The Cuisine of Greece
Chef Demetrios Haralambatos
Greece, which is surrounded on three sides by water, has always been a seafaring nation throughout its history. Its landmass includes 6,000 islands and islets scattered in the Aegean and Ionian Seas, of which only 227 are inhabited. As seafarers, they traveled and traded throughout the Mediterranean.
The first traces of human settlements in Greece appeared during the Paleolithic Age (approximately 120,000 to 10,000 BC) and were organized into various independent city-states that colonized much of the ancient world from the eastern Mediterranean to India. Greece is considered the “cradle of Western civilization”, being the birthplace of democracy and Western philosophy, as well as the creator of the Olympic Games.
The Greek cuisine is diverse, with an abundance of seafood, chicken, sheep, goat, fresh vegetables, and a multitude of herbs and spices. It is not uncommon for a dish to be made several different ways, as each region’s cuisine is based on the ingredients grown in that area. For example, spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese wrapped in phyllo) is made only with spinach in northern Greece. In the south, however, leeks are added to the spinach.
The Greek diet is considered one of the healthiest and has been heavily documented, including in the Deipnosophistae (“The Dinner Sophists/Philosophers/Experts”), an early Greek work from 3rd-century AD. Written by Athenaeus of Naucratis, it is sometimes called “the oldest surviving cookbook.”
The cuisine of Greece is also a cuisine that features mezze (small plates). It is not uncommon to enter a restaurant and ask for four, eight, or twelve depending on the number of mezze plates desired. Any main dish can be turned into a mezze.
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When utilizing cornstarch in salad dressings, sauces, soups, or stews, always dilute the cornstarch with cold water prior to adding/mixing into your recipe. This will prevent clumping.
When using dry herbs, such as dill, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, it is recommended that you place the quantity in one palm and crush the leaves with your other palm. This will allow the herbs to become more fragrant and release their oils.
Phyllo dough (also called “fillo”) is usually found in the frozen food section of your supermarket or specialty food store. Before using the dough, there are several steps that one must follow: