Assyrtiko to Zalatina – A Guide to Greek Food Terms

Words: Crush

Greek food is a celebration of fresh ingredients and rich traditions. While lamb and tzatziki might come to mind when you think of Greek food, there’s much more to this ancient and regionally diverse cuisine. Use this comprehensive guide as your passport to essential Greek food terms and iconic dishes, from baklava to youvetsi.

A

Anari (Ah-nah-REE)

Anari is a fresh whey cheese akin to ricotta. Hailing from the rich dairy traditions of Greece, it’s known for its versatility in both savoury and sweet dishes. Anari especially adds a creamy touch to delicious desserts.

Assyrtiko (Ah-SEER-tee-ko)

Assyrtiko is a prominent white wine grape variety native to the island of Santorini. Known for its crisp acidity and mineral character, Assyrtiko wines have gained international acclaim. Thriving in the volcanic soils of Santorini, this grape variety contributes to the vibrant tapestry of Greek winemaking, offering a unique expression of terroir.

Avgolemono (Av-gho-LEH-mo-no)

Avgolemono is a classic Greek sauce made with eggs and lemon juice; it’s renowned for its transformative effect on soups and stews. This velvety sauce brings a blend of richness and tanginess to traditional dishes. It defines the essence of Greek comfort food.


B

Greek food

Baklava (Bahk-la-VAH)

Baklava is a decadent dessert featuring layers of phyllo dough and a luscious chopped nut filling that’s sweetened with honey or syrup. A hallmark of Greek pastry-making, baklava showcases the artistry of layering and sweetness. Its intricate preparation reflects the culinary craftsmanship embedded in Greek culinary heritage.

Try this recipe for Pistachio & Almond Baklava with Elderflower Syrup

Bougatsa (boo-GAH-tsa)

A traditional Greek pastry made with thin layers of phyllo dough, typically filled with sweet semolina custard, and then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Savoury fillings like cheese or minced meat are also enjoyed in bougatsa.


D

Dolma (Dolmades) (Dol-MA-thes)

Dolma refers to grape leaves stuffed with a savoury mixture of rice, pine nuts, and herbs. Originating from the Middle Eastern influence on Greek cuisine, dolma represents the art of encapsulating flavours in a bite-sized package. These delightful morsels, often served cold, are a cherished part of Greek meze platters.


E

Eliopita (E-lee-OH-pee-ta)

Eliopita is a savoury olive pie and a culinary gem featuring Kalamata olives, olive oil, and herbs in golden-brown pastry. Hailing from regions abundant in olive groves, this pie pays homage to the iconic Greek olive.


F

Greek recipes

Fasolakia (Fas-so-LA-kia)

Fasolakia are green beans cooked in a tomato-based sauce with olive oil, tomatoes, and various herbs. This dish is a representative of the vibrant vegetable-centric offerings found in Greek cuisine. Hailing from the fertile landscapes of Greece, fasolakia embodies the simplicity and freshness inherent in Greek home-cooked meals.

Fava (FAH-va)

Fava is a traditional Greek dip made from yellow split peas, olive oil, and lemon juice. A staple in the sunny landscapes of the Mediterranean, fava showcases the simplicity and purity of Greek ingredients. Often seasoned with herbs, this dip is a refreshing addition to any meze spread and reflects the essence of Greek coastal cuisine.

Feta (FEH-ta)

Feta is a crumbly and tangy cheese made from sheep or goat milk, elevating the flavours of salads, pastries, and various meze dishes. Originating from the mountainous regions of Greece, feta is an indispensable component of the country’s cuisine.

Greek recipes

Try this recipe for Mediterranean Feta & Olive Dip with Olive Oil Crackers

Frappé (Fra-PÉ)

Frappé is an iced coffee beverage made by blending instant coffee, sugar, and water. Originating in Thessaloniki, this cool and invigorating drink has become an integral part of coffee culture across the world. The frappé, with its frothy and chilled composition, offers a delightful respite during warm Greek summers.


