November 2006 Edition
Greek Specialty Foods - Bringing Mediterranean Flair to Menus

 

 

 

Oil, olives, cheese, bread: these are foods that have been with us for centuries, and that still bring flavour and variety to modern meals. Like many traditions that have stood the test of time, these foods come to us from the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, where they remain an important part of Greek cuisine.

 

The hearty flavours of grilled souvlaki, the distinctive layers of filo that envelop spanakopita or baklava, or the tangy bite of feta in a Greek salad are all characteristic of this specialty market, but some key products can bring some of these themes onto almost any menu.

 

Bill Shorley of Krinos Foods describes Greek cuisine as “food from the cradle of civilization,” but it is also one of the specialty cuisines that is becoming more and more popular with diners, and is moving toward the mainstream of Canadian foodservice.

 

Although a huge proportion of North American restaurants have a Greek salad on their menu, a great many of them are variations that have little in common with the traditional dish that is served throughout Greece, where it is called a village salad. With many customers now seeking out authentic ethnic and specialty fare, restaurants may wish to offer the classic version of this simple dish. Shorley says foodservice operators can easily offer that authenticity to their customers.

 

A village salad begins with bite-sized pieces of cucumber, tomato and onion, served

with three key ingredients that are essential to the dish: kalamata olives, an olive oil-based dressing, and a slice of feta cheese on top. A sprinkle of oregano – which, along with lemon, is one of the most essential Greek seasonings – finishes the dish.

 

Shorley explains that the word feta actually means “slice” in Greek, and it is in that form that it is found on authentic Greek salads – not cubed or crumbled.

 

However, cubed and crumbled feta certainly has a place on Canadian menus. Sprinkling some feta, or adding a few kalamata olives, are some of the quickest ways to bring Greek flavour to menu staples.

 

Feta comes in several densities and textures, from hard to soft, but hard feta has the largest market share in Canada. Precrumbled feta offers a labour-saving way to add value.

Shorley suggests using crumbled feta to bring a whole new flavour to bruschetta. Kalamata olives can also bring Mediterranean flair to this menu staple.

 

Some quick-serve operations are using feta in wraps or in gyros-style sandwiches. Because feta adds flavour throughout the cooking process, it is excellent in dishes like omelettes, and of course feta and olives also work extremely well on pizza.

 

Roasted red peppers are another Mediterranean staple that are finding a home in a variety of foodservice operations, from quick serve to family to high end. Roasted peppers are now seen in pasta, pizza and sandwiches.

 

In Greek mythology, ambrosia was the food of the gods, and was said to confer immortality on mortals who ate it. Although a diet rich in olive oil, whole grains, fruit and vegetables won’t make you immortal, medical research shows this classic Mediterranean diet is one of the keys to longevity. Incorporating elements of that traditional diet into a menu is an easy way to offer healthier options without sacrificing flavour.

 

Extra virgin olive oil, for instance, not only has no cholesterol, but its monounsaturated fats also help to lower levels of unhealthy LDL cholesterol, and help boost beneficial HDL cholesterol. Feta is one of the lowest fat cheeses available, Shorley says. With about 22% fat content -- and a lighter version with only 15% fat content -- it compares favourably with higher-fat cow’s milk cheeses, and is an excellent choice for institutional menus and the medical market.

 

With a history that stretches from today’s medical journals back to ancient Greece, Greek specialty foods are as rich in tradition as they are in taste. Its combination of hearty fare and distinctive flavours is carrying this specialty cuisine to a growing audience of Canadian diners.

 

Pressing Details: Three grades of olive oil

 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from the first cold hard pressing, and is the finest quality olive oil. It is dark green in colour, with optimum clarity and taste and a delicate aroma. Greek law stipulates that extra virgin olive oil must have an acidity level of less than 0.7%.

 

Pure Olive Oil comes from the second cold press, and may have a maximum acidity of 1%. It may be blended with a little extra virgin olive oil to improve its flavour and quality. It is a versatile oil with many uses in cooking, including marinades and dressings.

 

Pomace Oil is processed oil, often flavoured with extra virgin olive oil to enhance its colour and flavour. It is especially formulated for frying and can withstand

high temperatures.

 

With contributions from Krinos Foods

 

By Patricia Nicholson