Saturday, 9 February 2008

Greek Cooking Methods

Greek foods are fried, sautéed, simmered, boiled, braised, stewed, baked, roasted, grilled, poached, pickled, puréed, and preserved. Generally, they are not smoked in home cooking.

When foods are named after the way they are cooked, as in kalamarakia tiganita (fried squid) they are called:

Kapama (stovetop meat or poultry casserole in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce), in Greek καπαμά, pronounced kah-pah-MAH

Kokkinisto (stovetop meat or poultry casserole in a tomato sauce), in Greek κοκκινιστό, pronounced koh-kee-nee-STOH

Lather, ladera (stovetop vegetable, legume (pulses), and/or rice casseroles cooked with olive oil), in Greek λαδερά, pronounced lah-theh-RAH

Ogkraten (the Greek version of "au gratin" baked with a bechamel sauce and sprinkled cheese), in Greek ογκρατέν, pronounced oh-grah-TEN

Pane (fried after dipping in egg, flour, and crumbs), in Greek πανέ, pronounced pah-NAY

Plaki (oven casserole), in Greek πλακί, pronounced plah-KEE

Pose (poached), in Greek ποσέ, pronounced po-ZAY

Poure (purée), in Greek πουρέ, pronounced poor-RAY

Psito (roasted), in Greek ψητό, pronounced psee-TOH

Skharas (grilled), in Greek σχάρας, pronounced SKHAH-rahss
or sti skhara (on the grill), in Greek στη σχάρα, pronounced stee SKHAH-rah

Sote (sautéed), in Greek σοτέ, pronounced so-TAY

Stifatho (stewed with lots of pearl onions), in Greek στιφάδο, pronounced stee-FAH-thoh

Sto fourno (baked, literally means "in the oven"), in Greek στο φούρνο, pronounced stoh FOOR-no

Tiganita (fried in a skillet, from the Greek word for skillet, tigani), in Greek τηγανητά, pronounced tee-ghah-nee-TAH

Toursi (pickled), in Greek τουρσί, pronounced toor-SEE

Yahni (stewed, ragout style), in Greek γιαχνί, pronounced yah-HNEE

There are others, and there are many using regional dialects, but those are the basics.

What You Need to Know About Traditional Greek Cooking

Traditional Greek cooking grew out of a rural lifestyle lived by people who were poor in the economic sense, but wealthy in imagination and creativity. A few basic guidelines ensure that Greek foods are at their very best in taste, nutrition, and economy.

Seasonal: Keep it Fresh: Traditional Greek cooking fully celebrates the seasons. Fresh ingredients are part of every traditional Greek cook's life, and daily shopping trips are the norm.

Scratch: Start at the Beginning: Traditional Greek dishes are made from scratch. Commercially-prepared ingredients are rarely used.

Simple: Fabulous Taste with Time-tested Methods: The art of great Greek cooking is to keep it simple, celebrating the taste of fresh ingredients and fabulous combinations of herbs and spices, rather than covering them up. Grilling, baking, roasting, frying, and stewing are some of the favorite cooking methods used.

Slow: Don't Rush It: In your vocabulary, "slow cooker" may mean a kitchen appliance but, when it comes to traditional Greek cooking, slow is the only way to cook. To speed things up, pressure cookers may be used, but they're used to reduce cooking times from 4-5 hours or longer to 1-2 hours... still slow by most definitions. When the food cooks slowly, tastes have time to meld, creating mouthwatering dishes that most Greeks easily identify with their mothers' and grandmothers' kitchens.

How To Make Thick, Strained Yogurt

The thick, strained yogurt used in Greek cooking may not be available in your local market. Learn to make your own using commercial or homemade full-fat, low-fat, and even fat-free yogurt. It's not only great for preparing Greek foods, but you'll love it for other uses as well!

