Greece is a meeting place between East and West, its cuisine mixing classical Mediterranean cooking with "oriental" influences from the Middle East. Greek food remains true to its roots, like ancient philosopher Epicurus' dictum to "live well and enjoy the simple things in life."
For the average Greek, meat of any kind has always been expensive because of the lack of good grazing land in Greece itself. This harsh economic fact forced people to use small amounts of meat in their cooking. Instead of this being a deterrent to good cuisine, it became a challenge.
Since ancient times, Greeks have been adept at presenting meats such as pork in a variety of forms—dried, salted, smoked and so on—with almost all of the animal being eaten, including the ears, tongue and brain. Even today, little of such an animal is wasted, with most of the meat cooked or cured so that it lasts throughout winter.
In Greece, with spring comes Easter, and with Easter comes lamb and kid. Easter is the most important date in the Greek Orthodox calendar and, on the mainland, especially around central Greece, spit-roasting a tender young lamb or kid on Easter Sunday is a normal occurrence.
Spit-roasting and grilling over an open fire have been an integral part of Greek life for centuries. Equipment for ancient 'barbecues' has been found on Minoan archaeological sites. So common to Greek cuisine has this style of cooking become that souvlaki stands can be found on almost every street corner, selling souvlaki day and night.
Greeks are enormously fond of poultry, especially chicken and quail, and prepare it in many ways. Whether simply roasted with oregano and lemon, cooked in pilafs or found in stews, poultry is well-loved.
As for other wild fowl and game, they, too, have been loved by Greeks since antiquity. Rabbit, the most common of game meats, is enjoyed throughout Greece and served in many different guises. One of the most unusual dishes I have come across is pickled rabbit, a speciality from the island of Crete, which unfortunately I have no recipe for.
This sauce was one of the first skordalias made by Greeks and can be traced back 2500 years. It is still made today, but more often than not just with breadcrumbs, or only a very small amount of nuts.
3 cornfed chickens, each 1 kg (2 Ib)
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup (90 mL/3 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried Greek (Mediterranean) oregano
1/2 cup (125 mL/4 fl oz) retsina or other dry white wine
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large brown (yellow) onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Almond Garlic Sauce
1-1/4 cups (125 g/4 oz) ground almonds
1/2 cup (30 g/1 oz) fresh breadcrumbs
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
7 fl oz (225 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon aged red wine vinegar, or to taste
Cut each chicken along the backbone and remove all of the excess bones. Flatten the chickens by pressing down on the breasts firmly with the palms of your hands.
Place the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, wine, garlic, onion, salt and pepper in an electric blender or food processor. Process into a smooth puree. Pour this puree over the chickens, rubbing it into the chicken as you do so. Leave to marinate, preferably overnight.
Wipe any excess marinade off the chicken. Grill on a hot barbecue or grill plate for approximately 40 minutes, turning the chicken every 10 minutes. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving with the Almond Garlic Sauce.
Almond Garlic Sauce:
Place the almonds, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt and pepper in an electric blender or food processor. Process for 10 seconds. Whisk the lemon juice and half the olive oil in a bowl and, with the motor running, slowly add to the almond mixture. When incorporated, slowly add the remaining oil, still with the motor running. If necessary, adjust the seasoning with some red wine vinegar. This sauce can be served immediately or refrigerated for up to 2 days before use.
Greek Cuisine: The New Classics
by Peter Conistis
Illustrated by Skye Rogers
Ten Speed Press, 1994
Reprinted with permission