With a strong tradition of home style cooking and small family farms, Greek cuisine, while sharing many similar characteristics other Mediterranean cuisines, has its own unique flavor that developed from a history more ancient that all but a few of the world’s societies. From the Ottoman Empire, Greece gets several popular dishes including Mousaka (a baked casserole of layered with ground lamb, eggplant, and zucchini, and flavored with cinnamon), tzatziki (a cucumber, mint, and yogurt sauce), dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves), and keftethes (meat balls). Ancient Byzantium left the Greeks with feta cheese and several types of bread made from wheat and rye, and ancient Rome brought loukaniko, a dried pork sausage. A few contemporary dishes can even be traced back to the historic Greeks of antiquity. These include skordilia (a dip made from potatoes, garlic, almonds, and olive oil) and lentil soup.
Modern day Greek cuisine infuses these historic traditions with modern flavors. The mountainous countryside is surprisingly fertile and sustains thousands of small farms. Onions, zucchini, tomatoes (an Italian influence), green beans, okra, eggplant, spinach, artichokes, and cabbage are all grown and used in abundance. Small groves of olive trees, used in to make olive oil and cured to produce the famous kalamata olive, dot the landscape, as do groves of lemon and orange trees. Honey, an important flavoring in Greek desserts, is typically harvested from these citrus groves. Grains, primarily wheat, are used to make breads and bulgur (cracked whole wheat).
While similar in content to other Mediterranean cuisines, Greek cooking tends to rely on herbs and spices to create much stronger flavors. Oregano, thyme, dill, bay leaves, and garlic are all common flavorings, with a special placed reserved for mint. It has long been thought that Greeks discovered the special harmony that exists between mint and lamb meat. Fennel seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg are used in desserts and stews. Pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are also commonly used in desserts.
Meat and Seafood:
The rocky terrain of the country does not lend itself to cattle herding. Thus, beef is not common. However, lamb, goat, rabbit, and pork are utilized. Soulvaki, thought to be of Persian descent, is skewered lamb or pork roasted over an open fire and has become a popular street food in Greece. Chicken is commonplace, as are quail and pheasant. However, the true star of Greek cooking is seafood. With so many coastlines bordering the Mediterranean waters, it is no wonder that so many recipes revolve around fish and shellfish. Rich markets present tuna, mullet, bass, swordfish, octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp, halibut, anchovies, and sardines to the eager public. These items generally grilled and flavored with lemon juice and garlic or are presented in sophisticated seafood stews.
Beverages of Modern Greece include wine, made from the vineyards of the southern provinces, beer, and Ouzo, liquor flavored with aniseed. Strong black coffee is probably to most common beverage. With some much to offer it is no wonder why food holds such a high place in Greek society.