Location: Southern Europe
Population: 10.8 million
Geography: The country comprises a largely mountainous peninsula projecting into the sea, and some thousands of islands
Signature flavours: Seafood, lamb, garlic, dairy products, oregano, olives and olive oil, honey, nuts
I grew up in Toronto’s Greek town, and Eric has been sharing in the culinary offerings of the many Greek restaurants in the Toronto area since he moved here in 2009. He wanted to create a menu that was a mix of those dishes we know and love, and others that we have never tried or even heard of.
Eric knew that as a well-known cuisine, Greek food would have plenty of cookbooks at the public library. He ordered a selection and ended up taking home eight or nine volumes of recipes. He trawled through each one, selecting recipes and trying to build an overall menu.
Mezes: Meaning “taste” or “snack,” these little dishes often accompany a meal as sides (think tapas, but Greek). Eric selected an olive tapenade (olive dip), tirokafteri (a cheese and hot pepper dip), tzatziki (a yoghurt and garlic dip), and skordalia (chestnut-and-breadcrumb dip), served alongside pita chips for dipping.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min each
Kykeon: One of the books that caught Eric’s eye was a collection of recipes from Ancient Greece. While many of the recipes called for ingredients that he couldn’t easily find (peacock, a whole baby goat), this simple breakfast porridge, a mixture of semolina, ricotta, egg, and honey, was added to the menu.
Prep and cooking time: 15 min
Kalamata Salad: An olive oil infused salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, and black olives, served with feta cheese.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Grilled Octopus: This recipe caught Eric’s eye right away, being featured on the cover of the Orexi! cookbook by Theo A Michaels. He thought it would be a good centrepiece for his meal. Tender octopus tentacles coated with herbs and lemon were served over a bed of soft, salty squid-ink lentils.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Kakavia: A Greek fisherman’s soup — a light broth with vegetables, clams, squid, bass, and cod.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Sea Bream Ceviche: A delectable marinated raw fish dish with bream, onion, lemon juice, chilli pepper, and juicy chunks of fresh watermelon.
Prep and cooking time: 3 hours
Butternut Moussaka: A vegetable casserole with layers of sweet potato, squash, onions, mint, and parsley, swimming in a cheesy cream sauce.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Kataifi Cheese Roll: Shredded noodle-like phyllo wrapped around gruyere and feta, baked until golden brown.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Loukoumades: Honey-soaked fried dough balls, dusted with cinnamon and topped with finely-chopped walnuts.
Prep and cooking time: 2 hours
The Shopping List
Greek Town was Eric’s first destination for Greek ingredients, including kataifi dough. His seafood came from Hooked, Inc. and St Lawrence Market. All his other ingredients came from our local supermarket and bulk store.
This was Eric’s most ambitious assignment, in terms of number of dishes. After eight or nine hours in the kitchen, dinner was served. We started with the mezes, dipping crunchy pita chips into each dip. Our favourites were the tirokafteri and the salty olive tapanade. The tzatziki was a familiar, cool and cucumber-y experience, and the skordalia was nutty, earthy, and very different from any dip we’d ever had before.
The salad was uniquely lettuce-free compared to the lettuce-forward salads we typically see in restaurants, but this is true to the traditional recipe, which lets chunks of fresh vegetables shine, alongside a big slice of feta cheese (feta means “slice,” so Eric opted for a single piece, as the tradition calls for, instead of crumbling it).
I can’t say I loved the kykeon, although it was a special experience to eat this ancient food in 2020. Eric really liked it (he’s a big fan of puddings generally), so there wasn’t any left over.
We both love seafood soup, and such soups have featured in many assignments before, but this light-brothed soup, heavy on the seafood, was a treat.
We both enjoyed the moussaka, although we found the mint somewhat overpowering. The cheese-and-cream sauce was rich and silky, and the vegetables were sweet, soft, and comforting.
Ceviche is enjoyed the world over in many different forms, but we had never seen a variant that featured watermelon. It was one of my favourite renditions, the watermelon offering a cool, sweet punch against a citrus-y, spicy tang. Delicious!
The octopus was doubtlessly the star of the table, both visually and in terms of the flavours of the dish. After being boiled, marinated, and grilled, the octopus was tender and bursting with flavour. The squid ink lentils were incredible as an accompaniment.
The kataifi was the only dish Eric needed help with. He got overwhelmed by the tangle of thread-like noodles, and I was brought in to gently shake them free of one another and help fold them into rolls and tuck them into a baking dish. They were crunchy, greasy, cheesy perfection.
We ended the meal with loukoumades (if possible, always end a meal with loukoumades), which were so drenched in honey that they dripped off our chins. It was the perfect finish to a monumental effort on Eric’s part, and a much-enjoyed culinary adventure on mine.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.