5 Greek recipes to make you feel like you’re on an island-hopping holiday

Posted by for Food

Greek food is a feast for the senses – so if you’re craving a taste of the Mediterranean, recreate these delicious recipes at home.

Of all the holiday destinations in the Mediterranean, there’s a reason why Greece calls to so many of us come summer. There’s the long, sparkling coastline, where you can always be sure to find hidden coves and secret beaches away from the crowds. There’s the rich, myth-laden heritage, with medieval old towns around every winding road in the mountains. Then, of course, there’s the beauty of Greek food and drink.

From fresh seafood and mezze with spanakopita, to hearty dishes like moussaka and lamb stew, Greek cuisine has an abundance of delicious dishes, which explains why the Greeks eat up to five times a day (a philosophy we can definitely get on board with). Add in the importance of seasonal produce and local specialities in Greek culture, and you have tasty, nourishing recipes that epitomise the spirit of summer.

Even though the chances of going island-hopping this summer are looking slim, you can still transport yourself to the Aegean by way of your kitchen. Below, we’ve rounded up five simple but evocative Greek dishes to tide you over until you can be seated at a harbour-side restaurant once again.

If traditional Greek dishes are on your mind, start with Georgina Hayden’s Greek-Cypriot chicken, cinnamon and sweet tomato orzo, otherwise known as kotopoulo kritharaki. Made with a rich tomato sauce, it’s a one-pot recipe that’s equally great for weeknight dinners in the garden as it is for feeding a gathering of friends. Hayden’s fish keftedes in mustard and dill, which also appears in her beautiful cookbook Taverna, is a lighter dish that’s perfect for hot summer days.

Alternatively, try the lighter, lunch-ready recipes from Heather Thomas’ The Greek Vegetarian Cookbook, from fried halloumi fingers to pesto and orzo salad. Kalí órexi!

  • Crunchy Greek islands salad

    Heather Thomas says: “Seasonal fruits are often added to salads in Greece – peaches, figs, strawberries, and watermelon in the summer; pomegranate seeds, oranges, or pears in the winter. Here, crisp rusks and juicy peaches transform an everyday Horiatiki Greek salad, which is topped with goat cheese. The combination of sweetness, acidity, and salt, together with the crunchy garlic bread and tender fruit, is irresistible.”

    Preparation time: 15 minutes

    Cooking time: 8-10 minutes

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
    • 6 slices stale crusty white bread
    • olive oil, for drizzling
    • 400g juicy plum tomatoes, cut into chunks
    • 1 large red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
    • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
    • 3 ripe peaches, pitted and quartered
    • 1 quantity classic Greek salad dressing
    • handful of rocket or baby spinach leaves
    • 100g hard goat cheese, coarsely grated or shredded
    • sea salt and freshly ground
    • black pepper

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4.

    Rub the cut cloves of garlic over both sides of the bread. Tear the bread into pieces, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 8–10 minutes, or until the rusks are crisp and golden brown. Let cool.

    Put the tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, and peaches into a large bowl. Stir in the rusks and season with salt and pepper. Lightly toss in most of the salad dressing and let stand for 5–10 minutes for the flavours to mingle.

    Pile the rocket or spinach on top and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve.

    Variations

    Use quartered fresh figs or chunks of watermelon instead of peaches.

    Any grated strongly flavoured hard cheese is suitable, or alternatively you could use feta. Add some cubed cucumber, capers, or olives to the salad.

  • Chicken, cinnamon and sweet tomato orzo (kotopoulo kritharaki)

    Georgina Hayden says: “There are so many versions of kritharaki (orzo) in Greek and Cypriot cooking – it is a huge staple for us, and almost always cooked with tomato. This chicken dish is the sort of family one-pot recipe all households should have up their sleeve. I’d put a bet on it being a winner with all ages.”

    Serves 4-6

    Ingredients

    • 1 litre chicken stock
    • 2 onions
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • olive oil
    • 1 stick of cinnamon
    • 1 tablespoon tomato purée
    • 5 ripe tomatoes
    • 400g orzo
    • 6 chicken thighs, on the bone and skin on
    • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 250g cherry tomatoes on the vine
    • 6 sprigs of fresh oregano
    • 75g halloumi or salted anari/ricotta

    Method

    Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Heat the chicken stock. Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide casserole pan and add the chopped veg. Place on a medium low heat and sauté for 10 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the cinnamon stick and tomato purée to the pan and stir for a minute. Coarsely grate in the large tomatoes, give everything a stir,then stir in the orzo and hot stock.

    Toss the chicken thighs with the allspice and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Place the chicken on top of the orzo, skin side up, and dot around the vines of tomatoes and sprigs of oregano. Drizzle everything with olive oil and place in the oven for around 30 minutes.

    Towards the end of this cooking time, boil a kettle. When 30 minutes is up, remove the casserole pan from the oven. Carefully pour 150ml of boiling water all around the orzo (not on the chicken skin) and return to the oven. Cook for a further 25 minutes, or until the chicken skin is crisp and golden, and the meat is tender.

    Remove from the oven, leave it to rest for 5 minutes, then serve, grating over the cheese.

