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Eat Greek and live longer October 18, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.

Nowadays, Greek food available to the general public matches the quality of food Greeks cook for themselves at home. Ingredients of high quality are put together so that each may shine, with the role of oil only to act either as the cooking medium or a final flavoring.

Fresh ingredients, like fish, are cooked fast. Dried ingredients, like beans and lentils, are slowly stewed in rich tomato sauces to make comforting, nutritious one-dish meals to eat with a salad.

What does this treatment sound like to you? The so-called Mediterranean diet that nutritionists promote as so healthy? Absolutely. And why not. Greece may be bound on the west by the Ionian Sea and on the east by the Aegean. But the greater surrounding ocean is the Mediterranean.

And the best of its cooking follows the same principles that apply to the foods of the other countries bordering that sea: Buy locally where possible; cook seasonally and simply, with fresh, not processed, ingredients; add layers of flavor with herbs and spices. The perfect recipe for healthy eating.

All it takes for a hard-pressed cook to put fresh food on the table, says Greek cookbook author and food writer Aglaia Kremezi, is organization.

She should know. She and her husband sit down every day to a three or four-course lunch. Their suppers are light. Sometimes it’s worth the investment in time to devote a morning or an evening to preparing ahead a whole batch of stuffed or stewed vegetables that she brings out over the week as the prime dish or as a side with something quickly grilled, or reworks to go with pasta or rice.

But for the most part, meals are simple and quickly composed of a dip, perhaps, to begin; a salad; a grill; some fruit and cheese. “If you eat fruit and vegetables you don’t have to eat all those foods that are filled with calories.” And their tastes are so much more satisfying.

From years of writing about international news, she came to food writing via lifestyle journalism because, “I saw in the 90s all these books on Italian cooking and thought Greek food is not so different.”

Kremezi was part of the team that helped establish the menu at Washington restaurant Zaytinya, which features the “mezze” small plates of Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern foods meant for sharing.

She was in Washington this week, adding recipes from her latest book, “The Foods of the Greek Islands: Cooking and Culture at the Crossroads of the Mediterranean” (Houghton Mifflin, $35.00) to Zaytinya’s menu and promoting the quiet revolution that has been taking place in Greek wines.

Kremezi has no compunction about drinking wine with her lunch. “I am a little hyper,” she explains, “so the wine calms me down.”

The Greeks have been making wine since around 1600 BCE. But it might be thought, judging from the most common retsinas familiar to foreigners, that Greeks from Dionysus down had no palate. Dionysus was the ancient Greek god of wine and is the name of one of the largest importers of Greek wines in the United States, based in Lorton, Va.

But what applies to Greek food applies to Greek wine: Greeks in private have been eating and drinking exceptionally well for centuries. Now they’re letting the rest of the world join in.

Since 1971, when Greek wine producers adopted the strict European Union rules governing the Appelation system, their wine trade has grown. Small producers are crafting wines from local varietals with ancient pedigrees and unpronounceable (to a non-Greek) names, like Xinomavro, Agiorgitiko and Thrapsathiri. If you drank them blindfolded, you might think you were sipping pinot grigio or a Côtes du Rhône or a Bordeaux blend. Their prices confirm otherwise. 

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