Dear Monday-Thursday of This Week,
I know you thought I was too busy to eat anything but peanut butter straight out of the jar, but guess what? You just got bombarded with zesty Greek flavors. Uh-huh. Yeah, I know I had a bazillion papers to grade and barely slept. But while you were busy throwing homework and a seriously dirty room in my path, I found some super easy ways to integrate Greek flavors into everyday dishes.
So tell it to the halva and kiss my boughatsa.
Ingredient #1: Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is the best yogurt in ALL THE LAND! It’s thick, tangy and so satisfying in several different contexts: a breakfast context, a sauce context, a dessert context… you name it. Depending on what you mix it with, it can be quite versatile.
(When you buy “Greek” yogurt from the store, don’t be fooled by an Archaic font and name-dropped Greek gods and goddesses. Instead, make sure your yogurt is unflavored and as thick as you can find it!)
Try eating it with:
- Pancakes or french toast. I have taken to making a big ol’ tupperware of applesauce pancakes and sliced fruit on Sundays, which lasts for several mornings. The pancakes take about a minute to warm up again in the toaster (yes, the toaster! It crisps them right back up!), and once you top them with your sliced fruit and Greek yogurt mixed with honey, you’re good to go!
- Grilled meat or vegetables. You can go traditional and make real tzatziki, or experiment by adding whatever herbs and spices you like. The tang of the yogurt is a great compliment to many savory dishes, as a sauce or as a dip. When I’m on the run and needing some sort of vegetable in my life, I like to chop up a bunch of dill and throw it right into the yogurt while I chop up my veggies. By the time I’m done with the veggies, the dill has infused its flavor into the yogurt, and makes for an awesome dip!
- A spoon! When mixed with honey, Greek yogurt makes for a lovely breakfast (or dessert!). I also like adding cinnamon, fruit and almonds or walnuts.
Ingredient #2: Eggplant
There are several ingredients I thought I would hate forever before I tasted them in Greece. Beets and sun-dried tomatoes are on the list, but perhaps the biggest surprise was eggplant. The Greeks pair eggplant with lovely things like cheese and herbs, and the results I found were an astoundingly delicious antidote to my lifelong eggplant Haterade.
Eggplant is so versatile! Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Grill it! American families grill often, but we mostly go straight for hamburgers & hot dogs. The next time you’re firing up the grill, try adding some nice thick slices of eggplant right onto it. Before you do, brush both sides with olive oil, salt and whatever other seasonings you’d like.
- Roast it! Like in the picture above, roasted eggplant can be quite a luxurious experience (as vegetable experiences go!). Especially as fall and winter set in, you can add some variety to your usual roasted veggies by incorporating eggplant.
- Stuff it! A few weeks ago, Greg over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide posted a recipe for stuffed eggplant. I tried it out and was wowed. I have affectionately dubbed it “Frankeneggplant” because the eggplant gets huge with all that delicious stuff packed into it!
Ingredient #3: Sage
Inspiration: Sage tea
In the opening scene of Zorba the Greek (my favorite book!), the protagonist is sipping sage tea. Having loved this book for years before I actually got to Greece, I was thrilled to find and try some sage tea when I arrived. It did not disappoint, and though I have always enjoyed cooking with this delightful herb, I now love its sophisticated, fresh flavor even more.
- Sage butteris super easy to make, and is a simple way to add some class to your pasta routine. I like to make it ahead and add it to asparagus and mushroom pasta. You can class it up with lemon juice, pepper or cheese, but when I’m making sage butter and don’t have time to get fancy, I just toss chopped sage into some melted butter in a saucepan and let the flavor fuse itself right in.
- It can easily be mashed or baked into potatoes.
- Whole, fresh leaves of sage can be chopped and cooked with just about anything–I like to add it to chicken, fish, or any vegetable dish. If incorporating it into your protein, try stuffing it with sage and breadcrumbs, and if you go the vegetable route, I think sage is particularly delicious with squash.
Ingredient #4: Feta
Inspiration: Greek salad
Feta is, of course, one of the most famous Greek ingredients. Its tangy flavor packs a punch, and has made its way into several American restaurant dishes. The good news about this ubiquitousness is that it’s really easy to find in the US; I even found a brand of feta that is a real product of Greece at Fred Meyer in Boise!
Feta can bring great flavor to a wide variety of different dishes:
- Pizza. My go-to place for quick lunch in Thessaloniki was a bakery called Ble (which means “blue” in Greek), and my favorite dish there was a pizza topped with potato, feta and rosemary. Feta is a natural choice for pizza toppings for me. I could quite honestly eat pizza til I puke, but I do get sick of the usual standard topping doldrums. Adding feta is a great way to spice things up.
- Salad. Feta is great in salads, whether they’re leafy salads or Greek ones like the masterpiece in the photo above!
- Sandwiches. Tired of swiss? Let feta rock your sandwich!
And there you have it, παιδιά! Four delicious ways to stick it to your weekday, compliments of Greece. What other Greek ingredients do you wish you could use more often?