A Greek Feast

A friend from work told me that she was looking at doing a Greek night and cooking Greek meal recipes for one night. Well, I have not been able to resist creating my own Greek feast as well.

Greek cooking is both simple and elegant. It is rich in flavour and in passion. Like all the Mediterranean countries there is a large focus on a Mediterranean diet: olives and olive oil, grilled fish and meat, beautifully ripe tomatoes and love. However, Greece is a large country with vast changes in regions and topography, vast differences in eating and cooking habits. Books have been written about the variation of food in Greece, and that is not to consider Greece-Cypriot or Cretan cooking. Basically, it is vast; in such a short blog post I could not even scratch the surface. So, instead this is more of a homage to the Greek style of cooking. I am sure I will do further Greek recipes in the future.

There are several traditional ways that a Greek meal could be structured: μεζέδες (Mezedes or sometimes called Mezze) which are very similar to their Spanish cousins of tapas – multiple small dishes presented together, often as a sharing platter, or secondly ορεκτικά (orektika) and κύριο πιάτο (main course). For this feast however, I am going to structure like a Mezze, but with some big central dishes as well.

In order to create this Mezze you first need to know about the flavours of Greece, and in true Allottoeat style, I want to show you how easy it is to grow the items in question. However, first of all it is important to know that Greece is rather large, with a large variation of flavours used across its meals, and depending upon where you are in the country different crops will survive and flourish.

If you want to find out more this article has some great tips on Greek flavour and seasonality.


Herbs

Greek cooking relies on several key herb mixes which give it a Greek kick as opposed to any other country. The use of basil and oregano are key to this, but mint, dill and bay leaves also are used commonly. Parsley, thyme and fennel are used as well and tend to strengthen the other flavours on a dish. All of these flavours can be grown in England, however, the effect of the sun on these really does exaggerate them, and you end with some incredible tastes that just make you want to be eating outside on a balcony overlooking a peaceful Adriatic Sea (or any other sea around Greece!). I would look at either Real Seeds or Suttons Seeds for a range of herbs that can be used in any cooking you are doing.


Spices

Allspice, cinnamon, saffron and black pepper are all used within Greek cooking. There is also a spice called Mahlab, which is the seed of a cherry (a cherry kernel) and has the flavour of a bitter almond crossed with the cherry, a bit like marzipan.

Although these all seem somewhat foreign spices to grow, it is easy to grow saffron in England, it is simply a type of crocus that flowers in the autumn, and so grows from bulbs. You can buy bulbs from Suttons Seeds, which are particularly good value and you will be able to harvest your own saffron (simply use tweezers to pull off the golden saffron and let dry on a piece of paper before storing or using). Unfortunately, I have not found anyone growing their own pepper or cinnamon in England (but maybe one day soon…).


Mezze

I feel 8 dishes should be enough to get you started (plus the necessary dips as well!). There are hundreds of dishes you could serve (including things like the stuffed tomato found HERE) but I could not possibly add all of the recipes to this list, so instead start with these ones and then build your menu from here.


Dakos

Dakos is tomato and a crumbly cheese like feta topped on to a bread or rusk.

However, to elevate the dish you want to use the best flavoured tomatoes you can get your mitts on, a nice aged piece of feta and add capers, and if you have them close by, anchovies.

Yotam Ottolenghi uses allspice and I have seen other spices used as well.  Greek cuisine tends not to use much heat, but the flavours would work with a sweet or smoked paprika.

I see a lot of similarities with the Italian bruschetta.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 large tomatoes
  • ½ red onion
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g feta,
  • 40g black olives
  • 3 tbsp capers
  • 200g bread or barley rusks
  • Handful of parsley
  • Salt and black pepper

METHOD

  1. Place the tomato (chopped into centimetre cubes), onion, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of oil in a bowl, along with salt and black pepper (both to taste, about half a teaspoon). Stir gently and set aside.
  2. Spread the bread out on a serving dish and place the mix over the top. Crumble the feta on top and place olives and capers on top as well, followed by the parsley and remaining olive oil. Serve after about 10 minutes.

Gigantes Beans with Tomatoes

I first came across Gigantes beans in a tomato sauce in my local supermarket and quite frankly loved it. Gigantes beans are gigantic beans and have a huge flavour. I found that the real seed company sell the beans for planting HERE. If you have the space they are a lovely easy bean to grow, similar in style to a borlotti bean or a runner bean. Well worth it for this dish alone!

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g (1lb) gigantes beans
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 100ml water
  • Handful of parsley
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. Soak the beans overnight to soften. You can avoid this if you have picked the beans straight off the plant (when the bean pod is green or yellow. When it has crisped to brown you will still need to soak the beans).
  2. Heat oven at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F).
  3. Drain and rinse the beans and boil in water for about an hour, until they are soft (but catch them before they turn mushy).
  4. Chop the garlic cloves into thin slices and the onion into thin sheets.
  5. Fry the onion in a bit of olive oil on low heat until soft and add the garlic.
  6. Grate the tomatoes and place in with the onion and garlic.
  7. Add the tomato puree, parsley, water, salt and pepper to taste and a glug of oil. Let it simmer until sauce thickens.
  8. Once the beans have boiled, drain them and put them into the pan with the sauce and bake for about 45 minutes until beans are tender. I always add a bit more olive oil (another glug) to help the sauce.

Halloumi Saganaki

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 225g (8oz) halloumi
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp semolina flour
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper.

