I thought I would give you guys a bit of a low down on my favourite ingredients that will pop up on a lot of my recipes. I am sure that I will be adding to the list as I go along but I think this starts me off rather nicely. If you have any questions of want any more tips of how to use any of them then please let me know!!!
Greek food would not be what it is without olive oil. I love it so much and it is pretty much my answer to everything, even sunburn, looking on the health side Olive Oil is great for the heart and has been known to reduce the risk of heart disease but also is a great anti-inflammatory if used on a regular basis.
At home we have about 10 different olive oils all with their own use. I don’t ever have butter in my fridge and even the chips are fried in olive oil, believe me the first time you try it you will notice the difference.
If you are not as much as a fanatic as me all you will need is a good all round Extra Virgin Olive oil for cooking and a cold pressed (if you can find it) slightly more expensive olive oil to drizzle on salads. I always bring a massive haul back from Greece to last me the year but there are some good brands in the UK too. Jamie Oliver’s range is a pretty good place to start.
I could sprinkle feta on anything and everything. As a child I hated it but as my taste buds developed so did my love for this white little block of cheese. Compared to most cheese, feta is relatively healthy due to having a lower fat content, being high in protein and also the strong flavour means that only a little is needed for the desired effect. The downside however is the high salt content so some self-restraint is often required.
Traditionally Feta is made with a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk so when picking out a brand in the supermarket I would always make sure that you pick one of these rather than one that has cows milk slipped in there as the texture just is not the same and neither is the flavour.
This is my go to herb. The Greeks love it and why not? The taste is very aromatic if not slightly bitter which cuts through tomatoes perfectly. This little herb is also a bit of a super food in its own right. It is very high in dietary fibre which means that it is great at lowering cholesterol. This marvellous herb is also an excellent source of Vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. AND on top of all of this Oregano is an anti-oxidant so get on eating.
The name Parsley comes from the Greek ‘rock celery’ which I think is a pretty cool name. I will always pick fresh over dried as dried parsley changes taste completely. Again Parsley is amazingly good for you if eaten regularly in a balanced diet. Parsley is known as the cancer fighting herb, it has really high anti-inflammatory properties and again is a great antioxidant along with a million other vitamins and minerals but I won’t bore you with the list. It is also great and fighting the dreaded bloat and excessive water retention.
Of course this would be on my favourite ingredient list. Having suffered from food intolerance I have learnt the importance of probiotics and what better way to get my daily fix than with a bowl of Greek yogurt and honey? I also use it in my pancake batter, frosting and a tea spoon of it in your scrambled eggs makes it so creamy without the need for any milk or butter. Any Greek yoghurt is good in my eyes, I generally go for the 0% fat as and when I can but I will always bring out the full fat naughtiness for special occasions.
Being refined sugar free, Honey is massive part of my diet. I use it wherever I can and the Greeks also use this as their sweetener all cooking. I get that a lot of people find the taste too strong but there are so many variants so just make sure you pick a light and mild honey, this is generally the one that has been messed about with least. Also if you can go for it then I would choose raw honey over anything else due to the amazing health benefits.
I am a massive advocate for honey and my family actually produce their own, so I am lucky enough to have an endless supply. I could write forever about it but I will just summarize the benefits for now. Raw honey is known for its anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It promotes body and digestive health, is a powerful antioxidant, strengthens the immune system, and eliminates allergies (such as hay fever, if the honey is local). No brainer right?
Tomatoes are another Greek staple, they bring life and colour to so many dishes. Tomatoes are packed with vitamins and antioxidants as we all know but the main health benefit that I love them for is their vitamin A content which means great Hair and Skin.
The one mistake us brits make about tomatoes is eating them when they are unripe and fridge cold. Those awful things that we buy in the supermarket called “salad tomatoes” are the reasons so many people won’t eat them raw. These salad tomatoes are sharp and tasteless so where you can I would always advise to buy deep red vine tomatoes and leave them in your fruit bowl not the fridge tray. Eating tomatoes cold just seems to zap all the flavour out of them. I am sure there is a scientific reason behind it; maybe I will have a google one day.
Tzatziki would not be Tzatziki without a healthy helping of garlic. In Greek food the goal is not to go overboard yet it is an important part of some of the dishes. The fresher the garlic the better but I know that that’s virtually impossible in the UK so any will do. We all know the great anti-inflammatory properties of garlic so I always dose up when feeling a bit coldy.
Top tip – if using raw garlic; boil it in hot water for 5 minutes, this will remove the really sharp garlicky flavour and leave you garlic breath free.
Now eggs are one of those things that you think are either brilliant or are a bit wary of due to being high in cholesterol. I am personally pro-eggs and even have my own chickens so I always have a stocked egg basket. They are so packed full of vitamins and nutrients so in moderation they do far more good than harm. In Greek cookery eggs are used as a thickening agent for soups, stews and used in so many of their desserts.
Now I know that Kale is not typically Greek but unfortunately we do not get the same wild greens that they use over there so Kale is the next best thing. When not in season I will always use spinach as the next best thing.
My family and friends laugh at my Kale addiction. I have it almost every day. Raw, Cooked, Marinated, you name it I eat it, I even have a Kale cake recipe (don’t knock it until you try it). Kale has a lot to say about itself in the health stakes too: High in fibre, Vitamin K, Vitamin A, Iron and the list goes on…….. I have always been a mild anaemic and since my kale addiction this has completely gone. My iron levels are I feel great.