After a recent weekend in Athens I rediscovered Greek food. I have always been a massive lover of traditional Greek salads, beautiful fresh salty feta cheese, capers, Kalamata olives, sweet juicy, ripe, sunshine filled tomatoes, and of course its all about the dressing! Over the course of the weekend I had my fill of delicious salads but one thing I had been blind too was the popularity of pies, pastries and breads. As I read on the plane, on the flight out to Athens – “the Italians do pizza what the Greeks do with pastry”… so of course I had to investigate!
Yes breakfast in the hotel was a buffet including all the usual savouries and sweets. But spinach and feta pie and various other savoury and sweet filo pies were served every day. I spoke to a couple of people about their love for pastry and pies. One of the Greeks told me ‘what do you expect, the Greeks invented pastry…” Reading again an article: “Since the times of Ancient Greece, it was common making savoury pies as a snack or packed meal. At that time, the pies were prepared with various flours – barley, millet, oat, or rye. Initially, the filling of these pies were a mixture of legumes, cheese, garlic, and honey. Later, particularly in the countryside, the farmers started to add mixed vegetables and herbs into the stuffing.
It’s likely that the Spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) as we know it nowadays originates from the Ottoman Empire, probably during the occupation of Greece began since the XV Century. The characteristic dough called Phyllo or Filo derives from the Greek word φύλλο that means ‘leaf’and symbolize perfectly the thin and crispy layers that compose the crust of this pie.Spanakopita is a tasty Greek savoury pie filled with spinach, eggs, and feta, served as a daily snack, appetizer or light lunch, and particularly appreciated by children. This spinach and feta pie has ancient root and probably has been influenced by the Ottoman cuisine.
Greeks love their sweets, which are often based on olive oil and honey combinations encased in flaky filo pastry. Baklava is the quintessential Greek food experience. This mostly contains nuts and butter along with sugar. After baking, sweet syrup is poured over it so that the syrup can be absorbed by the crispy layers of phyllo. It is probably the most popular food item among all Greek desserts. It brings a festive mood in the dining room through its exquisite flavour and flaky crust.
Bougatsa is a kind of sweet pie (less sweet if you consider Greek standard) made of phyllo pastry & semolina custard. This is a kind of food that tastes good day or night! If you want to eat this pie from a street café or seller, you will also get a sprinkle of icing sugar and cinnamon on top.
Another dish that can be served as dessert or an entrée is feta in pastry. Feta is wrapped in filo pastry before oven baked and honey is drizzled over it. The optimum balance between salty feta and sweet honey creates a mesmerizing taste.
Galaktoboureko is a great Greek dessert with crispy perfection. This age old Greek dessert is made of crispy phyllo sprinkled with melted butter. Greeks use the most creamy custard & scented syrup to increase the taste of this food by many folds.
One of the most popular Greek desserts is made with a special type of pastry called Kataifi. When rolled up the pastry resembles shredded wheat. A delectable nutty centre is rolled inside crisp, thread like strands of pastry, baked, and then soaked in sweet syrup. Naughty but nice, and messy to eat!
Greek bread is considered an important part of every meal and there are several types of bread that are enjoyed in Greek culture. Many Greek breads have a rich history and have been enjoyed throughout the country for centuries. Some of the most common Greek breads are pitas, Bobota, Horiatiko Psomi, Skorthopsomo and Tyropsomo. Lagana, also called Clean Monday Bread, is a special Greek bread eaten only once a year.
Pita bread is most familiar in this country and something we can buy easily in the local supermarkets. It is a round bread that when sliced in half, contains a pocket and is commonly used for making sandwiches. The pocket is formed by steam during the cooking process. In Greece, pita gyros are made by adding tomatoes, onions, meat and tzatziki, which is a yoghurt-based sauce, to the pita. Pita bread can also be dipped in tzatziki to enjoy as a snack or appetizer.
Bobota is a Greek bread that was originally made by poorer cooks because the recipe uses only a few basic and inexpensive ingredients. The bread is made from cornmeal and uses orange juice to pull the meal together, rather than milk, butter or eggs. Bobota is usually very crumbly, but it can be made in any texture, from a sturdier bread to one with a polenta-like consistency.
Lagana or Clean Monday Bread
Lagana is only made on the first Monday in Lent; this day is considered the first day of Lent according to Eastern Orthodox churches, which are common in Greece. The bread is a simple leavened bread and is usually enjoyed with shellfish.
Horiatiko Psomi in Greek: χωριάτικο ψωμί, pronounced hoh-ree-AH-tee-koh psoh-MEE or “country bread,” is a dense and crusty Greek bread that has been made in wood-burning ovens for centuries. This bread is denser than other types of bread (the loaf at right measures about 13 inches across and weighs a little more than 2 pounds) and can be made with a variety of flours or a combination of more than one. Popular in rural Greece, this bread’s texture is perfect for dipping into olive oil and sauces. Some cooks also prefer to use sourdough instead of yeast in the recipe.
Skorthopsomo and Tyropsomo
These two Greek breads are simple but very delicious and are usually served as an accompaniement. Skorthopsomo is a garlic bread that should always be made with fresh garlic. Most cooks pound the garlic and mix it with butter to spread onto the bread. A food processor can also be used to crush the garlic. Tyropsomo is made with feta cheese. A substantial amount of feta cheese is worked into the dough and then the bread is baked, getting it a rich flavour.