Greek Food for Everyone! Oumpa!

Olive Oil and Green Olives

Greek food has the advantage of its climate to produce the best olives in the world. At least that’s what I believe. I'm not quite sure of the spelling for Oumpa! But, that's what our waiters keep saying with great gusto as they raise up their arm.

Tarpon Springs, Florida is just up the road from me. The Greek community there, which started with sponge divers, seems to be all about food and other Greek tourist stuff thrown in. Tarpon Springs is the home of potato salad on a Greek salad. The story goes that Mr. Pappas put the extra potato salad while cooking for the troops. It's not traditional unless you are from this area.

Many dishes are vegetarian or can be revised to be vegetarian. And, everyone seems to agree that olives and olive oil need to be part of a healthy diet. What is Greek food? Immediately, olives, grape leaves, lemon, honey, nut, and yogurt. Don’t forget desserts! Baklava with layers of thin filo dough with honey and nuts is almost too sweet for me.

The First Cookbook

The very first written cookbook was by Archestratos in 320 B.C. Ancient Greeks thought that the ripe black olives were good for your health. At that time, most Greek food revolved around wheat, olive oil and wine where meat was not common. Wheat, barley, tomato,
eggplant, potato, green beans, okra, green peppers, onions and of course honey are the staples.

Greek cooking is very simple goes back to the basics. Greeks don’t eat spicy foods. But, the food isn’t bland. I wouldn’t call tsatziki sauce bland. The focus is on the vegetables, breads and meats –vegetarians can leave out the meats and still have a tasty Greek dish.

Greek cuisine uses oregano, mint, garlic, onion, dill and bay leaves as flavorings more often than other Mediterranean Greek cuisine appears “hearty” with an abundance of conversation
(which comes along with the wine I suspect) to go along with bread and olive oil.

Going to a traditional Greek restaurant (or taverna), is a treat. A taverna as a smaller menu that is open in the evening. Your evening may start out quiet and then erupt into song and dance. But, be aware that breaking dishes may be part of the fun. Of course, the guests do have to pay for the privilege of breaking a plate.

Broken Plate

Vegetarians can skip the souvlaki and gyros and head straight for the spanakopita (cheese and spinach pie) and eggplant moussaka. Olives – are preserved in vinegar and seasoned with fennel. Green olives re unripe and black olives are ripe. All the other types of olives are named from the areas they come from.

What You Find in a Greek Kitchen

Bread – is the staple in most Greek meals. Large hunks are dipped in olive oil, or coated with tsatziki (garlic-cucumber-yogurt dip. Bread is also an important part of religious ceremonies. Don’t forget pita bread. Aside from using it to wrap up your meal, groceries now carry many kinds of pita chips that work better for dipping in hummus.

Herbs and Spices - Oregano, thyme, sage, mint, and dill are used a lot in Greek cooking for vegetables, sauces and of course on Greek salads. Cloves are used in breads and sweets and of course honey and cinnamon.

Is Potato Salad Greek?

There is controversy over Greek food when tourists order a Greek Salad in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Louis Pappas, the father of Greek cooking in Tarpon, adds potato salad. Oh my!

Everyone from this area assumes that all Greek Salad has a layer of creamy potato salad on the bottom. The story goes that when Louis Pappas arrived from Greece in the early 1900’s, he worked as an Army chef and needed a hearty salad for the troops. When he returned to
the US and opened his restaurant, he naturally added the potato salad also.

Potatoes are used in Greek cooking. My favorite is Potato Moussaka. Using potato instead of eggplant keeps it from becoming soft and mushy. The moussaka is cooked in a pan like lasagna. So, serving a square is much easier. Plus I really like potatoes!

The New Kid on the Block-Greek Yogurt

I’ll never go back. Greek yogurt is thicker, has more protein, and isn’t “slimy” like some other yogurts I’ve had. It is less sweet, which is fine with me.

Greek yogurt is strained to remove much of the liquid, whey, lactose, and sugar which gives it a thick consistency. In the same amount of calories, you get twice the protein and half of the sugar. The increased protein helps you to feel fuller and with 15-20 grams of protein per serving, is a wonderful addition to the vegetarian’s diet. Always look for the low fat or no fat when checking out any dairy product.

Greek (5.3 ounces, nonfat, plain)

• Calories: 80

• Total fat: 0 grams

• Cholesterol: 10 milligrams

• Sodium: 50 milligrams

• Sugar: 6 grams

• Protein: 15 grams

• Calcium: 15 percent on a 2,000-calorie diet

Regular (6 ounces, nonfat, plain)

• Calories: 80

• Total fat: 0 grams

• Cholesterol 5 milligrams

• Sodium: 120 milligrams

• Sugar: 12 grams

• Protein: 9 grams

• Calcium: 30 percent on a 2,000-calorie diet

Though most experts agree that Greek yogurt has a nutritional edge, both kinds help you lose weight by keeping you full on fewer calories. The key is sticking to plain, nonfat, or low-fat varieties. Mix with fresh fruit and/or granola.

Summer time is perfect to try Greek food. Cold, crunchy cucumbers in salad. Crusty bread dipped in olive oil. You don't need to eat heavy lamb dishes to enjoy Greek food!

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