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The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in Greek Cuisine

Greece is thought to be a birthplace for the culinary arts, and the first Greek chefs enjoyed much esteem. Along with being credited as developing many original cooking techniques, the Greeks are said to be the first to don the chef's hat.

Their cuisine is known for encompassing rich flavors that are more tangy than spicy. While lamb is the principle meat in Greek dishes, fresh seafood, vegetables and fragrant herbs are also popular.

Greek food is often thought of as comfort food because of its vast array of meat and vegetable dishes (like the Greek equivalent of shepherd's pie, moussaka), but it is also one of the healthiest cuisines out there. If you'd like to try your hand at making a healthy Greek dish of your own, use plenty of the foods below, and check out the tasty recipes that follow.

1. Lemons

In Greece, lemons are used as a feature flavor in sauces, appetizers, entrées, salad dressings and the popular avgolemono, or Greek egg-lemon soup.

Health Benefits: Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin B6, iron and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also contain calcium, copper, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.

Aside from their many nutrients, lemons are rich in bioflavonoids, which protect against damage from free radicals, act as natural antibiotics and may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Lemons are also anti-bacterial and anti-septic, making them good for mouth ulcers, canker sores and sore throats.

Finally, lemon pulp and skin contains pectin, a compound that may lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetics.

2. Eggplants

Many of Greece's most famous dishes -- like moussaka and melitzana salata, an eggplant dip -- contain eggplant, which is known for its slightly bitter flavor and spongy texture. Eggplants are part of the nightshade family of vegetables, along with tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes.

Because of its bitter taste, when eggplants first came about they were regarded as quite dangerous -- it was believed that they could instantly cause cancer, leprosy and even insanity.

Health Benefits: Eggplants are a rich source of phytonutrients, which have potent antioxidant properties. One such nutrient is nasunin, found in the eggplant's skin. Nasunin is an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and protects the fats in brain cell membranes.

Eggplants also contain chlorogenic acid, which is known to have anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, as well as help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They're a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper and vitamin B1.

3. Grape leaves

Grape leaves are a popular wrapper for rice and meat in Greek cuisine. Perhaps the most popular use is for dolmathes, an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and sometimes ground beef.

You can find grape leaves canned or bottled, but fresh leaves can also be used after they're steamed or blanched.

Health Benefits: Aside from being incredibly low in calories (five leaves have only about 14 calories), grape leaves are packed with nutrients including vitamins C, E, A, K and B6, niacin, iron, fiber, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. If you use the bottled variety, give them a rinse before you use them. This will remove some of the excess sodium in the brine.

4. Spinach

Greece is famous for its spanakopita, a spinach pie, but spinach is also a popular addition to Greek casseroles, side dishes, entrees, appetizers and soups.

Spinach also happened to be a favorite food of Catherine de Medici, who lived in the 16th century in Florence, Italy. She left home to marry the king of France, and made sure to bring her cooks who could prepare her spinach dishes. This is how foods served with spinach came to be known as "a la Florentine."

Health Benefits: Spinach is loaded with health benefits. It contains at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that are potent antioxidants and are known to fight cancer. It also contains ample quantities of nutrients that can help protect your bones, heart, brain and eyes, and fight inflammation, asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, it's a great energy food.

Spinach is a rich source of vitamins K, C, B2, B6 and A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, tryptophan and dietary fiber (among many others).

5. Olives and Olive oil

Olive trees abound in Greece, and the olives (a favorite is the kalamata olive) are used for oil and also for appetizers, stews, salads and sauces. Olive oil is used generously for cooking and salad dressings and also as a dip for crusty breads.

Health Benefits: Olives contain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that have been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

Olives and olive oil also contain antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids and vitamin E. This combination has been found to help fight colon cancer and heart disease, as well as reduce inflammation.

6. Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas)

Garbanzo beans are a staple part of Greek stews, entrees, appetizers and soups (a popular one is revithosoupa, chickpea soup). They have been eaten by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans since ancient times, and they're still popular in all of these regions today.

Health Benefits: Garbanzo beans are extremely high in fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, fight heart disease and stabilize blood sugar levels. They're also a good source of protein, manganese, folate, tryptophan, copper, phosphorus and iron.

Tasty and Healthy Greek Recipes to Try Tonight

Dolmathes (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Servings: 4


1 Bunch Dill (Finely chopped)
1/2 pound Grape Leaves
1 Whole Lemon (Squeezed)
1 Bunch Mint (Finely chopped)
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Rice
1 pound Yellow Onions (Finely chopped)


  1. Briefly dip grape leaves in boiling water then rinse them with cold water and wipe dry.
  2. Mix the onions with half the olive oil.
  3. After a while, mix in the rice, 250mL hot water and the remaining ingredients, except for the oil and the lemon juice.
  4. Boil the mixture for 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Wrap one tablespoon of the mixture with a grape leaf and repeat until completed.
  6. Carefully place the dolmathes in a pot with some space between them.
  7. Cover the dolmathes with a plate and add the rest of the oil and the lemon juice with 500mL of water.
  8. Boil at low heat for 30 minutes, until some water is absorbed and the rice is done.
  9. Serve cold with slices of lemon.

Source: Eat Greek Tonight

Fricasse (Lamb and Garden Greens in a Creamy Lemon Sauce)
Servings: 5


1 Batch Avgolemono Sauce (see below)
1/2 Cup Butter
2 Whole Eggs
3 Cups Green Onions (Chopped)
2 pounds Lamb (Lamb leg)
1 Whole Lemon (Squeezed)
2-3 Heads Lettuce/Greens (Chopped dandelions work best if you can find them)
1-2 Pinches Pepper (To taste)
2-3 Pinches Salt (To taste)


  1. Cut the lamb in portions.
  2. Brown in a pot using the butter.
  3. Strain excess fat.
  4. Add salt & pepper, the lettuce (if you are the adventurous type, do try to find the dandelions, but be warned, they are very bitter), the onions, very little water.
  5. Cover and simmer for about 1 hr.
  6. Prepare the avgolemono sauce.
  7. Pour the avgolemono in the pot, simmer lightly and serve hot.

Avgolemono Sauce (Creamy Lemon Sauce)


2 Whole Eggs
A Little Flour
1 Whole Lemon (Squeezed)
1 Whole Onion
1-2 Cups Soup or Food Broth


  1. Mix a little flour with the lemon juice.
  2. Add the eggs and beat well.
  3. Slowly add the broth while continuing to beat.
  4. Pour and mix the avgolemono sauce into your food.
  5. Remove from heat before the sauce thickens.

Source: Eat Greek Tonight

Recommended Reading


The World's Healthiest Foods

Whole Health MD

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