Greek recipes tend to be simple, even the ones that are labor intensive. Throw two or three of them together and you have lunch, swap in another and you have dinner. Here are some of the ingredients that you should have on the shelf or buy whenever they're fresh and available:
Essential to just about every dish, including some deserts. Greeks use way more of it than I'd ever previously thought possible. I've learned the gospel of delicious food now shudder at the fact that I once moved apartments in NYC twice with the same "fancy-expensive" 5L tin of olive oil. Cooking for ourselves and friends, I go through 2 of those a MONTH. Luckily, my husband came with a dowry of a little olive grove (not on Kea--that would be too easy!) just large enough to provide for the family and some friends. Check it out at KtimaDoulis.com
Probably my favorite fruit. I could give up berries before I could give up my dear friend the tomato. She's the summer star of so many dishes (cut it and toss it with olive oil and I'm yours), and the wintery background to many hearty soups and sauces. I have bowls of them in the summer and cans of them in the winter. YUMMM.
These suckers are everywhere in Greek cooking. Mixed with oil for lado-lemono dressing for fish, squeezed into melanzanosalata for that harmonious citric acid splash, and showered over boiled greens for that balancing act between them which creates absolute fruit-veggie bliss.
I'm still investigating the veracity of the explanation given to me that feta cheese got its name because feta means slice and people buy it/eat it by the slice. Clearly other cheese make for neater slices, but any self-respecting Greek salad on this side of the Atlantic has a rather thick slab of feta perched atop it. Hmmm... what's the Greek word for slab?
ANY CHEESE, REALLY.
I once counted and we had twelve different types of cheese in our fridge. TWELVE. I am no longer surprised by the statistic that Greeks eat more cheese than the French. You will find it in/on/beside just about everything.
The Greek kind, obviously. To my surprise I just discovered that the butcher here sells yogurt, too. He's more of an animal products shop, I guess. But I digress... there are loads of yogurts on the shelves and even larger loads of recipes that use yogurt.
If you know what you're looking for, you'll see boxes of honey-hives dotting the hillsides on most islands and hillsides. Thyme honey is Kea's main production, but keep your eyes out for pine honey, chestnut honey, and other stupendously tasty and distinct honeys. We have... 6 in our pantry for different uses (mostly yogurt, though--YUM!!)
If I understand correctly, these are like jam, but even sweeter and YOU'RE ALLOWED TO EAT THEM ON A SPOON.
PAXIMADI/RUSKS/DAKOS... and FRESH BREAD
A bit like big Greek croutons, these are served with many salads and sometimes as the foundation of a salad--Dakos Salad has the really big ones (called Dakos) sit under some tomato and get soggy in what might seem unappetising at first but is superdy-duperdy delicious.
I came to Greece fresh off a "raw food" diet and avoided all things bread for the first 5 months. And then I gave up. I still work to steer clear of finishing the heaping basket of bread brought with every taverna meal, but I've embraced the omnipresence of these crunchy guys. They keep forever (stale has nothing on these guys) and are a great cracker alternative to pair with dips.
As a baker intent on getting bread well under my belt, I have learned that Greeks are generally rather practical when it comes to their bread consumption and leave it to the baker, who they visit multiple times a week for bread and its many bread-stick/circle/cookie counterparts.
I grew up knowing them as eggplants, served mostly as chalky breaded disks floating in rather disagreable tomato sauce as the solitary veggie option at pretty much every “fancy” dinner we went to. I detested them, and avoided them without exception.
I now buy them by the armful. When appropriately coaxed with salt and heat, melanzanas are smoky velvet and gooey sweetness. I’m a complete convert. They are second only to tomatoes in my vegetable pantheon.
This is an obvious one--no Greek table is fully set without wine. Red wine (kokkino krasi) and white wine (lefko krasi) both feature in some dishes, but I find that the best part of having them on hand in the kitchen is having them in a glass whilst cooking. :)
Luckily, there has been quite a revival of interest in good Greek wines. "Retsina?" asked my mom. "No, no," said Mihalis. Loads of tasty indigenous Greek varietals line the shelves of most food shops (this sometimes includes the butcher): Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, Thrapsathiri, Malagouzia, Mavrotragano, to name a few.
Kea has two wine producers that I know of: Aristaios and The Red Tractor Farm. They both cultivate the Mavroudi grape, which produces a brusque red that matches the intensity of Kea's smoked sausages quite well.
BEANS AND GRAINS AND THINGS
Bean soup is the official greek national dish!!?!!>? Yup, φασολἀδα (pronounced fah-so-lah-dah). Sound of Music fan? Swap the tea-doe for a dah and you've got it. I had no idea. But it should have guessed... LOADS of BEANS up in this joint. Fava, Ravithia, Faki, Gigantes, the list goes on and the wintery dishes cross straight over to summer packing in the protein meat-free style.
As for grains, the one I keep in both sweet and savoury is Trachanas, dried cracked wheat with milk. It's tastier than it sounds. I promise.
Once upon a time pasta made me think Italian. Notanymore. That whole mix flour and water and maybe an egg idea made its way over to Greece quite a while ago and there are sosssooosooo many tasty things to make with pasta as a base. If you look careful in Kea you'll find some local producers making ACORN pasta, too. It's deeeelicious.