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  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

Greek Cuisine to Maximize the Healthy Produce of Summer

When I think of Greece, I immediately picture the bright blue roofs on white stucco houses in Santorini, people swimming in the gorgeous Mediterranean ocean, eating gyros, feta cheese and all things phyllo dough. While these things are definitely hallmarks of Greece, it turns out there is so much more to this country than that. Many Greek restaurants here in the states offer a very limited view of the cuisine. With 16 distinct regions ranging from mainland farms to hilly wine regions to a million small islands, Greek food enjoys the influence of Italy in the Western regions and Turkey in the Eastern regions. And while each region of Greece has its own specialties, the four pillars of: freshness, richness in vitamins, simplicity, and variety, keep Greek cuisine united. Ancient knowledge and time tested techniques make Greek food one of the healthiest in the world.

The 16 regions are: Athens, Attica & Central Greece, The Peloponnese, the Ionian Islands, Epirus, Thessaly, Sporades, Chalkidiki, Thessaloniki, Cyprus, Macedonia, Thace, the North Aegean Islands, The Cyclades, Dodecanese, and Crete.

Greece is a country of mezze culture - appetizers that range in weight from dips to vegetables, fish and meat, and the mezedes definitely reflect their region. You’ll have to work very hard to remain hungry in Greece!

The general flavor profile of the cuisine can be summed up with: lemons, honey, oregano, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, mint, tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, garlic, onions, dill, feta, olives, and sesame. Everything here is loaded with health. Lemons are loaded with highly absorbable Vitamin C and flushes toxins from the body. Honey, garlic, onions and oregano are antiviral and antibiotic. Tomatoes are loaded with vitamins and lycopene. Green peppers are full of more Vitamin C. Cinnamon has powerful medicinal properties. Sesame seeds contain B vitamins, protein and have an anti-inflammatory property, olives are loaded with polyphenols and feta cheese is a great source of calcium.

We'll dive into some heftier recipes as the month goes along but let’s continue the flavor profile list with cucumbers. They are the foundation of not only every variation of Greek Salad, but the famous Tsatsiki as well. And it makes sense given the Greek cuisine pillars of freshness and richness in vitamins. Cucumbers are full of super active enzymes, coenzymes, electrolytes, minerals and vitamins. They are deeply hydrating, help fix a stagnant liver and reduce a fever, cool down overused adrenal glands and rid the body of toxic heavy metals. The chlorophyll in their skin provides important bonding to the vitamins found within, so please eat the skin IF you get them from the farmers market or farm stand, because they won’t have a waxy coating.

Watermelons are another seasonal favorite for Greek cuisine. Enjoyed with either feta cheese and onion in a salad or by the slice on a hot summer day. Interestingly, watermelons are grown in either the Peloponnese or Macedonia regions. Watermelons are also loaded with nutrients and bioactive trace minerals as well as also being super hydrating.

Green peppers are rich in nutrients including Vitamin C and B6. They are high in fiber, contain lots of lutein for eye health and a variety of plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Green peppers are unripe peppers and therefore may be slightly bitter compared to other colors of peppers. But they are the delicious component to many classic Greek dishes like a Greek Salad. They are often stuffed with rice and feta cheese, or pan fried and drizzled with vinegar.

So enjoy these powerhouses the Greek way - in a salad. And while these salads might seem too simple or boring, they are not! They are full of flavor and they are your daily vitamin on a plate! Both of these salads are eaten at all times of the day (yes, that means breakfast) and as part of a meal or as a snack.

Country -style Greek Salad

Sliced onion + sliced green pepper + diced tomato + diced cucumber + black olives + quartered hard boiled eggs + feta cheese + parsley + lemon juice + olive oil

Watermelon & Feta Salad

Diced watermelon + diced feta cheese + thinly sliced onion

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