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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Vegetarian Greek cuisine (Χορτοφαγική κουζίνα)

If fasting is very important to you during the Great Lent, then you will want to know how to keep your as food vegan as possible. Greek taverna meals lend themselves very well to this kind of eating, since they are mainly vegetarian, while the meat and cheese part of the menu is often kept separate. Here's an article I originally published through Suite101

Traditional Greek food is mainly plant-based and mostly vegetarian, leading to a healthy balanced diet and longevity.

The basis of Greek cuisine is often misunderstood. Most people will associate Greek food with souvlaki, the Greek kebab, which is more of a street food or a tasty snack, rather than with what is being cooked in the homes of most Greek people. Despite the rise in modern times in the consumption of meat for the average Greek due to global forces, the true basis of Greek cuisine lies in a plant-based diet. As Diane Kochilas, a respected Greek food writer, implies: simple dishes based mainly on plants could be the country's most effective goodwill ambassador. This is in fact where the secrets of Greek longevity lie: a plant-based diet, profusely laden with olive oil.

Vegetarian Greek recipes

Many of the most popular meals in Greece are based on a vegetable dish, combined with some form of carbohydrate to add bulk to the meal. Summer favorites include yemista, shelled vegetables (tomato, pepper, eggplant) filled with rice mixed with herbs; fasolakia, string beans cooked in a red sauce, with the addition of chunks of potato; and horta, leafy greens dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, always accompanied by thick slices of freshly baked bread. All such meals are very popular taverna choices too, as they are all considered a staple part in the range of traditional Greek recipes, so tourists will often see them on a menu card. They may sound in essence like easy Greek recipes to make, but when prepared with fresh local seasonal ingredients, these dishes are very hard to beat in terms of taste.

Vegan soups and beans in the winter

In the winter, bean soups are a regular feature of the weekly meals cooked at home: there are few homes in the whole country that won’t be enjoying a hearty Greek bean soup every week. Does that sound boring? Not if there are so many different beans to base a soup on! The most popular Greek bean soups are fasolada, made of dry white beans, cooked in a tomato-based soup, together with carrots and celery, and fa-kes (φακες), a simple lentil soup cooked in tomato or with rice. Chickpeas (garbanzo beans), known as revithia, are often cooked together with spinach or other leafy greens in a lemon-based (or tomato) soup, similarly to black-eyed beans (mavromatika). The Greek version of baked beans, gigandes, is the main bean dish served at almost all Greek tavernas throughout the year.

Endless variety

A plant-based diet cannot be criticized for its lack of variety because there is simply no lack of edible plants in Greece, due to the temperate climatic conditions which allow almost any fruit and vegetable to be propagated successfully. In the past when fasting was more commonly practiced, according to the religious calendar of the Greek Orthodox church, half the year was actually reserved for Lenten meals, when dairy and meat products are not consumed. Therefore, all the meals would have been mainly vegan, with the exception of shellfish (which was not necessarily accessible to everyone, at any rate).

All vegetarians, whether they include dairy in their diet or if they are completely vegan, will be able to find a tasty balanced meal to choose from in the range of meals that make up traditional Greek cuisine.

(This article was originally published at Suite101).

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