  • Fried halloumi fingers and fried feta saganaki

    Heather Thomas says: “Halloumi is unique among cheeses as it is the only one that can be fried without melting and losing its shape and firmness. Don’t worry if some of the brine comes out into the skillet as it will quickly evaporate, leaving crisp, crusty halloumi fingers that are tender inside. Likewise, nothing could be simpler or more delicious than crisply fried salty feta straight out of the pan. Any clear aromatic Greek honey works well and you can eat it with any seasonal fruit.”

    Preparation time: 10 minutes

    Cooking time: 15–20 minutes

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    For the fried halloumi fingers:

    • 4 tablespoons plain flour
    • 2 tablespoons za’atar
    • good pinch of garlic powder
    • 350g halloumi
    • olive oil, for shallow-frying
    • 1 teaspoon sumac
    • handful of coriander, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
    • 250g Greek yogurt, chilled
    • hot sauce, e.g. Sriracha or harissa, for swirling

    For the fried feta saganaki:

    • 400g feta cheese
    • 3 medium free-range eggs, beaten
    • 100g plain flour
    • olive oil, for shallow-frying
    • 3 tablespoons Greek thyme honey
    • 6 figs or small peaches, halved
    • lemon wedges, to serve

    Method

    To make the fried halloumi fingers, combine the flour, za’atar, and garlic powder in a shallow bowl or plate. Cut the halloumi into 12 fat ‘fingers’ and toss them in the flour mixture until lightly dusted.

    Heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan over medium–high heat. Working in batches, fry the halloumi fingers in the hot oil for 1–2 minutes on each side, or until crisp and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Lightly dust with the sumac.

    Transfer the halloumi to a shallow serving bowl, sprinkle with coriander and drizzle the pomegranate molasses over the top. In a separate small bowl, swirl a spoonful of hot sauce through the Greek yogurt. Serve immediately, alongside the halloumi.

    For the fried feta saganaki, cut the feta into 4 equal-size pieces, about ¾-inch/2-cm thick. Dip them into the beaten egg and then coat entirely with flour.

    Heat the olive oil in a frying pan until very hot. Add 2 pieces of feta and fry for 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Cook the remaining feta in the same way.

    Serve the hot feta immediately, drizzled with honey, with the figs or peaches on the side and some lemon wedges for squeezing.

    Variations

    Try sprinkling the halloumi with chilli powder, cayenne pepper, or smoked paprika.

    Add some sesame seeds to the flour before coating and frying the feta.

    Serve the fried feta on top of a salad of bitter leaves or even a traditional Horiatiki Greek salad.

  • Fish keftedes in mustard and dill

    Georgina Hayden says: “Not an authentic keftedes recipe, but (a hugely popular) one I developed for my half pescatarian family. It combines the Greek love of fritters and meatballs with mustard sauce – a common addition to souvlakia or gyro.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
    • ½ a bunch of flat-leaf parsley
    • 100g fresh breadcrumbs
    • 600g white fish fillets – such as cod, haddock or pollock – skinless and boneless
    • 2 large eggs
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • olive oil
    • 4 spring onions
    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 2 teaspoons French mustard
    • 400ml crème fraîche
    • 1 tablespoon capers
    • ½ a bunch of dill

    Method

    Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. Grind the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, then transfer to a food processor. Roughly chop the parsley and add to the processor along with the breadcrumbs, then pulse once. Cut the fish into small chunks, add and blitz until just blended together. Crack in the eggs, season well and pulse once or twice, till everything is just combined. 

    Roll the mixture until small balls, around 3–4cm. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large ovenproof frying pan and place on a medium heat. Fry the fish balls on all sides until golden brown and crisp all over, then spoon onto a plate.

    Trim and finely slice the spring onions, peel and finely chop the garlic. Drizzle a little more olive oil into the pan and sauté the spring onions and garlic for 10 minutes on a low heat, then stir in the mustard and crème fraîche. 

    Heat for a couple of minutes, then season and pop the fish balls back in. Scatter over the capers and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Finely chop the dill, scatter over the dish and serve. Perfect with a stack of pita breads and a big chopped salad.

  • Orzo and pesto pasta salad

    Heather Thomas says: “At first glance orzo looks like grains of rice, but it’s actually a tiny pasta made from durum semolina wheat. It’s widely eaten in Greece and features in many hot dishes, as well as salads.”

    Preparation time: 10 minutes.

    Cooking time: 8 minutes

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 300g orzo (dry weight)
    • 2 tablespoons fruity green olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 4 tablespoons green pesto
    • 50g pine nuts
    • 80g baby spinach leaves
    • 250g cherry or baby plum tomatoes, quartered
    • 120g feta cheese, crumbled
    • 6 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
    • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Method

    Cook the orzo according to the instructions on the packet. Drain well and toss in the olive oil. Let cool until it’s just lukewarm.

    Mix the vinegar and lemon juice into the pesto, then gently combine with the warm orzo in a large bowl.

    Stir in the pine nuts, spinach, tomatoes, feta, and olives. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature, drizzled with olive oil.

    Variations

    Use rocket instead of spinach. Add some chopped spring onions or red onion. To make this more substantial, mix in some canned chickpeas or beans. Add some Greek basil leaves or chopped parsley.

Taverna by Georgina Hayden (£25, Square Peg) and The Greek Vegetarian Cookbook by Heather Thomas (£24.95, Phaidon) are both out now

Photography: Haraala Hamilton; Kristen Perers

Share this article

Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.