Fine dining in Ancient Greece

We have all heard of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet—but it amused me to find out how far back this goes. What did people in antiquity eat?

The Ancient Greeks were not big eaters like the Romans. In fact they mocked the Persians, who were very much into gastronomy, and considered them gluttons. They believed eating was for the delectation of the palate, not for overfilling the stomach.

They ate a great variety of foods, but in small quantities. Most frugal were the Spartans, who on a daily basis subsided on a cup of Melas Zomos (black broth, made with pork, salt, vinegar and blood) and a piece of bread, and for special occasions ate boiled pork, accompanied by pies and wine.

For the rest breakfast, Akratisma, was very light, consisting of barley bread dipped in wine, with a few olives and figs—often accompanied by a drink called kykeon, made with boiled barley flavoured with mint or thyme.

Around midday they partook of the Ariston, another light meal usually of fish such as sardines, anchovies, mullet or eels; pulses such as lentils, peas, and broad beans; bread, eggs, fruits and nuts.

An occasional afternoon snack, the Hesperisma, consisted of bread, olives and dried fruit.

Deipnon, taken in the evening, was the most important meal of the day. That is when meat was eaten, especially by wealthy families; mostly pork and beef, as well as venison, and wild birds such as quail and thrush. This was the time, after dark, when wealthy families also held banquets, Symposia, served by their slaves. The women usually ate apart. The meal would be followed by deserts flavoured with honey, somewhat like a modern baklava.

Olive picking

Ancient Greeks loved all kinds of breads, and also ate snails, which were cooked in Crete since the reign of Minos. They grew vegetables in their gardens, and foraged for foods such as mushrooms, asparagus and nettles. Fruit played a large part in their diet, but they were limited to pomegranates, cherries, pears, apples, figs, plums, and mullberries—there were no bananas, peaches, citrus fruits or potatoes, which were imported later.

Kitchen shelves would be well stocked with spices and herbs: oregano, basil, mint, thyme, coriander, capers and sesame were all used to flavour dishes, together with sea salt and olive oil. Another flavouring was gáros, a sauce or condiment made out of fermented fish, a little like Worcestershire sauce. Food was quite light, since it was mostly baked, meat was roasted on spits, and deserts sweetened with honey—there was no sugar or cocoa. Milk and cheese were also consumed, as well as oxygala, a form of yogurt.

Wine was drunk mostly mixed with water, and was widely traded, like olive oil.

Fisherman with his catch. From a Minoan fresco.

While wealthy Greeks were able to afford elaborate banquets—the aforementioned Symposia—which boasted a wide variety of fine meats, the average person lived very frugally. However, their diet was still quite varied and based on fresh produce, and therefore healthy. As for the Symposia, some were the scenes of learned philosophical and literary discussions, while others were more like rowdy parties with hired performers and other forms of entertainment.

Horiatiko Phyllo

Introducing My Kitchen Witch, the blog of Debi, an American based in Athens. Delicious recipes!

An Evolving Life

The first element to consider in any Greek pie is the pastry – in this case, homemade phyllo pastry. It is often refered to as horiatiko phyllo, village phyllo, and is generally thicker than the machine-made store bought stuff. Pie fillings vary, but a popular one is based on seasonal greens. Here – as an example – I’ve made little pies (pitakia) with tsigarista, a winter dish of sautéed wild greens. It really doesn’t matter what you fill your little pies with, this post is primarily about the homemade phyllo!

Homemade Phyllo
When making Phyllo for a sweet pie, a teaspoon or two of sugar is added with the flour.

  • 1kg flour
  • pinch salt
  • 30ml red wine vinegar
  • 60ml olive oil
  • Up to 500ml water

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the vinegar and oil…

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Hints of summer

The weather has been unstable lately, and we actually had a nice storm a few days ago. However,  summer is not far off.

Time for lunch by the sea.






Or dinner – pure magic.




A mini break on some nearby island.