Here's How:
  1. Line a medium-large bowl with a piece of cheesecloth or a clean white dish towel.
  2. Dump a container of plain (unflavored), yogurt into the center of the cloth.
  3. Bring the four corners of the cloth together and lift the yogurt.
  4. Over the bowl or sink, twist the corners to squeeze out the liquid (it will drain through the cloth).
  5. Continue squeezing, putting the yogurt under pressure, to force the liquid out.
  6. When the majority of the surface liquid has been drained, it will start to drip more slowly. Tie off the top of the cloth just above the mass of yogurt with string.
  7. Place the cloth containing the yogurt in a strainer or colander, and place the strainer or colander in a bowl where it doesn't touch the bottom (so that the liquid can continue to drain).
  8. Place the bowl containing the strainer/colander in the refrigerator and allow to drain for 2-3 hours.
  9. After draining, take the cloth containing the yogurt and put it in the sink (do not remove the string).
  10. Place the palms of your hands on the bag and press down to force out any remaining liquid.
  11. Remove the string, open the cloth, and using a spatula, put the yogurt in a bowl for use.
  12. Note: How thick is thick? The yogurt should be the consistency of whipped butter or cream cheese.
What You Need:
* medium-large mixing bowl
* cheesecloth or clean white dishtowel
* commercial or homemade full-fat, low-fat, or fat-free yogurt, plain unflavored
* string
* strainer or colander

How to cook: Spetzofai

Country Sausage with Peppers and Tomato

The choice of peppers is yours, but unless the sausage is extremely mild, red bell peppers are always a good choice. For mild sausage, try Greek pepperoncini or other mildly hot pepper. In this recipe, I used our local homemade sausage which has enough spice to make my eyes water, so I chose one red and one orange (sweeter) bell pepper.

* 2 pounds of country sausage
* 2 medium onions
* 2 red bell peppers
* 1 large ripe tomato, finely chopped with juice
* 1 clove of garlic, sliced
* 1 tablespoon white or red wine
* 3 tablespoons of olive oil

Cut sausage into slices. Peel onions and cut into chunks. Trim peppers and remove seeds. Cut into chunks.
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5-8 minutes stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Add sausage, peppers, chopped tomato and juice, and garlic, and stir until all ingredients are well mixed. Stir in wine and cover. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Spoon onto serving plates and serve warm.

Yield: serves 4

Preparation note: If using pepperoncini peppers (mildly hot), they can be used whole as long as the sausage isn't extremely spicy. Otherwise, slit the pepper open and remove the seeds before adding to the dish.

How to make: Yiaourti me Meli

Yogurt with Honey

In many Greek restaurants, this dessert is served compliments of the house. Both yogurt and honey are great for the digestive system, and the combined tastes are delicious. It's worth the effort to find the original thick Greek yogurt available at Greek and ethnic markets, or make your own thick yogurt using regular, low fat or nonfat regular brands.

Because yogurt is such a popular breakfast dish around the world, try this as an early morning starter as well!

* 1/2 - 3/4 cup of strained Greek yogurt per serving
* 1-2 teaspoons of Greek thyme honey per serving
* crushed walnuts and/or almonds (optional)

In individual serving bowls, drizzle honey over the yogurt and sprinkle with walnuts and/or almonds if desired.

How to make: Tyrokafteri

Hot Pepper Cheese Dip

This recipe works with red and green peppers. Mild or hot, this is a delicious dip.


* 1/2 pound of feta cheese
* 1 pepper (mild to hot, depending on preference)
* olive oil


Crumble the feta into small pieces using a fork.

Sauté the pepper in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the skin is lightly browned. Remove the stem and discard, and chop the pepper into very small pieces.

Using a mortar and pestle, add the pepper and the oil it was sautéed in to the cheese and mash until smooth, adding additional olive oil if needed to bring it to the consistency of a thick (but not stiff) dip. Serve garnished with a bit of parsley.

Alternatively: Put the cheese, pepper, and oil from sautéeing in the blender and mix, adding more olive oil if needed to bring to the correct consistency.

If you have a pepper that's too hot, slit it open down one side under running water and remove and discard the white internal membrane. Pat the pepper dry before sautéeing.

How to cook: Moshari Yiouvetsi

Beef & Pasta Casserole

Yiouvetsi is the name of a fired terracotta casserole pot in which dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood are traditionally cooked with pastas, however any oven-proof covered casserole dish can be substituted. An easy one-pot oven-to-table dish. This recipe doesn't require any special cut of beef; cheaper cuts do quite well.


