A list of popular Greek appetizers
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Whenever you’re hungry there’s nothing better than eating a few small appetizers (or ορεκτικά as they're called in Greek) to get your stomach growling for more. I look at them as the warm-up before the big game – something used to prepare you for the whole enchilada. For me, a meal without apps is hardly a meal at all. There’s no point in jumping right into the deep end without a few laps in the shallow end first. You know what I mean?

Okay, I’ll stop with the comparisons. I think you get the point. But do you know who else is well-aware of this point? The Greeks. That’s right. The Greeks truly understand the importance of a tasty appetizer, and I can confidently say that they have mastered the technique of opening up one's hunger prior to a meal.

While the typical foods like Greek salad, grilled pita bread, feta cheese, octopus, calamari, and tzatziki make for great starters in their own right, there are so many more delectable appetizers that get lost in the mix. But that’s what I’m here for. To provide you with a list of my own favourite Greek apps that don’t fall under the category of “standard”.

By the time you finish reading this you’ll probably notice that I have a thing for appetizers that fall under the category of ‘DIPS’, but that’s just because I tend to believe that in order to truly enjoy a Greek ορεκτικά, it needs to be accompanied by a slice of grilled pita bread. And what better way to enjoy a slice of grilled pita bread than with a teaspoon of tarama, melitzanosalata, or tirokafteri? Exactly what I thought. There is no better way.

Mmmmmmm. Okay, let’s get through this list before my drool settles into the keyboard.

Saganaki

Saganaki is an appetizer of pan-seared cheese with a name that literally translates to ‘little frying pan’. This, of course, refers to the pan in which it is cooked. The kind of cheese used when cooking Saganaki ranges from kefalograviera, kasseri, kefalotiri, feta, or halloumi (a Cypriot cheese). The cheese is melted in the frying pan until it bubbles, and is generally served with lemon juice and pepper and eaten with bread.

Throughout many fine establishments around the world, Saganaki is flambéed at the table by the waiter -- in front of the customers who ordered it -- using lemon juice, some metaxa or ouzo, and a lighter. The waiter who sets the cheese ablaze then shouts “OPA”! as dancing sheep run out of the kitchen with a bouzouki player who begins serenading the entire restaurant. Okay, that last part about the dancing sheep and bouzouki player was a lie, but the “OPA!” is true! Most of the time.

Here’s some amateur video shot by a couple of (non-Greek) restaurant-goers who are apparently amazed by this waiter in a penguin suit and his ability to set cheese on fire.


Tirokafteri

The pile of mush in the picture above is what’s known as Tirokafteri in Greek culture, and it’s quite the appetizing dip. Tirokafteri is a cheese spread commonly made with feta cheese, hot peppers, roasted peppers, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, yogurt, and oregano. Get all that? Nice. Now mix it around in a bowl and you’ll get a spicy appetizer best served with a side of grilled pita bread. Yummmmmmmmm!!!


Melitzanosalata

This next Greek appetizer is called ‘melitzanosalata’, and if you’re thinking it looks a lot like the Arabic dish Baba Ghanoush, that’s because the two are practically identical in appearance, taste, and texture. Melitzanosalata is made with eggplant, olive oil, and various other seasonings. A popular preparation method for this mezedaki is for the eggplant to be baked or broiled over an open flame before peeling for a soft and smoky taste. And just like Tirokafteri and Saganaki, Melitzanosalata is best-served with grilled pita bread as it is displayed in the picture above.

Here’s a 6-minute tutorial on the making of this delicious appetizer. And don’t worry if you’re hard on hearing. This hairy-armed man doesn’t believe in giving vocal instructions when it comes to showing us his recipe.


Dolmades

Next on our list of tasty Greek appetizers is the stuffed vegetable dish known as Dolmades. These grape leave mezedakia are not only common in Greece, but also in Russia, the Middle East, and Asia, and are usually stuffed with your choice of onion, zucchini, eggplant, tomato, pepper, or meat. One of the nice things about eating Dolmades is that they can be served either warm or cold depending on your preference. They also go great with lemon sprinkled on top of them and can even be enjoyed with a side of plain yogurt.


Greek Village Salad (Horiatiki)

Ok! We had to include this even though it is standard. Greek salad (or village salad) is one of the most common dishes found throughout Greece.  These salads are a great way of using your garden tomatoes, especially in late August when they are so plentiful. Greek salad is eaten before, during, or after a meal and is a very popular appetizer with worldwide Greeks and non-Greeks.


Taramosalata

Last but not least we bring you yet another dip that makes a perfect appetizer: taramosalata. This pink dish is made of salted fish roe from carp or cod. (Roe means fish eggs for those of you who, like me, had no idea what it was). The roe is then mixed with bread crumbs or mashed potatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil, and (as always) is best served with grilled pita bread. In the picture above the taramosalata is pink, but it can vary in colour depending on the type of roe used.

Here’s everybody’s favourite chef Orestis Hillas showing us how to make this delicious appetizer in under four minutes. Go!

By Staff Writer – Jonathan Bliangas

Follow Jonathan on Twitter @jbliangas

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