Welcome to the wonderful world of Greek cuisine! Greece has some of the most delicious, most nourishing food of any country on Earth. Greek food is marvelously simple, yet bold, assertive and exciting. Beautiful vegetables, savory spices, briny cheeses and olives, bright citrus, fresh herbs, sumptuously cooked meats and magnificent desserts define Greek food.
As with any food culture, Greek cuisine has many different variations and specialties as you move about the regions of Greece. Below is a brief summation of some of the best food Greece has to offer. If you ever have the pleasure of eating or cooking Greek food, these dishes are a great place to start.
Gyros are one of the most popular and iconic Greek foods anywhere in the world. A classic Greek street food, you can find delicious variations of them in Greek restaurants and at street stalls.
Traditionally, a Gyro consists of meat, usually lamb or chicken, marinated with lemon, garlic and oregano, then spit-roasted until succulent and juicy. This meat is then sliced thin and wrapped in a warm pita with shredded lettuce, red onion and chopped tomato.
Slather the meat with creamy, refreshing cucumber-yogurt sauce (tzatziki sauce) and top it with crumbled feta cheese to round out an incredible array of flavors. Eat Gyros with crispy fries or a light Greek salad for the quintessential Grecian meal.
Tzatziki sauce is an age-old Greek condiment with a wide range of tasty applications. It’s made by mixing strained yogurt with shredded cucumber, lemon, garlic, parsley and chopped dill. The cucumber, lemon and fresh herbs make it delightfully bright and refreshing while the yogurt gives it a rich, creamy texture.
Spread tzatziki sauce across your gyros, serve it as a dip with toasted pita or fresh veggies, top fries with tzatziki and feta for amazing Greek fries, use it as a salad dressing, substitute it for mayo in burgers, sandwiches or wraps or spoon it over grilled chicken, lamb or steak to wonderfully contrast the grilled flavor. There is no shortage of great uses for tzatziki.
Moussaka is a traditional Greek tavern dish that is often served by Greek homemakers at Grecian weddings and other large family gatherings. It’s almost a Greek lasagna of sorts.
Moussaka is made of minced beef or lamb which has been cooked in tomato sauce, then layered with sweet eggplant, sautéed onions and garlic, creamy bechamel sauce and feta cheese. It’s then baked in a casserole to produce a delicious, silky smooth entrée. Some varieties also include potatoes, zucchini or other vegetables.
Moussaka tends to be very hearty and filling, so it does not need much in the way of sides. To properly indulge yourself with moussaka, eat it with a glass of your favorite red wine and slip off into a peaceful food-induced nap.
Perhaps the most popular and well-known Greek dessert in the world, baklava is a true pleasure. Baklava does have a somewhat murky and controversial history. Legend says that it goes all the way back to ancient Greece, but the Turks, Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians and others who were part of the Ottoman empire all lay claim to the famous dessert.
Wherever it came from, baklava is truly heavenly. It’s made with layers of flaky, buttery phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts), baked to crispy goodness and topped with a sweet honey-lemon syrup. Top baklava with a dollop of whipped cream for a wonderful Greek treat.
Sometimes known as Greek spinach pie, spanakopita is a classic Greek snack. To make spanakopita, sautéed spinach, butter and feta are mixed together then wrapped in flaky phyllo dough. The phyllo dough is then brushed with beaten egg and baked to golden brown perfection.
Spanakopita vary in size, but they’re usually small enough to hold in one hand and be eaten as a hand pie. The buttery phyllo, feta and spinach make for a savory, slightly salty pie that makes an excellent mid-day snack. Grab a couple spanakopita for a lunchtime nosh or eat them as an appetizer. A tart, herbaceous white wine like a Sauvignon Blanc pairs excellently with spanakopita.
Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, juicy and full of intoxicating flavors — keftedes are the Greeks delectable take on meatballs. There are a few different versions of keftedes that hail from different regions of Greece, the main difference being the spices used. However, they’re all very similar in their main ingredients and cooking processes.
Typically, the base of keftedes is a mixture of ground beef, lamb and pork. This mix is seasoned with parsley, onion, mint, cumin, lemon, garlic and oregano. To cook these meatballs, the mixture is rolled into small spheres, dusted in flour and deep-fried. The result is perfectly tender, moist little balls of meat that pop with great taste. These are perfect appetizers that pair incredibly with a spoon of tzatziki sauce, some toasted pita and a bowl of rice pilaf.
Lemoni Patatas (Lemon Potatoes)
Greek roasted lemon potatoes are the side dish you didn’t know you needed. They’ve got the rich, complex flavor of caramelized roasted potatoes but the lemon also makes them taste vibrant and fresh.
For this dish, Yukon Golds or another waxy potato are diced large and marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, oregano and lamb stock for a couple of hours. They’re then slow-roasted until they’re soft and tender before being put under the broiler to caramelize the outsides.
The marinade is cooked with the potatoes, forming a richly flavorful sauce to spoon over the potatoes at the end. Look for these potatoes at your favorite Greek restaurant and eat them alongside of a delicious roast.
Choriatiki, better known as Greek salad, is a must for any Greek feast and is ubiquitous in Greek restaurants and households alike. A simple salad consisting of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, feta and olives — choriatiki is beautiful in its simplicity.
The dressing is typically a mix of olive oil, red wine vinegar and Greek oregano. This salad is light, clean and fresh tasting with a pleasant crunchy texture, it serves as the perfect counterbalance to gyros, moussaka or any other heavier Greek foods.
Saganaki, or Greek fried cheese, is a must for any cheese lover. Saganaki is commonly made from Halloumi, sheep’s milk feta or another semi-soft white cheese.
The name saganaki actually comes from the small skillet that the cheese is cooked in, which is called a saganaki. To prepare this dish, a block of cheese is dusted in flour then seared at high heat in a small skillet, creating a crispy, golden-brown exterior and a bubbly, molten interior.
Order Saganaki in a Greek restaurant and you’ll be treated to a show. As your server sets the cheese down on your table, they’ll pour some brandy into the pan and flambé it — the flames gorgeously engulfing the cheese and perfectly toasting the outside. Squeeze some fresh lemon over the saganaki and use some toasted pita to mop up all the melted, gooey deliciousness.