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The mythological Purple Queen who forged Greek gastronomy

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

The charm of a land rich in art and roots of contemporary history. The epic of mythology and its nature. The fretfulness of colors and the spicy note of its cuisine rich in influences that have marked it deeply. This is Greece in a nutshell.

Its gastronomy is the result of centuries of exchanges with other Mediterranean peoples, who enriched its tradition and dishes with new ingredients, techniques and recipes.

It was the Turks and the Arabs who left the clearest mark on the mainly island cuisine that we still see and taste to this day on the tables of the thousands of Greek restaurants. A mark furrowed by four centuries of Ottoman occupation that ended in the 19th century.

These cultures introduced the intense, smooth purple of the eggplant, the surprising vitality of spices such as curry, cumin and cinnamon. The indispensable nowadays sweetness of patries made of phyllo dough and honey. Never forgetting the kebabs, the pungent tzatziki sauce, dolmades and baklava, which have become an integral part of Greek cuisine.

The eggplant, that's right, is symbolic of Greek vegetables, native to India but becoming queen in the Mediterranean after arriving in these lands thanks to the Ottomans. By the Greeks it is called "melitzana" (μελιτζάνα). If you were to imagine a menu based on this vegetable, think moussaka, a lasagna of eggplant, minced meat and bechamel; briam, a casserole of baked eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes; or dolmades, vine leaf rolls stuffed with rice or minced meat.

With a little creativity and flair, I want to try to imagine a tasting menu starring this versatile vegetable, perhaps sitting on one of those beautiful terraces overlooking the endless Aegean surrounded by the dazzling but comforting white of the island's buildings.

A carafe of Agiorgitiko, a typical Peloponnesian grape variety, with its ruby color and notes of cherry and spice, a fresh, light wine ùand the gold of oil reflecting on the still-white tablecloth.

Starting with mezze, small plates to share, including tzatziki, melitzanosalata, a sauce made from roasted eggplant, dolmades, vine leaf rolls stuffed with rice and with a pita, a soft, flat bread. We accompany everything with ouzo, the typical Greek anisate liquor.

Greek-style eggplant pastitsio is a casserole of stale bread soaked in milk, fried eggplant, tomato,cheese.

Or a briam, a casserole of baked eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes, seasoned with oil, oregano and garlic. Very light but full of all the flavor of the vegetables and spices of Greek gastronomy.

And finally a melitzanopita, a phyllo dough cake filled with eggplant caramelized with sugar, cinnamon and cloves. An original dessert that enhances with an unusual combination the purple eggplant with spices and the typical pastry dough from this corner of the world.

We are at the end and a Mavrodaphne, amber-colored with scents of dried fruits, honey and caramel is the perfect pairing to end this imaginary culinary journey.

What would you add to this menu? What island do you imagine being on when you think of a culinary experience like this?

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