Greek cuisine has ancient roots. It has been influenced from different customs and cultures that the Greeks have been in contact with, from the East in the past and from the West in more recent times. Greek cuisine in turn has colored the dietary habits of others, especially in Southern Italy, Spain and in Mediterrenean France.
The first cookbook in recorded history was written by a Greek, Archestratos, in 320 B.C.
Greek Cuisine In History
Ancient Greek cuisine established the “Mediterrenean triad”: olive oil, wine and wheat. Cheese especially from sheep and goat’s milk featured frequently, and fish and meat formed the basis for other recipes. Like elsewhere in the Mediterrenean Sea, meat has become truly readily available only in recent decades.
Some current spread dishes date back to ancient Greece like lentil soup, retsina (rosé or white wine with pine resin) and pasteli (candy with sesame seeds and honey). Byzantine cuisine included revolutionary changes by introducing new ingredients like nutmeg, lemons, basil and caviar. Moreover, Constantinople was a global hub for the spice trade, with consequences for everyday cooking.
In this period, feta cheese and paximadi (a traditional bread) became commonplace.
A Quick Overview
The most characteristic element of current Greek cuisine is certainly olive oil, but other vegetables play a fundamental role – tomato, eggplant, green beans, green peppers, onions and potatoes.
Greek cuisine also employs many flavorings like oregano, garlic, mint, dill and bay laurel leaves. Moreover, many recipes include spices, especially in combination with meat, like cinnamon and cloves in stews.
Another common choice for meat dressing is yoghurt, like for souvlaki and gyros pita. Lamb meat is traditional and it is cooked especially for holidays like Christmas or Easter. Ingredients like feta and honey also deserve a special mention.
The typical places for eating outdoors are Taverna and Estiatorio.
Apart from famous typical dishes like moussaka, tzatziki, keftethes, boureki, baklava, halva and kadaifi, Greek cuisine is very diverse.
The Peloponnese is Greece’s fertile southernmost peninsula and its cuisine is very rich in vegetables and fruit, olives and olive oil like for preparing Arni me votana, a lamb dish with herbs and vegetables. The sea, instead, provides locals with shellfish and crustaceans. Some very traditional dishes are prepared, in fact, with lobster and crab which are normally char-grilled or crumbed and fried, then served with sea salt, olive oil, lemon juice and herbs. Kaimaki, a sweet cream, is also traditional and it’s usually served with pastries or walnuts and honey.
Our dish of choice is arni me votana, roasted lamb served in a casserole, seasoned with herbs and accompanied by legumes and greens.