Geeking out in Greece: Greek recipes for vegans

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Greece has saturated the travelshere with its picturesque white walls and blue waters. It is the traveler’s destination of choice these days and everybody is googling ‘Greek recipes.”

With the combination of majestic islands, ancient ruins and Mediterranean cuisine, it is no wonder that Greece has become THE place to visit for the last 3 years. Tourism is booming!

Although the economic situation in Greece is not a positive topic, it does provide affordable rates that can turn a dream European vacation into a reality. Where else in the world can you combine beach life, ancient history and delicious vegan dining?

Athens

Athens is home to the praise-worthy Acropolis along with several other ruins and temples dating back to 400 BC. This big city is saturated in restaurants offering both traditional Greek cuisine and other worldly flavors like Japanese, Italian, Mexican and Middle Eastern.

Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are plentiful and health-food stores are everywhere. Athens is a big city so don’t visit here expecting a culture shock but it is a great place to soak up history and indulge in some plant-based perfection.

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The Greek Islands

The islands of Greece are all unique and each has its own vibe and story.

I recently visited Crete, Santorini and Mykonos, all wildly different but having one common denominator: Good vegan food.

Aside from the main staples of the Mediterranean diet (olive oil, veggies and fish), I knew very little about traditional Greek cuisine before spending a month in this country. I took several cooking classes while visiting to learn first-hand what I was indulging.

There are not many vegetarian or vegan restaurants on the islands BUT they aren’t needed. You can easily avoid animal products by ordering off the main menu. Here are a few staples that I found on most menus that support a plant-based diet.

Appetizers

Big Beans: (Broad beans) These are giant beans in a tomato sauce or olive oil with herbs. They are usually served whole but maybe mashed to create a spread or dip.

Boiled Greens: Local lettuce boiled and served wilted with olive oil and a lemon wedge. Lettuce may be dandelion greens, mustards greens, chicory or a mix.

Dako: Bread with olive oil, tomato paste, oregano and cheese. Make sure to ask for no cheese to get the vegan version. This is a traditional breakfast dish.

Dolmades: (stuffed vine leaves, stuffed grape leaves, dolmadakia) Dolmades are a rice and herb mixture rolled into a grape leaf. The rice mixture can vary but typically has grated tomatoes, fennel, parsley, mint, oregano and onion. They are served with a sauce which are both vegetarian but not vegan—
Tzatziki: Greek yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, vinegar, seasoning
Lemon Sauce: Lemon, egg yolks, corn starch
*You can ask for no sauce and they are just as delicious or drizzle with olive oil.

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Eggplant Salad: (Eggplant dip, aubergine salad, aubergine dip) Eggplant purée mixed with garlic, parsley, olive oil and, occasionally, peppers.
*Some eggplant salads contain feta cheese so if you are vegan, ask before ordering. It is pre-made so if it does have cheese, a vegan version ain’t happening.
 Insider tip— Santorini island is known for its white eggplant. They are a rare form and taste sweeter. Not all restaurants serve them so you will have to do some research by calling or message me for the places to go. The eggplant dip made with white eggplant was by far my favorite!

More appetizers…

Fava: (bean spread, mashed split peas) Fava is a traditional appetizer of Santorini but is eaten throughout the country. It is similar to hummus in texture but not in taste. Fava are tiny lentils that are cooked, mixed with puréed carrots and onions and then drizzled with olive oil.

Greek salad: Tomato, cucumber, onion, oregano, olives, feta cheese and, occasionally, capers with olive oil.
*Some Greek salads serve the cheese in large wedges on top of the salad so try asking for no cheese. Otherwise, the cheese id throughout in and may be hard to separate.

Garlic dip: (garlic spread, garlic salad) Mashed potatoes, garlic and salt. Strong and delicious. Insider tip- make sure your company is getting down on it too 😉

Grilled mushrooms: Often with lemon, garlic and/or balsamic glaze.

Grilled Vegetables: Peppers, eggplant, zucchini and onion with olive oil and/or balsamic glaze.

Olives: Obvious…

Peppers: Marinated sweet red peppers or spicy green peppers. If spicy, it usually says “spicy peppers.”

Tomato fritters: (tomato balls, tomato croquettes) Delightful nuggets of heaven. Herbs, onions, tomatoes and flour, fried in oil.

Zucchini flowers: Stuff zuchini flowers with a rice and herb mixture, usually bake but may fry.

Zucchini fritters: (zucchini balls, zucchini croquettes) Cousins to the tomato fritters. Same concept. Different veggie.

Entrees

Briam: Similar to a ratatouille, briam is mixed veggies including zucchini, potatoes, eggplant and optional others in a tomato base topped with herbs.

Gemista: (stuffed tomatoes) Tomatoes stuffed with a rice and herb mixture traditionally served with baked potato wedges. Notice the pattern? They stuff A LOT of things with the same rice and herb mix which is rad for vegan life!

Stifado: Stifado is a stew so expect soft textures and deep flavors. There are many meat stifados but I came across several vegan versions including a chestnut stifado that was so different and delightful.

Moussaka, unfortunately, is not traditionally vegan. Moussaka is a noodle-less lasagna of potatoes, eggplant and zucchini. There are many restaurants that offer a vegetarian version but the top of the dish is a béchamel dairy sauce. If you do your research, you may find a vegan version like I did in Crete.

Dessert

A fully vegan dessert can be tricky in Greece as honey is the go-to sweetener.

Baklava, the OG of Greek sweet, is made with nuts and filo dough BUT almost always (unless it claims vegan) made with honey.

Halva is a semolina pudding, mixed with orange, cinnamon, and/or raisins. When ordering halva, you will have to ask because sometimes it is sweetened with honey and other recipes rely on sugar.

Lokma are basically fried donuts. Oh yeah! Again, always check to make sure they don’t drizzle with honey.

On a happier note, I managed to find dairy-free gelato all over the place so my sweet tooth was well taken care of!

Extra info for gluten-free guys and gals

The following dishes are NOT gluten-free. Everything else above is traditionally made gluten-free. If you have an allergy or intolerance, always check with the staff first as some dishes may be made outside of the traditional recipes.

Vegan life in Greece is truly easy and enjoyable. After spending a month traveling across the country, I had the opportunity to experience different islands, different restaurants and different dishes. One tip when ordering is to consider an array of appetizers. This was so much fun for me and my friends because we got to try tons of different dishes and, as you can see by the list above, the appetizer section is saturated in vegan options so you won’t be limited. Safe travels and delicious dinning to you my friend.