Eat Greek: the essentials of the Islands' storecupboard, with Rebecca Seal

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
27 April, 2015

Following on from our chat with Rebecca Seal about essential Turkish ingredients, we decided to pick her brains about the must-haves for cooking recipes from her latest book, The Islands of Greece.

Rebecca Seal

There’s one crucial element to cooking Greek food…

‘And that’s good quality olive oil. You might not think it, but Greece’s population consumes the most olive oil per head in the world,’ says Rebecca. ‘You are never far from an olive grove and some of the country’s olive trees are themselves truly ancient: one of the oldest is in the village of Vouves on Crete and is thought to be 3,000 years old. Greek cooks almost always use olive oil for cooking as well as in dressings and sauces. Save your best extra-virgin for dishes in which it won’t be cooked and use regular olive oil for frying.

 

Don’t be surprised to find pasta

‘There’s also a strong tradition of pasta as well as risotto, which is a legacy of Roman rule. Centuries of trading across the Mediterranean, plus periods of the occupation of Greece by peoples such as the Venetians, influenced cooks in the Greek islands, just as their own techniques were carried far afield in turn.’

 

Meat

‘The assumption from seaside holidays is that fresh fish and seafood are key, but each island has quite a distinctive personality, and a real pride in its food culture,’ explains Rebecca. ‘The interior of Crete, for example, is all about slow-roasted meat, while dishes from Santorini speak of summer with lots of tomatoes and capers. Although a lot of the country’s terrain is good for keeping sheep, meaning lots of good cheese, lamb and mutton, there’s also a huge game hunting culture in the islands.’

 

Growing wild

‘There’s a lot of “found” food in the islands; bitter, peppery greens grow everywhere, perfect for pastry pies and salads. Another thing to remember is that basil is seen as a holy ingredient, and often planted around churches.’

 

Cheese

‘Outside Greece, we are most familiar with feta cheese, the tangy, crumbly white sheeps’ milk cheese that is often the only true Greek cheese stocked in our shops (halloumi is a Greek–Cypriot cheese). It can be hard to find in the UK, so follow these suggestions for alternatives. Graviera, a hard yellow cheese, is similar to gruyère; mizithra is either a creamy soft cheese quite like ricotta, or an aged grating cheese; kasseri is used a lot like mozzarella – although it is a sheeps’ and sometimes goats’ milk cheese – and it melts well; kefalotiri is a hard, fairly strong cheese, made from sheeps’ and goats’ milk, served by itself to nibble or grated over pasta in the same way as parmesan or pecorino; kopanisti is a peppery white soft cheese; while manouri is a creamy soft cheese with a taste similar to that of feta.’

 

Greek oregano

‘Oregano grown in Greece is usually of very high quality and really rich in flavour. I recommend using it over other types if possible, as it even keeps its flavour well when dried. Fresh oregano is used in Greek cooking too (it’s lovely in salads or as part of an olive oil and lemon dressing for a warm potato salad), so try growing it in a pot on the windowsill, drying some of it to use over the winter.’

Armed with this information, we’ve picked six recipes from The Islands of Greece to help get you started.

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