Greek Week: A Culinary Adventure

It’s February and the weather has been flexing between gray and wet, and cold and bright. Living in the Netherlands, as we have for the past 20 years, means we have to be very creative in the winter months while the weather keeps us inside. Houses and shops here are small, and public places usually require an admission fee. After many trips to the library, movie theatre or shops, it’s time to find something new. For all the great things about life in the Netherlands, it can feel a bit like living in pandemic-mode during winter months, at least for this California girl.

The Dutch themselves usually follow something like the Danish tradition of hygge at this time of year–it’s called gezelligheid in Dutch–enjoying life’s quieter pleasures such as reading, playing chess, lighting candles and drinking tea (when not watching Netflix). And they also have Carnaval, the insanely colorful and irreverent holiday that brings everyone outside in February, through rain or snow. Aside from an occasional parade, we don’t get into the Carnaval festivities as much as our neighbors do, but we’ll definitely take a good book, set in a European country, and a hot cup of tea!

We’ve been reading A Parthenon on Our Roof as our online book club pick this month. This charming memoir, written by British author Peter Barber, refers frequently to the food Peter and his wife encounter in and around their Greek home. I found myself salivating as I read, and wondering how soon we might be able to make it to Athens.

Since that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, I thought it might be fun to go on a culinary adventure, cooking our way to Greece from the convenience of our own kitchen. So, this past week has been ‘Greek Week’ at our home. Every night we’ve tried out a new Greek dish in an attempt to escape to this beautiful island-rich country. Our minds have been educated and entertained, while our bellies have been filled with Greece’s finest dishes, all made with plants (since half of us are vegetarians).

Here’s a recap:

Day 1: Revithia

I thought I’d ease the family in gently. The only Greek food I routinely make is Greek salad, so I thought something really different, like Moussaka or Dolmades, should wait until the end of the week. I have some picky eaters that like to stick with what’s familiar. I introduced them to Greek Week with a bowl of hot Lemon-Chickpea soup (below, left), called Revithia, accompanied by a familiar Greek salad and warm pitas. I’m happy to say that the soup was enjoyed by all. Warm and savory, with a delightful tang. Seasoned with onions and bay leaf, it was deeply satisfying on a cold wintery evening.

The pitas available here in the Netherlands are nothing like the ones I grew up with in America. They’re small and fluffy here, and American ones are thin and dry. The more authentic Greek pitas I’ve had are generally bigger, spongier, and have more oil baked into them. On this occasion I made do with what I could find. I visited our local Turkish grocer, where I found a treasure-trove of needed ingredients for Greek Week, like the Lebanese bread needed for the gyros on day two.

Here’s the recipe for Revithia:

Day 2: Chickpea Gyros

Day two was fast and easy, which helped me throw something together in time to head out for evening activities. I just roasted the chickpeas, swathed in olive oil and cumin, in the oven for 20 minutes, arranged them in the warmed pitas, and served them with chopped tomatoes, arugula, and tzatziki sauce (greek yogurt, grated cucumber, and garlic). Eveything cooked up quickly, and was both delicious and nutritious! These could also be served with spiced chicken, veggie-chicken, or spiced pork or lamb (as the Greeks would do), but this option worked well for us.

Here’s the recipe:

Day 3: Gigantes Plaki & Spanakorizo

On day three I combined a rice dish (Spanakorizo) with a bean dish (Gigantes Plaki). They were great together. The Spanakorizo is cooked with lemon juice and dill, giving the rice-spinach mix a unique flavor. I tried to find the large white beans needed for the Gigantes Plaki, and found only Arabic broad beans at the Turkish store. Although it differed slightly from the original recipe, they were still good. The spicy cinnamon and chili powder in the beans was offset by the mildness of the orizo. I was taking seconds.

Here’s the recipe for the rice:

And for the beans:

Day 4: Briam

This one was definitely one of the best. This amazing combination of roasted vegetables (potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and red onions) was easy to make, and so, so good! Served with large pitas, it made the perfect vegetarian dinner.

Make it yourself:

Day 5: Spanakopita

This was my top choice, and you can watch a short video of me making it HERE. Spanakopita, that delicious trinity of feta, spinach, and phyllo, was sensational! I first had it when the Greek roommate of a friend made it as part of a full Greek meal. I was in love, and had to make it for myself.

Here’s the recipe:

Day 6: Moussaka, Pitas Chips, Hummus, and Baklava

On day six I had guests over for dinner, so I went a little crazy. We still had Spanakopita left over in the fridge (miraculously), and I served it warm with a fresh pan of Moussaka, pita chips with hummus, and an olive-feta salad. We finished with Baklava. Everyone was dazzled! The Moussaka, which normally contains meat, was made with layers of eggplant and zucchini, alternating with a lentil filling. Topped with a bechamel sauce of roasted garlic and cashews, it was absolutely divine. The Greek gods smiled upon us.

Here’s the Moussaka recipe:

Day 7: Dolmades & Orzo Salad

I saved this one for the end, since it’s very different from what we usually eat, and takes a lot of time to prepare. The Dolmades, grape leaf rolls stuffed with seasoned rice, turned out great! I served them with a side dish of orzo salad. Orzo looks like rice but is actually pasta. It makes an outstanding salad, mixed with tomatoes, olives, feta, onions, and a lemon-olive oil dressing, packed with flavor.

While Greek Week usually refers to initiation week for fraternities and sororities on American college campuses, I prefered our own style of initiation–an intense introduction to Greek food through the course of a week. I can safely say that Greek food is now in our home to stay!

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