History of Healthy Greek Cuisine

The history of food and cuisine in Greece dates back thousands of years. The people of Greece enjoy a healthy, varied and interesting diet full of flavors and traditions. Modern food in Greece is often very similar or the same as in Ancient Greece. Wine, grains, lentils, olive oil, chickpeas, lentils, herbs such as wild fennel, broad beans, wild greens, fish, rabbit, goat and sheep milk, cheese, certain fruits, sesame and honey are a part of today’s diet as they were in 3000 B.

C. Finding a great meal in ancient Greece would have been very easy. They ate a wide range of delicious foods and dishes, many of which are still around today.

Many of the Greek people were farmers. They grew and ate their food. Greece’s climate is mild and they were easily able to grow lots of different fruits and vegetables as long as they got enough rain. Vegetables were a big part of the Greek diet.

Most Greeks ate a diet that did not include much meat and was almost vegetarian. Some common plants and vegetables eaten by Greeks were chickpeas, asparagus, fennel, cucumbers, and celery. They gathered and boiled dandelions to eat as well as bulbs of certain plants, such as the Iris.. They also ate stinging nettles! Greeks included fruits and nuts in their diet. Pears, apples, mulberries and cherries grew wild and were available throughout Greece. the damsons are a fruit related to plums, they were also a favorite of the Greeks.

Possibly the most important food to the Greeks was, and still is the olive.

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It is and was not simply a fad. The olive is a big part of Greek history today. Greeks believed that their goddess, Athena gave the first ever olive tree to Athens. It then eventually spread to the rest of Greece. Olives were and are used in many recipes. Olives were crushed and their oil was used for lamps. They would also use olive oil as a beauty product. Women would rub it into their skin to make it soft and shiny. The Cretan Minoans are thought to have been the first people to have cultivated the olive tree, around 3800 BC when olive oil became a valuable export commodity. The island of Lesvos is home to approximately 11 million olive trees that are thought to be the best oil producing trees in the islands.

There are other valuable uses for olive trees besides the oil including curing the olives to eat throughout the year, also making oil for soap and oil lanterns and also using the pulp for fertilizer. There are many different types of olives in Greece all with different flavors. They include: Elitses – small olives from Crete with a sweet flavor. Tsakistes are typically cured in brine after being picked early and cracked. Throumpes, a good match with olive-oil bread. Kalamatas are probably the most famous (and my personal favorite). They are shiny black/purple, almond shaped and delicious in red wine vinegar. Thasos are cured in salt and strong flavored and a good match for cheese. Ionian green olives are mellow and mild, they are lightly cured in brine. Olive harvest takes place each year between late November and late December. The olives are usually delivered to the local olive mill within a day of being picked. Almost all Greek dishes used olives, or were cooked using olive oil.

Even today, the Greeks consume more olives/olive oil than any other country in the world. Honey was and is another very important Greek food. In ancient times, it was used much like we use sugar today, as a sweetener in many different foods. They also could use it as a medicine. Greeks were fond of honey because they had believed that Zeus (God of Sky and Thunder) was fed milk and honey as a child. To the Greek honey was almost magical. Many families kept beehives and took very good care of their bees, to produce honey for them! The Ancient Greeks didn’t eat much meat. But since Greece is surrounded by water, fish were very easy to catch. Many varieties of fish were available at the markets. Many Greeks thought of eating meat as something that the barbarians had done. The Greeks believed that they were more civilized than barbarians. As a result, meat was hardly part of the Greek diet.

A typical ancient Greek meal almost always included certain food items. Bread was and is a huge part of the Greek diet. It’s believed that the Greeks made between 50 and 70 different varieties of bread. Greek people loved wine. They even made rules on how to drink it properly. Wine was also especially important for the symposia, which was the meeting of men to talk about ideas. Greece is a country with deep religious traditions, a strong sense of family and friends, and a VERY festive spirit. Those are the necessary ingredients to make Christmas one of the most important celebrations on the Orthodox Calendar in Greece culture. As any Greek tradition, important holiday details will include gatherings of family and friends, and a delicious table with dishes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Greek dinners often start off with a selection of spreads and breads.

