Food Culture and Tradition

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Glossary of Foods and Food Terms in Greece


Note: Variations in spelling may be noted, especially the interchange of “d” and “th.”

Anginares: artichokes. Jerusalem or root artichokes are not known in the Greek kitchen; this term refers to the small globe variety.

Arni: lamb, the favorite Greek meat and highlight of feasts.

Avgolemono: egg-lemon sauce prepared by adding fresh lemon juice to whisked eggs. This frothing tangy sauce may then be used to flavor any white stock (made from either fish, veal, or chicken) by carefully adding a little hot stock to the egg-lemon mixture, then returning all to the hot but boiling stock. Or the egg-lemon mixture may be used for fish, vegetables, or casseroles.

Baklava: famed Mediterranean pastry whose origin may be debatable but whose crispy sweetness is not. Made from many layers of butter-brushed, nut and sugar-sprinkled layers of phyllo pastry, gently cut in diamonds and secured with whole cloves. Immediately after baking, a spiced hot syrup is poured over. The crisp diamond wedges are served together with the oozing syrup, the only accompaniment an icy glass of water or a demitasse of coffee. Who needs more?

Barbouni: red mullet, a favorite fish usually served grilled or fried. The cheeks and liver are considered special delicacies.

Bechamel Sauce: by this name, the sauce’s origin is attributed to Louis de Bechamel, of the court of King Louis XIV. However, it should be noted that this same sauce – a roux of fat and flour whisked with a liquid, usually milk or cream – was described by Athenaeus in 200 C.E. and widely used in Greek cuisine.

Bourekakia: a Turkish name covering all the tiny appetizer pastries made from Phyllo pastry and filled with many different savory fillings – vegetable, meat, cheese, etc. In Greece they commonly take their name from the filling, for instance Kotopitakia, chicken; Tiropitakia, Feta cheese, etc.

Dolmadakia: with akia being the diminutive, and dolma meaning any stuffed food, this term refers to tiny stuffed foods such as small rolls of cabbage, spinach, or vine leaves or tiny scooped-out vegetables. These are filled with savory mixtures such as bechamel sauce and cheese or rice with seasonings.

Domates: tomatoes.

Fakki: meatless brown lentil soup, a standby for fast days and a staple soup when meat is scarce.

Fasolada: a meatless bean soup.

Fava: a yellow lentil soup served hot and thick and garnished with a little olive oil and lemon juice and a sprinkling of chopped raw onions.

Feta: most widely known of all Greek cheeses, firm and white and made from goat’s or sheep’s milk, usually stored in a salt brine.

Galactoboureko: Phyllo pastry with a rich custard filling.

Halvas: the homemade version is a simple egg and semolina cake over which is poured a sizzle of hot syrup. The commercial version is a firm paste of pureed nuts and seeds, predominantly almond and sesame, and may be colored and/or flavored with chocolate or pistachio.

Horta: general name given to assorted cultivated and wild greens enjoyed by simply boiling, draining, and serving at room temperature with olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Imam Bayaldi: slowly baked eggplants stuffed with tomatoes and sliced onions and flavored with garlic. Literally “the caliph fainted.” So named because the dish was exquisitely delicious, and the priest was said to have fainted – here the stories differ – either when he tasted it or when he was denied a taste.

Kafes: coffee. Turkish coffee introduced into Greece and brewed in a long-handled pot called a briki. In Greece it is called Greek coffee, but it is still made in thirty-three variations, as is the Turkish.

Kalamarakia: baby squid.

Kataifia: very fine shreds of a wheat flour pastry rolled up with chopped nuts and served with a spicy sweet syrup.

Kefalotiri and Kasseri: names of two Greek cheeses that are aged and hard and suited to grating. Very similar to the Italian Romano or Parmesan.

Kefthedes or Keftethes: tiny meatballs prepared with finely minced meat (any kind) blended with bread crumbs and eggs then seasoned with garlic, mint, oregano, and salt and pepper. The mixture is formed into tiny balls and fried in oil till brown. Usually a part of appetizers.

Kolokythia: called baby marrows in England, courgettes in France, and zucchini in Italy. Greeks enjoy the flowers freshly picked, stuffed, and fried.

