I just got back from a dream vacation in Greece, and I can't shut up about it. But rather than regale you with what a wonderful time I had, (unless you're dying to hear?) I can actually impart something useful - delicious pointers I've learned abroad. Let's jump in.
Tip #1 - There's no such thing as too much lemon
Sure, in the states, we'll squeeze some on our salad or fish, but why stop there? The Greeks use a squeeze to give zing to kabobs, rice, and potatoes. In fact, parsley, lemon and olive oil are a trifecta of goodness with potatoes - and you can enjoy it cold or hot.
Tip #2 - Cheese meets fire
I love a good charcuterie board, but sometimes cheese is a lot more interesting when it gets some heat. Saganaki is a dish of flaming cheese, doused with brandy and set on fire. Once the brandy burns up, you have an oozing, bubbling, cauldron of cheese, ready to be scooped up with pita.
But no need to stop there. There are high-moisture, rubbery cheeses that hold their own then flipped on a buttery pan. Much like quesa fresca and the squeaky white cheeses that sit in brine, these cheeses form a thin crust on the fried sides, with the middle perfectly oozing, and salty.
Greece also serves battered and fried halloumi cheese, and it ran circles around the mozzarella sticks you get in the freezer section of your grocery store. Think beyond mozzarella. Any squeaky cheese will hold it's own when battered and fried.
Tip #3 - Eat more gelato
If it helps, it tastes better on a cone, outside in the fresh night air. Eat it while taking a walk, just as you would on the boardwalk or any summer vacation. Time will stop for a bit, and you can be in the moment to enjoy the simpler things in life. Cream, sugar, fireflies and a big fat moon.
Tip #4 - End your meal with a surprise
It doesn't take much to make a regular meal feel special. I'm not talking about trotting out dessert, which may be expected. When we dined out, some restaurants ended the meal with a special surprise, on the house. It made the meal feel memorable, and as customers, we felt valued. I imagine guests in our home would feel the same way.
Sometimes, after we paid the check, the server would bring a small tray with shots of mastiha, a sweet liquer that traditionally follows their meals. Other times it was a bowl of tart cherries in syrup, or a scoop of chocolate ice cream with chopped fruit. Perhaps the most memorable treat was a hand-sewn sachet filled with locally-grown lavender. They hand-wrote the name of the restaurant on it, and it made my suitcase smell like a dream.
Tip #5 - Stuff your veggies
Sick of trying to get kids to eat their vegetables? What if the vegetables completely enveloped the food they were really going after? The carbs. In this case, seasoned rice and meat were stuffed any which way into vegetables, which absorbed the flavor and made it a complete meal.
Obviously the stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) were everywhere, glistening with olive oil and zesty with chopped mint, parsley, and dill. But the stuffed veggies were everywhere - stuffed eggplant, stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers - you name it. The latter foods were filled with a rice/meat combo, simmered with tomatoes and topped with - you guessed it - a squeeze of lemon.