G

Galaktoboureko (Gha-la-kto-BOO-re-ko)

Galaktoboureko is a sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough, filled with a custard-like mixture. Bathed in a lemon-infused syrup, this dessert reflects the sweet indulgence prevalent in Greek pâtisseries. Hailing from the eastern regions of Greece, galaktoboureko is a testament to the country’s love for delicate and syrup-soaked sweets.

Graviera (Gha-vi-EH-ra)

Graviera is a hard and slightly sweet cheese made from sheep’s milk, widely used in cooking and as part of a cheese platter. Hailing from Crete and Naxos, Graviera adds a robust and nutty flavour to various dishes. Its versatility makes it a beloved component in both traditional and modern Greek recipes.

Gyros (YEE-ros)

Gyros is a popular street food featuring meat (often pork or chicken) cooked on a vertical rotisserie. This iconic dish is usually served in a pita wrap with tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki. Whether enjoyed as a quick bite or a hearty meal, gyros is a testament to Greece’s rich culinary and street food culture.


H

Greek recipes

Halloumi (Ha-LOU-mi)

Halloumi, though not originally Greek and rather from Cyprus, has become a popular addition to Greek cuisine. This semi-hard cheese is often grilled or fried, adding a deliciously salty taste and unique texture to salads and meze platters.

Try the recipe for this Bulgar Wheat, Kale & Halloumi Salad with ClemenGold Dressing or these Katïfi-wrapped Halloumi.

Hummus (HUH-muhs)

A Middle Eastern and Greek dip/spread made from mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Hummus is often enjoyed with pita.

Try this recipe for Healthy Homemade Hummus

Greek food

Horiatiki (Ho-ri-AH-ti-ki)

Horiatiki, commonly known as ‘Greek salad’, is a refreshing ensemble of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta cheese dressed in olive oil and sprinkled with oregano. Originating from the rustic villages (horio) of Greece, this simple yet flavourful salad encapsulates the essence of the Mediterranean diet.


I

Irokafteri (E-ro-KAF-te-ri)

Irokafteri is a spicy feta cheese dip made with feta, red peppers, olive oil, and sometimes additional spices. Hailing from the spicy traditions of northern Greece, irokafteri adds a fiery kick to meze spreads. Often enjoyed as a dip or spread, this dish showcases the bold and dynamic flavours found in Greek appetisers.


K

Greek food terms

Kalamata (Ka-la-MA-ta)

Kalamata olives, named after the city in the southern Peloponnese, are large, dark purple olives known for their distinct almond shape and rich, fruity flavour. Widely recognised as some of the finest olives in the world, Kalamata olives have become a signature ingredient in Greek salads, dips, and various dishes.

Koulouri (Koo-LOO-ri)

Koulouri is a circular bread ring coated in sesame seeds, often enjoyed as a breakfast or snack item. Originating from Thessaloniki, this popular street food adds a delightful crunch to morning rituals. The sesame-crusted exterior conceals a soft and fluffy interior, making koulouri a beloved staple in Greek bakeries.


L

Loukoumades (loo-koo-MAH-des)

Greek doughnuts, deep-fried until golden brown and crispy. Loukoumades are usually drizzled with honey or syrup, sprinkled with cinnamon, and sometimes topped with nuts.


M

Mahalepi (Ma-khle-PI)

Mahalepi is a traditional Greek dessert made from a starchy powder derived from cherry stones. Originating from Cyprus, this chilled and fragrant dessert is often topped with rose or orange blossom water. With its unique texture and floral notes, mahalepi showcases the variety found in Greek sweets.

Mastika (Ma-STEE-kha)

Mastika is a resin obtained from the mastic tree, used to flavour various Greek desserts, chewing gum and beverages. Hailing from the island of Chios, mastika adds a distinctive piney and earthy flavour to a range of culinary creations. Its unique essence is a nod to the diverse botanical treasures found in Greek regions.

Mezes (Me-ZES)

Mezes are small plates or appetisers served to accompany drinks, encompassing a variety of flavours such as olives, cheese, tzatziki, and grilled meats. Originating from the traditions of Greek tavernas, mezes represent a communal and leisurely approach to dining. These flavourful bites embody the spirit of Greek hospitality.

