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August 10, 2015

Greek Food Showing Up On More Menus

Beet hummus is one of the latest Greek-inspired food trends. Greece may be making headlines these days for a lot more than yogurt, but that’s not stopping Greek food lovers from enjoying the fruits of Greek labor. From Greek wines to fanciful desserts, Greek food is enjoying a renaissance as part of the healthful benefits of a Mediterranean diet and the excitement over the long awaited sequel to a popular 2002 movie. Here’s where growth in this market is occurring:

1)     The spirits market: Ouzo, the anise-flavored aperitif and retsina, the wine of pine-lovers everywhere, may not be for the faint of heart, but wine lovers were saying opa! as news of the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding was announced.

Aside from those two Greek spirits, though, the focus now is on Greek whites: Assyrtiko from the volcanic soils of Santorini, has long been popular but it’s now being released in delicious blends as  Greek wine makers have found that Assyrtiko plays well with other grapes.   

Craft cocktail makers at the trendiest bars are also launching libations featuring mastiha, a liqueur seasoned with mastic, a resin from a small tree that’s native to the Mediterranean region. The name of the resin and the liqueur is derived from the Greek “to chew.” The flavor is a refreshing combination of cucumber, pine, anise and fresh herbs.

2)      Greek fast casual: Although most major cities have at least one or two neighborhood Greek restaurants, the fast casual market is ripe for Greek food. GRK Greek Kitchen in Chicago offers pita and wraps, choices of fillings, and traditional Greek favorites such as spanakopita in the restaurant style that has become the hottest trend in dining.

3)      Greek salad: A refreshing change from the ubiquitous Caesar salad, the authentic Greek salad is more of a composed salad without lettuce. Instead it has tomatoes, black olives, oregano and   feta cheese on top. Some non-Mediterranean restaurants have made the Greek salad into their “house” salad, garnishing it with dolmades and adding interest to their menu without much extra effort.

4)      Feta and other Greek cheeses:  Feta is almost as ubiquitous as goat cheese these days because of its many uses. But there are other cheeses from the region that are making inroads. Halloumi cheese (a goat and sheep’s milk cheese that is actually a product of Cypress) has long been used in Greek cooking. Word has gotten out that Halloumi can be placed on a grill and browned without losing its shape or melting into the fire. Food lovers are finding new ways to add the “grilled” cheese to their favorite dishes. A summer issue of Bon Appetit magazine featured a winning combination of Halloumi mixed with another “hot” ingredient – Israeli couscous and grilled corn.   

5)      Hummus: Yes it’s been an appetizer staple for years now, but as customers seek out new flavors, restaurants are testing more inventive hummus varieties. Over the past few months we’ve seen pizza hummus, beet hummus, white bean hummus, coconut curry hummus, and even chocolate-covered strawberry hummus (not our favorite, we must admit). The base for this dish is so simple—basically chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil—it makes it a perfect canvas for layering unique flavors. We love tasting them all… but we’ll probably stick to the savory side from now on.

6)      The gyro: We used to think of this as basic street food, but after we passed by the fifth booth serving up freshly carved lamb topped with creamy tzataziki and slapped into a pita at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show , we realized the dish is back in a big way.

7)      Beyond baklava: Although everyone immediately thinks of filo for baklava, there are hundreds of ways to use the thin prepared dough for desserts and savories (check out this Sweet Onion Baklava recipe). A traditional Greek custard pie is make of filo dough with a custard filling that has been thickened with semolina, the endosperm of coarse durum wheat, giving the custard a distinct texture. Filo is also packaged in a shredded form that can be used to nestle some of the lesser known Greek desserts.

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