Greek Cooking Essentials

The Global Pantry Series: Greek Cooking Essentials

The Table Home Chef Blog
July

Taking our pantry series back to the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that Greek cooks work with a small foundation of ultra flavorful, often healthful ingredients. The country’s cuisine is popular all around the world, and the Greek diet is often hailed as the most healthy way of eating out there thanks to its reliance on heart-healthy olive oil, seafood, legumes, and fresh produce. Due to its well-earned popularity among home cooks and diners alike, these must-have ingredients can be sourced at most grocery stores these days. If you’ve already got most of the ingredients on our list and are looking to expand your horizons, we encourage you to seek out a Greek speciality market. They’ll have a treasure trove of ingredients like house brined feta, a dizzying array of marinated olives, and freshly baked pita. Plus, they typically serve up dishes that are native to the Greek isles like Dolma, Baklava, and Spanakopita right there while you shop!

Extra Virgin Greek Olive Oil

Olive Oil, like wine, varies in flavor by geography. The hotter the climate, the bolder the flavor. Plus, each country uses grapes native to their region. Different grapes = different flavors. Greek Olive Oil has a mild green coloring, low acidity, and strong flavor while Italian Olive Oil is a darker green with nuttier, herbal notes. Spanish, on the other hand, is golden in color. So you see…not all olive oils are made equal. Olive Oil is a staple in Mediterranean cooking in general. While shopping for olive oil, it’s important to look at the origin of the olives. Many bottles bought in America are a blend of Spanish, Italian, and Greek olives and not authentically Greek.

Red Wine Vinegar

They say oil and vinegar don’t mix – but we can’t imagine a Greek kitchen without these star ingredients! Greeks use predominantly balsamic and red wine vinegar but it’s helpful to have white wine vinegar on hand as well. Vinegar is a main ingredient for salads, especially since Greek recipes are simple. The oil and vinegar dressing gives it an extra boost of flavor that takes a salad from fresh and tasty to mind-blowing. There are, of course, many other purposes for vinegar like sauces and soups but salads are where they really get to shine.

Olives & Capers

Olives are found widely throughout Greek cooking, and both lend briny, salty flavor to a variety of dishes. Marinated olives are a pantry staple on their own for easy appetizers and roasted olives are found throughout the country in different dishes. Greek cuisine relies heavily on Kalamata and Green Olives, but there are over 100 different types – so don’t be surprised if you see recipes that call for other specific varieties!

Capers are immature flower buds native to the Mediterranean. They are mostly preserved through brining or salt curing, giving them a very pungent profile. Capers provide a unique flavor in dishes throughout the Mediterranean region. In Greek cuisine specifically, they’re traditionally used in salads as well as dishes with cooked tomatoes or fish. Capers can often be found in the Italian aisle of the grocery store since they’re a popular ingredient among Southern Italian dishes as well.

Honey

Fun Fact: Greece has the most bee hives in Europe! Greek honey is incredibly nutritious with anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties. There are multiple kinds of honey but the most popular for Greek cooking is Thyme. Others include Pine, Blossom or Wildflower, Heather, Chestnut, and Fir. Honey is used in sweet and savory dishes throughout Greek cuisine. A simple use that we absolutely love for snacking is baked goat cheese with honey. Because a lot of Greek flavors are so strong with often tangy or pungent aspects, honey is a great balancing ingredient. Other popular dishes you’ll see it used include Greek Honey Cake (Melopita), Loukoumades (Greek Honey Fritters), and Pasteli. Honey is used in a lot of pastries that use Phyllo Dough.

Phyllo Pastry

Phyllo Pastry (or Phyllo Dough) is a very delicate type of pastry dough rolled almost paper-thin. Make some on your own or buy sheets in the freezer section of the grocery store. Phyllo Pastry is used in popular Greek dishes like Spanakopita and Baklava. Spanakopita is a savory spinach and cheese pie that can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece. Baklava also has ancient roots but is much more of a treat with flaky layers of phyllo and a honey-nut mixture. Phyllo is used in more recipes than just these two but they’re the ones its best known for.

Almonds, Figs & Currants

Nuts and dried fruits are common ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine. Almonds are much more popular in Greek cooking than most people realize. Greece is, in fact, one of the foremost almond producers in the world. Almonds are often roasted and candied for a sweet treat, used in Baklava in place of walnuts, or ground into flour for baking. Kourabiethes, Greek shortbread cookies, are a common Christmas treat similar to a biscuit and often found in crescent moon shapes or round balls.

