I can’t hark back to my first (but certainly not last) trip to Greece without waxing lyrical about the eye-rollingly delicious local food. To the little island of Naxos we went, like Bourdain before us, and found a slightly off the beaten track gourmet destination that didn’t disappoint.
Bathed in Grecian sunlight, sipping Assyrtiko along with plump kalamatas, life was good. Ever since, I have been recreating the flavours I savoured there at home whenever I’m in need of a mental Greek getaway.
As early summer is upon us at last, and dining al fresco in our gardens with friends is back on the menu, why not travel with your tastebuds with a delicious, feta-filled feast fit for the Greek gods at home?
These dishes are best served mezze-style all at once, and they are sure to have you and your guests sailing away on the Aegean in a sunshine-filled food coma. Most dishes travel well and can be boxed up to take on a sunny picnic, too.
Roasted Aubergine Dip/Melitzanosalata
While it is similar to Baba Ghanoush, this charred aubergine dip does not have tahini and therefore allows the real flavour of the humble veggie to shine through, accentuated with plenty of garlic.
Char 2 large aubergines until blistered over a gas hob using a metal tongs, or on a BBQ. I have resorted to blow-torching in the past! Place in a 180c oven for 30 minutes to soften.
Once cooled, scoop out and mix the soft flesh in a bowl with 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the juice of a lemon and season to taste. Serve with a garnish of chopped flat leaf parsley. I like mine chunky, but you can also blend in a food processor if you prefer a smooth dip.
If you have aubergine avoiders dining with you, this is a good alternative to Melitzanosalata. Heartier than hummus and appealing to potato lovers, Skordalia is also one for those of us who think you can never have enough garlic.
Just boil 300g peeled and chopped potatoes until tender, circa 15 minutes, drain and use an immersion blender to purée, adding lemon juice to loosen if necessary – don’t overwork as the potato starch will make it glue-y in texture.
Blend 6 cloves of chopped garlic with 100ml of olive oil and sea salt, then gradually mix this into the potato, until you have the desired dip consistency. Any leftover garlic oil can be used to brush pittas or meat dishes below.
The classic cooling yoghurt dip Tzatziki is a must have on your Greek table, and can be whipped up in minutes.
Take a 300g pot of thick Greek yoghurt and add peeled and cored grated cucumber, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil fresh chopped mint and dill plus, you guessed it, more chopped garlic. Mix into a chunky dip that is perfect for dunking or drizzling on any and everything.
The most refreshing and ever present part of a Greek meal is the classic salad combining cucumber, beautiful tomatoes, fat kalamata olives, red onions, a simple olive oil and oregano dressing and of course, creamy chunks of feta. It is truly summer in a bowl.
This recipe from Brother Hubbard is a little twist on the classic, adding more veggies in the form of multi-coloured peppers, and is the perfect light addition to your mezze spread. I like to soak the red onions in red wine vinegar or lemon juice while I prepare this to soften and take the edge off.
You could substitute feta in the above Greek Salad with slabs of halloumi, grilled on the BBQ or fried in a pan.
For another light salad option to go with your spread, grill halloumi and serve with capers, fresh or dried oregano, a squeeze of lemon and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, or even some juicy peach or nectarine slices.
Baked Feta Bouyiourdi and Feta Saganaki
The TikTok baked feta and tomato pasta you’ve seen explode in popularity recently is based on the original dish of Baked Feta Bouyiourdi, a Greek delight comprising of a roasted block of feta with tomatoes, garlic cloves, good olive oil, finely sliced fresh green chillies (or peperoncini in a bind) and fresh oregano.
30 minutes in the oven (cover with foil for the first 15) at 180c and you’ll have a luscious cheesy delight. If you ask me, this is far better scooped up with pita or flatbread than mushed up with penne, and it makes a gorgeous addition to a Greek mezze spread.
If you prefer your feta crispy and fried, Saganaki is irresistible. Cut a block of feta in half, dip in beaten egg and coat with seasoned flour. Heat a frying pan with olive oil and fry each block for 2 minutes before flipping for a further 2, until golden brown. Repeat as necessary with as much feta as you wish to serve.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve with a bowl of honey for drizzling.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of Greek food without crisp, golden brown filo pastry stuffed with *more* feta, spinach and dill. I cannot be mad at the amount of cheese on this menu.
Now Spanikopita is usually served in a chunky slab, a rich, egg-bound filling encased in filo. These Spinach, Feta and Dill Filo Turnovers by Blazing Salads pack all the same flavour in a gorgeous and crispy casing, especially good if you are putting together a picnic feast.
If you have your eye on the pie, Blazing Salads’ recipe for Courgette and Goats Cheese Filo Pie is a great blueprint, and you can change up your greens, herb and cheese choices as you wish.
No Greek feast would be complete without juicy skewers of beautifully marinated meat, cooked over coals if possible. Pork is the traditional choice for Souvlaki, but I have also made this with diced lamb shoulder chunks and chicken thighs before. The zesty, herby marinade is what makes these a real treat.
I use 125g of diced pork shoulder or loin (in that order of preference, but loin/fillet is more widely available) per person. For 4 people, marinate in a blend of 50ml olive oil, a few fresh (if you have them) oregano leaves and a tsp each of dried oregano and dried mint, 3 cloves of minced garlic and the juice and zest of half a lemon.
Massage and leave the pork to drink in the flavours of the marinade in the fridge for 4 hours removing from the fridge an hour before cooking. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent them burning, thread the pork on the skewers and cook on a high heat in a griddle pan or on the BBQ, for 10 minutes, turning frequently.
Add another drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice to serve.
Butterflied Leg of Lamb
If you are catering for a crowd and would prefer one large centrepiece dish, this Greek Style Butterflied Leg of Lamb recipe by the brilliant Catherine Fulvio is a great choice, served with a herb salsa spiked with oregano, mint and lemon for plenty of gorgeous Grecian flavour.
For Greek flatbreads at home, the best route is quick and dirty. Two ingredient flatbreads the make the perfect vessel for topping/wrapping/scooping all your above Greek delights.
Take 300g Greek yoghurt and 150g seasoned self-raising flour and mix by hand in a large bowl, until it comes together to form a dough ball.
Place on a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, then cut into balls – this recipe yields 5 flatbreads. Roll each ball out with a rolling pin (or wine bottle!) to desired thickness (sturdier than a tortilla, thinner than a naan).
Fry in a dry pan, until slightly puffy and blistered, 2 minutes each side on a high heat. Once cooked, you can brush with butter or garlicky olive oil (leftover from Skordalia) and top with chopped herbs like parsley, mint and dill, and flaked sea salt.
For an even easier route, pop some pita breads in a griddle pan or on the BBQ, brushed with olive oil for 30 seconds or so on each side, then serve.
While Ouzo is the national drink of Greece, I feel most of us in Ireland would flinch at the thought of downing anything even vaguely similar to Sambuca with our dinner.
With that in mind, if you want to truly embrace the Greek theme, seek out a bottle of Santorini’s splendid Assyrtiko to serve alongside your feast. Yamas!
WRITTEN BY DARINA COFFEY