LLR Books

Eating Became Dining in Ancient Greece

By Susan Hallett

In Greece, eating in Homeric times (before 700 B.C.) often began with oxen roasted outdoors on a spit. It culminated in the perversities of Nero’s banquets in Roman times, but in between the art of eating went from simple sustenance to decadence and eventually elegance.
In Homer’s time, simple dishes such as “a mess of porridge” or grated cheese with white barley and wine were served, but red meat was preferred. And when Odysseus was within a short sail of Ithaca, the story goes that he stated: “There is no greater fulfilment of delight than when joy possesses a whole people, and banqueters in the halls listen to a minstrel as they sit in order due, and by them tables are laden with bread and meat, and the cup-bearer draws wine from the bowl and bears it round and pours it into cups.”
The Greek recipes that follow are from Ontario-based chefs Christine Cushing, host of the Food Network’s daily flagship series “Christine Cushing Live,” and the 3 Greek Sisters, Betty, Eleni, and Samantha Bakopoulos. Cushing was born in Greece and came to Canada with her parents when she was a child. The 3 Greek Sisters’ first cookbook, “Three Sisters Around the Greek Table,” received several awards and is a national bestseller.
The recipes were demonstrated Apr. 5 & 6 at Ottawa’s Vacation & Travel Show.
Barley and Fennel Pilaf

(Courtesy of Christine Cushing)

This recipe pairs barley with the delicate anise flavour of fennel and a slight sweet note from the currants. It’s a great side dish for fish, chicken, or pork.
Makes 6 servings
25 ml (2 tbsp) Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion chopped
1 small carrot, diced
1/2 head fennel, cored, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
250 ml (1 cup) pearl barley rinsed and drained
50 ml (1/4 cup) dry black currants
3 whole sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
750 ml (3 cups) chicken broth
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Several sprigs flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot on medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and fennel and sauté until softened and golden, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and barley. Cook for 1 minute, just to toast.

Add the currants, thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, and broth, and season with pepper. Bring to a boil and stir. Cover and simmer on low heat for 35 minutes until tender. Remove from heat and stir in the chopped parsley.

Potato and White Bean Salad
(Courtesy of 3 Greek Sisters)
This salad is very hearty and filling. It goes well with barbequed meat and fish.
Preparation 20 minutes
Cooking 20 minutes
Serves 4
Bake 425°F (220°C)
500 g (1 lb) fingerling potatoes
25 ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
500 ml (2 cups) white beans, cooked
25 ml (2 tbsp) capers
10 Kalamata olives, pits removed
6 scallions chopped, both white & green
125 ml (1/2 cup) each fresh parsley & basil, chopped
25 ml (2 tbsp) fresh dill, chopped
50 ml (1/4 cup) feta cheese, crumbled
75 ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
15 ml (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
50 ml (1/4 cup) yogurt, Greek or Balkan style
1 preserved anchovy fillet, rinsed & chopped
Pepper, as desired

Place the potatoes in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 20 minutes in a preheated oven, or until the potatoes are fork tender. When cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, place in a salad bowl, and add the beans, capers, olives, scallions, fresh herbs, and feta cheese.
Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Toss the salad with the dressing.

Let the salad sit for at least one hour before serving.

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among others. She is currently the European editor of Taste & Travel International. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com