Andros Hora. Photo by Mariella Edgerly

Andros, with its lovely town and ruined Venetian fort. A mere two hours from Athens.

Andros Hora. Photo by Mariella Edgerly
Andros Hora. Photo by Mariella Edgerly


The jacaranda is in bloom, but not for much longer. This is Rigillis street in Athens.



The bougainvillea is out.







The oleanders are starting up,







So is the lavender,



And the geraniums.



And it looks like we’ll be getting plenty of figs later on.



Does anyone know what this flower is called?




Fast(ing) Food

To a lot of people Lent means giving up something they love, such as meat, or chocolate, or cigarettes. It’s all about self-denial. In the Greek Orthodox religion there are strict rules that govern fasting around religious holidays. For example, the week before Clean Monday and the beginning of Lent is called the Cheese-eater (Τυροφάγου – Tyrofagou): in order to start cleansing the body and preparing it for Lent, you give up meat but are still allowed dairy products. Then during the 40 days of Lent there are some days when olive oil is allowed and others not, culminating in Agia Evdomada (Αγία Εβδομάδα – Holy Week) which is the week before Easter and the strictest of all.


One of my favourite Lent dishes, artichokes with broad beans
One of my favourite Lent dishes, artichokes with broad beans


People follow these rules more or less strictly, depending on their upbringing, personality and circumstances. Some believe in self-denial and make do with a couple of boiled potatoes or lentils boiled in water. But the human spirit tends to find ways to make the best of things; and so a whole cuisine has blossomed around the Lent fast. These foods are called Nistisima (νηστίσιμα) in Greek.

On Clean Monday only, bakers make lagana, a special unleavened flat bread, light and crusty, sprinkled with sesame seeds. The origins of the bread and its name are lost in the depths of time, but it goes great with the ubiquitous taramosalata , a dip made of salted and cured cod’s roe, whipped with breadcrumbs or boiled potato, olive oil and lemon juice.


Delicious rice balls wrapped in vine leaves
Dolma – Delicious rice balls wrapped in vine leaves, and a bowl of taramosalata.

The menu also comprises seafood like cuttlefish, octopus, shrimp and mussels, which can be simply grilled and served with oil and lemon, or braised with tomatoes and mixed with rice or pasta. There are black-eyed beans, spicy giant beans baked with tomato, and dolma, rice wrapped in vine leaves; loads of vegetable dishes in various combinations, and lovely fresh salads.

As for dessert, again we have developed many recipes for cakes and cookies that conform to the rules (no dairy). And there is always χαλβάς (halvas) similar to the Arabic “halwa”, which is made of tahini, sesame paste, and sugar, to which are sometimes added pistachio nuts or cocoa. This you buy ready-made at the baker’s or supermarket and it is served sliced thinly, sometimes accompanied by slices of apple sprinkled with cinnamon. It is extremely sweet, and so nourishing it could sustain polar explorers on their journeys!



Peppers stuffed with vegetables and rice


The monastic life entails many days of fasting (the monks never eat meat), and so it is not surprising that monks are adept at this cuisine. Monks can make as brilliant cooks as anyone, and I’ve heard plenty of stories of memorable meals eaten by people visiting Mount Athos in particular. Mount Athos is an autonomous monastic state within the Hellenic Republic, where 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries are home to over 2,000 monks from Greece and other countries.

They live an ascetic life, isolated from the world, but they get a lot of visitors: some are on a religious pilgrimage, others come because of the extraordinary beauty of the monasteries and the nature surrounding them. Many are interested in the rich collections of well-preserved artifacts, rare books, ancient documents, and artworks of immense historical value. Finally there are people who want to sample what they see as the simple life, even for a short while.
Unfortunately no women are allowed within the borders of Agion Oros (the Holy Mountain), as it is called. But I looked up their fascinating site and found a whole recipe book of Nistisima in both Greek and Englishwith accompanying photographs.


