Ways of being: A Glimpse of Greece

Ways of being: A Glimpse of Greece


At Primary Beans, we see food as a powerful source of connection, memory, and love. So we’ve invited some of our favorite creators to share their own food memories, and the recipes and people who inspired them. Food Memories is a rotating collection of stories from our favorite home cooks, chefs, and bean enthusiasts, featuring all your favorite beans and showcasing recipes, tips, and bean magic from around the world.

Meet our friend Diana Moutsopoulos, LA-based recipe developer, Editorial Director for Allrecipes, and creator of @greek_recipes. A lover of all food, it's Greek food that steals her heart­. She grew up in Wisconsin never far from a kitchen – her mother owned a family restaurant, where she'd help peel potatoes after school and there was always something Greek on the menu. As a mother of two, she cooks many of the same Greek classics for her own family. We had a blast chatting with Diana while she was vacationing in Naxos, Greece. She shared her thoughts on the Greek way of life and family stories that inspire her approach to cooking.


Describe the Greek way of shopping for food.

Traditionally, Greeks shop for fresh fruit and vegetables at their local laiki, or farmers’ market. Each neighborhood in Athens has 1-2 weekly laiki close by, so there’s always an opportunity to buy kilos and kilos of fresh produce and schlep it home in a little wire trolley. Growing up going to Athens as a teenager, I’d do this every week with my aunt.

My aunt always buys her meat and poultry at the local butcher, rarely at the grocery store. It’s a more personal experience and the quality is considered better – the butcher, even in a big city like Athens, knows that she likes her meat freshly ground and passed through the grinder twice.

Nowadays, more and more people are buying their produce and meat from a supermarket, but the laiki and butchers are still going strong.



What is a typical eating routine in Greece? 

Traditionally, Greeks don't have breakfast and instead opt for a mid-morning snack, like a koulouri – the bread rings sold for less than 1 euro at little stalls everywhere. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and served around 2 pm, always with salad and bread on the table. Dinner is leftovers from lunch or a light meal of cheese, bread, olives, or fruit. This is how I grew up eating with my aunts and dad in Greece and how they eat to this day. 

One important fixture on the Greek table is salad – Greeks always need a salad on the table. This could be a simple horiatiki (what we call a Greek salad) or maroulosalata (shredded romaine salad with dill and scallions). But Greeks use the word "salata" liberally, so this could also be a simple dish of boiled greens dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, or boiled cauliflower or broccoli served the same way.

Bread is also a must on the Greek table. Loaves of good, crusty bread are not hard to come by in Greece – in cities, there is probably a bakery within a 5 minute walk of wherever you are – and the bread isn't expensive. Greeks mop up every last bit of sauce or juice on their plate with bread, savoring every last bit.



Tell us more about the regional variations of Greek cuisine. Where is your family from specifically?

You can spend a lifetime discovering all the regional cuisines. My father was born in Athens and both my grandparents have roots in Naxos. My grandfather was born in Naxos and moved to Athens when he was 12, but his heart never left the island. Our family feels a strong connection to Naxos and some of my cousins have moved there in recent years.

Now that I have children, we have been going to Naxos every summer. I am only starting to scratch the surface of Naxian cuisine and dishes that are unique to the island. One is a swiss chard pie, like a spanakopita but with swiss chard instead of spinach. Another that I just discovered is a local cured pork that looks like prosciutto, but is served cubed rather than sliced. Not a dish, but a local specialty – and favorite of mine – is the local Naxian liqueur, kitro, which is a spirit made from citron. It is found all over Naxos but nearly impossible to find anywhere else in Greece.


How did you grow up eating and how did Greek cuisine play a role?

I grew up with parents who owned restaurants, as so many Greek Americans do. The restaurants were typical Greek-American-style family restaurants with everything from pancakes and Eggs Benedict for breakfast to meatloaf and spanakopita for dinner. There was a focus on homemade food using fresh ingredients, and I still think of some of the specialties to this day. I loved it when my mom would bring home a to-go container of pork chops with lemon juice and oregano – she is not Greek, but she always cooked a mean Greek-style pork chop at the restaurant.

As I grew up and began spending my summers in Greece as a teenager, I started to learn more and more about traditional Greek cuisine from my two aunts who live in Athens. They are both prolific and accomplished cooks and over several years of spending time with them, as well as my dad who moved back to Athens when I was 18, I learned the foundations of countless classic Greek dishes – from pastitsio (Greek "lasagna") and fasolada (white bean soup) to tsoureki (Easter bread) and melomakarona (honey cookies).



What are some of your favorite Greek ingredients?

For me, one of the best things about Greek cuisine is its focus on legumes and vegetables – not only do Greek dishes use a lot of them, but they make them delicious. There are so many Greek dishes that most people would look at and think of as a side dish, but they're in fact a main. It can definitely seem strange at first for some people to eat a plateful of beans or vegetables as a main dish without a starchy component like rice or pasta, but trust me – it works!

For example, there's an entire category of dishes called lathera (literally meaning "oiled" or, more technically, stewed in olive oil), where one eats a plateful of vegetables or beans as a main course. Some great examples are Barbounia Yiahni – cranberry beans stewed in tomato sauce – and Arakas latheros – peas stewed in tomato and olive oil.

And of course I can’t talk about Greek cuisine without talking about feta cheese. I feel anxious any time I’m out of feta at home – I have at least one tub of real Greek feta cheese in brine in my fridge at all times. What I love about feta is not only its creaminess, saltiness, and tanginess, but its ability to turn anything into a satisfying meal. My dad always used to say he could live the rest of his life on feta, grapes, and good bread – a true trifecta of deliciousness!

For more, head to the 3 special recipes Diana developed using Primary Beans – embodying the Greek way of eating beans: Barbounia yiahni, Baked cannellini beans with lemon and dill, and Shrimp saganaki with alubia beans.

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