Oldways’ very first culinary and cultural symposium in the Mediterranean was held in 1991 in Porto Carras, Greece, not too far from the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. It started our long campaign to bring the Mediterranean Diet – and foods and preparations of the Mediterranean – to American consumers. It’s hard to remember that only 25 years ago olive oil was mostly an ethnic product, and the only way to easily find Greek yogurt and hummus was by traveling to Mediterranean countries like Greece.
As renowned nutrition scientist Antonia Trichopoulou wrote in The Oldways Table:
“Until recently, and before the Oldways era, the value of olive oil was mostly appreciated in the countries where it is produced, the countries of the Mediterranean basin. We believed in it, and we honored it in our mythology and our traditions.”
While olive oil is now commonplace here at home, Greece offers many other food traditions and cultural delights not widely known in America. This is in part what we focused on during the November weeklong culinary journey in Greece with Chef Ana Sortun of Oleana, Sofra and Sarma Restaurants in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts and European Art Curator Ronni Baer.
The program highlighted many facets of Greek life: the cultural and historical attractions; the agriculture and viticulture that produce incredibly delicious, quality products like wine and spirits, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and more; and the traditional preparation techniques that take these ingredients from the farm to the kitchen.
We included cooking demonstrations by Ana Sortun and Greek cookbook author, cooking teacher and journalist, Aglaia Kremezi. Two of the recipes below are from these demonstrations. We aimed for participants to take home more than memories; our goal is always that participants leave with the knowledge of how to reproduce the tastes of our destination in their own kitchens. Here are some tips to bring a taste of Greece and the Mediterranean into your kitchen and dining table:
- Greek yogurt is not just for breakfast or parfaits; it’s often used in cooking. The spinach salad recipe below is a great example.
- Herbs and spices like oregano, mint, dill, and thyme (among others) play an important role in Greek cooking. Be sure your herbs and spices are fresh; replace and refresh them often. You will notice the difference.
- Garlic, onion and lemon are also integral to Greek cooking: be sure to stock your pantry with plenty of them.
- Add meze to your family’s table. They’ll love it. Meze are appetizers or small plates that can be very simple, like olives or small pieces of feta cheese. They can also be more complicated – dips, grilled or marinated fish or vegetables, dolmas (vine leaves stuffed with rice and more), or cheese pies. While meze are small plates, they can be a full meal, if served in greater quantities. Try Greek meze for this year’s holiday party!
- Vegetables such as green beans, eggplant, okra, and peas are prepared with tomato, onion, garlic and various herbs - and of course, olive oil. As Antonia Trichopoulou has always said, echoing Mary Poppins: “it’s olive oil that makes the vegetables go down!”
- Meals are valued experiences — shared and enjoyed with friends, family and conversation, often lasting for many hours. Participants on the trip learned to savor a new rhythm to meals and to life. In Greece and throughout the Mediterranean, eating is more than food.
Year in and year out, we organize culinary tours like this Greece Culinaria to give an added appreciation for the old ways and for new discoveries -- and an interest in bringing them home, sharing them with friends and family, and making them a part of daily life. The old ways of Greece and the Mediterranean can be the new ways. Join us on our next adventure — Liguria!
Click on a title or photo below to go to our recipes.