This image can be used for personal use only. No commercial use allowed.
Chickpeas with aubergines


There is a huge selection and most recipes are quite simple to prepare, although the translation can be slightly excentric (but use your imagination, people!)  I encourage everyone to browse, (click here), but I have copied a couple of the recipes as a sampler.





500 gr. of split yellow peas
1/5 litre of water
1 onion
2 potatoes
2 peppers
1 tea cup of olive oil
4-5 fresh chopped onions
1 bunch of chopped dill or oregano
some lemon juice

Put the split peas, the water, the chopped onion, the potatoes, the chopped peppers and half of the oil in a pressure cooker.
When they have softened, blend. Put in a serving plate and sprinkle with the fresh chopped onions and the dill or oregano. Pour over a little oil and lemon. Serve warm or cold, with bread.



Semolina Cake
Ingredients: ½ cup tahini –  ¾ cup water – ¼ cup lemon juice – 2 cups sugar – 1 cup orange juice – 1 cup water – 1 teaspoon cinnamon – ½ teaspoon carnation (they mean powdered cloves!) –  3 ½ cups semolina – 1 cup blanched almonds.

For the syrup: 3 cups sugar – 2 ½ cups of water – 1 tablespoon lemon juice – 2 cinnamon sticks.  Preparation: Beat tahini and ¾ cup water with the lemon juice until it turns white. Successively add sugar, orange juice, water, cinnamon, carnation (cloves) and mixing the semolina mixture. Pour into pan (40×35 cm) and sprinkle almonds over the surface. Bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup by boiling all the ingredients together until thickened. Let cool and as soon as the semolina pie comes out of the oven, pour over immediately.

The monks even have an e-shop selling various products. Their recipes are full of good ideas for vegetarians, but also for everyone else. All the photographs are from their site.

A carnivore’s feast day

The word tsikna (τσίκνα) means ‘pungent smoke from grilled meats’ – it’s what your clothes smell like when you return from a taverna or barbecue. Today is Tsiknopempti (Τσικνοπέμπτη) – literally the ‘Thursday of grilled meat smoke’, a Greek tradition beloved by all carnivores, since it entails an orgy of grilled meats.

We are now in the middle of the three weeks of Apokries (Απόκριες – Carnival) preceding Lent and a fast of 40 days before Easter. Little kids in fancy dress can be seen walking in the streets, on their way to various parties. Tonight people will either descend upon tavernas – better reserve, since even your local is bound to be overbooked – or congregate in homes around someone (usually a man) priding himself on his barbecuing skills.
Every full-blooded Greek considers the Tsiknopempti feast his unalienable right, not to be spoilt by any vegetarian, cardiologist or fish-eater.





The menu on offer usually comprises the following:

*Burgers, kebabs, sausages, lamb and pork cutlets, and steaks. Maybe chicken pieces.
The meat has to be top class and seasoned with salt, pepper and oregano. It will be accompanied by: Cut lemons to be squeezed over according to taste. Tzatziki – a yogurt and garlic sauce. Mustard, ketchup and mayo.

*Fries. They have to be home cut and cooked in olive oil.




*Salads. A xoriatiki  (Greek salad) with tomato, cucumber, plenty of onions, and tons of feta cheese. A green salad for freshness. A shredded cabbage and carrot salad dressed with olive oil and lemon.

*Bread – pita and slices of country loaf, brushed with olive oil, grilled and sprinkled with oregano.

*Plenty to drink. Beer, of course; wine, red and white (some like retsina, a white whine flavored with pine resin – a strong, old-fashioned, acquired taste); ouzo, raki and other spirits.

*A selection of desserts, the sweeter the better. Baklava full of nuts and drenched in honey syrup, something chocolate.




All of this engenders a lot of discussion and theory:

-I see you didn’t go to the butcher I told you about.
-Do we have enough coal?
-Have you lit the coal? We don’t want to eat at midnight.
-If the meat is good enough, it doesn’t need marinating.
-No, no, pancetta should be marinated in beer.
-Don’t be stingy with the salt and pepper.
-Or with the garlic in the tzatziki.
-The sausages have to be eaten first.
-Someone has to be in charge of the fries.
-Someone has to keep the cook supplied with drink.
-Someone has to praise the cook.