Melitzanosalata (meh-leet-zah-noh-sah-LAH-tah)

A traditional Greek eggplant dip made by roasting or grilling eggplant, and then combining it with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and sometimes herbs. Not to be confused with baba ganoush, melitzanosalata doesn’t contain tahini and the texture varies from smooth to chunky.

Moussaka (Moo-sa-KAS)

Moussaka is a baked casserole dish with layers of eggplant, minced meat (often lamb), tomatoes, and creamy béchamel sauce. Originating from the Middle Eastern influence on Greek cuisine, moussaka stands as a hearty and comforting dish. Its layers of flavours and textures make it a cherished part of Greek family meals.


O

Greek recipes

Orzo (Or-Zow)

Orzo is a type of pasta resembling rice grains, often used in soups, salads and casseroles. Known as ‘kritharaki’ in Greek, this versatile pasta adds a delightful texture to a variety of dishes, whether eaten in hearty stews or light salads.

Try this recipe for Mediterranean Orzo with Chicken Thighs

Ouzo (OO-zo)

Ouzo is an anise-flavoured aperitif that turns milky white when mixed with water or ice. Originating from the island of Lesbos, ouzo is an integral part of Greek social life. Enjoyed with mezes, this spirit encapsulates the convivial atmosphere of Greek gatherings, with its distinct taste and vibrant traditions.


P

Pastitsio (Pas-TEE-tsi-o)

Pastitsio is a baked pasta dish with layers of tubular pasta, seasoned minced meat, and béchamel sauce. Often referred to as Greek lasagne, pastitsio is a comforting and flavoursome casserole. Hailing from the culinary traditions of mainland Greece, this dish showcases the art of layering and baking.

Pita (PEE-tah)

A soft, round flatbread that puffs up when baked, creating a pocket. It is commonly used as the base for gyros, or to hold various fillings such as souvlaki or falafel. For a fragrant version, try these Toasted Cumin Seed Pitas.

Phyllo (FEE-loh)

Thin sheets of unleavened dough used to make pastries like baklava and spanakopita. It is often brushed with olive oil or butter to achieve a flaky texture when baked.


R

Revithia (Re-VEE-thia)

Revithia is a hearty chickpea soup, slow-cooked with olive oil, onions, and herbs. Reflecting the simplicity and robust flavours of Greek home cooking, revithia is a staple in the mountainous regions of Greece. This soup stands as a testament to the country’s affinity for legumes and nourishing dishes.


S

Greek recipes

Saganaki (Sa-gha-NA-ki)

Saganaki is a popular appetiser involving pan-frying cheese (usually Kefalotyri or Graviera) until it forms a golden crust. Often served with a squeeze of lemon, saganaki adds a delightful touch to Greek meze spreads. Hailing from the tavernas of Athens, this dish is a celebration of gooey and crispy textures.

Try this recipe for Prawn Saganaki

Savoro (Sa-VO-ro)

Savoro is a traditional method of preparing fish by marinating it in a sweet and tangy sauce made with vinegar, onions, and raisins. Originating from the Ionian Islands, savoro showcases the culinary influence of Venetian traditions on Greek coastal dishes. This flavourful preparation adds a sophisticated twist to Greek seafood.

Souma (SOU-ma)

Souma is a traditional spirit distilled from grape pomace, often homemade and enjoyed in various regions of Greece. Commonly associated with the islands, souma embodies the rustic charm of Greek distillation traditions.

Souvlaki (Sou-VLA-ki)

Souvlaki consists of bite-sized skewers of grilled and seasoned meat, usually served with pita bread, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki. Originating from the vibrant street food scene of Greece, souvlaki is a beloved delight. Whether enjoyed as a quick snack or a full meal, souvlaki captures the essence of Greek street fare.

Spanakopita (Spa-na-KO-pi-ta)

Spanakopita is a savoury pastry filled with spinach, feta cheese, onions, and herbs, encased in layers of phyllo dough. Originating from the lush landscapes of Greece, spanakopita is a delightful combination of flaky pastry and a flavoursome spinach and cheese filling.

