Monday, April 4, 2011

My Greek Love Affair

Everyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I love Greek food. I first developed this gastronomical love affair while on a family vacation in the Peloponnesus, the peninsular region of Greece. Under the dry, hot sun, typical of a Mediterranean summer, we dined in little “tabepnas” sampling everything, including fresh Greek salads, grilled fish, spanikopita, gyros and much more. On many occasions we were invited back into the kitchens of these quaint mom and pop joints to take our pick of the daily dishes. It was during this wonderful trip that I became a “feta fanatic” and a “garlicy-tzatziki-lover” and it was after my vacation that decided I wanted to master the Greek cuisine. After years of practice, I believe I have successfully honed my Greek cooking skills and can now call myself a master of Greek fare. While my family likes to joke about my unrelenting wish to dine at our local Greek restaurant, Lefteris, or my use of copious amounts of garlic in preparing tzatziki for family dinners, I interpret their quips as a testament to my passion and talent for both eating and preparing Greek cuisine.

Traditional Greek cuisine maximizes fresh and seasonal ingredients while maintaining good, crisp flavors. For this reasons, it is both healthy and easy to prepare– two necessities for college students. The following staple recipes are a testament to the simplicity and flavor of Greek food and are among some of my all-time favorite dishes to make.

Greek Salad:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
·      10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
·      ¼ red onion, diced
·      ½ green bell pepper, thinly sliced
·      ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
·      10 Kalamata olives
·      2 teaspoons of olive oil
·      1 teaspoon of dried oregano
·      1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

Directions:

1.     Combine the vegetables and feta cheese in a bowl.
2.     Toss with the olive oil, dried oregano, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Greek salad


Tzatziki:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      ½ cup of Greek yogurt (I like to use Fage 0% Greek yogurt)
·      ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
·      1 clove of garlic, finely chopped (use more or less, depending on the degree of pungency desired)
·      1 teaspoon of olive oil
·      1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice

Directions:
1.     After grating the cucumber, squeeze out the excess liquid and place in a bowl.
2.     Combine the cucumber with the yogurt, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Add more or less olive oil to achieve your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. (Hint: I like to make my tzatziki ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge so that the garlic has time to flavor the yogurt).

“Grilled” Chicken:
(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

·      1 chicken breast
·      1 clove of chopped garlic
·      2 tablespoons of olive oil
·      1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
·      2 teaspoons of fried oregano

Directions:

1.     Combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and oregano as a marinade. Season with salt and pepper.
2.     Place the chicken breast in a small bowl and drizzle with the marinade.
3.     Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes (or more if you would like to infuse more flavor into the chicken).
4.     After the chicken has marinated for a considerable amount of time, remove it from the bowl.
5.     The following options represent several easy ways to cook your chicken breast:
1.     Grilled Chicken: Simply place the chicken breast and its accompanying juices on a grill and cook. This will take approximately 5 – 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken breast and the intensity of the flame. (Hint: chicken NEEDS to be cooked completely through. If you are unsure if your breast is completely cooked, you can cut into the middle of the chicken with a knife and look for raw sections).
2.   Faux Grilled Chicken: Line a backing dish with a sheet of tin foil and bake your chicken at a temperature of 350° for 5 – 10 minutes. (Hint: In both these methods, the chicken can be cut into small cubes and placed on wooden skewers. This allows the chicken to cook much more quickly and gives it a more authentic look).
6.     Serve the grilled chicken with the Greek salad, tzatziki sauce, and a toasted whole-wheat pita (Hint: I like to make grilled chicken sandwiches by combining all the elements of this meal inside my pita pocket!)

Grilled chicken, tzatziki sauce, and a toasted whole-wheat pita


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