Kouloura: one of many Greek breads. This one is made from white wheat flour and baked in a ring shape, light and crusty.

Kourabiedes: rich buttery shortbread-type of cookie baked in round halls then liberally sprinkled with rosewater or orange flower water and dusted with icing sugar. Piled in a mound, these are a Christmas specialty.

Latholemono: oil and lemon sauce.

Lathoxitho: a vinaigrette sauce of oil, lemon juice, or wine vinegar plus seasonings.

Mastica: the powdered resin from a small evergreen grown mostly on the Greek isle of Chios. Used for flavoring yeast dough. There is also a liqueur by the same name.

Mayeritsa: the eagerly anticipated soup of lamb entrails finished with avgolemono sauce and enjoyed after the midnight services of Easter Sunday.

Melitzanosalata: a popular Mediterranean appetizer of pureed eggplant seasoned liberally with onion and vinegar and garnished with black olives and tomato wedges.

Melomakarona or Finikia: traditional Christmas cookies similar to Kourabiedes but flattened and finished with a drenching of honey syrup and a dusting of nuts.

Moussakas: browned eggplant slices layered with tomatoes, cheese, onions, and ground meat finished with a bechamel sauce. Typically Greek, there is a faint taste of cinnamon.

Meze: a simple term to cover the complex array of delicious small nibbles that may accompany drinks.

Octapothi: octopus. Ancient technique of rubbing the fresh-caught greenish octopus with a rock until it is a pearly gray color and well tenderized was long ago perfected by Greek fishermen.

Pastizzio: a baked layered casserole of cooked pasta sprinkled with cheese and a layer of seasoned minced meat. The casserole is finished with cheese and bechamel sauce then cut in squares to serve.

Phyllo or Filo: another food whose origin is difficult to pinpoint but this paper-thin pastry is usually made commercially of egg, flour, and water. Sold in packages of many sheets, it is the basis of many Greek appetizers (bourekakia), pies (pita), and sweet nut-rich pastries. The Greek word phyllo means leaf. The thin sheets are brushed with butter or oil then layered, filled and stacked, flipped into triangles, or rolled and twisted.

Pilaf: cooked rice with melted butter poured over then pressed into a mold. Unmolded, it is then served with any variety of sauces, seasonings, and garnishes as may occur to the imaginative cook, and named according to the ingredients.

Psaria: fish.

Saganaki or Tiraki: any firm cheese cut in squares, dusted with flour, and quickly fried in hot oil and served as an appetizer.

Salata: salad.

Saltsa: sauce.

Skordalia or Skorthalia: a smooth thick sauce made with oil and lemon juice and soft white bread and as much garlic as desired.

Souvla: the name of the spit used to roast Iamb.

Souvlakia: skewered cubes of lamb with onions, green peppers, and tomato wedges, all marinated then broiled.

Spanakopita: baked in a rectangular pan, this “pie” is matte of buttery layers of phyllo with a center portion of chopped cooked spinach and Feta mixed with bechamel. The pie is cut into squares to serve, and may be a light main dish or one of many dishes accompanying a feast.

Spanakorizo: spinach and rice. A favorite Lenten dish of browned onions, tomatoes, and chopped spinach with water and rice added, then the whole cooked till dry and fluffy.

Stefado: a method of cooking used for any meats or game. Literally a stew. Cut-up pieces of meats are marinated overnight in a bowl with cut-up vegetables and seasonings, white wine, vinegar and oil. The next day the pieces of meat are browned then simmered slowly with the strained marinade. Most traditional accompaniment is onions. The dish is eaten with bread and wine.

Tahini: smooth puree of sesame seeds.

Tarama: fish roe, usually referring to carp roe.

Taramosalata: smooth creamy dip made of roe, white bread or potato, garlic, oil, and lemon juice.

Tyropita: layered phyllo pastry (or otherwise shaped), filled with cheese.

Tzatziki: a tangy dip of plain yogurt, minced cucumber, and garlic, salt and pepper.

Vasilopita: made especially for Saint Basil’s Day, this sweet yeast bread is perfumed with grated orange rind, cinnamon and mastica.

Yaourti: plain natural yogurt.

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