The staple to every single Greek dish made is olive oil. From frying foods to salad dressing; and with it’s medicinal properties, olive oil has been touted as the miracle golden liquid of the healthy Mediterranean diet. Greeks take their olive oil seriously. There’s most likely a two-to-four litre boxed can at the bottom of every good pantry. Not only is this the cost effective way of buying olive oil, but it means you won’t run out in a hurry. Try to find an olive oil from the Peloponnese or from Crete, which are known for their olive oil production. And olive oil also has religious connotations in the Greek Orthodox way of life, as it’s used in christenings as Greeks are very connected to this type of oil.
This citrus fruit is the most versatile in Greek cooking. It can be used to marinate meats, for baking desserts or creating a simple drink. Lemons are relied upon to create avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce), the base sauce for soups, stews and casseroles. Lemons are also used as a sole dressing for salads, especially horta (wild greens). Just squeeze half a lemon on your boiled horta and you have the perfect nutritious side dish.
Chickpeas, white beans and lentils are popular legumes in the Greek diet. Featuring heavily in winter soups, legumes are also used to make salads and dips. Yellow split peas are used to make the dip fava. Dried legumes of all sorts are always found in a Greek pantry.
Big bags of dried oregano or rigani are a necessity in a Greek pantry. Dried oregano is synonymous with Hellenic cooking. Mixed in with lemon juice and olive oil, this is the basis of the stock-standard marinade used for meat. This marinade is used to baste meat on the spit too. And the flavour alone, sprinkled on lamb chops and on home-made potato chips, has the capacity to take you back to eating a dinner in the horio.
No meal is complete in a Greek house without bread. In a Greek pantry, you will always find the daily loaf that the family are to use for their breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. But Greeks don’t just eat fresh bread. They consume a lot of crisp breads and paximadia with their food or to snack on with their mid-morning coffee. These breads can be crunched up and used to create a more substantial salad.
A big jar of organic honey – housed in an old coffee jar – is always found at the back of a good Greek pantry. Honey’s main purpose in Greek cookery is sweets, but can also be used in stews, especially pork dishes cooked with fruit. But definitely the heart and soul of Greek sweets that are covered in sticky, syrupy goodness like baklava, galaktobouriko and melamakarona. A spoonful of honey on some thick Greek yoghurt with fresh fruit makes the perfect summer treat.
Having bulbs of garlic in the Greek pantry is a must as garlic is the foundation of so many dishes in the Greek culinary world. Finely chopped garlic will start off nearly every savoury dish, from moussaka to keftedes.
If you look at the back of a Greek pantry, the likelihood of finding evidence of someone brining their own olives is very likely. Olives are used as a side dish to a Greek meal and are always presented as a meze when people are having a small bite to eat or a drink.
Nuts feature highly in Greek desserts, and can be crushed to be used as a filling in cakes and biscuits. Nuts are a great snacking meal for Greeks and you will many Greeks cracking pistachio shells while watching their favourite afternoon television program.
Spices like cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves and nutmeg are popular in Greek cooking and feature prominently in the kitchen. They will lift a sweet or savoury dish. Cinnamon is found in almost every dessert and can be used to sprinkle over a dessert like rizagolo (rice pudding) or on top of the many coffees now available.