Appetizers

Scrumptious Whole Wheat Olive and Feta Cheese Bread

I will continue with one more of my favorite olive foods: olive bread. In Greek it is called Eliopsomo. This bread is really something else; it can be a small meal, a snack, breakfast and an appetizer. I remember having a piece of this moist savory bread after a day on the beach and it just hit the spot. This bread makes a good snack nutritionally: the olives provide some fat while the feta some protein and the whole-wheat flour will give you fiber. These three nutritional components (fat, protein, fiber) provide satiety, making it an ideal snack or small meal. Of course you are getting some good antioxidants from the olives as well.

Now authentic Greek olive bread is of course vegetarian, and something Greeks could snack on during their religious fasts that prohibited animal products. My version includes cheese so although it wouldn’t be appropriate for Greek fasting, it is OK for vegetarians who also consume dairy. I also used half whole-wheat flour making it a bit healthier and heartier. Read more »

Ancient Greek Inspired Olive Tapenade


Now that it’s apparent why olives should be part of your everyday food routine, it is useful to have a variety of ways to include them in your diet. Of course you can eat them plain with some bread, cheese and tomato which I have to admit is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them, but another way is making an olive paste or as it is known olive tapenade.

Now a year ago I had written about olive tapenade and had mentioned that it really is not a Greek product, but Provincial French one. But is it? Well, apparently its origins may be in ancient Greece. We know that olive oil was one of the Three Fundamentals, the three most important components of their diet (the other 2 being bread and wine) of the ancient Greeks. A recipe of the time described using black olives and combining them with vinegar, honey, cumin, fennel, coriander and mint. When I had visited Crete, Cretan chefs and culinary students, explained that in Crete during times of war olive paste was a basic food for survival it was served on bread. So, olive paste really is also a Greek product. Read more »

Greek Style Lentil Cheese Phyllo Rolls

As promised in my post about my visit to the Food and Nutrition Conference, I’ll be sharing interesting, Mediterranean inspired recipe ideas that I found at the conference. Beans are always on top of the list of healthiest foods and a very important part of the Mediterranean diet. Here is a recipe that presents lentils wrapped up in phyllo dough, putting them in a nice attractive package to be served as an appetizer. A perfect idea if you are entertaining or for the holidays or…if you just want your kids to eat beans. Read more »

Simple Mediterranean Sardine Spread

I’ve been mentioning and posting quite a few photos of sardines these past few weeks on the Olive Tomato facebook page, grilled or marinated these are great little fishes. And while they are super-healthy and tasty, what can you do if fresh sardines are not available or you just don’t really cook fish? Well, as I mentioned in the previous post, canned sardines are just as fine.

A simple recipe that you can make at home is a spread that is an alternative to the traditional tuna salad. You can spread on bread for a sandwich or as I did here on little pieces of whole wheat bread topped with a slice of cherry tomato for a tasty but healthy appetizer.

There are versions with cream cheese or mayonnaise, I use Greek style yogurt (strained) instead, to give the creamy texture but without all the fat.

Try and choose sardines canned in olive oil rather than some generic vegetable oil. Read more »

Tomato Paste, a Mediterranean Staple and Why You Should Use It

In my mother’s descriptions of my grandmother’s cooking and her own, one ingredient would come up that seemed odd to me: tomato paste. I would wonder: why would you use all these fresh ingredients and then add a canned tomato product?

Well, in the olden days it served a purpose: it was used as a substitute for tomatoes, when fresh ones were not available. Tomato paste was made at home as a way to preserve tomatoes to use during the winter. I read somewhere that tomato paste originated in Italy and and then its use spread across other areas of the Mediterranean, which makes perfect sense considering how important tomato is in the Mediterranean cuisine.

My mother remembers as a little girl in the 50’s, going to the local deli (in Greece) and getting 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff on a piece of wax paper so her mother could use it for cooking. What did they do with it? Well they made the known kokkinista, which translates as the “red ones”. These are dishes either made with tomatoes or tomato paste, hence the name referring to the redness.The tomato paste along with olive oil is warmed up (or almost sautéed) in a pot or pan, and the vegetables or meat are added and cooked. Of course it is also used in pasta and sauces and basically when you want to give a little color or added flavor. Read more »

Caponata, a Real Sicilian Appetizer

Ok, I promise this is the last eggplant recipe I will be sharing this year. But seriously you cannot talk about eggplant and not mention this delicious, not to mention healthy Sicilian dish. Eggplant is probably the most popular vegetable in Sicilian cuisine and when you cook it in olive oil along with tomato, onion, olives, capers, celery and a bit of sugar it makes an ideal accompaniment to good hearty bread and some red wine. Once again a typical Mediterranean dish that makes you want to eat a bunch of vegetables.

