Thanks to the talented home chefs I’ve known throughout my life–including my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and mother-in-law–I have developed an appreciation of food that allows me to enjoy familiar dishes, as well as be open to trying new ones. And, some of the dishes or foods that I’m most fond of right now are considered staples in Greek cuisine. If you are interested in finding out more about this type of Mediterranean cuisine–which I enjoyed during our family’s trip to Greece and continue to seek out in Chicago-area restaurants–be sure to add the below dishes or entrees to your list of Greek foods you should try.
Greek restaurants usually offer a variety of options for appetizers and dolmades are one of my favorites. They are made by layering white rice and herbs on top of flat, pickled grape leaves, and then rolling them up before boiling or steaming them. Some chefs add chopped onion or minced garlic to their stuffing, while others add ground lamb in them. I’ve eaten meat-filled, as well as meatless, dolmades and I definitely prefer the kind that don’t contain meat.
I’ve liked sauteed zucchini for years. But, I gained a whole new appreciation for this delicious vegetable when I ate zucchini fritters in Greece. The flour-based, nugget-shaped fritters in the below photo that we had at one restaurant had a really pleasing appearance, texture and flavor and served as the perfect appetizer for our meal. I believe they also could be paired nicely with baked chicken or fish and enjoyed as a side dish. At a different restaurant, however, we had some flat, burger-shaped fritters that appeared to be made with cornmeal and were dry. Takeaway? If you plan on ordering fritters, check to see how they look and are made before you order them.
Another appetizer that we ate a couple of times during our trip was melitzanosalata, or Greek eggplant dip. Containing eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and olive oil–and often topped with a single black olive as a garnish–this robust dip is sometimes eaten with a pita or a piece of crusty bread. However, I typically just placed a dollop–okay, several dollops–of it on my plate and ate it with a spoon as I enjoyed the other meal starters.
While the above-mentioned appetizers are exciting additions to my ever-growing food repertoire, I’m particularly excited about being able to include Greek salad with feta cheese on my long list of things I remember fondly about our time in Greece. Why? Because this type of salad–which typically consisted of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives (and sometimes bell peppers) and topped with a piece of feta cheese–showed me I could actually eat the cheese and enjoy it! (I did not like fresh feta cheese prior to that trip.)
Speaking of cheese, if you like it, you must try flaming saganaki cheese. I didn’t try this tasty appetizer in Greece. However, I did enjoy it–along with some hearty bread–when my hubby and I joined some friends for dinner at Chicago’s Greek Islands restaurant. My only regret about the experience is that I failed to get a photo of the delicious imported Greek cheese when our waiter flambeed it tableside. If you ever order it, have your camera or phone ready so you don’t miss the attention-getting presentation.
If you’re a fan of lasagna or mostaccioli, you will also like pastitsio, the baked pasta dish that’s featured at the top of this page. Many chefs begin making the entree by layering cooked tubular pasta (such as bucatini or ziti) mixed with egg and parmesan cheese on the bottom of a baking dish. The next layer consists of seasoned ground meat that’s been combined with tomato sauce. The third and final layer consists of creamy bechamel, which may be sprinkled with parmesan cheese to make sure the finished entree develops a beautiful golden brown color while it’s baking. (The bechamel is so good I could just bake a layer of that in a dish and eat it!)
Potatoes are one of my favorite foods so I was thrilled to discover how prominent they were at sit down restaurants and hotel buffets in Greece. I like them baked (topped with butter and salt only), mashed (made with milk, but void of potato skins), boiled (along with other veggies in my mom’s beef roast recipe) and fried (think: french fries, breakfast potatoes or hash browns). And, I immediately became a fan of the way potatoes were prepared in Greece. I’m not sure how they were seasoned (maybe salt, pepper, lemon and some secret ingredient?) or prepared (they looked like they were boiled). I just know they were delicious each time I ate them. This further solidified my theory that the flavor of potatoes made by Greek chefs is unmatched.
Spanakotiropitas, or savory spinach and cheese pies, are also common in restaurants in Greece, as well as in Greek restaurants here in America. Traditional ones typically are made with a flaky phyllo dough base that has been topped with spinach, feta cheese, egg and chopped onion, covered with more phyllo dough, and then cooked in either a rectangular or square baking dish. When I ate it in Greece, it was always an accompaniment to other foods. However, it was sometimes so filling that I could have easily considered it to be my entree, especially if I had paired it with a salad filled with assorted fresh vegetables. Isn’t that golden, flaky crust in the below photo beautiful?
Another popular food in Greek cuisine is souvlaki, which is essentially tender cubes of meat grilled on a skewer. I always opted for chicken souvlaki (it was also available with pork) whenever I ordered it and, much to my delight, I could get it with potatoes, as well as pita bread. It was later in the day the second time I ordered it and, since I was really hungry, I selected the souvlaki platter that arrived at our table looking like a huge, stacked salad showcasing some of my favorite foods. By the way, I think the best souvlaki that I had while in Greece was served at two different The Greco’s Project restaurants. (Click below to check out photos of those meals).
While I like souvlaki–which looks like it’s made with chicken breast–my daughters sometimes ordered kebabs, another skewered type of meat, when we went out for a meal in Greece. And, the kebabs that they ordered (which were either made with beef and/or lamb) closely resembled long sausages.
Have you ever eaten a gyro? Best described as a Greek wrap or sandwich, it is typically made with a pita like the one in the above photo that is folded around tender pieces of meat (such as chicken), tomato, onion, tzatziki sauce and french fries. (That’s right. Potatoes can be found inside the gyro, too!) So, if you’re trying to grab a quick lunch or want to order a small dinner that is easy to take with you as you’re doing sightseeing or running errands, a gyro would be a great meal option.
I can honestly say that tzatziki was one of my favorite things to eat during our time in Greece. Made with strained yogurt, diced or minced cucumbers, and garlic–and sometimes a little dill, too–tzatziki is served cold and can be enjoyed as an appetizer or a condiment on gyros (see the below photos, as well as the next section).
Are there other Greek foods that you enjoy eating or would like to try? If so, tell me about them in the below comments section. I’m always interested in trying new dishes and, with your suggestions, I might be able to add even more Greek foods to my list of favorite things to eat.