Intro to Greek Cuisine with Diana Moutsopoulos
Diana is a longtime Allrecipeep, having started working at Allrecipes way back in 2008. A lover of all food, it's Greek food that steals her heart—and stomach. She grew up in Wisconsin never far from a kitchen; her mother owned a family restaurant, where she'd help peel potatoes after school. There was always something Greek on the menu, including delicious renditions of spanakopita (spinach pie) and pastitsio (a beef pasta bake with bechamel).
Diana's love affair with Greek food was solidified in her many trips to her family's home in Athens, where she learned to cook Greek classics with her two aunts. A mother of two, she now lives in Los Angeles and cooks many of the same Greek classics for her own family. She catalogues her everyday Greek cooking at home on Instagram at @greek_recipes, where she includes a recipe with (almost) every post.
Why Cook Greek?
For me, the best thing about Greek cuisine is its focus on vegetables – not only do Greek dishes use a lot of them, but they make vegetables delicious. There are so many Greek dishes that most people would look at and think of as a side dish, but they're in fact a main. For example, there's an entire category of dishes called lathera (literally meaning 'oiled' or, more technically, stewed in olive oil), where one eats a plateful of vegetables as a main course. These lathera are quintessential Mediterranean Diet dishes, as they are plant-forward and often vegan, and use olive oil as the main source of healthy fat. Arakas latheros – peas stewed in tomato and olive oil – is one of my favorite examples of this style of cooking.
More main dish lathera:
Spanakorizo – Spinach and rice
Fasolakia – Green beans
Authentic Greek food is simple
Rustic and unfussy, authentic Greek home cooking is astonishingly simple, and most dishes rely on just a handful of ingredients. What I love is that even if all you have is a Walmart or Trader Joe's nearby, you can still cook authentically Greek! In everyday Greek dishes there are rarely any hard-to-find ingredients; the focus is mainly on vegetables, olive oil, and dairy, meat, and poultry in moderate amounts.
Here at Allrecipes, when I worked with our video team to produce a video for my recipe for Briam (Greek Baked Zucchini and Potatoes), I knew that no one really understood what could be so great about baking a handful of common ingredients – literally nothing more than vegetables, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I'll never forget the oohs and ahhs after filming, when we all had the Briam for lunch. My Allrecipes teammates couldn't believe that just a few simple ingredients could transform into something so delicious (not to mention healthy) after 90 minutes in the oven. That's the thing about Greek dishes – they are so much more than the sum of their parts!
The Greek flexitarian?
I must admit, I sort of scoffed when I first heard the term flexitarian about 10 years ago. But now I fully embrace it, as I think it's one of the best ways to sum up classic Greek cuisine. Even when meat is involved, it is often secondary to vegetables and everyday Greek dishes are very plant-forward. So, for example, you could take the above lathera dishes – like Arakas latheros or Fasolakia – and introduce 4 to 6 skinless chicken drumsticks (just brown them in olive oil before adding the onion, then continue the recipe as directed). You'll still have a plateful of vegetables at dinnertime, but with a drumstick per person. That's an example of today's "meat as condiment' philosophy that the Greeks have in fact been doing all along!
Along with meat in moderation and platefuls of veggies, beans also feature prominently in Greek main meals—a boon to anyone trying to be a little more flexitarian. From the stick-to-your-bones Fasolatha, the white bean soup that's called the national dish of Greece, to baked giant beans, beans are typically enjoyed at least once a week. When you make Greek legume dishes part of your cooking repertoire, there are a plethora of rewards – for starters, you'll get more fiber in your diet, and save money (dried beans are cheap!). Not to mention that you can always make more than you need and freeze in batches for another day–beans freeze exceptionally well!
Great Greek ways with beans:
Family friendly comfort
While we all want to eat more beans and vegetables, we still need those comforting family dishes guaranteed to please everyone. Greek cuisine has that covered, too! Some of my family's favorites include: Greek roast chicken and potatoes—a Sunday dinner staple in many Greek homes, which is so easy to prepare and made with my favorite Greek flavors of citrus and oregano; Yiouvetsi—a favorite Greek orzo dish; and Pastitsio—often called "Greek lasagna."
Get your Greek on
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