I have good vibes for Greece. Having spent some childhood holidays on the Greek Islands; although I couldn’t tell the difference between Beirut and Rhodes; I recall the clearance of the Mediterranean water and my seven years older brother sneaking a peek at Greek women tanning their bare boobs while I was busy playing jackpot in the casino without being noticed. You see? I was a kid with long and thin arms that slid easily into holes and I was able to collect the coins locked inside the jackpot machine and imitated others by inserting coins back and spin the wheels. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was overjoyed with the buzzes and colours announcing the youngest winner in history! My ecstatic experience didn’t last long with my mother snatching me out of the smoke-filled-inappropriate-not-for-kids place.
From ancient times, Greeks devoted a large part of their conversation to wine and gastronomy. “The symposium” The most popular Greek banquet was one of the preferred pastimes for the Greeks. Food and wine were served in abundance along with entertaining games and slaves’ performance, and at least one of the food on the menu was considered to be aphrodisiacs; deriving from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, suggested lentils to keep a man virile, which was a practice followed by the Greek philosopher Artistotle who cooked them with saffron. Plutarch, a Greek historian, suggested beans soup and others believed that artichokes guaranteed the birth of sons.
Greece has a culinary tradition aged 4,000 years and continued in Roman and Ottoman times with slight changes as life got busier and more sophisticated. It is believed that Archestratos, a Greek poet, wrote the first cookbook in history in 320 B.C.
Greek cuisine is a Mediterranean cuisine with a Middle Eastern influence. Greece makes a wide use of olives, vegetables and herbs, cheese and yogurt, bread and wine, fish and various meats. Many dishes are part of the larger tradition of Ottoman cuisine and their names reveal Arabic, Persian and Turkish origins: moussaka, tzatziki, keftethes, baklava etc…For instance; Greek keftethes is equal to polpette in Italy, albondigas in Spain, kofte in Turkey, and kafta in Lebanon.
Growing in Lebanon, the exchanged traditional and culinary influences are highly noticed; particularly in my birthplace “Zahle” where inhabitants are predominantly Greek Catholics. During masses, some of our sermons are recited in Greek, we wouldn’t have a clue what we were reciting and often confused consonants with vowels making God’s ears unintentionally deaf! just in case you wonder why your prayers are not being heard (Sorry!) and on Sundays, The family traditionally gathers together over a Mezze feast of small dishes and dips that are typically served with ouzo in Greece, and arak in Lebanon.
Excavations took place on the Greek Islands of Santorini revealed stone sets of barbecue for skewers used before the 17th century BCE to grill Souvlaki, a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat grilled and served on a skewer or wrapped in a pita sandwich with garnishes and sauces, often with chips. 4 centuries later, my colleague Michael and I brought some of this history on our plates at “Ouzeria Greek Trattoria” on Manly beach; and feasted on a lamb souvlaki with a shot of Tzatziki sauce and other traditional delicacies, Prices vary from $15.50 for 1 skewer upgraded to $25 for 2 skewers, add few dollars for a bottle of Greek beer.
The recipe below is extremely easy and caters for 8, if you are planning a “symposium” experience (minus the slaves) you can substitute Pork with Chicken or lamb, and you will need 8 bamboo skewers soaked in water for 15 minutes.
Combine 600 g of pork (cut in 2cm cubes), 1/4 cup of dry red wine, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons sweet paprika in a glass or ceramic bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 1 hour to marinate.
Meanwhile, to make the tzatziki, trim 2 Lebanese cucumbers and cut in small diced pieces, and use your hands to squeeze as much liquid from the cucumber as possible. Place in a medium bowl. Add 1 cup of Greek-style yoghurt; 1/2 cup finely chopped mint and 1 crushed garlic and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper depending on your preference.
Drain the pork from the marinade. Thread it, and add 2cm pieces of red capsicum and wedges of red onion evenly among the skewers.
Heat a barbecue or char-grill on high. Add the pork skewers and cook, turning occasionally, for 5-7 minutes or until just cooked through. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil. Set aside for 5 minutes to rest.
Serve with pita or Lebanese bread with tzatziki sauce.
Once you finish, break your plate, clap and dance, and say Opaaaaaa!