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

 


Grilled Pork Chops with Balsamic Cherries

IMG_3116 pork chop

As the Summer of 2020 is quickly drawing to a close, I know that many of us probably have hit “the cooking wall” during the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and it’s okay. We have to remind ourselves that everything does not have to perfect, as we are all looking for easier ways to prepare meals and break through the doldrums of being at home.

The one comfort I do find in my every day life can be found in my kitchen. Cooking has always served as my therapy in one form of another. With a little imagination, there is endless combination of proteins and produce that can grace your table. And if you like to eat seasonally, summer fruits like cherries, peaches and melon can take center stage in sweet and savory dishes.

This recipe is easy and only takes five ingredients and takes advantage of common pantry items like balsamic vinegar and olive oil. You can use bone in or boneless pork chops. I prefer bone in chops as they are less likely to dry out on the grill. Pork goes well with just about any type of fruit. Feel free to mix it up a little by using peaches, apples, blueberries, black berries or even strawberries, if you like.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups of fresh cherries, pitted and cut in halves
4 bones pork chops
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium heat.

In a small bowl, add the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Ass the cherries and toss to coat. Allow the cherries to stand at room temperature and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Pat the pork chops dry with clean paper towels. Brush the pork chops all over with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper, to taste.

Place the pork chops on the grill and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, until thoroughly cooked. Using an instant read thermometer inserted into each pork chop, the temperature of the meat should be 145 °F. If you are using bone-in pork chops, cook them for 6-8 minutes per side or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chop registers 145º F, as well.

Using tongs, remove the chops from the grill and place on serving platter, allowing them to rest for at least 5 minutes.

To serve, spoon the cherry mixture over the pork chops and garnish with parsley.

Cook’s Notes:
Fresh bing cherries were used for this recipe, but any variety of sweet cherry will also work in this dish. I find that a little bit of sweetness goes particularly well with pork dishes.

If you are only able to find sour cherries, it is recommended that you add one teaspoon of sugar to the sauce as it reduces. This dish tastes great with either fresh or frozen cherries, so use fresh if they are in season and if you are still craving this dish in the dead of winter, it is perfectly fine to use frozen cherries.

If you do not have any parsley on hand, herbs like thyme,rosemary or tarragon would work beautifully in this dish.

Also, you can substitute the pork with chicken thighs or boneless chicken breasts.

Alternatively, you can dredge the pork chops in seasoned flour and shallow pan fry until golden brown.

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Roasted Golden Beet & Yellow Tomato Pizza

IMG_2641 Pizza

Pizza Arrosto Di Barbabietola Dorata e Pomodoro Giallo is what this pizza is called in Italian….

I was looking for something different in terms of making a healthy pizza. I had an abundance of golden beets. So I roasted them and made pizza dough that was topped off with red onions onions, lots of roasted golden beets, a little fresh mozzarella and a little bit of crumbled goat cheese. A little salt and a little honey added the sweet and savory taste that made this almost vegan pizza, Oh so good! And of course a glass of Chardonnay went perfectly with this pizza. A glass a wine is optional, but I highly recommend it!

And if you know someone who doesn’t like beets, this pizza might convert them.

Makes One 10-inch Pizza, Serving 8

Ingredients:

One 4-ounce golden beet
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pound Basic Pizza Dough
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 pint yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon honey
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Fresh snipped chives, for garnish

Special Equipment:
Parchment Paper
Pizza Stone

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Leave root and 1 inch of stem on beet; scrub with a brush. Wrap beet in parchment paper and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven; cool. Trim off beet root; peel off skin. Cut beet in half crosswise; thinly slice halves.

Position an oven rack in the lowest setting. Place a pizza stone on lowest rack. Increase oven temperature to 500°F.

Preheat pizza stone 30 minutes before baking pizza.

Gently brush oil over Basic Pizza Dough. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top of the dough, followed by beet slices,red onion and yellow tomatoes, evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Slide dough onto preheated pizza stone, using a spatula as a guide. Bake at  500° F  for 8 minutes or until crust is golden.

Remove from pizza stone. Sprinkle with salt  and drizzle with honey. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and snipped chives.

Cut into 8 wedges and serve.

Cook’s Notes:
If you can substitute shallots for the red onion, if desired. A commercially prepared pizza crust also works in a pinch when there is not enough t time to make the pizza dough.

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All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you!