this Dish, there is an abundant use of Fresh Colorful Assorted Vegetables like Potatoes, Brinjal/Aubergine, Green Bell Pepper, Red Onion etc.
Potatoes- 2 Large, Peeled, Sliced, Half fried in Olive Oil, Layer the Slices in a Baking Dish
Large Brinjal/Aubergine-1, Washed, Dried, Thickly Sliced, Sprinkled with Salt & kept Aside for 30 Minutes till most Water Releases & the Slices are Soft, Dry with Cloth/Paper & Fry in Oil till Brown & Layered in the Baking Dish over Potatoes
Green Bell Pepper- 2, Thinly Sliced, Fried in Oil & Layered in the Baking Dish over Brinjal

In a Deep Pot, Heat Olive Oil, Add Sliced Red Onions & Saute
Add the Crumbled Paneer & Saute
Add Red Wine & Cook on High Heat
Add the Cinnamon Sticks 2 in the Sauce (Whole Cinnamon Stick is used widely in the Greek Tomato Sauce Base)
Add Mediterranean Powdered Aleppo Pepper (not as Spicy but adds a Smoky flavour to the dish)
Grate the Pulpy Tomato on a grater with the Skin, Add this Pulp to the
Add a Handful of Currants,
In Olive Oil Add Flour, Add Milk 2 Cups, Yoghurt  
Add Grated Cheese, A pinch of Pepper
Spread the White Sauce over Vegetables
Keep the Dish to Bake in the Oven for about an Hour & don't forget to add the Butter at the End!

In the Modern Day Greek Household, the Greeks consume more Cheese & White Sauce than the Europeans!
Greek’s most famous Cheese is Feta Cheese made from 30 % Goat’s Milk & 70 % Sheep’s Milk
In the Process, Salt is sprinkled on the Cheese so that it absorbs most of the moisture & Feta gets its Crumbly Texture
Also just like the Wine, the Cheese matured in Old Barrels allows the Cheese to take on more complex flavors

During Summer time, Athens (the capital of Greece) has the local youth hanging out with Friends at the Sidewalk Cafe’s (Theme based) drinking Coffee & indulging in the various activities like Board games, reading Comics all day long etc. Frappé is an instant foamy Cold Coffee with Ice
People usually don’t have Breakfast in Greece as they have pretty late Dinners
One of the Snack items Kouluri/Kuluri is a Bagel like Breadstick Ring sprinkled with Sesame Seeds (so a non-steamed Bagel)

When in Athens, make sure to taste the variety of Finger Sweet items like Baklava (all lay its claim on this) or the Tavuk Göğsü (a Milk & Chicken Breast Dessert with Cinnamon flavour)!  

The refugees & Alexander brought back with them the Eastern Cuisine influence in Greece, so the Modern Greek Food uses a lot of the Spices that like the Black Pepper, Cumin, Maztec (a Natural Chewing Gum that aids in Digestion), Cinnamon etc. are found in the local Spice Shops

Stuffed Vegetables Tomatoes Peppers
Thickly Slice Tomatoes
Scoop the inside part of the Tomatoes, Green Peppers, Add some Salt so that the Vegetables Dry Fast
In Olive Oil, Add Finely Chopped Onions, Dried Chilli Flakes, Cumin Powder,
Add Finely Sliced Carrots, a Handful of Pine Nuts, ½ Kg of Minced Beef & Stir till Meat loses its Color & Brown
Add 1 Tbsp of Concentrated Tomato Puree (diluted in Fresh Tomato Sauce), Season with Salt & Pepper, Spoonful of Brown Sugar, Few Broken Cinnamon Sticks & Stir Well
Add Dry Raisins, Add Rice, Water Cover & cook on Low Flame for 5 Minutes
Add Fresh Parsley
Fill the Rice in the Scooped Vegetables, Cover with the Top Layer of the Vegetables
Add some Chopped Potatoes filling the Dish, sprinkle Water & Bake for Minutes till Done

A Great Cup of Greek Coffee is traditionally made using a Briki (Coffee Pot)
Briki is a Metal Pot with a Long Handle used on the Stove top to make a Thick Coffee
Every Greek girl’s rite of passage includes learning to make Greek Coffee which has a Kaimaki (mean the Nice Thick Foam that forms on top of the Coffee)!!
The shape of the Briki is important in the creation of the Kaimaki
For a Metrion (Mildly Sweet) Coffee, use a 1:1 ratio of Sugar: Coffee with about a Heaped Tsp. each for every cup of Coffee

The Greek have 3 different categories of Desserts; first are the Nutty Syrupy ones, second are the Divine Biscuits & third are the Luscious Custards

One of those Greek Grandmother's Favorite Recipes that she would like to make for her Grandkids!!

Fig Loukomadas with Raspberry Filling:
Fresh Green Figs- 12 No’s
For Batter:
Plain Flour- 1 Cup
Dried Yeast- 1 Packet
Sugar- 2 Tbsp.
Sea Salt- a pinch
Water- To Make Batter
For Syrup:
Sugar- 2 Cups
Water- 2 Cups
Juice of 1 Lemon
Raspberries (Fresh/Frozen)- 1 Cup
Rose Water- 1 Tsp.
Plain Flour - 2 Tbsp., For Dusting

Whisk the Flour, Yeast, Sugar, water & leave it for about 2-3 Hours
Make Sugar Syrup with 2 Cups Sugar & 2 Cups Water
Add Fresh Raspberries, Rose Water & stir to loosen the Raspberries
Dust the Fresh Figs with Flour, Roll them iman the prepared Batter & Deep Fry
Pour the Sauce over the Fried Figs & Serve Fresh!

Feta Cheese Wrapped in Filo Sheet with Honey & Sesame Seeds is a Greek Cretan Cuisine Dessert
Cut Feta into 1cm-Thick Pieces
Brush the Filo Pastry Sheet with Olive Oil one at a time
Wrap the Feta Cheese in the Brushed Filo Pastry Sheet into a Square Shape
Heat Olive Oil in a Wide Pan & Deep-Fry the Squares till Golden in Color
Drain the Squares onto a Plate with Kitchen Paper
Drizzle Honey, Sprinkle Poppy Seeds & Sesame Seeds
Serve Fresh & Warm!

Places to visit in Greece:

FT Bletsas is a Greek Cookery Show Host & Song Writer

Places to visit in Australia:

As shared by one of my Blogger friends (many thanks for that), Lopi from Greece, Ryzogalo is the Greek Rice Pudding equivalent of the Kheer- Indian Rice Pudding

Feel free to share your views & do let us know how this one turned out :)

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