Even though your holiday in Greece may seem a long way off, you can still dream of hot summer days and long, lazy lunches by the pool. I’m already starting to plan my next visit to the Greek island of Zakynthos, where my sister lives with her Greek husband. Over the years I’ve tried almost all the home-cooked Greek dishes that she serves at her poolside restaurant. Here are some of our favourites, from light and tasty meze dishes to hearty, slow-cooked stews that you might like to recreate on autumn evenings at home;
This dish is typical of the Greek home-style cooking that you will find on many restaurant menus and is perfect if you want something hearty and filling. The beef is slow cooked in the oven with small onions or shallots, in a sauce of red wine and tomatoes as well as a good slug of olive oil to make a silky rich sauce. The secret spice that you may taste is cinnamon, a flavour that is often used in savoury dishes of the Mediterranean and hints at exotic Eastern influences.
Lamb Kleftico is another slow cooked, one pot meal which originated as a piece of lamb cooked in a pit in the ground by shepherds. The word Kleftiko means stolen, and the story goes that bandits fighting the Ottomans would cook their meat tightly sealed in the ground, so that no steam or smells would escape to give them away. At my sister’s restaurant they include onions and peppers with the slow cooked lamb, adding a topping of grilled local cheese to make a rich and delicious dish.
Fresh orange juice
Freshly squeezed orange juice is served in most beach and city bars as a healthy althernative to Fanta or the creamy Frappé coffee. The oranges are often locally grown and you’ll find that many Greeks have a few fruit trees including oranges and lemons growing around their houses. The oranges are bobbly and discoloured, rather than the perfect spheres we get in our supermarkets, but that doesn’t mean the juice is any less delicious. We always bring back a few lemons picked from the trees when we return from Zante, or make some lemonade with the juice while we are there.
Iced coffee Frappé
The refreshment of choice for the trendy Greeks on the beach or lounging in the town square café, is a Frappé or creamy iced coffee, which also goes by various names such as freddoccino or frappuccino. When I was on Zante this summer I became addicted to these frappes although I’m pretty sure they have way too many calories to maintain a bikini figure. They’re made with instant coffee which apparently produces far more froth than you can achieve with freshly brewed coffee and are like eating a not-quite-frozen coffee ice cream.
A Greek salad is on every restaurant menu and is made from all the salad crops that the locals would have growing in their vegetable patch, combined with the olives and cheese they have stored in their cellar. It’s made up of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, perhaps some red or green peppers, scattered with thinly sliced, pungent red onions and a few black olives. On top you’ll get a slab of fetta cheese and perhaps a sprinkling of oregano which makes it a great lunchtime meal with some crusty bread. The Greeks never add a pre-prepared dressing to the salad but instead drizzle over olive oil and vinegar to taste. I must admit I always leave the onions on the side as I don’t want to be breathing onions over everyone or the rest of the afternoon.
Stuffed vegetables cooked in the oven
We always look forward to being invited to lunch when my sister’s Greek mother-in-law is cooking, as her stuffed vegetables are legendary. She uses the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines that grow in the small polytunnel at the back of the house and stuffs them with a mixture of fried onions, rice, oregano, mint and local cheese. All the vegetables get a good splash of olive oil from the family olive groves and are roasted slowly in the oven along with sliced potatoes. You’ll find similar dishes in restaurants, perhaps with a meat based filling, but I love the simple home cooked variety made with just what you can grow in your vegetable patch. You can read my article about How to make delicious Greek stuffed tomatoes
I always order a selection of Mezethes in a taverna at lunchtime if I just want something light to share around. I suspect that for the Greeks, who typically eat their main meal at lunchtime, the meze dishes would be something that they share later on with friends over a glass of wine from their own vineyards. I’d recommend ordering a couple of different Mezethes per person, rather than one of the mixed Meze plates, which come with everything crowded together on the same dish. You’ll always be served with a basket of bread with your meal to scoop up the dips and mop up any juices. You might try the dolmades, vine leaves stuffed with a tasty rice mixture flavoured with lemon and herbs, tzatziki a creamy yoghurt dip mixed with chopped cucumber and mint or giant butter beans in a rich tomato sauce. For something hot try whitebait or kalimari rings fried in a light batter to be eaten straight away with a squeeze of lemon.
If you are in a seaside taverna where you know the fish will be fresh off the boat, then try a plate of grilled sardines with a salad on the side. They are a bit fiddly to deal with, especially if they haven’t been gutted first, but there is something about the aroma of grilled sardines that tells you you’re on holiday.
If your mouth is already watering with the thought of all these delicious Greek dishes, perhaps it’s time to book your next holiday in the sun.
More things to enjoy in Greece
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