Suggestion: Better lay in a supply of antacids for after dinner and/or plan a week’s detox.

But, meanwhile, Kali Orexi! (Καλή Όρεξη – Bon Appetit)

The images are from the blog which has a very amusing article on Tsiknopempti, for those who speak Greek. 

Greek cuisine

I love food, all kinds of food. Gourmet food, soul food, street food, ethnic food, home cooking. So I thought it would be amusing to do a little research on Greek cuisine, because it’s fun to think we have a lot of the same things on our plate as Plato (forgive the pun!)

Some Greek recipes have existed for thousands of years, especially those including local produce such as oranges and lemons, pomegranates, tomatoes, grapes, figs. And, of course, olive oil – our liquid gold.

Lentil soup flavored with bay leaf
Lentil soup flavored with bay leaf


The first cookbook ever to be written is credited to Archestratus, a Greek poet living in Sicily around 350 B. C. It’s a poem called Υδηπάθεια (Life of Luxury) written in hexameters, of which only 62 fragments survive. The poem is in fact a gastronomic guide, where the author tells of his travels around the Mediterranean in search of the best food and wine. Like today’s foodies, Archestratus loved learning the culinary traditions and customs of different places. He believed in the importance of quality ingredients, which had to be fresh and in season, and cooked simply, with little fat, using seasoning lightly in order to enhance and not mask their flavor.
He focused mainly on fish, being a big fan of tuna, but also of mullet, sea bass, swordfish and squid. One of his recipes is for tuna wrapped in fig leaves, cooked under the ashes and flavored with olive oil and oregano.

But even before Archestratus, the Greeks were interested in good food. Aristaios (or Aristaeus) was the god of shepherds and cheese-making, bee-keeping, honey, honey-mead, olive growing and medicinal herbs. His name was derived from the Greek word aristos, “most excellent” or “most useful.” It seems he started life a mortal, but was made a god because of his services to mankind.

Χωριάτικη (Horiatiki) salad with feta and olives
Χωριάτικη (Horiatiki) salad with feta and olives


The Greeks invented bread; they made wine which they flavored with thyme, mint, cinnamon or honey and stored in clay pots, amphoras, which they marked with the year and origin. They drank their wine cut with water, to keep their wits about them, and thought drinking undiluted wine a barbarian custom.

They cultivated orchards of fruit and nut trees, and raised swine, goats, sheep
and cows, as well as chickens, ducks, geese and swans. They grew an abundance of vegetables and gathered myriad greens. Fish was essential to their diet but they ate little meat. They enhanced dishes with wild oregano and sage and imported cinnamon and pepper.

Fava with sausages
Fava with sausages


The Greek diet has been influenced by both the East and the West. In ancient times, the Persians introduced Middle Eastern foods, such as yogurt, rice, and sweets made from nuts, honey, and sesame seeds. When Rome invaded Greece, the Romans brought with them foods that are typical in Italy, such as pasta and sauces, and the thin phyllo pastry dough used to make sweet and savory pies. Then came the Ottoman conquerors, with assorted Central Asian dishes like rice pilaf and loukoum – Turkish Delight, flavoured with rose water. Arab influences added spices such as cumin, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves, and introduced coffee to Greece. Potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes were later brought from the New World.

For Greeks, food and eating did not just satisfy physical needs; it was primarily a social event. Plutarch, a Greek historian, said, “We do not sit at the table to eat… but to eat together”. This idea of conviviality has resulted in the meze tradition of sharing a multitude of small dishes, which has spread throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Pork with celery in an egg-and-lemon sauce
Pork with celery in an egg-and-lemon sauce


In Greece today you will still find all the foods that have been eaten through the ages: plates of fava, a puree of yellow split peas topped with wild capers, onions, or marinated sardines; tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and vine leaves stuffed with meat or rice, pine nuts, sultanas, cheese; λαδερά (ladera), vegetables braised in olive oil; meats simply grilled or cooked with tomatoes and wine; fish and seafood of all kinds; meats and greens encased in delicate phyllo pastry. Food is seasoned with sea salt, onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint, as well as cumin, cinnamon, allspice and chili pepper.

