One of the best things about the culture of Greece is the food. Greek restaurants have spread around the world and Greek recipes are popular for their flavor and their largely healthy way of cooking. The food has the taste of the Mediterranean and the country has been particularly influenced by Italian and Balkan cuisine. Olive oil is a constant component of the dishes and olive trees have always been common sights in the landscape.
The land is suited to the rearing of sheep and goats, rather than beef and so goat meat and lamb are much more common. Locally caught fish take up much of Greek menus, especially in coastal areas. There is also an emphasis on fresh vegetables in Greek recipes, the most popular being green beans, okra, eggplant, tomatoes, and onions. Yogurt is another favorite and there are numerous types of honey available. A lot of honey varieties come from fruit trees such as lemon and orange. The combination of yogurt and honey is sometimes served as a dessert. Cheese is an important export and there are distinctive varieties, such as Kasseri, Feta and Mizithra. Several dishes use filo pastry, which is very thin and flaky.
A Greek meal will very often begin with an appetizer, known as Meze in Greek recipes. These are meant to stimulate the palette and are usually served with wine or ouzo (the alcoholic beverage flavored with anise). There may be dips accompanied by bread, including the Greek pita bread. Tzatziki is a popular dip, made from yogurt, garlic puree and cucumber. Another common Meze is Taramosalata, which is fish roe with moistened breadcrumbs or boiled potatoes.
There are a variety of main courses, some of which will be familiar to people living outside of Greece, from their restaurant or vacation experiences. The most famous one is probably Moussaka. This casserole contains fried eggplant and spiced minced lamb topped with a thick, cheese sauce. Another staple on menus is the Dolma. This traditionally uses vine leaves wrapped around lamb, rice, onions, herbs and spices. If making at home, cabbage leaves are a good substitute. Both of these Greek recipes are successful when adapted for vegetarians.
Desserts are delicious in Greece by any standards. Baklava is popular, a sweet, filo pastry with chopped walnuts or pistachio, sometimes sweetened with honey. There are different breads to commemorate major holidays and Tsoureki is the traditional sweet bread eaten at Easter. It is similar in texture to brioche. The perfect way to finish a meal from Greek recipes is to sit under an olive tree with a glass of Metaxa, the local sweet brandy, and watch the sun go down.