Apart from the fiber that you’ll be getting from the eggplant and tomato, you also will get plenty of antioxidants from the eggplant, tomato, oregano, onion and the olive oil. Well, actually almost every single ingredient is a source of antioxidants.

I’ve tried several recipes and this is a combination of a few of them that had the best results. Read more »

Simple and Fresh Mediterranean Tomato Appetizers

So now that we established that tomatoes are the super food of the Mediterranean and Greek diet, here are two super-easy and super quick appetizers or hors d’oeuvres to serve with drinks on a hot summer day or night. But don’t be fooled, they may be easy to make, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be using and processed ingredients; everything is fresh.

These would be considered more Italian rather than Greek, inspired by the traditional bruschetta and the other one using fresh mozzarella. Greeks love Italian food (who doesn’t?) and there are several parts of Greece that have been strongly influenced by Italian cuisine.

Cherry tomato and fresh mozzarella appetizers

INGREDIENTS

  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Fresh mozzarella balls or cut into cubes
  • Fresh basil
  • Olive Oil

My mother in law who is French serves these with the apéritif. Very simple, very tasty and very healthy. Just add a cherry tomato, a mozzarella ball and a basil leaf on a toothpick and you are set. Drizzle with just a touch of olive oil if you want and they are ready. I like these for the summer, they don’t need and heating, they take minutes to assemble and you can make them ahead of time. These are ideal appetizers if you are planning on eating a carbohydrate rich meal since they are low carb with only 39 calories each…. Read more »

Feta Stuffed Dates- a savory appetizer that’s good for you

While dry fruit are popular in the Mediterranean, dates in particular are very popular in the Middle East. During the conference I attended in Israel, I had the opportunity to hear about the research on dates. Dr. Michael Aviram, Head of the Lipid Research Laboratory and Professor at the Technion Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, Israel explained how dates protect against cardiovascular disease.

Dates basically have a double effect: by reducing cholesterol levels, but also by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a process that can cause cell damage and is associated with many chronic diseases. Dates are not only rich in fiber but also in antioxidants which explains the health benefits. In addition they are source of minerals, which can potentially be beneficial for individuals with high blood pressure, since these minerals can help keep blood pressure in control.  Dr. Aviram, however did stress that dates may not be appropriate for individuals with diabetes. Read more »

Low Salt Crispy Mini Greek Cheese Pies-Tyropita

Generally when you follow a traditional Greek style diet it isn’t too hard to keep your sodium intake down, particularly when you are eating all the lathera vegetable dishes: vegetables cooked with olive, tomato and plenty of herbs. In regards to hypertension (high blood pressure), several studies have shown that following a Mediterranean style diet is associated with lower blood pressure.

Having said that, some Greek cheeses are high in sodium, and there are some dishes that have feta and cheese in general, as the main ingredients, and one of them is the tyropita.

Tyropita literally translates into cheese-pie, it is one of the most popular pita in Greece (along with spanakopita) and you can find numerous versions of it. These little triangle cheese pies are often served at buffets,  I love them. I remember my mom making them for parties and we would grab them still hot right off the tray with my mom eventually hiding them because there wouldn’t be any left to serve to our guests.

For the low sodium version, I use the Greek cheese anthotyro, a PDO soft whey cheese or ricotta if you cannot find anthotyro. The secret is
Read more »

Greek Salad. How to Make it, How to Eat it and Why it’s good for you.

The Greek salad is one of the most popular and well-known Greek dishes outside and inside Greece. Greeks love the horiatiki, which means village in Greek. In the summer months it is present on most Greek tables at home and at the tavernes.

It is basically a salad made with tomato, cucumber, olive oil, olives and feta and there are variations around Greece. For example on the islands another white soft cheese is used instead of feta cheese and in Crete there is the well-known dakos; tomato and feta (or other local white cheese) piled on a large barley rusk that has been soaked with a bit of water and olive oil.

Before we go on with the recipe, we need to make some clarifications and correct some misconceptions.

Here are some rules of the Greek salad:

  • There is no lettuce or any other leafy greens in the salad.
  • The salad is not mixed before it is served.
  • The feta cheese is not cut in cubes but rather a large piece is placed on top of the salad.
  • The tomato and cucumber should be cut in fairly large pieces not small cubes.
  • There is no red pepper in the traditional Greek salad.
  • The salad is served with bread, not pita.
  • The salad is served in a shallow bowl; do not serve it in a deep bowl.
  • Use the best ingredients. As with most simple dishes, the horiatiki needs excellent ingredients. Make sure you have extra virgin olive oil, in season ripe tomatoes, juicy Greek black olives, good fragrant oregano and real feta (Greek) cheese…Read on for recipe and eating instructions Read more »