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Feta, tzatziki, and olive oil: the delights of Greek cuisine

Katerina Lygaki gives a rundown of some of her favourite traditional dishes.

Hello, I’m Katerina and I’m Greek. Now that we’ve established 90% of my personality, I’d like to take you on an imaginative journey through my favourite dishes from the motherland. Before going any further, I do have to give a little shoutout to my mum for being the best cook out there, and to Akis Petretzikis for creating really accessible recipes for Greek traditional dishes that have also been translated into English. If you are curious to make anything that I mention, do go on his site because his recipes are delicious and are quite authentic. Without further ado, here’s my definitive ranking of Greek cuisine.

  1. Χωριάτικη σαλάτα (Choriatiki salad)

This dish is better known as a ‘Greek Salad’, with tomatoes, green peppers, cucumber, raw red onion, olives, capers, feta, oregano and, of course, olive oil. A Greek family whips up this salad pretty much every single day. My favourite part has always been the ‘papara’ where you dip fresh bread in the olive oil at the bottom of the bowl, but beware, do not attempt to make this at home. The vegetables in the UK just do not hold their own compared to the produce in Greece, and any time I’ve attempted to make this in Oxford, I’ve been rudely surprised.

2. Γεμιστά (Gemista)

The literal translation for this dish is ‘stuffed’. Stuffed what, you may ask. This dish is a labour of love, hollowing out aubergines, zucchinis, green peppers, onions and tomatoes; stuffing them with a rice mixture; and slow-cooking them in the oven until the tomatoes and olive oil caramelise to perfection. The best part of this dish is definitely the left-over rice in the pan. It is best enjoyed with a big slice of bread and, of course, feta.

3. Γαριδομακαρονάδα (Garidomakaronada)

This is a shrimp pasta dish that involves a lot of garlic, tomatoes and shrimp. It is best enjoyed on a Greek island, overlooking the marina on a hot summer evening.

4. Παστίτσιο (Pastitsio)

When I described this dish to my mum as Greek lasagna, she hit me with her shoe. Now, I’ll let you be the judge. This dish starts with a layer of fat bucatini, then a layer of Bolognese sauce (the Greek way which includes a lot of cinnamon, bay leaves and clove), and topped with a layer of bechamel sauce. This dish is even better than ‘mousaka’, and its components of pasta Bolognese inspired one of the greatest Greek pop songs of all time: ‘Ela mou’ by Sakis Rouvas, in which Sakis entices his potential lover by singing ‘I will cook you pasta Bolognese to eat’.

5. Κολοκυθοκεφτέδες (Kolokithokeftedes)

These zucchini balls are made from a zucchini, feta and herb mixture that is fried in olive oil and is perfectly fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. They are the perfect addition to any Greek spread— the most common way to eat Greek food is meze style— and it couples perfectly with some fresh fish or a Greek salad.

6. Γαλακτομπούρεκο (Galaktomoureko)

I admit that this is a desert, so please don’t come for me, but it is so delicious I could not omit it. This is a milk custard that is wrapped in filo and baked. It is then doused in a lemony, cinnamon syrup and it is truly to die for.

7. Σουβλάκι (Souvlaki)

This is the ultimate street food. Ignore all the food trucks in Oxford because souvlaki is the perfect drunk food. Usually priced around 2 euros per wrap, the combination of pork (or chicken), fries, tomatoes, raw red onion and tzatziki has a very, very special place in my heart.

8. Μπριάμ (Mpriam)

This is another dish that highlights the importance of good ingredients (and olive oil) in Greek cuisine. It involves potatoes, aubergine, zucchini, onions, carrots, tomatoes and garlic tossed in oil and baked in the oven. The outcome is beautifully steamed vegetables that melt into each other.

9. Κοκορέστι (Kokoretsi)

Only eaten on Easter Sunday, this dish is basically a big skewer of organ meats that are wrapped in intestine lining and slow-roasted over an open fire. The meats become so tender and juicy that a simple side of Greek salad suffices in creating an excellent dish.

10. Λουκουμάδες (Loukoumades)

Saving the best for last, this is the best on-the-go dessert out there. It is the ‘crème de la crème’ of Greek cuisine: fried dough balls that have been dipped in honey and cinnamon. They are the perfect end to a summer day.

Image Credit: Katerina Lygaki.

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