Skip to main content
Syros Island

What Greek chefs don’t tell you

By August 4, 2018No Comments

Have you ever wondered what special ingredients Greek chefs use when they present you with dishes that seem so simple? For example, the basic ‘Horiatiki” (Greek salad) seems to contain only onions, tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and feta cheese. Why, then, does it taste so sublime? And why can’t you reproduce that flavor with the same ingredients when you get home?

Here are some traditional dishes explained. Use the recipe you prefer, but check out these Greek chef approaches at the same time.

Greek Salad

This basic salad has 4 secrets.

  1.  The tomatoes are always picked straight from the vine. Cold store ripening or storing kills that ‘sun kissed’ flavor.
  2. Greek onions are naturally sweeter than onions that have been stored or grown in colder climates with longer growing times.
  3. The olive oil is fresh – all the oil used in a Greek kitchen is this year’s oil. Most Greek households have access to fresh oil and don’t rely on commercially made oil that could be 2 or 3 years old.7
  4. Fresh oregano and lots of it – dried is not the same.

NOTE – good creamy feta is also important. But since most countries make their own sheep, goat or cow feta, it is not such a problem to get good quality feta.


This delicious creamy dish is the ultimate comfort food. It’s so easy to make and it fits in perfectly with the healthy eating guidelines that tell us to eat at least one portion of legumes a day.

5 secrets to a perfect fava

  1.  Fava needs caramelized onions – so you can caramelize onions in a pan, add in the fava and next the stock before boiling up to soften the fava. Also, as a topping on the finished dish, a little pile of blackened caramelized onions is amazing.
  2. Fresh yellow split peas are best. Only buy from shops with a high turnover of legumes.
  3. Don’t be precious about the recipe – when you fry up onions before adding fava, add in other things like spring onions, herbs like oregano or thyme, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, or carrot. Anything that needs using up in your fridge. Since you will blend up the final product, you won’t see these extras. Instead, they just add a great flavor hit.
  4. Lots of lemon and good olive oil. These are the standard ingredients in all Greek dishes. Be liberal and use the oil cold where it has most benefit.
  5. Presentation – after blending up the fava dish, present it with a sprinkle of raw onions (if sweet), paprika, capers, caramelized onions or chopped tomatoes, a splash of olive oil and serve warm.


Every child who grows up in a Greek home longs for Moussaka. The key secret to making this dish is that it takes time. If you are in a hurry – this is not for you. Make it slowly with love and you won’t believe the reaction you get from your guests.

Here are 6 points to remember when following your preferred recipe.

  1. The meat – you can use a mix of lamb, beef or even half pork in the mincing process. Since there are so many other flavors it really doesn’t matter. If you use all lamb (more traditional) I would add a lot of mint in the cooking stage to cut the lamb fat taste. During the meat cooking stage, add herbs like bay leaves, oregano, mint, thyme and basil. Also garlic and onions well-chopped. Throw in white wine and a tin or two of tomatoes. It should be rich, savory and strongly seasoned.
  2. The Bechamel sauce – follow the recipe and don’t be shy about adding lots of cheeses. Use up all the old bits of cheese in your fridge, the more the merrier. Butter is better for the sauce. Corn flour blends in far more easily than regular flour. The same applies to milk, use all the milks you have, even almond milk can be added to regular if you want to cut down on fat. Don’t forget adding cinnamon to taste.
  3. The quickest way to fry up the aubergines is to lay them out on a baking dish, drizzled with oil and let the oven do the work.
  4. If you are feeding a lot of people, use a layer of semi cooked potatoes as well as layers of aubergines. Parboil the potatoes and slice thinly.
  5. The last layer is thick béchamel sauce. Add a lot of grated cheeses. Parmesan and other hard cheeses are good for crisping up.
  6. Cook it slowly – let the flavors merge in a low oven over a few hours. This moussaka is even better the next day.