Fresh Fridays

February 6, 2015
Vol. VII No. 3
In This Issue
Although the Mediterranean Diet reflects food traditions all around the Mediterranean Sea, Greece is often considered the heart and hub of the Mediterranean Diet.

It was no accident that Oldways' first overseas Symposium was in Greece - in Thessaloniki. Long before most people had ever heard the term "Mediterranean Diet," we took leading journalists, scientists and chefs to Greece to explore the tastes and traditions of Greek food. And, when Oldways and the Harvard School of Public Health created the original Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 1993, we used the most current nutrition research to represent a healthy, traditional Mediterranean diet based on the dietary traditions of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy circa 1960 -- a time when the rates of chronic disease among populations there were among the lowest in the world, and adult life expectancy was among the highest even though medical services were limited.

The essential elements of the Mediterranean Diet are also the foundation of Greek cuisine: vegetables, beans, and wheat, bound together by extra-virgin olive oil and flavored by herbs and spices. While these ingredients are the core of Greek cooking, as in many other countries, Greek food varies from region to region, and season to season.

It is impossible to write about the nuances of the regional, seasonal cooking of Greece (or any country for that matter), in one short article.  Instead, to shine a spotlight on Greece, here are a few of the classics that define the cuisine of this beautiful and wonderful country. We promise -- you will be hungry by the time you finish reading!

Meze:  Meze are a selection of small plates or dishes that are the start to a meal in Greece (and all countries of the Eastern Mediterranean). Also called Mezedes in Greece, they are commonly served with drinks - often Ouzo (an anise flavored aperitif) - and vary depending upon the region and season. Classic Greek meze include dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), anchovies, calamari, tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt dip), horta pie (see below), olives, feta, hummus with pita; eggplant dip, and many, many more!

Horta: Horta, simply, are greens, steamed or boiled. While many greens are cultivated, wild horta grow in Greece and it is not unusual to see people foraging for greens. We will never forget seeing women gathering greens among the snow on Mt. Ida in Crete (where, according to legend, Zeus was born). Check out the list of of wild greens on the website of Greek food expert and cookbook author, Diane Kochilas. These greens are not only boiled or steamed, but are also cooked into delicious savory Greek pies.  Aglaia Kremezi has a wonderful recipe in The Oldways Table for Thick-Crusted Greens, Onion and Feta Pie.

Greek Salad: You may think you know Greek Salad, but the real Greek Salad is simply built by combining tomatoes and cucumbers, topped by extra virgin olive oil, feta cheese and oregano. What could be easier?!

Kalamata Olives: Of course, olive oil is the juice of the olive fruit, but table olives also play a leading role in Greek cuisine. They're used in cooking, and are delicious all on their own, a perfect meze. There are a number of different olives grown in Greece; Kalamatas are among the best known the world over. Greek food expert Diane Kochilas writes that there are three main types of table olives in Greece (Kalamata, Conservolia, Tsakistes) and they come in many different sizes, from regions all over Greece.

Cheese: We all know Greece's most famous cheese -- feta -- but there are many other traditional cheeses of Greece. At Oldways, we learned about them from Daphne Zepos, one of the founders of the Cheese of Choice Coalition with Oldways. Try one or more of Greece's other DOC cheeses: Anthotiros; Formaella of Parnassos; Galotiri; Graviera; Kalathaki; Kasseri; Manouri; among others.

Soups: Avgolemono or Egg-Lemon Soup is probably the most famous Greek soup. It's made with chicken broth, rice, eggs and the juice of lemons. Cookbook author, teacher and Greek food expert Aglaia Kremezi's website is a great source for more recipes.

Meat and Fish: Although today meat is consumed more frequently, traditionally, meat was not an everyday food -- it was more of a special occasion food. In Greece, lamb and goat are more common than beef or veal, and roast lamb or goat are served at feasts, especially Easter. Greece is, of course, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, and therefore, has great fish and seafood culinary traditions. Sea bream, sea bass, octopus, squid, sardines, anchovies, and many others, grace the tables of Greece -- as both meze and main dishes.

