Eating, Laughing, Loving GOING GREEK
The phrase “Greek food” is practically synonymous with hospitality. As the vivacious Bakopoulos sisters, authors of the multiple award-winning cookbook Three Sisters Around
the Greek Table, proclaim, “entertaining, Greek-style, should make your guests feel truly welcome and show them how delighted you are to cook for them.”
Gathered in youngest sister Samantha’s leafy, welcoming Manor Park back yard, Betty and Eleni join her in explaining that traditional Greek dinners are not formal affairs. “ There is usually more of a grazing approach, with platters of food appearing constantly for hours. Guests will often arrive midafternoon and the nibbling begins right away, with dinner served at 6 or 7 p.m. and lasting for five or six hours. By the time dessert appears around midnight, you’re hungry again. If a Greek dinner has gone well, by the end, everyone is dancing!”
Greek food can be described as seasonal and simple. “It’s refreshing and light on the palate,” say the sisters, who are currently working on a second book of traditional, easy-to-prepare dishes. “It’s not fussy or overly sauced – more like good, honest peasant food.” A typical Greek meal will not feature a lot of starch; vegetables are much more prominent. In fact, the famous Mediterranean Diet should actually be called the Greek Diet, given that the study which spawned interest in the healthy lifestyle was actually conducted on the Greek isle of Crete.
“Greek food is not very labour intensive as each dish typically has a simple list of ingredients,” they add. “You can feed a lot of people quite inexpensively and many dishes can be prepared ahead of time. Our cookbook includes make-ahead instructions and a few shortcuts as well. It’s truly not a cuisine to be afraid of either making or eating.”
Good quality ingredients are essential to Greek cooking because most recipes are designed to let just a few simple elements shine. This includes lots of fresh herbs and Greek olive oil, which has a very distinct buttery flavour. Look for oils from Kalamata or Crete for top quality, and buy bunches of dried oregano which has a much more pleasing and pronounced flavour than packaged leaves.
The hallmark of a true Greek meal is a greater abundance of food than most Canadians are probably accustomed to. “If you are serving chicken breasts, for example, plan on two per person. You want to make your guests feel comfortable having more and it is the hostess’ job to continually urge people to refill their plates.”
The grazing begins with a generous selection of mezedes or appetizers. These can be presented one at a time over several hours. “You should bring out food right away to accompany drinks. Start with a little ouzo, served in a highball glass with ice. Because of its high sugar content, ouzo is meant to be served with food and sipped in moderation.” Suggestions for appetizers include parsley and mint meatballs with tzatziki, marinated olives, shrimp and ouzo, kefalotyri cheese and feta with sliced bread, and spanakopita bites.
For the main course, it’s common to present all the remaining dishes on large platters, placed in the centre of the table and passed among guests. A typical meal would include two salads, several vegetable dishes such as moussaka and grilled or stuffed vegetables, two meat dishes, a fish or seafood dish and a pastisio (baked penne with béchamel). The tzatziki, marinated olives, cheeses and bread would also stay on the