For dessert, the same phyllo pastry enfolds fruit and nuts and is bathed in honey syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon. A simple dish of yogurt is topped with walnuts and drizzled in honey. And there’s always fruit: apples, pears and citrus fruits in winter, cherries, apricots, strawberries in the spring, peaches, watermelons, melons and figs in summer, grapes, quinces and pomegranates in fall. Of course now you can get fruit out of season, as well as exotic fruits like bananas, pineapples and mangoes. But Greeks generally like to buy things in season.


Πρασόρυζο - leeks with rice
Πρασόρυζο – leeks with rice


Greek chefs today have taken this rich tradition and given it a modern twist. You will find them plying their trade in Athens, but also in other cities, on the islands and on the mountains. The success of the tourist trade, as well as the popularity of tv cooking shows has made the profession lucrative for many young people. They like to use local produce in season, bring a fresh take to old recipes, and also use ideas and influences from other countries.

Greece produces a wide variety of cheeses, from the ubiquitous feta and other soft, fresh cheeses, to hard cheeses such as γραβιέρα (graviera) and κεφαλοτύρι (kefalotyri). Every region also produces their own local cheeses – always ask to sample them when traveling.


Shrimp with tomato and feta
Shrimp with tomato and feta


The first Greek wine has been dated about 6,500 years ago, and, in recent years, the Greek wine industry has been undergoing a renaissance. Improvements have been made with serious investments in modern wine making technology. The new generation of native winemakers is being trained in the best wine schools around the world and their efforts are paying off as Greek wines continue to receive the highest awards in international competitions. What makes Greek wine so unique are the more than 300 indigenous grape varieties grown here, some of which have been cultivated since ancient times. Many well-known international grape varieties are also used in Greek wine making.

Greeks love to eat outdoors, and will do so all year round, weather permitting.
Following the tradition of hospitality, people will welcome you into their homes with a glass of water and a spoonful of γλυκό (glyko) – preserves made with fruit such as sour cherries or citrus peel, flowers such as rose petals and lemon tree buds, and also fruit and vegetables not yet ripe, such as tiny aubergines, green walnuts, tiny green mandarins and figs.

imageFor those interested in trying their hand at some Greek specialities, there are many good cookbooks in English. For example, the lovely series written by Diane Kochilas;


imageor Vefa’s Kitchen, the bible of Greek cuisine by the grande dame of Greek cooking.



There are also a few great blogs, such as Little Cooking Tips, which features delicious recipes. They kindly allowed me to borrow their lovely photographs of food, all of which could have been in Plato’s plate.

And, by the way, Bon appetit in Greek is Καλή Όρεξη (Kali Orexi)!

Discovery: a great blog about Greece

Chrysoula Manika – Chrissy for short – writes a stunning blog,  travel passionate, about traveling in Greece. I’m reblogging one of her posts, just to give you a taste. But do go and take a look, it’s full of great places to visit, restaurants and hotels; day trips, fun things to do, where to get street food; she even gives tips on what to pack!
5 reasons to visit Greece in winter
by Chrissy on November 22, 2015 in Travel Ideas
Greece is considered one of the top summer destinations worldwide. What is not widely known, is that Greece is a great winter destination as well, with many sites worth visiting and many activities worth doing. Here are some reasons why Greece makes the perfect winter destination.