Figs & Currants are both high in nutritional value and found in many Greek kitchens. Figs, in particular, are most popular dried when their nutritional value increases. It’s also the ideal way of storing the fruit long term. Currants, otherwise known as black raisins, have a bit more intense flavor compared to the average raisin. Both Currants and Figs are added into baking and sometimes as a finishing touch to savory dishes as well. They pair best with big flavors.

Herbs & Spices

If you enjoyed Greek food regularly, it’s no surprise that the most popular herbs found in this Mediterannean cuisine are Greek Oregano, Dill, and Mint. These three herbs are found fresh and dried throughout most savory Greek dishes and even some sweet. Other popular spices and herbs in Greek culture include Bay Leaves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves, and Parsley. Greek Oregano, while more pungent than Mexican Oregano, is still a bit more earthy and mild compared to Italian which is the most pungent of them all.

Dill and Mint are the other two most popular savory herbs found in Greek cooking. Dill is most popular for Tzatziki, a dip or sauce with yogurt and cucumber. Dill is also found in Spanakorizo, Greek Spinach and Rice with a healthy addition of the feathery herb. Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Cloves are popular for sweets and baked goods. Cinnamon and Nutmeg are often used together and can also be found in a lot of lamb dishes to add warmth. Cloves are popular to use in their whole form, especially with winter dishes like stews, broths, and heartier recipes.

About the Author:

Christine Rosko is a Chicago native with a passion for food, especially pasta. Growing up in an Italian family, the…read more about: Christine Rosko

 


Inside the Thai Pantry

This is a first in a series of posts to help with adding a bit of variety to your pantry staples. Happy Eating!

The Global Pantry Series: Inside the Thai Pantry

The Table Home Chef Blog

For our money, no cuisine out there manages to hit on all the flavors – sweet, salty, sour, umami, (and yes, sometimes spicy!) like Thai food. From universally loved noodle dishes like Pad Thai, to more adventurous ones like deep fried whole fish with chili sauce or fiery minced meat dips, there’s a kaleidoscope of flavors to explore beyond what’s offered at the average takeout spot. Cooking Thai food at home can seem intimidating to many cooks, but you’d be surprised how many dishes are built on the same foundational ingredients and simple techniques. Shopping ahead of time for some key pantry items will ensure you can create those intense flavors you expect from a restaurant at home, and the rest is simple – just add vegetables, rice or rice noodles, and the protein of your choice to your weekly shopping list and you can be cooking authentic-tasting Thai food in no time.

(image via indie culinary)

Curry Paste

Thai curries can be laborious to make from scratch, as they often contain garlic, chilies, galangal, lemongrass, and dried shrimp. Luckily, some great-quality pre-made curry pastes can be purchased in your local Asian market or online, like these ones from Mae Ploy. They come in a rainbow of curries, like red, yellow, green, and panang. If you’re looking for a seafood-free version, these vegan pastes by Maesri are your best bet. A little goes a long way, and they keep well, so we recommend buying them all and finding your favorite!

(image via street smart kitchen)

Sauces

Thai cooks rely on an arsenal of sauces for the umami flavors they add to stir-fries and noodle dishes. We couldn’t choose just one sauce to recommend, so we’re suggesting two: oyster sauce, and fish sauce. These sauces are versatile and widely available, but don’t judge them by their smell straight from the bottle! They’re both used in small amounts, and don’t taste overtly fishy in the finished dish – especially if you buy from brands with high quality standards, like Red Boat and Lee Kum Kee. If you’ve just been cooking with soy sauce up until now and feel like your stir-fries or curries are missing depth of flavor, these are the two sauces that you need in your kitchen. Interested in diving in deeper? Street Smart Kitchen has a great guide to Asian sauces.

(image via inquiring chef)

Tamarind Paste

Lime juice is liberally used in many Thai dishes, but it’s not the only sour component you’ll find in the Thai pantry. Tamarind, the pulp of a tropical tree pod is both fruity and really tangy – and it’s used in savory dishes, desserts, and even drinks! You may have seen the large brown pods for sale in Mexican or Asian grocery stores, but if not, you can buy a shelf stable concentrate with no compromise in flavor. We like this one from our friends at The Spice House. but if you’re feeling intrepid, you can make your own using this guide from Inquiring Chef.

