Most people, when they think of Greek cooking, think of stuffed grape leaves and baklava; yet it consists of so much more.
In the distant past, Greece was an agricultural country that produced a great deal of grains and various other products. The country's support later changed to become solely dependent on the vine and the olive. Greece's economy eventually dropped off because of that change too, because not having a variety of agriculture depleted the soil's resources through erosion and drought. Currently, the cuisine of Greece is heavily influenced by the sea, which gave it initial greatness, and by the Turks, whom Greece has fought for centuries. They have also borrowed a great deal from their neighbors in the Middle East and the Balkans. Some ingredients used greatly in Greece and the other Mediterranean countries are olives and olive oil, grapes, wheat bread, and garlic.
Greece was one of the first countries to have a solid culinary background. They were the ones to start the production of olive oil, and to this day their culture strongly revolves around good food. People often cook for days just to prepare a meal for some friends.
Greek cuisine consists mostly of fish, mutton, and a variety of herbs and vegetables. Flavoring of dishes often includes olive oil, a multitude of aromatic herbs, and lemon.
Being next to the sea, fish and shellfish are extremely popular in every way - grilled, baked, fried, and whole (head on).
Lamb is the primary meat, which is commonly braised, stewed, skewered, broiled, and for festivities even spit-roasted. George Moser, a CCF member, recently informed me that when they spit-roast the lamb, they make a kabob of all the innards, then wrap it all with the intestines of the mutton or lamb and season it with olive oil, garlic, oregano, and lemon with a touch of mint. Goat is also fairly popular. Since the sheep and goats are raised to graze freely in the pastures (which are rich in herbs), their meat and the cheese they produce is unique in contrast to any other.
A very popular dish that includes lamb is moussaka - a layered and baked dish of eggplant and ground lamb with a custard topping. Souvlaki is very popular too, which is marinated and grilled lamb skewers.
A common traditional Greek soup is avgolemono which is made with chicken broth, egg yolks, rice, and lemon juice. There is a sauce by the same name, which differs by being a bit thicker than the soup and it doesn't have rice.
Herbs and vegetables play a very strong role in the food as well. Generally only the freshest herbs and vegetables are used, and since they have such a mild climate in Greece, almost all farms grow everything naturally (making all fruits and vegetables full of aroma and taste). Needless to say, in Greek cooking you can find a variety of salads, vegetable salads, and other fabulous vegetarian dishes.
For dessert, the Greeks love their phyllo dough pastries, the most popular of course being baklava. Baklava consists of many layers of buttered phyllo pastry, spices, and chopped nuts. A spiced honey-lemon syrup is poured over the warm pastry after it's baked and allowed to soak into the layers. It's generally served cut into triangles and sometimes sprinkled with coarsely ground nuts.
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