Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had ample time to reflect on the things I miss most about Greece. It seems like every day I think of something new that I miss–but one of the greatest joys of coming home is figuring out how to work those things into your pre-travel life, and change your lifestyle for the better based on the new things you’ve seen and learned (and tasted!).
What do I miss most? You guessed it. The FOOD! I would do dastardly deeds for some authentic grilled kalamari, kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters), or taramasalata (dip made from fish roe).
But, on top of missing specific dishes (did I mention dakos? OK, I’m stopping now–this is torture!!), I’ve started to notice major changes in both my diet and eating habits in general. They’re all positive changes, and I credit them to my time spent in Greece.
The biggest change I’ve noticed is in my relationship with vegetables. The American diet is, of course, largely protein-centered; and, being from Montana, I do love a good steak or buffalo burger! However, like many Americans (I hope!), I’ve realized in recent years that I don’t agree with several of our meat industry practices. So, before I left for Greece, I was in a bind–I didn’t want to go vegetarian, but I’m not a hunter and never will be, and ethical meat can be so expensive. What’s a hungry girl to do?
Enter Greek food. While the Greeks love meat, they also do some really fantastic things with vegetables. There are so many flavorful, nutritious vegetable dishes in Greek cuisine. Before long, I found myself going days without eating meat, simply because I was craving those dishes!
What makes the difference?
1. Grilled vegetables. The Greeks can make a work of art out of a simple eggplant, mushroom or zucchini just by throwing it on the grill. Though this trend is changing, our standard conception of “things that go on the grill” in America is definitely meat. Now that my mind has been opened to the idea of grilled vegetables, my veggie world has been rocked.
2. Vegetable pastries and fritters. While less healthy than the other options, they’re still vegetables, so it still counts! I never thought about making or eating savory pastries until I went to Greece. Now, I’m absolutely in love with pitta, or savory pies made with everything from onion to leek to spinach. Vegetable keftedes are another favorite. They’re essentially fritters, again made with every vegetable under the sun. My favorites are made with zucchini and chickpeas!
3. Simplicity rules. Before going to Greece, I always felt like vegetables had to go with something. And even when I was eating vegetables by themselves, I always defaulted to having more than one kind of vegetable at once. Not so with Greek food. Several mezedes (the Greek version of tapas) are made up of just one vegetable, treated simply with delicious results. The key here is really good, fresh vegetables, served with basic flavor-enhancers like olive oil and lemon. What more do you need?
Now that I’m home, I find myself seeking out vegetarian dishes more often, and being more creative in my treatment of vegetables at home. It’s cheaper, tastier and healthier. What’s not to love?
In Greece, the usual style of eating (whether at home with family or out in a restaurant) is to make or order several dishes for the whole group to share. It took some getting used to, but I definitely prefer this way of eating now!
Why do I prefer it?
1. You get to taste more things. And when “taste” and “more” are in the same sentence, I’m in! Having a smaller amount of several different things is far more satisfying to me, and it’s also great to try that many more new dishes.
2. It promotes food talk. When you each order your own dish at a restaurant, you don’t really end up talking about the food much–who wants to hear so-and-so go on and on about their chicken? But when everyone is eating the same food, you can all talk together about the different tastes and textures. And on a more basic level, reveling in a “This is soooo good!!” is much more satisfying when there’s someone with you to back you up!
With this in mind, I’m cooking for friends and family a lot more regularly, as this naturally sets up a sharing situation. And when I go out to eat, I gravitate toward shared dishes like pizza, and propose splitting dishes with my friends much more often.
The Greeks add lemon to almost everything! I’ve always loved what a little lemon or lime juice can do, but I never thought of sprinkling it on sausage or burgers like you see so often in Greece. I found that even just a little lemon livens up just about any dish, and makes it taste even more fresh. (In addition to the photos below, there’s a lemon in many of the photos above too!)
The other day, I made a pasta with roasted asparagus and fresh tomatoes, and instead of just my standard butter and parmesan cheese, I added a little lemon juice too. As always, it really brightened up the dish!
My first word was “chocolate.” I kid you not. My parents came into my room one morning, looked down at me in my crib, and said, “Good morning, Katie!” My response (logically) was, “Chocolate.”
Needless to say, I’ve grown up with a bit of a sweet tooth. I love pastries, cookies, caramels… you name it!
However, the go-to sweetener in Greece is honey. That’s not to say that they don’t use sugar–rather, it just means that honey is used to sweeten things much, much more often in Greece than in America. Not only is it more healthy, but it’s perfectly sweet enough, and can be used in a variety of situations.
Eating more vegetables and sweetening things with honey instead of sugar have inspired other changes along the road to eating healthier, like seeking out whole-grain products and (eureka!) stopping eating before I feel like I’m made out of bread/peanut butter/cheese/other culinary vice of choice.
Once again, I’m amazed by how contact with an “other” can affect the familiar. Here, being in Greece put into practice eating habits that I knew would make me feel better, but had yet to experience firsthand. Αγάπη μου Ελλάδα, ευχαριστώ για όλα!