We’ve all heard of moussaka, souvlaki and baklava. But since arriving in Greece, I’ve discovered so many other Greek treats that remain out of the spotlight. Many of them are quite simple to make at home! So, if you’re jonesin’ for some Greek food, look no further than your local grocery store or specialty foods store: you should be able to find all the ingredients you need to make the following recipes.
- Grilled Haloumi Cheese
Dare I say it? …Yeah. I’m going there. I think grilled haloumi might be my very favorite food I’ve discovered in Greece. That’s a big statement, I know, but it’s justified: I had tried other Greek dishes in the States, and while they’re certainly better here, I had never even heard of haloumi back home. So, I now think of the previous 22 years of my life as “the pre-haloumi years.” Haloumi is a sheep’s milk cheese of Cyprian origin. It’s served raw, grilled or fried, but I like it best grilled because the flavor of the grill marks adds a dynamite contrast to the salty sweetness of the cheese!
Recipes to try: this one from Epicurious, and if you can’t find the cheese at the store, you can try making your own!
- Greek-style Burgers
When they say “burger” here, they don’t mean the whole American shebang, with the bread and the pickles and the cheese and the rest. What’s translated as “burger” on English menus is just the burger patty. That said, they add a whole heck of a lot more flavor than we do! Greek burgers have herbs and spices mixed in, and are usually served with lemon or lime to squirt on top. My boyfriend and I made a celebratory Greek feast when we found out I got the Fulbright, and we tried out the recipe below. It was delicious, and so are all the other variations I’ve tried since arriving! I’ve had them with parsley, with onion and even with pistachio mixed in, and I really like this dish a lot (especially after running, when I turn into a carnivorous bottomless pit!).
Recipes to try: this is the one I’ve road-tested, which is delicious!
Custard and phyllo dough: two of my favorite things, happily intertwined in one seriously satisfying confection. Bougatsa is a street food dessert (if you’re classy) / snack (if you’re Kate) and it is absolutely to die for. It’s said to have originated in the northern part of Greece, and is especially popular in Thessaloniki, where I live. It’s a phyllo pie with custard in the middle, served warm with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Creamy. Crunchy. Sweet. Who could ask for anything more?
Recipes to try: this recipe from Whipped, or this one from a Greece travel blog
- Olive Pate
Greece is famous for its olives and olive oil; olive pate is simply another form of this specialty. Olive pate is essentially a paste made from olives. It often includes anchovies or herbs as well. While I find whole Greek olives too strong at times, I LOVE olive pate! It’s rich, it’s salty, and it’s absolutely fantastic on bread or crackers.
Recipes to try: this one from ifood, or this variation from Group Recipes
Keftedes are Greek meatballs. …But so much more! I am not a habitual meatball fan, but these are different. I usually think of meatballs as a soggy, saucy mess, but keftedes are fried and include flavor elements mixed in with the meat, so there’s no need for sauce. The result has a pleasant crust and a zesty flavor!
Recipes to try: the Food Network’s pork keftedes, or this version from Mama’s Taverna
- Spiced Carrot Salad
Yes, I said carrot salad! I know it sounds simple, but Greek people take the lowly carrot and elevate it to a flavorful masterpiece. They add cumin, cinnamon, lemon juice and all kinds of other flavor-boosters, and the result is both healthy and scrumptious! This is one of my favorites among Greek salad dishes, and it couldn’t be easier to make.
Recipes to try: this one looks great to me, but there’s also this simpler version
A sweet, braided Easter bread, Tsoureki is delicious and pretty! Easter is a huge holiday over here (way more important than Christmas), and there are many foods that are traditionally associated with it. Luckily, you can find tsoureki throughout the year if you look for it. Tsoureki is a great example of the Greek taste for sweetness: many Greek foods have a nice, subtle level of sweetness to them, as they are sweetened with natural products like honey and pure sugar.
Recipes to try: this one is nice because it gives alternatives in case you can’t find some ingredients, or try this one from Corfu
- Grilled Mushrooms
This dish typifies what I love about Greek cooking. It’s a simple dish, but the flavors are out of this world! I first tried these at my favorite Cretan restaurant in Thessaloniki, and I couldn’t believe it when I first tasted them. They are so earthy and fresh-tasting, and the grilling gives it that extra-satisfying edge. Nice, meaty mushrooms are a must!
Recipes to try: this one from food.com, or, if you’re feeling brave, you can give it a go from this recipe in Greek with a translator!
- Fried Zucchini with Tzatziki
You think you know zucchini? You have no idea. This ain’t yo mamma’s zucchini. This zucchini ROCKS. It’s crispy, it’s fatty, and there’s something so devilishly satisfying in eating a vegetable gone unhealthy, isn’t there? This is a very common mezede, and I tried it on my very first night in Greece. Dipped in tzatziki (traditional cucumber-yogurt dip), it’s dynamite!
Recipes to try: this one from Epicurious, or if you can find zucchini blossoms, try this instead!
Oh, December. Those sweet, bygone four weeks when my friends and I most likely ate our weight in melomakarona. This traditional sweet is, sadly, only available at Christmastime, and I daresay I was actually angry when I found out it was going to go away. Melomakarona are lightly spiced and soaked in honey. They taste like Christmas. They taste like love! I’m determined to find the perfect recipe so I can make them for my family next Christmas. (Get excited, Mom & Dad!)
Recipes to try: both of these claim to be family recipes, so hopefully they’re good! This one looks promising, as does this simpler version.
Greek food is simple, soulful and incredibly flavorful. Give these dishes a try, and someday, hopefully you can come to Greece to try them in their element! In Greece, we say “Καλή όρεξη!” (kali oreksi) for “bon appetit.” So, κάλη όρεξη and good luck!