Who knows if Greece will be able to make a repeat of their winning performance at Euro 2004? After losing 3-0 to Colombia in their first game the signs aren’t good, but there’s no better cuisine to eat while watching the footie than Greek food. Full of flavour and vibrant colours, and always great for sharing.
The Greek diet is regarded as one of the healthiest in the world because it’s based largely around fruit and vegetables, wholegrains pasta and rice, fish, and a small amount of cheese and yoghurt. Non-meat protein sources include beans and legumes like fava, split peas and lentils are also a popular staple, usually used in soups, stews and salads. You might notice these array of foods don’t differ hugely from what I regard as a healthy balanced diet.
The Greeks are also famous for their love of olive oil, which is lower in saturated fat than butter, so a good choice for cooking. If you’ll forgive some geeky science, recent evidence published by the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal shows that the combination of olive oil and leafy salad or vegetables is what gives the Mediterranean diet its healthy edge, because the formation of nitro fatty acids between the two food groups lowers blood pressure. So I recommend that as a side whatever you’re eating!
Sadly though, even Greece appears to have become a victim to the global obesity epidemic and has struggled to stick to its healthy lifestyle and image. According to the World Health Organisation, 33% of 11-year-old boys and girls in Greece are overweight, which is actually the highest prevalence in Europe.
It’s likely down to the pop up of fast food outlets in the major cities and increased access to processed food high in fat, sugar and salt. Also, if you’ve ever tried saganaki – basically a fried hard cheese – then you’ll know it’s a wildly indulgent dish, but delicious all the same. A nod should also be given to tiropita, otherwise known as cheese pie.
For some delicious Greek-inspired recipes to eat when the footie is on, my favourite is Jamie Oliver’s twist on Greek chicken with couscous, which everyone can tuck in to and help themselves.
What do you need?
For the couscous:
- 1 mug (300g) of couscous;
- 2 mixed-colour peppers;
- 1 fresh red chilli;
- 4 spring onions;
- ½ a bunch of fresh dill;
- 200 g podded raw or frozen peas;
- 1 small handful of black olives (stone in);
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil;
- 40 g feta cheese.
For the chicken:
- 2 x 200 g skinless higher-welfare chicken breasts;
- 1 heaped teaspoon dried oregano;
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice;
- 1 lemon;
- olive oil.
For the tzatziki:
- ½ a cucumber;
- 250 g fat-free natural yoghurt;
- ½ a lemon;
- ½ a bunch of fresh mint.
How to prepare the Greek chicken recipe?
- Put 1 mug of couscous and 2 mugs of boiling water into a bowl with a pinch of salt and cover.
- On a large sheet of greaseproof paper, toss the chicken with salt, pepper, the oregano, allspice and finely grated lemon zest.
- Fold over the paper, then bash and flatten the chicken to 1.5cm thick with a rolling pin.
- Put into the frying pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, turning after 3 or 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
- Using a box grater, coarsely grate the cucumber.
- Sprinkle it with a good pinch of salt, then squeeze and scrunch with clean hands to get rid of the excess salty water.
- Pop in a bowl with the yoghurt, juice of ½ a lemon and a pinch of pepper, finely chop and add the top leafy half of the mint, then mix together.
- Remove the stalk and seeds from the peppers and chilli, then pulse in the processor with the trimmed spring onions and the dill until finely chopped.
- Scatter over a large tray or platter.
- Add the peas to the veg (if using frozen peas, blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes first), destone and tear over the olives, then squeeze over the juice of the zested lemon and add the extra virgin olive oil.
- Fluff up and scatter over the couscous, toss well and season to taste.
- Move the cooked chicken to a board, slice it up, then lay it around the couscous.
- Crumble over the feta and serve with the tzatziki.
This Greek chicken recipe contains 4 servings and each serving has about 700 calories. So be careful with the portions if you’re on diet or just want to maintain your silhouette.
I’m not sure of Greece’s chances of winning the Fifa World Cup 2014, but they certainly win when it comes to the dinner table.