Why you should visit Greece in Winter:

It’s cheaper

If you are traveling to Greece during winter you will see that everything is cheaper and especially in popular summer destinations. There are a lot of Greek islands that you can still visit in winter and although some hotels and restaurants do close, there are always some that are still open with very low rates compared to summer. Also the restaurants that stay open are the ones that the locals visit, so you are bound to eat some good food. So if you don’t have the Greek beaches in mind there are a few islands that can be easily visited in winter, for example Santorini, Crete, Syros, Corfu, Rhodes and Hydra to name a few. During winter all the air fares are cheaper as well, both domestic and international. I have recently booked a return air ticket from Athens to Santorini with only 30€.

imageold town of Corfu from harbour

Less crowded
During the busy summer season everything is crowded. The lines for the Acropolis are big. The little alleyways of the islands are filled with people. On the contrary during winter you will have a more enjoyable experience having the site just for yourselves and a few more. You shouldn’t worry about the weather either. Although it gets cold from December till February winters are usually milder compared to most countries.


imageme at lake Plastira
Nice cities to explore
Athens, the capital of Greece is a great destination all year round. You will see less tourists in winter and you will get the chance to observe the local life. Apart from Athens and its countless sites that you can visit there are other beautiful cities in Greece worth exploring, Thessaloniki in the north is a very vibrant city with many archaeological sites, a great food and shopping scene and a lively nightlife. Kavala located in the north of Greece as well, is a very picturesque seaside town built ampitheatrically with many sites worth visiting.



Great winter destinations to discover
Apart from the big cities and the Greek islands that one can visit during the winter, Greece has many popular winter destinations as well, with great natural beauty. The beautiful villages of Zagorohoria and the town of Kastoria in Epirus, Pelion villages, Arachova and lake Plastira near Meteora in Thessalia. Kalavryta, Mani and Nafplio in Peloponnese to mention a few. All these areas and many more make the perfect winter destination with their picturesque scenery, archaeological sites, incredible nature and local cuisine.


imageVathia village Mani

A variety of sports activities
Did you know that you can ski in Greece? There are a few big ski and snowboards centers in Greece like the one in Arachova and Kalavryta. Other sports activities include hiking trails in the mountainous regions, rafting in one of the country’s rivers and horseback riding. One of the world’s leading athletic event takes place in Athens every November, the Athens Marathon, where athletes from all over the world come to run the original classic route.


imageoutside Trikala
imageMakrinitsa village in Pelion

Now you know and you can too, arrange your winter visit to Greece.

Have you ever visited Greece in winter?

Did you like it?

Click on the blog name to get there – I’m sure you’ll find plenty to interest and tempt you!

A Christmas treat

After the success of my post on Christmas traditions in Greece, I thought the cooks amongst you might like to try making the butter cookies we call Kourambiedes. I found this recipe on a blog called Little Cooking Tips, which I highly recommend to those interested in Greek cooking. The authors, Mirella and Panos, post lots of yummy recipes accompanied by mouth-watering pictures. Here I re-blogged the whole post on Kourambiedes, so you can get a taste – of the blog, and the cookies! They have a unique crumbly texture and buttery taste. I like to make the cookies quite small, but that’s personnal preference.

Greek Christmas Butter Cookies: Kourambiedes
Photo and text by Panos Diotis and Mirella Kaloglou.

Calories (per serving): 206
Servings: 12+ slices/pieces
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Up until the last couple of weeks the weather was very kind to us here in Greece; lots of sunshine and warm temperatures allowed for long walks and enjoying the scenery.
If the leaves hadn’t fallen off the trees, one may had the impression it was spring, not autumn! This changed a few days ago and it seems that the winter is finally here. The first snow has fallen up in the mountains, especially in the north, helping us get into the festive mood, which is appropriate for Christmas and the New Year celebration!

