Most people know what Greek food looks like based on the depiction of it in US restaurants. While much of this cuisine is authentic, there are also many dishes that have been Americanized (as with many other international cuisines) and differ vastly from those of the dishes in Greece. Furthermore, Greek food will never be more authentic than when it's prepared by someone who knows the flavors and traditional cooking methods used in the Mediterranean country. So, how different is traditional Greek food? Because there are definitely some dishes that seem to be left out.
While some of these are gaining a bit more popularity, they're not widely known. Some are incredibly simple while others require a family recipe to recreate, but this is what should be on everyone's list nevertheless.
Greece has some of the most delicious desserts (hello, baklava!) but bougatsa is one that not many have heard of. It's traditional street food in Greece and combines the magic of custard and phyllo dough, two common ingredients in Greek cuisine, to create a subtly sweet dessert that can be eaten on the go. This dish supposedly came from Northern Greece and has since circulated around the country, but it's definitely one sweet treat that should be on everyone's list. Similar to a custard pie, this dessert is usually topped with powdered sugar as opposed to whipped cream like how it would be in the US, and it's also served slightly warm.
Halloumi cheese is something that's still relatively new to most people. While it can be found in the specialty cheese section of many supermarkets, as well as in cheese shops, it can be a bit confusing when the word 'grillable' is thrown into the mix. Most of the time, Halloumi will come in an aluminum pan that's safe for heat, and the intended purpose of this is to allow it to sit on the grill or under a broiler while it heats up. It can be eaten raw but this sheep's cheese is far better when an open flame is introduced to it. Its flavor is similar to feta but not quite as strong, although it does have a definite tang. It's usually marinated in olive oil and spices prior to being heated, making for a great snack on its own, with crackers, or even in a salad in the place of a protein.
In short, keftedes is the Greek version of meatballs. However, rather than being cooked in a sauce or baked off in the oven, these meatballs are fried. This allows the meat to get crispy on the outside which creates a nice, textured outer layer, while all the moisture of the meat is retained inside the actual meatball. The good news is that even though these aren't very common on menus, they can be made pretty easily at home with the right meat mixture and spice blend. Served alongside a zingy lemon sauce or a creamy tzatziki sauce, they're amazing on their own as a meal or as an accompaniment to dinner.
Sounds simple enough, right? While grilled mushrooms might not sound like much, Greece is very well known for its use of fresh ingredients, including veggies. More often than not, everything is grilled, and that includes mushrooms. A meatier type of mushroom works the best for this - something like a portabella which will have the texture, thickness, and earthy flavor required to stand up to the grill. Grilling mushrooms over an open flame is the only true way to get bring out their natural flavors, but a quick marinade of herbs and olive oil beforehand wouldn't hurt, either. These are served on their own as a precursor to a meal or just as a light lunch or snack.
Fried Zucchini (Or Any Fried Veg) With Tzatziki
Tzatziki on its own is heavenly, but it goes great on nearly anything, especially lamb. A great vegetarian option, however, is fried zucchini. The sauce itself is easy enough to whip up with greek yogurt and/or sour cream, a grated cucumber, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper to taste. Once that's made, zucchini should be sliced thick and then fried - it's as simple as that! Other veggies, such as the grilled mushrooms mentioned above, would also go great with this sauce. A grilled veggie platter would be a beautiful way to start off a dinner or as a light lunch, and it's also incredibly healthy - another thing that Mediterranean cuisine is well-known for.