For the most part Greek cuisine is simple and fresh; making use of meat, fish, grains, olive oil and wine, all of which are produced and grow well here.
Cheeses are also produced extensively and with large variety in Greece, with most of them varying depending on geography. Among the many cheeses we consumed in our time here were the ever popular mizithra, graviera and a little sampling of some fetas, after our day at the Modiano markets. Generally feta is made with sheeps’ milk, often with the addition of goats’ milk. We tried three; 100% cow (some people debate that this shouldn’t be called feta at all), 100% goat and 100% sheep. The lady at the market explained that cows’ is the softest, followed by goat and then sheep, obviously with differing tastes as well. Cows’ was the least favourite, being soft and plain, it lacked. We felt the sheep feta was the best; fresh, not too crumbly and nicely firm. The goat – also nice – was creamy and had a very distinct ‘goaty’ flavour.
The seaside towns – which Greece is most definitely not short on – and the islands are huge on their seafood which is usually served very simply; grilled, doused in olive oil and served with a lemon wedge. To the contrast, in the mountainous areas of Greece you’ll find more meat; chicken, cow, pig, lamb, goat and even sheep.
Like many countries in the region, they love using fire to cook. On the sides of the road they are selling fire wood along with lovely, elegant stone fireplaces. The souvlaki – chunks of meat (and sometimes vegetables) grilled on a skewer – is likely the most often found grilled meal. However, you will most definitely find them grilling anything and everything, including whole animals.
We went mountain biking on the island of Evia on Easter Sunday, up near the quaint little town of Steni. As we climbed higher, it was very obvious that the feast the Greeks were preparing on this day is an important one. Many Greeks will partake in a 40 day fast (with differing rules depending on beliefs – usually involving leaving meat from the diet) prior to Easter Sunday and will break this fast with a whole roast lamb.
The entire drive, it seemed it was more uncommon to not see someone from each household out in their garden, starting up the fire ready to roast the lamb for lunch. And when we reached Steni and the surrounding taverna’s, it became commonplace for them to have four or five lambs roasting away. Needless to say, the mountain biking was shortly forgotten and our focus was the roast lamb and the tradition that surrounded it, which we couldn’t resist to be a part of; no words needed to be said: it was time to sit down and enjoy the sun, a couple of beers and the meal that every single person had on their table that day.
Changing tack completely now; at one point we picked up a leg of goat simply because we found a local butcher who had some in stock. We then had to think of something to do with it, keeping in mind we had limited facilities. After some hunting around, we discovered a traditional Greek goat leg stew recipe made simply from goat, tomato & oregano which we put our little spin on. As we all know, goat is best when braised, long and slow, to dissolve the collagen into gelatin.
** see bottom or blog post for the recipe we used**
The wine we had in mind to open with the stew is a 100% limniona (or lemniona). It is an organic red wine derived from the region of Thessaly, in central Greece, another native (was extinct and has been brought back) variety we were very curious about. The climate is continental with a range of different temperatures, including cooler breezes from the Pindos Mountain range, that help to slow maturation of the grapes which then allow great acidity and complex flavours to develop. Although limniona is recommended to drink while young, it has good potential for ageing too. We thoroughly enjoyed it with the goat, although it would’ve worked with less rich foods too we thought. It’s quite easy drinking with a punch of black fruits, sweet spices, has an intense dark purple colour and doesn’t lack soft tannins.
A Greek goat stew
2 nice cross sections of goat leg + the more boney bit at the foot end
2 small red onions, roughly sliced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
half a lemon
We didn’t have any aubergines, but traditionally the Greeks use them. If you have them, put four baby aubergines in.
We roasted the cross sections of goat leg over the fire, but it is also fine to brown the goat in a little vegetable oil. Remove and sweat the onions and garlic off in olive oil. Add the tomatoes and cook out a little. Add a little salt, the goat and oregano to taste, saving some for garnish. Simmer on low for 2 to 3 hours, or until the goat is tender.
We served ours with butter beans we had picked up from a farm stall, but generally the Greeks would serve on rice to mop up the sauce – although legumes are realtively common in Greece, traditionally served on Wednesday and Fridays. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with oregano and serve with a lemon wedge and of course, your choice of wine.