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Greek Food Ingredients
Thu May 31, 2012 6:16 pmForum Host
It's pretty much a given that using Greek products to make Greek dishes will give the best result; however, the people in Greece don't use many special ingredients that can't be found elsewhere. There are a few, though, that should be in the kitchen of every cook who loves preparing Greek food. Here are basic Greek items you should have on hand, and all of them can be found online.
Feta is only one of the many fabulous Greek cheeses, and using the originals will create truly authentic dishes. Each cheese description includes possible substitutes if the Greek product is hard to find, but do try to find them. Online Greek food shops usually carry a good selection, and they're worth hunting for. In addition to the ubiquitous feta, give these great Greek cheeses a try:
Anthotyro, Katiki, Kefalograviera, Kopanisti, Lathotyri, Manouri, Metsovone, Myzithra, Touloumotyri or Graviera from Crete
Greek Olive Oil
Greek olive oil makes an extraordinary contribution to every type of cooking, and certainly to authentic Greek cooking. One recommendation is that you have two on hand: one top quality extra virgin Greek olive oil for use *raw* in salads, dressings, and other places where it isn't cooked at high heats, and a lower grade for cooking at high heat that can degrade the aroma. Given the price of extra virgin olive oil, this makes sense from both an economic and cooking perspective. If you cannot find it at the store, look for everyday and premium Greek olive oils at online Greek food shops.
Olives are the product of thousands of years of cultivation in Greece, and the tastes can't be matched. Look for Greek olives at chain markets, specialty markets, Greek markets, and other outlets. There are black, green, and red/pink varieties, the color depending on how ripe they are when picked. Olives are used as accompaniments to meals, as a stand-alone meze, as garnishes, and as ingredients in cooked dishes.
Lemon is a staple in Greek kitchens. It's squeezed on everything from potatoes to meats, on roasted and fried cheeses, and combined with olive oil, either separately or together in latholemono (oil-lemon sauce) it adds a classic Greek taste to vegetables and fish. Fabulous Greek avgolemono (egg-lemon sauce) adds a velvety texture and lemony taste to soups and stews, and is a classic topping for dolmathes - stuffed grape and cabbage leaves.
Greek Oregano (Rigani)
Greek cooking makes wonderful use of herbs, and generally, herbs can be identified by a simple name; however, not all oreganos are equal. Greek oregano (rigani) is a subspecies with the latin name Origanum vulgare (previously Origanum heracleoticum or Oreganum heraclites). Look at oregano package labeling to identify it, or buy imported rigani at online Greek food shops.
Greek dishes use a lot of honey, mostly in delectable pastries, but also in other recipes. Greek honeys come in many types, including artisan honeys where the honey is allowed to mature in the hive and is hand-harvested, and can be found online at Greek food shops. Greek honeys worth adding to your pantry include thyme and wild thyme, fir honey, pine honey, orange blossom honey, wildflower honey, and chestnut honey, to name a few. Look for organic Greek honey that has not been boiled. It may crystallize in the jar, but that can be easily remedied by gently heating the honey in the jar.
Most commonly available in frozen one-pound packages containing around 24 sheets, phyllo is used in pitas (filled pies) with cheeses, custard, meat, vegetables, as well as in main dishes. In recent years, phyllo has become a common sight in grocery store freezers. Look for a short shelf life. For a real treat, make your own.
Thick Strained Yogurt
Thick, strained yogurt is a must in Greek cooking, and recently, great Greek yogurts have been making an appearance in the international market. These are natural yogurts and the first choice for any recipe calling for strained yogurt. They come in full-fat, reduced-fat, and fat-free varieties. If you can't find it, or if you need a cow's milk yogurt, you can strain it yourself using commercial yogurts.
The roasting process is different, the grind is different, the smell is different. Greek brands of this finely ground aromatic coffee are widely available, in markets and online. Airtight packaging assures freshness.
This anise-flavored fiery aperitif is not produced outside of Greece. Look for availability at your local liquor store.
In Greece, everyday salt is sea salt, and using it in recipes does make a difference. It's the salt specified in every Greek recipe. While some sea salts are very expensive, Greek sea salt is very inexpensive and can be found at Greek markets and at online shops. Kosher sea salt is eminently acceptable, as well.
Please feel free to suggest your essential Greek ingredients!
Courtesy Nancy Gaifyllia, About.com
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