The magic and complexity of Hellenic cuisine come from flavors steeped in the history and traditions of the Greeks. As part of the Mediterranean, it shares many similar ingredients from the rich soil and bodies of water surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Olive oil is distinctly one of these shared ingredients, pressed from olives indigenous to the area and providing that essential Greek taste and the richness of nature.
Greek recipes originate from a variety of influences on Hellenic cuisine—from the Byzantine and Orthodox Church to Ottoman cuisine. “Greek cuisine faces both East and West. It is versatile and adaptable,” says Vilma Liacouras Chantiles in The Food of Greece. A look at the ingredients alone will show us the many ways one can create Greek recipes. Aside from olives, there’s honey and nuts in the baklava pastry, sheep or goat’s milk in feta cheese (a protected Greek product), wine, grapes, figs and pomegranates.
Likewise, Greek recipes bear citrusy flavors derived from lemons, lemon and orange rinds, tomato, vinegar and yogurt. Pungent seasonings spring from cayenne pepper, capers, liquors, mustard, paprika and tursi (pickle); saltiness from anchovies, caviar, feta (brined white cheese) and sardines, among others.
A sampling of Greek and Greek-inspired recipes awaits the adventurous cook. The Grecian Baked Lima, for example, highlights olive oil, tomatoes and lima beans (gigantes). Baked lima beans are traditionally served as appetizers (orektikó). Another familiar appetizer is the hummus from pureed chickpeas with tahini (sesame seed paste). It can be made in a blender, a modern equipment for an ancient dish. The hummus can be served as a dip for crudités and toasted pita bread.
Each dish affords the diner a glimpse, if not the pulse, of the Hellenic spirit, the kefi. So enjoy the food, or as they say in Greek, Kalin Orexi!