From simple Greek snacks to rich layered casseroles and delicate pastries, Grecian cuisine is a wonderful mix of dishes that appeal to all tastes. The traditions of healthy country cooking have been expanded over the centuries, and Greece is now famous for a diverse range of family meals, holiday foods and elaborately presented dishes.
The Meze (Appetizers & Starters)
The meze is more than just appetizers, called orektika in Greek, although the dishes are often the same. The meze is specifically an accompaniment to beverages — usually alcoholic. It speaks to hospitality.
Mezethes are often combined to make an entire meal. Each meze is served on a small plate, or more than one plate for a large group. The choice of what to serve is limitless, from a small plate of leftovers or sliced tomatoes, fruits and nuts, cheeses and cucumbers to prepared dishes.
The Kolatsio (Snacks & Street Food)
Pronounced koh-laht-see-YOH, kolatsio means "snack." But for many, the kolatsio is as regular as any meal. Greeks generally don't eat a big breakfast and mealtimes are often delayed, so a kolatsio in late morning has become routine for many. Many traditional snack foods are also street foods that can be found on almost every corner in Greek cities and towns. In the Greek tradition, desserts are very light, so heavy sweets are often eaten as kolatsio.
Ancient Greek Recipes
Ancient Greek foods were cooked more simply than today but in much the same way, by roasting, baking, boiling or stewing. Cooking was done over open fires or in wood-burning ovens. The ancient Greeks enjoyed baklava and pasteli.
Classic Greek Recipes
Ask someone about classic Greek food and you'll probably get a lot of answers ranging from the very simple to the complex: chickpea and lentil soups to moussaka and roasted lamb. All bring to mind images of Greece with its hills of olive groves and vineyards, flocks of sheep and goats, beaches, antiquities, and whitewashed homes with red tile roofs.
Traditional Greek Sweets
From light flaky confections to syrupy cookies, cakes, pastries, preserves and spoon sweets, Greeks love their sweets. Desserts are called epithorpia in Greek and are almost always light dishes of fruit, cheese and yogurt. Cookies, biscotti and coffee cake-style cakes are eaten as kolatsio, served with coffee, tea or milk. And traditional sweets — glyka in Greek — are most often eaten as in-between meal treats and to celebrate special occasions.
From the simplicity of grains, legumes and grilled foods with a sprinkling of herbs, to stovetop and oven casseroles, the many and diverse elements of what we call "traditional" Greek family cooking excite the senses. Along with common geography and climate, Greece shares many culinary traditions with its neighbors, but it brings its own flavor and passion to foods that serve as the focal point for family and social gatherings. The most important events in Greek life take place around a table of good food.
Traditional Holiday and Special Occasion Meals and Recipes
Traditional Greek cooking is strongly influenced by the Greek Orthodox faith. It's estimated that approximately 90 percent of the Greek population follows the Orthodox faith and follows its dietary guidelines, at least on major religious occasions. Those who adhere strictly to these guidelines will abstain from eating cheese, meat and fish, among other foods, for over 180 days a year. The Great Lent and Easter are the major religious observances, and traditions have changed little over the centuries. From Christmas and the New Year to weddings and funerals, most occasions showcase traditional foods.
Many Greek recipes are prepared in all parts of the country, but each area is known for its unique variations. From the hot and spicy dishes of Corfu to the snails of Crete and the strongly Turkish-influenced dishes of Thrace, regional favorites abound in every corner of the country.
Cookouts, Picnics, and Parties
Whether it's a simple family outing at the beach or a fabulous Greek-themed party, this cuisine offers menu and recipe ideas for gatherings of all sorts. The Greek love of food is perhaps only surpassed by the love of family and friends. A great combination!
Traditional Greek cooking fully celebrates the seasons. Fresh fruit and vegetables are part of every traditional Greek cook's life. Refrigeration, freezing and transportation of fresh produce around the world have changed the availability of these items, but no matter how you look at it, fresh and ripe are best for both cooking and preserving.
Advanced Cooking Techniques with Photos
Greek recipes sometimes involve new ways of putting food together to create the tastes you love. Learn how to roll out homemade phyllo and fold the many shapes of phyllo dough, both homemade and commercial.