A Taste of Travel

Explore Food from Greece in Your Own Kitchen

With our minds taking flight, but many of us still staying home, cooking can take us to faraway lands. The therapeutic process of preparation, fragrant spices, and wafting aromas of baking all transport senses to places on a map: whether in memory, imagination or the visualization of where we’d like to visit in the future. Today, an experience of Greece may be via history lessons and images of the Acropolis, fictional explorations of Zeus and the Gods of Mt. Olympus, or a living room screening of Mamma Mia! yet tastes of the islands can take you there in a simple bite with Mediterranean flavors.

Sitting down to a meal of Greek food is a connection to the past and present. Many of the dishes are prepared in exactly the same way as ancestors made them, and the triptych of a Greek meal remains of bread, olives/olive oil, and wine. In Greece, farm-to-table is a way of life as the climate is perfect for small farms to produce cheeses, oils, fruits, grains, and nuts in addition to growing two of the most important elements of Greek cooking: olives and lemons. Fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme, mint, parsley and dill—many growing wild—find their way into local kitchens. The same goes for seafood. Twenty percent of the country is made up of islands, and no part of the Greek mainland is more than 90 miles from the sea. Let your imagination see hilly terrain covered with vineyards that produce not only wine but ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur and the national drink.

Enjoying the taste of Greece can also be good for your health. Contemporary dieticians promote the Mediterranean Diet for its heart-healthy approach to eating using olive oil which is low in saturated fat, along with an abundance of vegetables. These components complement favored meats such as lamb and chicken, along with feta cheese. Greek food connects to other cultures as well, with culinary influences that come from a lengthy history of fusion starting in 350 B.C. when Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire from Europe to India, and continuing through Roman and Ottoman Empires—influences were absorbed into cuisine along the way. Also good for our health is the social component of a traditional Greek meal. Enjoying mezes, a collection of smaller dishes, with family or friends, increases our connection during challenging times. Together, we can reduce stress, increase laughter and continue to dream of traveling beyond our kitchen table one day.

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

Vegetarian Version

+ Two 8-oz. jars of grape leaves in brine

Drain, separate the leaves in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for one hour, changing with cold water twice to remove the excess salt. Drain and pat dry.

Mix together until well combined:

+ 1 Medium Onion, grated or finely chopped

+  1/2 cup Fresh Herbs (mint, parsley, dill), finely chopped

+ 2/3 cup White Rice, uncooked

+ 1 tsp. Dried Thyme

+ Ground Black Pepper, to taste

+ Olive Oil

+ 2 cups Vegetable Broth

Line a Dutch oven with grape leaves (use the torn or small ones) to prevent sticking. To stuff the leaves, place one (vein side up) on a plate or cookie sheet. Put a heaping tablespoon of the filling in an oval shape near the stem end, fold the end over the stuffing, then fold in the two side and roll up like a cigar, tucking in the edges. Squeeze gently and place in the prepared pan. With smaller leaves or ones with small tears, overlay two leaves so the filling doesn’t spill out. Continue stuffing the leaves, placing them tightly together in a single layer. Repeat with a second layer (you should have some torn or small leaves left over). Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with remaining grape leaves and place a small plate on top to hold the parcels down. Pour in broth, cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until rice is cooked and leaves are done. Taste test to make sure they are fully cooked before taking off the heat. Dolmades can be served hot or cold, plain or with a favorite dipping sauce, such as Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon Sauce), tzatziki or aioli.

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