Learn the Greek Art of Seasonal Eating

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Musaka - traditional dish of greek cuisine.For those of us who live in the United States, it’s all too easy to forget that the cuisine in Greece is very much tied to the seasons. When we want an orange, for instance, we don’t need to wait for the winter when they’re in season – we can find them all year long. In Greece, however, the opposite is true. The cuisine lives and breathes with the seasons and most Greek cooks know how to maximize these ingredients so that they can be enjoyed all year. 

When I was growing up, my grandmother went to the store almost every day. I didn’t know it then, but she was in search of the freshest looking ingredients for the evening meal. If the beef looked freshly ground, we’d have keftedes for dinner. If the tomatoes were ripe and aromatic, we’d eat the classic Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and feta. All of her recipes were simple, but they were big on flavor because she only used the best that she could find. She learned to cook this way from her mother, who was born on the island of Kythera, and she passed this wisdom along to me.

However, eating according to the seasons is a bit of a challenge here in the United States. Not because the ingredients aren’t available – in fact the opposite is true. Even though asparagus are only in season in the early spring, for instance, you can actually find them year round. The same is true with tomatoes, apples, oranges, and just about anything you can find in the produce section of the local super market. In order to prepare foods that embrace the seasonal rhythms, I find that my best bet is to frequent the local farm stands. Even then, the temptation to buy out-of-season asparagus is almost too great! However, when I do buy fruits and vegetables out of season, I am usually disappointed because they don’t seem to taste as good.

There are certain Greek dishes that almost certainly require fresh ingredients. Here’s a list of some of our favorites:

  • MoussakaSomehow, this classic dish only tastes its best when the eggplants are picked fresh from the garden!
  • HoriatikiThis classic Greek salad isn’t quite the same unless the tomatoes were plucked fresh from the vine.
  • Boiled spinach on white dish.HortaGreeks sure love their greens, but only when they’re in season. Whenever you find this dish in Greece, it usually contains whichever greens are available.
  • PitaThe reason why there are so many different recipes for pita is because Greeks use whatever they have available. There are versions of the classic recipe that include spinach, miscellaneous greens, squash, and various cheeses.
  • Stuffed vegetables –  Greeks love to stuff ingredients such as rice, ground meat, and fresh herbs into vegetables like peppers, squash, and tomatoes. In other words, the filling is nearly the same no matter what vegetable is used and cooks seem to use the vegetables that are the most readily available.

For the Greek cook, it’s all about learning a handful of cooking methods and then adapting them for whichever ingredients are available. You cold easily mimic this style of cooking, as long as you focus on using fresh ingredients and learn to see meal preparation as a series of methods that can be adapted depending on what you have on hand.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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