(image via inquiring chef)

Bird’s Eye Chilies

If you’ve ever ordered Thai takeout, you’re familiar with the follow up question “how spicy?” Contrary to popular belief here in the states, some Thai dishes are meant to be enjoyed spicy while others are completely mild, and you’d never order using the star rating for spice at a restaurant in Thailand. Whether you’re spice fanatical or fearful, one of the best parts about cooking Thai at home is that you can control the heat. Thai Bird’s Eye Chilies are easy to find dry or in paste form, and as a pepper that rates 50,000 – 100,000 on the Scoville scale, a little goes a long way. Serve Nam Prik Pao table-side so everyone can add as much (or as little) as they like, or if not, there’s always Sriracha.

(image via the kitchn)

Coconut Milk

There’s nothing like fresh milk straight from the coconut, but we know that’s not realistic for most of us living outside of the tropics! Great coconut milk is essential for making Thai curries, and luckily, it’s now widely available at most stores. However, there’s a lot of varieties and formats out there, and it can get confusing fast. We’ll make it easy: look for full fat, unsweetened coconut milk, in a box (or tetra pak) if you can find it. We love the Aroy-D brand, straight from Thailand.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Lastly, there’s lime leaves. Like we’ve mentioned previously, lime juice is often  added as a final squeeze of freshness in many dishes, but Thai cooks don’t just stop at the fruit! The leaves are incredibly fragrant, and if you’ve ever enjoyed a comforting bowl of Tom Kha Gai soup, you know how distinctive the flavor they add is. As with Kaffir limes, their leaves are not easy to find fresh – look for them frozen, and next time your curry needs a dose of fresh, zesty aroma, snip in a leaf, thinly sliced.

 


Hello, June 2020

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First of all,

WELCOME to all the followers that have newly joined in following my blog. I am truly grateful  to know that no matter where you all are in the world, we all share a  common interest in the glorious comfort that food gives us to each and every one us, no matter how great or how small……

And with that being said,

The year on the calendar has changed and so has the world. It has been 82 days for me since the lockdown began with the emergence of COVID19 in the United States.

Last June, in 2019, the year was in full swing filled with Graduations,  Father’s Day,  Bridal Registries, Trunk Shows, Summer Shopping, and Wedding Season. School was out for the Summer and most kids were headed off to day camp at the YMCA, Vacation Bible School or going to summer camps and buzzing with excitement. Vacations were just beginning. But COVID19 has presented the world with a new normal, where masks, sanitizers and social distancing is the reality of the uncertainty that is to come.

By now, some of the cities around the United States and around the world are entering Stage 2 of re-opening some businesses, with restrictions. And the world is not completely out of the woods.

Now is the time to contemplate as to whether I am going to plan t a garden this year. But in the meantime, I present some of the   fruits and vegetables that are in season in June 2020. Somethings on the list  maybe in limited supply, due to disruptions in the distribution systems and the high demand of online deliveries. But nevertheless, June is the month  to celebrate the small victories and comforts of seasonal eating doing the very we best we can under the circumstances, with  watermelon, which is the quintessential summer fruit – but keep in mind it is actually available all year. This sweet and crisp fruit is refreshing, hydrating, filling and great for recovery after exercise. It’s peak season is May to October. Throughout the Southern United States, the local season is between late-July and September.

According to watermelon.org, the first cookbook published in the United States in 1796, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, contains a recipe for watermelon rind pickles. A delicious way to reduce waste, in the sustainable Quarantine Kitchen this summer.

In addition to watermelon, here is a list of fruits and vegetables to enjoy during the month of June.

In the meantime, stay safe and be well!

 

Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables for June

Apricots
Arugula
Asparagus
Beets
Black cherries
Blueberries
Broad beans
Cabbage
Carrots
Celery
Chard
Cherries
Chicory
Cilantro
Corn
Courgettes
Courgette flowers
Cucumbers
Currants
Dandelion greens
Early potatoes
Garlic
Green beans
Gooseberries
Kale
Kiwi
Lettuce
Loquats
Melons
Mulberries
Nectarines
Onions
Peaches
Peas
Plums
Radishes
Raspberries
Rhubarb
Strawberries
Sweet bell peppers
Tomatoes
Watermelons
Yellow squash