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Greek Cooking

Updated on June 4, 2010

The cuisine of Greece is one of the richest, most varied, and most original in the world. Many dishes are international favorites. Among these are dolmathakia (mince or rice balls wrapped in grape leaves); moussaka (a ground beef and eggplant casserole); domates yemistes me rizi (baked tomatoes stuffed with rice); and souvlakia (shish kebab). Numerous Greek dishes are served with various kinds of tasty sauces made with such ingredients as butter, olive oil, tomato juice, lemon juice, eggs, pot herbs, and assorted spices.

The basic elements of Greek food are meat, especially lamb, veal, and pork, as well as poultry and game; fish; vegetables, notably eggplant, tomatoes, and okra; pulses, or dried peas and beans; pastry; milk; cheese, particularly feta, made of goat or sheep milk; butter; and olive oil.

Meat, Poultry, Game, and Fish

The national Greek meat dish, believed to date back to Homer's time, is ami tes souylas, roast lamb on a spit. Another popular lamb dish, frikasse, consists of lamb, stewed with lettuce, onions, anise, parsley, and butter, and served with a sauce made of eggs and lemon. Lathorigano is roasted lamb, prepared in an oven, with olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano. An unusual lamb dish is kokoretsi, consisting of pieces of liver, lung, heart, and other innards, roasted on a spit and served as a tidbit. A popular beef dish is stifatho, a stew made with beef, onions, olive oil, vinegar, tomato juice, and pepper. Veal is used in taskebap, a stew that combines the meat with butter, onions, and tomato juice, served with rice. An outstanding pork dish is krassato, in which the meat is fried in butter and then cooked in white wine. Pork is also cooked with celery an'd dressed with an egg and lemon sauce.

Poultry is prepared in many ways. Among the most popular are chicken with okra, chicken with rice, and chicken with walnut sauce. Both chicken and turkey are also frequently boiled and the resulting broth is served with rice dressed with eggs and lemon.

Favorite game dishes are lago stifatho, hare with onions; quail with rice; and roast partridge. Greece, a country of numerous islands, also has many fish specialties. One of the most delicious fish dishes is tiganito maridaki, small fried fish.

Pastry

Pastry is important in Greek food, both in main dishes and in desserts. A basic Greek pastry is phyllo, a delicate, flaky, paper thin dough, baked in sheet form. It is used in such dishes as spanakopeta, a well-known cheese and spinach pastry, and in the famous baklava, made with alternating layers of pastry and chopped nuts and served with a cold honey.

Vegetables and Salads

Eggplant, okra, artichokes, string beans, onions, tomatoes, and parsley are among the most popular vegetables used in Greek cooking. A common way of preparing vegetables is to saute them in olive oil. Stuffed (yemista) vegetables are also popular, and tomatoes, squash, and artichokes are often filled with a mixture of rice, onions, and parsley, and baked. Pulses are used in the preparation of delicious soups.

Because of Greece's warm climate, salads are popular. One of the most famous is the village salad, made with the raw vegetables in season, particularly tomatoes, mixed with feta cheese, olives, and an oil and vinegar dressing.

Beverages

Wine is generally served with meals in Greece. There are numerous excellent varieties, among them mavrodaphne and the famous retsina, with its resin flavor. Ouzo, an anise-flavored spirit derived from grapes, is drunk plain or with ice, and served with tasty appetizers, such as stuffed mussels, pickled squid, and a fish roe dip.

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