Of course, the winter was already here, providing us with lots of its yummy fruits and veggies. We especially enjoyed the quinces, made quince spoon sweet (you can read more about spoon sweets here) and cooked a wonderful ancient Greek recipe with roasted pork and quinces, which Panos learned from his grandfather (and he learned it from his own grandfather before). It’s a very old recipe and of course we’ll share it in the blog at some point.

imageFresh carrots are also amazing this time of year, and a very versatile ingredient. We used them in soups (especially fasolada bean soup), in coleslaw, made carrot cakes, and so on and so forth:)

Another delicious sweet fruit you can enjoy this time of year is the persimmon. If you haven’t tried them before, you’re missing out. They usually have a mild aroma and are very juicy and sweet. They’re packed with vitamins and full of antioxidants. You should’ve seen us devouring those like we were kids, all smiling and making a mess.

imageDo you remember the green oranges back in the summer? Check them out in the photo of this post! Ripe and sweet, this year’s oranges are perhaps the best in years. And for some strange reason the trees in Evia were very generous, we got much more than we can eat, turn into jams, preserves etc. So we started sharing them with friend, like an Orange Santa, passing by on a weekly basis.

Speaking of Santa, we’re so excited the Christmas season is here! Greek Christmas food is delicious and full of memories of older times. Just like anywhere in the world where people celebrate this season, the food this time is special, is shared with family and friends and it’s this loving setting that sears those memories in our minds and makes them so unique.

The main ingredient of the season is pork. Back in the day people didn’t consume much meat, but they raised a pig which was slaughtered around Christmas and then shared in a large table with family and friends. Some of the parts were also used in sausages, while others were put in salt or were smoked, in order to preserve some of the meat for the next weeks. By the way if you’ve never tried Greek sausages, called Horiatiko Loukaniko, you must try them at least once!

Another popular recipe this time of year is chicken avgolemono (egg-lemon) soup. It’s a creamy delicious soup, usually including rice, which is served with lots of fresh ground pepper and artisan old-school bread. Even as we type those lines and remembered all about it, we’re drooling over the keyboard 🙂

imageA big part of the Greek Christmas tradition is of course the sweet treats:melomakarona, kourabiedes and diples. Melomakarona and kourabiedes are the most popular ones, and if you’re in Greece around Christmas you’re bound to fall in love with them. You will find them in every household, any pastry shop, even in super markets and grocery stores. When you’re a guest, you know you’ll be treated a melomakarono (singular for melomakarona) or a kourabies (singular for kourabiedes). And even though you most certainly will have tasted many of them already, you will devour this treat with pleasure.

Melomakarona and kourabiedes are traditionally a made at home. When we were kids ourselves, singing carols, many neighbors were giving us kourabiedes or melomakarona as a holiday treat. Back at home of course, we also had our families’ versions.

They’re pronounced “koo-ra-bee-ye-thes”, and yes, it’s not that easy for a non-Greek speaking person to say the word! But, if you only say “kourab-yeh” to any Greek, he will know what you’re asking for, and give you the proper cookie. With a big smile on his/her face.

imageThose traditional, shortbread butter cookies include almonds, lots of powdered sugar, vanilla and usually rosewater or other flower water.
Edible rosewater (or flower water), adds an amazing scent to those cookies. But we know it may be difficult to find in some places (it’s available online though). If you do buy it, you will make traditional kourabiedes with exceptional aroma. If you’re thinking that it’s something you’ll buy once and then it’ll stay on your pantry gathering dust, that’s not the case.

There are many recipes which call for rosewater, plus you can try it in cookies, cakes and other desserts you already bake and create something different and delicious! Try substituting vanilla with flower water and you’ll get the idea:)
People who may not like the aroma of rosewater or flower water may also try adding bitter almond liqueur (Amaretto) which also makes for wonderful kourabiedes.