* 3 - 3 1/2 pounds of stew meat, cut into serving-sized chunks (not bite-sized)
* 6 tablespoons of olive oil
* 2 large onions, minced
* 4 cloves of garlic, diced
* 1 small hot pepper (Hungarian wax-type)
* 1 pound of ripe tomatoes or 3 cups of canned stewed tomatoes
* 2 allspice berries
* 4 cups of beef broth or water
* 1 pound of small or medium orzo pasta
* 2 teaspoons of sea salt
* 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
* grated kefalotyri or pecorino cheese (or regato)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the meat in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until browned on all sides (about 10 minutes). Remove the meat with tongs or a spoon (do not pierce with a fork) and set aside.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and whole hot pepper until the onion softens. Add the water or broth, allspice, tomatoes, pepper, and meat (using tongs or a spoon). Stir to mix and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the meat is tender (about 1 hour). With a wooden spoon, stir in salt and orzo, cover and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 355°F (180°C).

Spoon the meat into a an oven-safe covered casserole dish, and pour the orzo and liquids around the meat. Cover and bake for approximately 50 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and there's still some liquid sauce.

Remove from oven and let rest, covered, for 30 minutes. Serve with grated cheese.

Yield: serves 6

Serving suggestions: Divide and bake in 6 covered oven-proof terracotta or ceramic bakers for individual servings. (The small bakers can be covered with foil during cooking if they don't have lids.)


* Lamb can be substituted for the beef.
* Short macaroni-type soup pasta (ditali or tubetti) can be substituted for the orzo.

Cretan Diet = Mediterranean Diet

The Cretan Diet has become synonymous with the Mediterranean Diet, which has gained so much attention as one of the world's most healthful. Crete was one of the original places observed in the now famous, and still ongoing, "Seven-Countries Study", begun by Dr. Ancel Keys in the late 1950s to document the rate of heart disease, among several different populations.

How it Began

In 1947, the Rockefeller Foundation arrived in Crete ready to offer humanitarian assistance to the war-ravaged islanders. As part of the Foundation's mission, it documented the islanders' meager diet. Then, Cretans lived on a subsistence regimen of wild greens, fruits, legumes, bread and barley rusks, little protein and plenty of their native olive oil. While the Rockefeller Foundation was appalled at what seemed like the diet of utter despair, they were equally surprised to notice that the islanders were uncannily healthy. There was no malnutrition on Crete after those war-torn years.

At around the same time, across the Mediterranean in Naples, a young cardiologist named Ancel Keys was puzzled at how there wasn't one cardiac patient in the entire hospital he had served in during the War. Keys was one of the first to realize that disease and diet must somehow be related, and he initiated a study of cardiovascular disease and lifestyle, studying the rates of occurrence and the diet in seven very different countries: Italy, Holland, Yugoslavia, Finland, the U.S., Japan and Greece. What he discovered was that while the Cretans consumed an inordinate amount of fat (on a par with the meat-eating Fins), they still had no heart disease. Unlike the Fins, who got most of their fat (saturated) from meat and animal products, the Cretan peasants got most of theirs (unsaturated) from olive oil. The Cretan diet in the 1950s consisted of carbohydrates (mainly bread and barley rusks), wild greens (upwards of 80 different varieties), other vegetables and fruits, and olive oil. There was virtually no cheese in the diet as cheese was a commodity to be made and sold; and, there was almost no meat.

By the late 1950s, Keys had assessed that the diet of Crete was in fact one of the healthiest in the world. He presented his findings, recommending to the U.S. government that Americans reduce their consumption of red meat and dairy products. It took several decades before the western world realized that Keys was right. Only in the last decade or so has the Mediterranean Diet, with the Cretan Diet as its best model, garnered the attention it deserved, and only in the last decade or so has olive oil gotten its due, for the most important finding of the Seven Countries Study was that olive oil, rich in unsaturated fat, actually can help not only in the prevention of heart disease but also in the reversal of its affects once the disease occurs.

So, what really is the Cretan diet? It seems to be a diet based mainly on vegetables and olive oil, although so many other elements of the island's traditional diet have also come under scientific scrutiny and have been found to be beneficial to health. Among them: snails, the immense variety of wild greens, honey, specific cheeses made not from cow's milk but from sheep's and goat's milk, wine, and finally that most Cretan of spirits, raki, or eau de vie, which is thought to spur metabolism.

The Cretan diet ultimately is really the Cretan lifestyle, where meals are not only inherently healthful but also social occasions for family and friends to gather. There is little stress and much joy in eating the way a typical Cretan does. All these things combined make for what is now coined "the Cretan diet."