Tzatziki is a traditional sauce that is made with fresh yogurt, Skordalia is a rustic spread made with potatoes and garlic. Pita bread (a round flatbread that often includes a pocket inside) and large amounts of olive oil are staples and cannot be left off the table. Avgolemono (chicken and rice soup) is often the very first meal after a Christmas Eve church service. It consists of a chicken and rice made with a Greek sauce of lemon juice and eggs. Yiaprakia is another holiday dish from northern Greece that can be found in every part of the country during the holiday season. Yiaprakia are cabbage leaves stuffed with minced pork, and/or minced pork and rice. Yiaprakia is the holiday version of the classic and more famously known Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), they are often served with a generous amount of Avgolemono sauce. Pork is the number one meat eaten in Greece during the holiday season. It is part of a very old tradition, when families used to raise a pig to slaughter on Christmas Eve and then to serve it as the main dish the following day.

Although all the pork would be eaten on Christmas day, the meat was then also prepared to preserve it for the rest of the year. In ancient Greece it was not always possible to access fresh meat on a daily basis. They would then preserve it two common ways as smoked chunks of pork (Apakia), or meat in gelatin (Pithi). Pork in Greece is often served in stews, bakes, roasts and inside puff pastry. However, the pork with celery and avgolemono sauce still is most popular during the holidays in Greece. Turkey also has made it to the modern list of Greek Christmas food. It has recently become a choice for many families to serve as the main dish.

In Greece, the holiday turkey is made special by adding rich stuffing that includes rice and raisins, nuts, mincemeat and a generous amount of wine. Lamb that has spent over 5 hours in the oven (or inside a wood oven) roasting and absorbing the aromas of thyme, oregano and rosemary is a Christmas favorite. Veal is another item that is likely to be served on the Greek Christmas table. Tender bites of beef are cooked with cognac, apricots, and plums. A hearty red sauce is then made from the meat and served with potatoes seasoned with olive oil and thyme. Mulled Greek wine is popular during the holidays. There are many popular desserts in Greece. The one dessert that comes to mind for most people is Baklava. Many groups such as the Greek, Turkish and Middle Easterners claim baklava as their own invention, and prepare it in their own ways.

One version of the story states that Baklava origins go back to the Assyrians, who had been preparing it as early as 8th century B.C. they layered unleavened flat bread with chopped nuts, or even lentils in some accounts, in between, drenching it in honey and then baking it in a wood-burning oven. The history of this delicious dessert is quite controversial, and not very well documented. There are reports about Baklava in kitchen notebooks from Topkapi Palace from 1473. Baklava elaborated from a simple pastry then, into a dessert which then and still needs skill in order to please the public and royalty. Till the 19th century baklava was kind of thought as a luxury desert; which back then only the very wealthy could afford.

To this day, it is a very common expression in Turkey to say “I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day”. People would bake baklava only on special occasions, and for a religious event or wedding. Modern day baklava is not reserved for the wealthy or important people of the world. It has also gone through some minor changes and is often made using store bought, frozen rectangular sheets of phyllo dough. Walnuts or a mix of nuts are used for filling. Spices used are cinnamon and cloves and the syrup is sugar syrup or honey with cinnamon and lemon or orange. Even though Baklava is such a well-known dessert, it’s actually not as popular with the people of Greece as some of their other desserts.

Kourabiedes another popular dessert in Greece they are a buttery shortbread cookies that are dusted in icing sugar. Kariokes are also a popular dessert they consist of a chocolate walnut filled cookie dipped in a chocolate coating. Pastes are sponge cake alternated with custard or whipped cream in between each layer of sponge. Pastes come in a variety of flavors, including Tiramisu, Chocolate or Black Forest. They are traditionally given as a gift when visiting someone’s home. In ancient and modern Greece, having a meal is not only about eating food, but also a time to talk and enjoy the company of family and friends.

A Greek meal then was considered an event. This happens to still be the case in modern-day Greece, where dinner with friends and family may last for hours! Greek cuisine in many ways has not changed drastically since its beginning in ancient times. The foods of Greece have strong connections with history and tradition. People of Greece love to cook and enjoy their food and meals together.

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History of Healthy Greek Cuisine. (2022, May 04). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/history-of-healthy-greek-cuisine/

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