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The flavors of Greece

Feta, olive oil, pita bread. Need I say more? Greek food is some of the tastiest in the world. As a peninsula with a warm Mediterranean climate, the Greeks’ access to fresh and healthy ingredients allows them to create the classic Greek fare prized by diners worldwide.

Greeks are fanatics about fresh-grown organic vegetables and herbs. They pluck their fish directly from the sea. They raise meats, including lamb and goat, on nearby fields to move meat quickly from farm to table. Then there’s the olive oil and the wine.

Greek olive oil is among the most pure, and believed to be the magic ingredient in the Mediterranean diet — the food regime shown to promote heart health and longevity. But I suspect the wines also have something to do with it. After all, what could better promote long life than drinking wine fermented from the fruit of hundred-year-old grape vines?

If that description doesn’t get you hopping on the next flight to Greece or, at the very least, running to your local Greek taverna, then my list of top Greek dishes surely will:

1. Moussaka (pronounced Moo-sa-KAH)

Moussaka is one of Greece’s most famous and traditional entrées. The dish begins with a layer of meaty eggplant, and is topped with a mixture of sautéed beef, tomatoes, and spices. Finally, the casserole is crowned with a thick layer of creamy béchamel sauce and baked until golden brown.

2. Dolmathakia (pronounced Dul-ma-THA-kee-a)

There’s no shortage of grape vines in Greece, giving rise to this classic Greek specialty — stuffed grape leaves. For this dish, fresh grape leaves are brined in vinegar and packed with rice seasoned with fresh dill, parsley, and mint. A dish best served cold, it’s often accompanied with a tangy egg and lemon sauce, and perfect on a hot Greek afternoon.

3. Horiatiki (pronounced Hor-ee-A-tiki)

While we’re all familiar with the Americanized version of a Greek salad, the real deal puts our interpretation to shame. Greece’s climate is too warm for lettuce, so traditional Greek salads start with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions as the base. The dish is then topped with a hearty serving of feta cheese and Kalamata olives. Instead of a dressing, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and oregano, and enjoy.

4. Spanakopita (pronounced Span-uh-KO-pita)

Spanakopita is a savory hand pie that layers a mixture of spinach, feta cheese, onion, and egg between crispy phyllo dough. The Greeks use this as a grab-and-go meal, yet it can be easily served as a delicious lunch or dinner.

5. Pastitsio (pronounced pahs-TEET-see-o)

This dish is the Greek cousin of lasagna. Instead of flat sheets of pasta, the Greeks opt for tubular noodles, similar to ziti. The pasta is combined with a mixture of egg and cheese to form the bottom layer. Next add a heavy coating of ground beef spiced with clove and cinnamon, and top with more pasta and a béchamel cream. If this meal doesn’t fill you up, I don’t think anything will.

6. Dakos (pronounced DA-kos)

Venture to the southern-most island of Greece, Crete, to taste this traditional peasant dish. Similar to bruschetta, this appetizer consists of dried barley bread topped with crushed tomatoes, oregano, and feta. The sweet tomatoes and tangy cheese pair perfectly to create the most satisfying of bites.

7. Souvlaki (pronounced soo-VLA-kee)

Prepared similarly to a gyro, souvlaki consists of small pieces of heavily spiced meat, served inside a pita alongside tomatoes, onions, and tangy tzatziki sauce. Tzatziki, a common Greek sauce, is made from yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic, and often eaten with pita.

8. Baklava (pronounced bak-la-VAH)

Finally it’s time for dessert. Baklava is Greece’s most famous dessert, and for good reason. This sticky and sweet snack layers crisp phyllo dough with cinnamon-and-sugar-spiced walnuts. Then it’s topped with a thick coating of a honey and sugar sauce. It goes well with a dark Greek coffee and late night conversation.

Greek food embraces the natural flavors and ingredients of this ancient land. And its fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, fish, and meats combine perfectly to create both memorable and delectable meals. Now grab a glass of ouzo and start your Greek culinary adventure. Also, don’t forget to enter our Great Greece Giveaway for your chance to taste authentic Greek fare on an all-expenses-paid, nine-day Greek vacation for two!

 

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About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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