By Carl Hanson

Greek cuisine, it's the original Mediterranean Diet. These days, when health experts talk about the benefits of eating lots of fresh vegetables and using olive oil as your primary fat, they're talking about the Greek diet, of course. A handful of simple ingredients typify the fresh, vibrant flavors of Greek cooking: olive oil, lemon, feta cheese, oregano and thyme. They give a burst of bright flavor to seafood, salads, and vegetable dishes -- like a taste of the sun.

Bordered by beautiful blue seas, Greece is a country of steep, rocky terrain and relatively unfertile soils, which explains a cuisine of fresh, delicious simplicity, a cuisine that harmonizes nicely with a philosophy of moderation: Too much wine causes grief, but so does too little. But enough, let's get to some of our favorite Greek recipes.

1. My Big Fat Greek Salad

This classic Greek salad boasts big flavor and serious crunch. Chef John combines cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, oregano, and feta cheese with a simple vinaigrette. "You can't go wrong with this Greek salad," says Chef John, "especially if you remember the only and most important tip: toss it with the vinegar first before adding olive oil."

2. Souvlaki

"Souvlaki is a Greek specialty made with tender cuts of meat," says Abby Benner. "In this pork kebab recipe, the meat is marinated in a lemony olive oil mixture. Serve with rice pilaf and a Greek salad."

Photo by Kelly J

3. Grilled Greek Chicken

"The secret to this simple grilled chicken is a very powerful marinade and 'roasting' it slowly over semi-indirect heat on the grill," says Chef John. "This is so flavorful that you really don't need a sauce, but some fresh lemon is nice, as is a spicy yogurt. Just squeeze a little lemon into some nice thick, Greek yogurt, spike it with hot sauce, and you have a perfect condiment."

Photo by Chef John

4. Lamb and Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves

"These lamb and rice stuffed grape leaves (dolmas) take some time and effort to put together," says Chef John, "so maybe make a double batch. In restaurants these are usually meatless, but I love the lamb in these. No matter what you use, how much rice you use will affect how much liquid you need."

Photo by Chef John

5. Arakas Latheros (Greek Peas with Tomato and Dill)

"Peas are normally considered a side dish, but in Greece it is common to eat a plate full of vegetables as a main course," says Diana Moutsopoulos. "This traditional way of cooking peas is so satisfying and healthy, it will most certainly become a favorite. Serve with crusty bread and feta for the ultimate meal!"

Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

6. Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers (Yemista)

Load up fresh ripe tomatoes and bell peppers with ground beef and seasoned rice. "This is my favorite," says Denise Phillips Sarigianopoulo. "The best time to make it is in August when the garden tomatoes are ready for harvest. Hothouse tomatoes are just not the same. My mom made this every year, and when she did, I thought I died and went to heaven."

Photo by Denise Phillips Sarigianopoulo

7. Lamb Stew with Green Beans

"This recipe is great made with either fresh or frozen green beans," says Kathy W. "If you use frozen use the French style beans. This is Greek stew that my mom always made while I was growing up and has now been handed down to my children."

8. Moussaka

"Here is a great recipe for moussaka, a Greek dish," says PEGGY AYSCUE. "It includes sliced eggplant baked in a ground beef sauce and then smothered in a white sauce."


9. Flaming Greek Cheese (Saganaki)

Crispy, melty cheese! "This flaming cheese ritual was started by restaurateurs in Chicago," says Chef John, "who encouraged customers to yell, 'Opa!' as the plate was being ignited. You can recreate the tradition at home in minutes, whether you'd like to spark up a little romance with an old flame on date night or just try a fast and fun cheese dish on a chilly weeknight. Serve with sliced fresh or grilled bread."

10. Steamed Mussels with Fennel, Tomatoes, Ouzo, and Cream

Fresh mussels are steamed in a cream broth flavored with fennel, tomato, and Greek ouzo. "Pick good fresh and alive mussels for this dish," says DJFoodie. "The fresher the better. This recipe is simply amazing in flavor. You will love it. Serve with a slice of bread."

Photo by Beth

11. Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

"This soup is perfect as an introduction to a full Greek meal or a hearty bowlful for a meal in itself," says Shelley Ross. "Serve with fresh pita triangles, and you'll be sure to please!"

Photo by kristi

12. Spanakopita II

"The recipe for these spinach and feta appetizer triangles came from a Greek family friend," says MARY KESSLER. "They may be frozen prior to baking."

13. Greek Baklava

Phyllo dough is stacked with honey and nuts. "A Greek favorite that makes everyone think you are a master chef and is sooo easy to make!" says NEONWILLIE. "I taught a Greek friend how to make apple pie and she taught me this fabulous recipe. The phyllo dough for this recipe is found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. Add a little lemon zest to the sugar sauce, if desired."

Photo by Betty

14. Beef Stifado in the Slow Cooker

"Stifado is a Greek beef stew and my all-time favorite Greek dish," says waz71. "Chunks of tender beef are cooked with shallots in a rich aromatic tomato sauce. Serve with boiled rice and a good supply of crusty bread to mop up the rich sauce!"

Photo by waz71

15. Roasted Eggplant Pastitsio

"This is one of my favorite fall and winter casseroles," says FrancesC. "It'll use up all your bowls, pots, and pans, so be ready for it -- but you can also break this into steps and make the meat sauce a day ahead. I often double this and freeze one pan. It's my standard family-had-a-new-baby dish to bring to a friend, too."

Photo by FrancesC

16. Rizogalo (Greek Rice Pudding)

"Greek rice pudding is simple, comforting, and delicious," says Diana Moutsopoulos. "Some people in Greece make it with eggs, but my aunt prefers without. Best enjoyed cold -- if you can wait that long!"

Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

17. Fasolakia (Greek Green Beans)

These Greek green beans are stewed with olive oil, pureed tomatoes, and pieces of potato. It's typically a main dish in Greece and a prime example of plant-based eating at its best! "Good crusty bread is essential for mopping up the sauce," says Diana Moutsopoulos, "and I always need to have a healthy chunk of feta on the side. Serve fasolakia warm or at room temperature for best flavor."

Photo by Diana Moutsopoulos

Check out our collection of Greek Recipes.