A Greek vegetarian menu

Delicious, easy to prepare and healthy. Hello to the Greek salad.

Greek salad 311 (photo credit: Juan Garcia/Dallas Morning News/MCT))
Greek salad 311
(photo credit: Juan Garcia/Dallas Morning News/MCT))
The Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on vegetables and olive oil, became famous as a result of in-depth studies based largely on the menus of the residents of Greece.
Vegetables are important in Greek menus, wrote Jack Santa Maria, author of Greek Vegetarian Cookery, and “are nearly always eaten cold or lukewarm with a dressing of oil and lemon or oil and vinegar.” What makes them delicious is the oil – fruity extra virgin olive oil.
There is a common misconception that eggplant is high in fat but that is true only of deep fried eggplant because of the oil it absorbs, not because of the eggplant. When eggplant is braised in a flavorful tomato sauce, it is a wholesome dish low in calories and fat. In our menu the braised eggplant is flavored in the Greek style with onions, garlic and oregano. In Greece zucchini is also stewed in tomato sauce; to emphasize the squash’s sweetness, Santa Maria stews his with a touch of sugar and omits the garlic.
It is somewhat paradoxical that, in spite of their famously nutritious diet, Greek consumption of dairy products is the highest in the world. Greek menus illustrate that there’s no need to avoid cheese entirely when following a healthy eating program. Rather, dairy foods should be used judiciously.
Greeks especially love feta cheese, which is delicious when used in small quantities as an accent for salads, like the popular Greek salad with tomatoes and greens. Their thick, strained yogurt, which resembles labaneh, makes a tasty sauce for vegetables, grains and legumes; all it needs is minced garlic and a bit of seasoning.
Greece is a wheat-producing country, and bulgur wheat or pasta are popular accompaniments that are used creatively. Diane Kochilas, author of The Greek Vegetarian, prepares egg noodles with tehina sauce, as well as bulgur with fried eggplant, dill and mint. Rice is loved in Greece too, and might be prepared as a pilaf with pumpkin and tomatoes.
This fast-cooking, easy-to-prepare menu is ideal for late summer, when eggplant and tomatoes are at their best.
• Greek salad with feta cheese • Easy eggplant stew with tomatoes
• Bulgur wheat pilaf with green onions, peppers and yogurt garlic sauce
• Melon with honey dressing
If you like, add cucumber in thin half slices to the salad. You can substitute spinach or mixed baby lettuces for the romaine, and Bulgarian cheese for the feta.
4 cups bite-size pieces romaine lettuce 1⁄4 small red onion, sliced thin, separated in slivers 11⁄2 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp. red wine vinegar or lemon juice salt and freshly ground pepper 1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano 2 or 3 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges 8 to 12 pitted black olives 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup feta cheese, crumbled in bite-size chunks In a shallow salad bowl combine lettuce, onion, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano. Toss well. Top with tomato wedges, olives and feta cheese. Serve cool.
Makes 4 servings.
Like many stews, this eggplant entree keeps well and can be prepared up to 3 days ahead; keep it in a covered dish in the refrigerator. To save time, you can use a food processor to chop the ingredients: first chop the garlic, then the onion. Dry the food processor to remove the liquid given off by the onions, and chop the parsley.
Use fresh eggplants, with smooth, shiny skins and no soft spots; old ones can be bitter and their peel can be tough.
If you like, serve the eggplant stew over fine noodles instead of preparing a separate side dish.
You can accompany the dish with a yogurt garlic sauce like the one in the bulgur pilaf recipe below.
1 medium eggplant, unpeeled (about 500 gr.) 900 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or an 800-gr. can diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 onion, chopped 1 sweet green or yellow pepper, cut in strips (optional) 4 large garlic cloves, minced 1 bay leaf 1 tsp. dried basil or oregano salt and freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional) Cut eggplant in medium dice, about 2.5- by 2.5- by 2 cm. If using fresh tomatoes, peel, seed and chop them, reserving the juice; if using canned ones, drain and reserve the juice.
In a heavy stew pan, heat oil, add onion and saute over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in sweet pepper and garlic. Add eggplant dice, salt and pepper and mix well over low heat until eggplant is coated with onion mixture.
Add tomatoes, 1⁄3 cup juice from tomatoes, bay leaf and oregano and cook over high heat, stirring, until bubbling. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, 20 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. Discard bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or cold, sprinkled with parsley.
Makes 4 servings.
Like rice, bulgur wheat is delicious prepared pilaf style. First it is sauteed in a touch of oil, and then cooked in broth. In this recipe the sweet red pepper and the green onions add additional flavor.
To turn the pilaf into a hearty main course, add hot cooked legumes. Traditional Greek choices would be lentils or chickpeas. Use 11⁄2 to 2 cups cooked lentils or chickpeas, or a 400-gr.
can of chickpeas; drain the chickpeas before adding to the bulgur wheat.
3 green onions 1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 red pepper, cut in short strips 1 to 11⁄4 cups medium bulgur wheat 2 to 21⁄2 cups vegetable broth or water Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup plain yogurt 1 small garlic clove, pressed or finely minced cayenne pepper to taste Slice white and light green parts of onions.
Chop dark green parts. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add pepper strips and white and light green parts of onion and saute, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add bulgur and saute together, stirring, for 1 minute. Add broth, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Meanwhile, make the yogurt garlic sauce: Mix the yogurt with the garlic, salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
When bulgur is tender, stir in dark green part of onions. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, with the sauce in a separate small bowl.
Makes 4 servings.
This late summer fruit salad is based on a melon dessert from Jack Santa Maria, to which I add fresh figs or grapes.
4 cups melon cubes 2 to 3 Tbsp. honey 2 to 3 Tbsp. lemon juice 4 Tbsp. Greek brandy or sherry, or to taste 1 cup grapes or halved fresh figs Combine melon and grapes or figs in a shallow bowl. In a small bowl mix the honey, lemon juice and brandy. Pour it over the fruit when serving.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 30 Low-Fat Meals in 30 Minutes and of Feast from the Mideast.