Paximadia:  As we wrote in The Oldways Table, during our many visits to Greece -- in Athens, Crete, Chios, and Lesbos -- we were always delighted to find paximadia on the menu. It's the Greeks' version of an open-faced tomato and cheese sandwich. Traditionally, it's made by piling up tomatoes and feta cheese on top of a barley rusk, and drizzling it with olive oil and a sprinkle of oregano. We included paximadia in the Oldways bread project, and also in our children's cooking and nutrition program, High Five! Its American version is perfect for the family table -- lunch, dinner, or after school snack.

Spoon Sweets: While baklava is probably the best known Greek dessert, we love the idea and taste of Spoon Sweets. They are seasonal fruit preserves, served on individual spoons (hence the name!) as a sign of hospitality. Almost any fruit can be used, though especially bitter parts of the fruit not usually used. The peel or fruit is boiled in water and sugar over a long period of time, and retains the shape of the fruit or peel.  Spoon Sweets are usually chewy and are served with coffee or tea.  

For more information about the foods of Greece, we suggest consulting the books and websites of Aglaia Kremezi and Diane Kochilas. We hope you'll try the recipes below and take a look at the books in this week's bookstore.

Click on a title or photo below to go to the recipe.
The recipe included here outlines a traditionally Greek take on the meze platter. The country's most iconic culinary staples -- olives, feta cheese and Gigandes beans -- are featured alongside bright, vibrant peppers and creamy stuffed grape leaves. A simple combination of authentic ingredients, and the perfect beginning to any meal.

Content and photo courtesy of FoodMatch.

You may be craving a Cretan Salad without even knowing it! It's a lovely and lively cross between a vegetarian Salade Niçoise and a Greek Salad. Chock full of delicious Mediterranean superfoods, this salad is great in any season and makes for a balanced meal. Served with a side of crusty sourdough bread, it is a great option for lunch, and won't weigh you down. Or, you can serve it as a side with a hearty soup for dinner.

Recipe courtesy of Koula Barydakis for Mediterranean Living; photo and content courtesy of Mediterranean Living.
Grilled Vegetables with Honey Balsamic Vinegar
This colorful dish will wake up any palate. Unusual in its combinations, you'll find this dish has a lot of flavor and substance.

Recipe, photo and content courtesy of Gaea.

Fresh Fridays is a bi-weekly celebration of Mediterranean eating and living. We hope our Friday recipes will remind you just how easy and delicious eating the Mediterranean way can be. 

To find even more delicious Mediterranean recipes please visit:     

 Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA)        





Let the old ways be your guide to good health and well-being.       



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Upcoming Event

We're just eight weeks away from this year's Whole Grain Sampling Day (April 1), a day when the Whole Grains Council invites everyone, everywhere, to try new whole grains -- and to help others discover new whole grain tastes. This is the time to plan an activity on April 1, whether you're a dietitian, a doctor, or a home cook.
Check out what restaurants, stores, and organizations nationwide are doing -- and sign up on the WGC website with your planned activity.

by Aglaia Kremezi  
Aglaia Kremezi, an international authority on Greek food, spent eight years collecting fresh, uncomplicated recipes from local women, as well as those of fishermen, bakers, and farmers. Like all Mediterranean food, these dishes are light and healthful, simple but never plain, and make extensive use of seasonal produce, fresh herbs, and fish. Passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, most have never before been written down. All translate easily to the American home kitchen.

by Diane Kochilas
Greece and its many islands are rich with traditional and regional culinary dishes that go far beyond the standard fare of moussaka and spinach pie. To gather these special recipes and the culture that surrounds them, Diane Kochilas spent more than fifteen years living and traveling in Greece. From home cooks and professional chefs she coaxed a wonderful array of authentic recipes to augment her own creations, adapting where necessary to make them accessible to modern cooks with modern ingredients.

by Michael Psilakis 
A rising star in the food world, Michael Psilakis is co-owner of a growing empire of modern Mediterranean restaurants, and one of the most exciting young chefs in America today. In How to Roast a Lamb, the self-taught chef offers recipes from his restaurants and his home in this, his much-anticipated first cookbook. Psilakis' cooking utilizes the fresh, naturally-healthful ingredients of the Mediterranean augmented by techniques that define New American cuisine.