Sometimes the best part about traveling is coming home. Home to look at photographs and recreate the food you enjoyed. The Acropolis, tzatziki, Greek salad, saganaki and the bluest sea. My Greek holiday memory.
A meal in Athens
Arriving in Athens is like coming to a city which is half European and half Middle Eastern. The unfamiliar alphabet, the crazy traffic, the heat and the music reminds me of faraway places. Still, Athens is Europe and a very vibrant city in all its complexity. Athens is marble, trees lining the streets with oranges, thick yogurt and barbecued octopus, crowded street cafés, tavernas empty in the day, the scent of dried oregano and thyme, mezedes and ouzo, tourists and thin cats, honey and feta cheese, history’s greatness and today’s blues, the Acropolis and Lycabettus hills. Of all things great about Athens, the most endearing to me is the ever-presence of Acropolis.The enlighted democratic castle on the hill.
The Greek kitchen may not be as refined as the French, but it is based on fresh produce and honest flavours. Here I make three small dishes (mezedez) I have eaten several times in Greece. Greek salad and tzatziki, feta cheese with honey and sesame seeds.
Saganaki with feta cheese and honey
Saganaki with cheese and honey is the Greek equivalent of the French chevre with honey. The Greek have many types of cheese suitable for frying or grilling. Cheeses that keep their shape despite the heat. Feta cheese is like onion. Eaten raw it is a rather harsh acquaintance, but the heat changes its character. The onion becomes sweet and soft. The feta cheese softer and amendable.
Such fried cheeses are called saganaki. Saganaki is the name of all dishes prepared in a small frying pan and its name derives from sagani which is a two-handled frying pan.
A tzatziki should be thick and creamy. To do so remove the water from the cucumber and use a thick greek type of yoghurt. This tzatziki has a mild garlic flavour, but I still would not recommend any kissing the day after, unless it is with the one you share the dip with.
How to make and eat Greek salad (salata horiatiki)
“For me, there is no other salad that can even compare to Horiatiki in freshness, vibrancy, combination of flavors and utter simplicity which is, ultimately, the main characteristic of all traditional Greek food.” Magda, a Greek expat living in the Netherlands
Outside Greece (and on tourist menus) it is known as Greek salad. In Greece it is called horiatiki. Horiatiki means in the peasant’s manner and refers to the rather rustic character of the salad with its big chunks. There are rules as how to make the horiatiki salad, and how to eat it. According to My little expat kitchen, written by a Greek living in Holland, a genuine horiatiki should include:
fresh tomatoes cut into wedges, peeled cucumber, green paprika cut into rings, red onion cut into rings, kalamata olives with the pit still in, feta cheese in one piece, dried oregano, olive oil and red wine vinegar.
If you look beyond the fact that I use red paprika (because it is the only organic paprika in my store), I pretty much make the real deal. Horiatiki is always eaten with bread. And if you want to eat the salad like a Greek, you should soak up the remaining liquid with your bread. This is called papara, and is only done when you are with friends or familiy. And remember, mezedes is food to be shared.
Makes about 3-4:
Horiatiki (Greek salad)
1 green paprika
1 small red onion
1 handful of kalamata olives
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
One piece of feta cheese
1. Peel the cucumber. Slice lengthwise and then cut into slices. Slice the tomatoes into wedges and the red onion and paprika into rings.
2. Toss everything well in a bowl with the olive oil and vinegar.
3. Place the feta cheese on top of the salad and sprinkle with the oregano and drizzle with olive oil.
1 garlic clove
a little squeeze of lemon
300 g / 10 oz Greek yoghurt
salt and pepper
1. Grate the cucumber and leave in a sieve. Most recipes will tell you to salt the cucumber and leave it in the sieve to drain for quite a while, but I prefer to squeeze the water out of the cucumber with the back of a tablespoon for about 5 minutes.
2. Mix the cucumber with grated garlic, the yoghurt and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Drizzle with olive oil.
Saganaki with feta cheese and honey
I ate this saganaki every day two years ago at a restaurant next to the hotel where we stayed in Ambelokipi, Athens.
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 piece of feta cheese
4 tbsp flour
2 tbsp cooking oil
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1. Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan until golden brown. This will release a more nutty flavour. Remove the seeds and add the cooking oil.
2. Whisk the egg in a little plate. Place the flour in another plate. Dip the cheese first in the egg, then in the flour, making sure it is well coated. Fry on medium heat for about 5 minutes until golden.
3. Heat the honey and the vinegar in a small pan and pour on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.