The Mediterranean diet is widely regarded as one of the healthiest in the world and many studies have shown its connection to the longevity of the people in this region.
And Greece is largely responsible for the modern-day elements that make up said diet.
In this blog, we’ll give you recipes for:
- Cashew feta
- Greek Salad
But first, a bit of background on Greek food.
Greek food has been influenced by many of its neighbours and conquerors over time. We could launch into a full history of Greece and all with whom it has mingled, but if you do something, you should do it well, and our something is food, not Ancient Greek history. If you are interested though, here is a site that’s done it justice.
Suffice it to say that the Ancient Greek civilization often stretched beyond its modern borders, especially around the time of Alexander the Great (350 BC), into Turkey, Italy, France, eastern Europe, Egypt, the Middle East and even northern India. This meant its food was influenced by all of these areas. It was also heavily influenced by the occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Empire.
Let's talk olive oil
The three staples of the Greek diet were and still are bread, wine and olives/olive oil.
In Greek mythology, olives were believed to have been gifted to Greece by the goddess Athena, after whom Athens is named.
The olive tree has historically been a symbol of peace (ever heard the saying, ‘extend an olive branch to someone’?), wisdom, fertility, power and more.
You’ve probably heard of Kalamata olives. They come from the Messinia region of Greece, whose capital is Kalamata. Kalamata (also called Koroneiki) olives produce Kalamata olive oil, which is arguably one of the best olive oils out there.
On that note, how do you know a good olive oil when you see one?
These are the four main things to look out for when choosing an olive oil:
It is extra virgin – this means it has a fatty acid percentage of less than 0.8%, but real quality ones are about 0.3-0.4%.
It was harvested (not bottled) in the last two years. Time does affect the quality of the oil and freshest is best….est.
It is ‘bottled’ in a bag and box (best), a completely opaque container (also good), or a dark green bottle (good for a while). This is because light, heat and oxygen degrade the quality of the oil. For the love of Aphrodite, avoid clear bottles!
If you’re buying Greek (or European) olive oil, look for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication), which means the olives were grown in a specific area and produced using traditional methods so the oil’s characteristics are unique to that region and of very high quality.
Greek kitchen fun facts
- The modern chef’s hat is believed to have originated in Greece, where the Greek Orthodox monks who worked in the kitchen would wear tall white hats to set them apart from the rest. Many years later, in the 1800s, the French would appropriate this element, add a bit of French flare and turn it into the toque blanche that forms part of the modern chef’s uniform.
- Olive oil is the gift of the gods that we are still savouring centuries (or rather aeons) on. It is believed to have first been cultivated and commercialised by the Phoenicians (modern-day Lebanon) and traded with the inhabitants of the islands of Greece around the 16th C BC.
- Honey is a big part of Greek food culture and has been for millennia. In Greek mythology, Zeus was said to have been fed with honey during childhood. It was believed to be ambrosia or nectar of the gods, thought to bring longevity or immortality.
- Like everything Greek, Greek wine dates far back, in this case to the Stone Age. The recorded history of Greek winemaking starts around 6500 BC. Greeks would mix their wine with water so they could drink deeply but still have the brainpower to have educated debates and wax lyrical about philosophy, theology, politics and whatever else took their fancy.
Vegan Greek Recipes
Now that we’ve covered some Greek history and trivia, let’s get down to the business of Greek vegan cooking.
First on the menu is spanakopita, which translates to spinach pie. This is a phyllo pastry pie traditionally filled with spinach and cheese and cut into triangles, served with tzatziki sauce.
We’ve tweaked it so that vegan and non-vegan alike can enjoy.
Since we need feta in the above and many other Greek dishes, we’ve created our own vegan feta.
Tzatziki’s origins are unclear. One theory holds that it was modelled on a Turkish dish with a similar sounding name. This is because the Ottoman Empire ruled Greece from the 16th C right up until WWI, which meant there was a lot of mingling of recipes and names.
Here is our dairy-free version for vegan tzatziki.
No, it’s not the Lion King’s dad. It’s a baked and layered aubergine dish that has ancient origins as well, but the modern Greek version was created by Nikolaos Tselementes, a renowned chef of the 1920s.
For our version, we omit the meat and dairy and add some delicious mushrooms and tofeta (vegan feta).
Any Greek meal is not complete without the Greek salad with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Finally, to finish it off, we have everyone’s favourite Greek dessert, baklava. With layers of phyllo pastry, butter, sugar (non-vegan versions use honey) and roasted nuts, it was destined for greatness from the start.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our little dip into Greek vegan cooking. If you have any problems with any of the above recipes and need a little guidance, feel free to reach out.
If you’re in the Port Elizabeth/Gqeberha area, and you want healthy, easy and delicious vegan food, we have vegan frozen meals and vegan prepared meals for you. Pop into our store at 25 Westbourne Road, order online or check your local Spar in the Eastern Cape.