Peloponnese Regional Greek Food
Greek cuisine has four secrets: good quality fresh ingredients, correct use of flavorings (herbs) and spices, the famous Greek olive oil, and simplicity. The Greek diet is renowned worldwide for contributing to good health, and dozens of scientific studies have shown the positive effect of a balanced Greek diet on a person’s health, beauty, and longevity. Most Greek culinary creations are time-honored tasty recipes, good quality ingredients, and original preparation techniques. Greek delicious flavors and combinations are temptations.
Greek Feta Cheese
The world-renowned feta cheese needs no introduction, and the queen of Greek cheeses accompanies most meals. Taste it in savory pies, cooked in casserole dishes, fried, or baked in numerous combinations.
Greek Olive Oil
The olive tree was the gift of goddess Athena to Athens – the city named after her. Its product – olive oil – has ever since been present in the Greek diet. Greece is mainly a mariners’ land, a paradise for fish or meat lovers. The endless stretches of coastline are proof of the contact and dependence that Greeks have always had on the sea. Fresh seafood may be eaten raw or cooked and served in many ways.
Peloponnese Regional Greek Food
The Peloponnese regional food reveals one thing above all else: the ubiquitous presence of Greece’s most important tree, the olive tree, which seems to grow just about everywhere here, from craggy mountain slopes deep in the Mani to the great plain of Messinia, to the region’s northern reaches, along the coast of the Corinth Canal.
The olive and its oil define the table here probably more than any other raw ingredient, although the region’s rich agricultural products perfume the cuisine of the Peloponnese. Among them: lemons and oranges, grapes and all their byproducts–from luscious, sweet wines, dry wines, and fragrant whites, to raisins, currants, and vinegar–to renowned eggplants, excellent tomatoes, and a whole cornucopia of other garden vegetables and herbs.
Roosters, rabbits, salt cod, and quail are among the stars of the Sunday meal. The pig and its glorious goods, from orange-flavored sausages to cured fillets preserved in olive oil, provide the traditional winter sustenance. One of the most beloved regional dishes is a simple omelet called kayianas with tomatoes and cured pork.
At least one vegetable has a claim to local fame, the long, thin, light-purple eggplant known as Tsakoniki, for the area around Leonidio, on the eastern coast, where it is grown. Every summer, locals even hold an eggplant festival, replete with all the ribbon-cutting pomp such a feast demands.
Artichokes are a springtime staple, and something of a love affair exists between traditional cooks and their thorny, purple-green crop: They roast them with lamb in a classic Easter dish from the Mani; Among other things, they braise them with spinach; simmer them with chicken and avgolemono, the traditional Greek egg-and-lemon sauce that lends its dense, velvety texture to so many dishes, from soups to stews.
The Peloponnese food is straightforward. Some of the best meals here are those made in one pot, deliciously stews of dried beans and greens, or chicken, slowly cooked in a hearty sauce made up of nothing more than onions, local feta (a PDO cheese), and copious amounts of both onions and olive oil.
Black-eyed beans are a favorite, simmered with chard and spinach and whole bunches of wild chervil. Cabbage, called Mappa, a transliteration of the English “mop” for how it looks when shredded, is coupled with pork in a classic local winter dish. Cinnamon is a favorite spice, infusing almost every tomato-based sauce with its heady, warm aroma dusted into typically lemon-scented braised artichokes.
Peloponnese cooks have a penchant for sweetening otherwise savory dishes with spices like cinnamon or raisins, one of the region’s most important crops. Raisins even appear paired with salt cod in one of the unique dishes in Greece, and they dot a fish dish called savory, seasoned with rosemary, vinegar, and tomatoes.
Everywhere through, the emerald-gold liquid from the region’s most precious crop, the olive, runs profusely.
Even in the pastry traditions of the Peloponnese, olive oil is an essential ingredient used to fry the pencil-thin dough fritters called lalangia, which are served either with honey or grated cheese.
Used to fry the classic wedding sweet, diples, a large, almost wallet-sized dough cake, drizzled with generous amounts of honey fried in with pieces of olive oil, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with walnuts and cinnamon; spent with abandon in classic Greek cookies elsewhere made with butter, such as the nut-specked melomakarona and the sugar-dusted shortbread cookies, kourambiedes.
• Classic Greek Avgolemono (the egg-lemon liaison), sometimes enriched with tomatoes in the Peloponnese
• Tomato sauces seasoned with cinnamon
• Skordalia (a garlic-bread combo in the Peloponnese) flavored with vinegar and sometimes with walnuts; used a sauce, too, for rabbit, pork, and fried artichokes
• Onion-based sauces, cooked until the onions are almost an emulsion; with chicken and feta; with goat and olive oil
• Tomatoes, cinnamon, allspice, raisins
• Greens (chard, spinach, and other sweet leafy greens) braised with tomatoes, onions, feta, and herbs; simmered with dried beans, from cranberry beans to black-eyed beans to Greek giant beans; stewed with salt cod, lamb or goat, chicken.
• Savoro (sweet-and-sour small, fried fish)
• Orange Braised with Spinach and Garlic, a specialty of the Mani
Specialties to Consider:
• Lalangia (thin, fried dough, with either cheese or honey)
• Pastelli, sesame seed, brittle served with ouzo, an old favorite in local cafes
• Reconstituted Dried Figs, Poached in Salt Water and Roasted in Embers (a homecooked winter delicacy)
• Pasta Pie (pasta wrapped in phyllo)
• Quails Baked in Bread, one of the region’s traditional but spectacular, dishes
• Chestnut Skordalia, a specialty of Arcadia
Ingredients to Look For:
• Great extra-virgin olive oil
• A whole range of olives, including the world-famous Kalamata and the sprightly cracked greens from Nafplion
• The sweet wine Mavrodafne, with a gamut of uses in the pot as well as in the glass
Food inspirational and information is courtesy of Diane Kochilas is one of the world’s foremost experts on Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. She is the host, creator and co-producer of My Greek Table, the award-winning 13-episode per season cooking-travel show about Greece that airs nationally on Public Television. She is an award-winning author of more than 18 books on Greek-Mediterranean Cuisine and runs the Glorious Greek Kitchen on Ikaria Cooking School every spring and fall on the island. Diane also organizes culinary excursions and walking tours in Greece and cooking classes throughout the United States. She has been on the forefront of bringing healthy Greek and Mediterranean cuisine to an American audience for more than 25 years.