METHOD

  1. Heat the olive oil in pan.
  2. Beat the egg and place in a bowl. Place the semolina flour in another bowl.
  3. Slice the halloumi into thin slices, no more than 1 cm thick. Dip the halloumi slices in the beaten egg then the semolina flour.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan then, once hot, add the halloumi. Fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden-brown. Place the slices onto the serving plate.
  5. In another pan, warm the honey and once warm through drizzle it, the oregano and the pepper over the halloumi. Serve immediately.

Arni Souvlaki

INGREDIENTS FOR MARINADE:

  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp dried tarragon
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • handful of mint leaves
  • 200 g Greek strained yogurt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to season

INGREDIENTS FOR LAMB:

  • 500 g lamb shoulder, boneless
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

METHOD

  1. Add all of the ingredients for the marinade into a blender and spin until smooth.
  2. Cut the meat into inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil.
  3. Add the marinade and mix. You want to try to ensure that the marinade coats the lamb completely.
  4. Place the mix in the fridge overnight (cover so the meat does not go hard).
  5. Put the pieces of lamb onto skewers (I use metal, but wooden ones work as well, you just need to soak the wood first), so that there are about 5 or 6 pieces per skewer.
  6. Cook on a barbecue or under a grill for about 8 minutes, or until crispy. Serve immediately.

Leg of Goat (Centrepiece)

INGREDIENTS

  • About 2 Kg goat leg (on the bone)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh oregano
  • 1 lemon
  • Glug of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 pounds baby potatoes

INGREDIENTS FOR THE GLAZE

  • 3 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon olive oil
  • Pomegranate seeds

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (360 degrees F).
  2. Rub the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. Make small incisions throughout the meat and put inside the crushed garlic and some rosemary.
  4. Place meat and potatoes in a pan with the oregano, add the wine and juice of the lemon and drizzle with the olive oil.
  5. Wrap in foil and cook for 1 hour 30 minutes in the oven.
  6. Combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a bowl and mix.
  7. Take off the foil and brush the meat with half of the glaze mix and then place back in the oven.
  8. Cook uncovered for about 30 more minutes or until the surface of the meat is deep brown.
  9. When the meat is almost done, brush once more with the leftover glaze. Add the pomegranate seeds and return to the oven for no more that 10 minutes.
  10. Let the meat rest for about 20 minutes before serving.

Honey Grilled Figs

This is a really simple side dish and tastes fantastic, bringing another flavour of Greek cuisine to the table.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 figs
  • 6 teaspoons of runny honey
  • A handful of fresh rocket leaves
  • Black pepper

METHOD

  1. Simply slice the figs into quarters and place on a baking tray. Drizzle the honey over the top and place under the hot grill for about 5 minutes, or until the honey starts to bubble and brown.
  2. Take out and serve on the rocket.

Humous

Humous is a dip that is served across the Middle East and Europe. It is a creamy unctuous dip that works really well on Crispbreads or crunchy raw vegetables. This recipe uses a tin of chickpeas, but you could use your home-grown chickpeas.

  • 1 tin of chickpeas
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 lemon
  • Glug of extra virgin olive oil
  1. Drain and tip the chickpeas into a food processor.
  2. Peel and add the garlic, then add the tahini, a good squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of oil.
  3. Season with a pinch of sea salt, then pop the lid on and blitz.
  4. Use a spatula to scrape the humous down the sides of the bowl, then blitz again until smooth.
  5. Have a taste and add more lemon juice or a splash of oil to loosen.

Melitzanosalata

This is like the Greek equivalent to a baba ganoush and is utterly delicious. It does not have the sweetness of the pomegranate that the alternative has but it is wonderful and smokey sharp taste which works so well in a Greek Mezze.

Many of the recipes for this dip have a smooth consistency, but I much prefer aubergine with a bit of texture, and so my recipe here has that, using thin strips rather than blended.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp of breadcrumbs
  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. You want to start by burning the aubergine, either in an oven, under a grill or directly on the hob (or open fire). An aubergine can take heat more than you think, it seems to just absorb it before the skin starts to blister. This is what you want to see all the way around the skin, little blisters forming as this adds a smokey flavour into the aubergine flesh. In the oven this will take about an hour, on the hob about 45 minutes per aubergine with constant turning.
  2. Once cooked, allow the aubergines to cool for about half an hour and then peel the leathery skin from the flesh. The flesh needs to drain, so I use a sieve and place the wet flesh in there for about an hour.
  3. Crush the garlic cloves and mince finely with a knife, the finer the better, then place in a mortar with the bread crumbs, the oil and the vinegar and mix thoroughly.
  4. Slice the aubergine into thin strips and then all of the strips in half so you get short thin strips. Place these in the mortar with the garlic mix and crush the flavours together.
  5. Leave the mix to seep for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Tzatziki

Tzatziki is the quintessential Greek dip that adds a freshness to whatever you pair it with. It is often used in salads or wraps.

INGREDIENTS

  • 350g Greek yogurt (or plain full-fat yogurt)
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 garlic coves (crushed)
  • Glug of olive oil
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika powder
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD

  1. For creamy tzatziki with perfect consistency we need to avoid any excess water. The best result is achieved by peeling and de-seeding the cucumber. Then either grate or finely slice (with a vegetable peeler) and hang the cucumber in a cloth or a tea towel to squeeze out all excess liquid.
  2. Combine the yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice and garlic. Add a dash of olive oil and some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Sprinkle with the paprika powder.
  4. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours for the flavours to fully develop.