The main ingredient for kourabiedes is of course, butter. You want to use the best quality butter you can afford in this recipe. It will define the texture and taste of the cookies. The traditional way to make kourabiedes is with sheep’s or goat’s milk butter. The flavor is a bit intense for any non-Greek, plus it’s a bit hard to find abroad. That’s why we used regular cow’s butter in this recipe. Feel free to use any type of butter you prefer, or even mix of butters (like half sheep’s butter and half cow’s butter). If you can get the famous – in Greece -Corfu butter give it a try, it’s pure, excellent quality butter.

imageRegarding the shape of those cookies, some people may be confused due to the variety. There are 3 main shapes for kourabiedes: thick round cookies, crescents and balls. We think the easiest and nicest are the thick round cookies, as the shape helps in stacking up the cookies in layers, as they’re traditionally served.
As for the size of the cookies, they may be large ones (about 40gr/1.5oz of dough per cookie), or smaller bite-size ones. The ones sold in pastry shops are usually bite-sized, and the homemade ones are usually larger.

So go ahead and give them a try! You won’t regret baking those, your home will be filled with the aroma of butter and rosewater, and you’ll enjoy dusting them with lots and lots of icing sugar. They’re both pretty and delicious! So follow the recipe below and make some festive Greek cookies!


– 500gr / 17.5oz / 1.1 lb (4 cups) all purpose flour
– 250gr / 9oz butter (2 sticks and 1/4), softened (room temperature, see preparation)
– 150gr / 5.5oz (1 1/4 cups) powdered sugar
– 150gr / 5.5oz (about 1 cup) almonds, unsalted and toasted
– 1 egg yolk (use a large egg)
– 1 teaspoon baking powder, and more for dusting the cookies
– 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla powder
– edible rosewater or other flower water

Remove the butter from the fridge at least a couple of hours before using it. This will allow it to soften. Chopping it to pieces also helps.

imageIf using raw almonds, place them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet/pan and bake them for 10-15 minutes at 180C/350F (preheated oven) (pic. 1). Grind the toasted almonds in small pieces, using a food processor. Do not grind them into powder.

imageMaking the cookies:

In a large bowl, beat the butter (pic.2) for 8-10 minutes, using a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed (until soft and fluffy, pic.3).

imageAdd the powdered sugar (pic.4) and beat for 10 more minutes until you get a “whipped cream” -like result (pic. 5).

imageAdd baking powder, vanilla (pic. 6) and mix with a rubber spatula. Add the egg yolk (pic. 7) and mix until it’s incorporated.

imageAdd 1 tablespoon of rosewater or flower water and mix (pic. 8). Start adding the flour (pic. 9), a couple of tablespoons at a time. Mix with the spatula each time you add some.

imageWhen you’ve added half the flour, you’ll get a fluffy, almost rubbery dough (pic. 10).
At this point add the rest of the flour at once, wear single-use gloves and start mixing with your hands (pic. 11). Do not overmix. Once the flour is incorporated,stop.
Important: USE the gloves in the recipe. It will help insulating the warmth of your hands (to avoid melting the butter as you mix).

imageAdd the ground almonds (pic. 12) and fold them into the dough. Shape the cookies (pic. 13). If using 40gr/1.5oz of dough per cookie, you’ll make about 25 cookies.

imagePlace the cookies in a lined baking dish/pan (pic. 14) and bake for 15-18 minutes in the middle rack (use the oven fan in preheated oven). Remove from the oven,let them cool for 2-3 minutes, and then place them on a rack to dry out (pic. 15). Let them to cool completely.

imageSpray them with rosewater or flower water (pic. 16) and dust them with powdered sugar (pic. 17). Be generous with both.

Your yummy treats are ready, place them in cookie box or a cake stand with a lid, in layers.
Kala Christougenna and Kali Chronia!

1. You can use sheep, goat or cow butter or mix them. In any case, choose high quality butter for this recipe.
2. You can shape the kourabiedes in thick round cookies (like we did here), crescents or balls.
3. Leave a little space between the cookies before you bake them, as they will expand during baking.
4. If you want to make more cookies, feel free to double the ingredients above. The result is exactly the same.
5. If you don’t like rosewater or flower water (or can’t find any), add some vanilla powder in the icing sugar when you dust the cookies at the end of the recipe.
6. Always wear single-use gloves when you mix the dough and shape the cookies, to insulate the heat from your hands.


Try making these for Christmas or the New Year!

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