While on my trip to Greece this week, my tour group stopped at a traditional Greek restaurant for lunch. On the menu were appetizers called Kolokithokeftedes (fried zucchini balls), tiropita (cheese pie), Greek salad and Tzatziki (yogurt dip). The group not only ate lunch, but they prepared some of the appetizers as well.
The Mediterranean diet (a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and a moderate amount of red wine) has been linked to better heart health and a lower risk of obesity. Greek chefs use feta cheese and olive oil in many of their Mediterranean dishes. If you are lactose intolerant , feta cheese (made from sheep or goat milk) is naturally lower in lactose and easier to digest. This soft crumbly cheese is high in calcium, saturated fat and sodium. It should be used in moderation. The omega 9 monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil are beneficial for heart and skin health. Its’ antioxidants can help fight chronic inflammation in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and osteoarthritis.
According to legend, the goddess Athena gifted the olive tree to Greece. It was an extremely useful gift since the region had little water supply and the olive tree required little water. The Greeks were so appreciative of the gift that Athena was named Patron Goddess and the city of Athens was named for her. There are approximately sixty varieties of olives with different shapes. All parts of the olive tree are used today for olive oil, firewood, furniture and biodiesel fuel. The olives are harvested from November to January.
Many of my fellow travelers enjoyed a glass of red wine with lunch. Red full bodied wine contain flavanoids that protect the heart. Additionally, the resveratrol in red wine improves blood flow through the heart’s blood vessels.
After lunch, the staff turned on traditional Greek music and gave lessons in Greek dancing. The music was spiritually uplifting. We were all hopeful that the dancing burned most of the calories from lunch!
Greek Appetizer Recipes:
Fried Zucchini Balls
Ingredients: 4 zucchinis medium size, 1 onion, one 3″ X 3″ square of feta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup dill, 1/2 cup parsley, salt, pepper, toasted bread.
Grate the zucchinis, onion, bread and cheese. Add eggs and spices. Shape into small balls and fry in olive oil till slightly brown. Serve with Tzatziki dip.
Ingredients: 1 cucumber, 1 carrot, 4 cloves garlic, 2 cups of Greek yogurt, salt, pepper, 5 tsp vinegar and olive oil.
Grate cucumber, carrot and garlic. Combine with yogurt and spices. Serve as a dip with cut up veggies, bread, pita or fried zucchini balls.