The Greek pantry
We hope that you have enjoyed our recipes so far (all three of them!). We thought it would now be a good idea to get you ready for things to come by helping you stock your Greek pantry. These are items which you will find yourself using again and again as you continue to cook with us.
Most Greek cooking is actually based on a few key, simple, real food ingredients. There is not much which is bottled or processed, making it very simple and affordable to get started. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does set you up for a great beginning. Also, keep in mind that although some of these foods can be purchased anywhere, others may require a bit of a trek to find a local Greek or European grocer or market. You can also look online, as some of these ingredients may be available that way.
Mia Kouppa: The Greek Pantry
Spices and herbs
– Greek oregano
The queen of herbs in the Greek pantry is Greek oregano. If you are going to Greece or know of someone who is planning a trip, this is what you want them to bring back for you. Forget the ouzo, the keychain from Santorini, or the decorative Acropolis plate. You want oregano, preferably freshly picked and dried on the plastic covered kitchen table of a handkerchief wearing Greek grandmother. If this isn’t an option, you can usually find Greek oregano in Greek specialty markets or middle eastern shops.
– Bay leaves
When your friend brings back the oregano, ask them to throw in some freshly picked bay leaves.
– Fresh dill
– Fresh mint
Mizithra is a fresh cheese made with leftover whey from the production of other cheeses which is then combined with sheep or goat milk. It is kind of similar to Italian ricotta, but it is dryer, making it easier to cut and grate. It also has a nuttier and saltier flavor than ricotta. Depending on the recipe, if you can’t find mizithra you can substitute Italian ricotta, or grated parmesan or romano cheese. (But really try to find mizithra).
– Feta cheese
This is a brine cured, crumbly, cheese made from sheep’s milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk. When you buy feta, ask the shop to give you a container of brine as well. It is a great way to keep your feta moist and fresh for weeks…although truly, it won’t last that long. If you buy anything but Greek feta, you will likely be getting a cheese made either partially or entirely with cow’s milk. Don’t do it. Cow’s milk is fine, but not in feta.
Many traditional Greek meals are vegetarian or vegan, and have legumes as their base. Most of our recipes call for dried legumes, but you can decide for yourselves if you prefer dried over canned. We have our reasons for preferring the dried variety, and you can read about them here. Some of the most common legumes in the Greek pantry include:
– Black-eyed peas
– Gigantes (Elephant or giant beans)
– White beans
– Green string beans
– Pasta including orzo, trahana (both sweet and sour), hilopites (square egg noodles), long macaroni. Long macaroni (a name I think we just made up) is like spaghetti, but thicker and hollow. It is the pasta that our parents use in their pastichio (a coming attraction).
Fruits and Vegetables
– Lamb, pork, chicken, veal
– Pureed tomatoes or passata
– Olive oil (Greek of course)
– Olives (kalamata, green olives)
– Red wine vinegar
– Sesame seeds