Try this recipe for Spinach, Feta, Olive & Pine Nut Spanakopitas

Greek food


T

Tahini (tah-HEE-nee)

A paste made from ground sesame seeds, commonly used in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. Tahini is a key ingredient in hummus, creating a nutty and creamy flavour.

Taramosalata (Ta-ra-mo-sa-LA-ta)

Taramosalata is a creamy dip made from fish roe (usually carp), olive oil, lemon juice, and breadcrumbs. Often enjoyed as a spread on bread or as a dip for vegetables, taramosalata reflects the coastal traditions of Greek gastronomy. Its briny and tangy notes make it a refreshing addition to meze platters.

Greek food

Tsikoudia (Tsi-ku-DYA)

Tsikoudia is a strong grape-based spirit commonly consumed in Crete, and served as a digestive after meals. Reflecting the vibrant spirit of Cretan hospitality, tsikoudia adds a warming touch to social gatherings.

Tsipouro (Tsi-POU-ro)

Tsipouro is a strong distilled spirit made from the pomace of grapes, often served straight or with water and ice. Hailing from the mountainous regions of Greece, tsipouro captures the rustic charm of traditional Greek distillation methods.

Tyropita (Tee-ro-PEE-ta)

Tyropita is a savoury pastry filled with layers of cheese (usually feta) and eggs, baked until golden brown. Originating from the kitchens of Greek households, tyropita is a flavoursome and comforting dish. Its cheesy layers encased in golden phyllo dough are simply delicious.

Tzatziki (tsah-TSEE-kee)

A popular Greek sauce or dip made from yoghurt, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, and fresh herbs (dill or mint). It is often served as a condiment with grilled meats or as a dip with pita.

Try these Rosemary Lamb Kebabs with Tzatziki

Greek food


V

Vasilopita (Va-si-LO-pee-ta)

Vasilopita is a sweet bread or cake traditionally baked for New Year’s Day in honour of Saint Basil. Often containing a hidden coin for good luck, vasilopita holds a special place in Greek New Year’s celebrations. This festive dessert is a sweet beginning to the year, embodying Greek cultural traditions.


Y

Ylyko (GA-la)

Ylyko is Greek for ‘milk’; it’s a fundamental ingredient in various Greek desserts and savoury dishes. Derived from the pastoral landscapes of Greece, ylyko is a key component in the country’s dairy-centric culinary heritage.

Youvetsi (Yoo-VE-tsi)

Youvetsi is a baked dish featuring orzo, slow-cooked meat (often lamb or beef), tomatoes, and a medley of spices. A flavoursome one-pot meal, youvetsi is a comfort food staple in Greek households.

Yuvarlakia (Yoo-var-LA-kia)

Yuvarlakia are meatballs made from a mixture of ground meat, rice, and herbs, usually served in a lemony avgolemono sauce. Originating from the Mediterranean influence on Greek cuisine, yuvarlakia represent the art of crafting tender and flavoursome meatballs. The lemony sauce adds a zesty kick to this classic dish.


Z

Zalatina  (Zha-la-TEE-na)

Zalatina is a traditional Greek dish featuring pork meat and gelatin from boiling pig’s head and feet. This dish, a testament to the frugality and resourcefulness in Greek culinary history, results in a cold jelly-like delicacy. Often flavoured with garlic and vinegar, zalatina represents the nose-to-tail approach in Greek gastronomy.

Zucchini Keftedes (Ke-fte-thes)

Zucchini keftedes are delightful fritters made from grated zucchini, herbs and feta cheese, often fried to a golden perfection. Originating from the sun-kissed gardens of Greece, these fritters showcase the abundance of fresh produce in Greek cuisine. Served as appetisers or snacks, zucchini keftedes are a tasty expression of Mediterranean flavours.

Feeling inspired? Try these Greek-inspired dishes, and read our interview with Nic Charalambous of Cypriot/Greek restaurant, Ouzeri. 

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