The card group is coming over tonight and they’ve been busting my cojones for some time to make an “authentic” Greek meal.
Greek food isn’t what my friend and chef-extraordinaire, Dr. J., calls “fussed over”. It is generally predicated on two principles: Extremely fresh, high-quality ingredients, and simple preparation that allows the ingredients to speak for themselves. It is neither a good nor bad philosophy; I love French and Italian cuisines with their great artistry and often complex techniques. But that’s not Greek food.
There are two kinds of Greek food: Psistaria (Meaning “Grill”), and Magirefta (meaning “home-cooked”).
Grill is self-explanatory. Traditionally, urban Greeks have always gone out for grilled food, because home barbequing was usually impractical, especially in crowded city conditions. Of course, village folk were more likely to grill on a more regular basis, but even there, Magirefta (home cooking in an oven or pan) remained the dominant eating style. To this day, home barbequing hasn’t caught on in Greek cities and the sight of a gas BBQ is a rarity (even those who do grill at home tend to use a charcoal hibachi). Greeks love to go out to special restaurants (tavernas or psistaries), where they get either fish or meat, i.e. some tavernas specialize in fish and seafood, while others focus on meat (although these days there is some crossover).
Magirefta is the type of food most Greeks grow up with at home. Dishes include the well-known moussaka, pastitio (macaroni casserole), stifado (stew), keftethes (meatballs), and many other dishes now familiar to most Westerners, as well as some never-seen in Greek restaurants here. This is what I think of when I think Greek food; the food that my grandmother and later, my mother, cooked when I was growing up.
Tonight’s menu will focus on the grill. It includes:
- Grilled octopus with olive oil, oregano, onions, and capers
- Tomato, cucumber and feta salad
- Grilled thick slabs of artisanal bread brushed with olive oil, garlic , and chilies
- Grilled zucchini and eggplant
- Marinated beef kebabs served with smoked rice
- Greek yogurt and honey for desert
- Melon for fruit
My friend Peter Minakis has one of the most outstanding Greek cooking sites. His focus is on maintaining tradition while still using North American ingredients. His recipes and techniques are virtually foolproof and he provides great cultural background with each post. I followed his recipe for Greek grilled octopus, with some small variations endemic to my own “tradition”.
The photos are mine. The first shows the octopus as it comes off the grill, and the second, the final product with the octopus cut up in medium-sized chunks and tossed with olive oil, oregano, capers, and thinly sliced onion.