From the opening ceremonies of the Summer Games televised Friday to the closing ceremonies on Aug. 26, there's plenty of time to explore Greek cuisine. Start planning your menus with Greek foods in mind: This will give new meaning to TV dinners.
Instead of ordering a pizza for the family, think about making a Greek pizza. Instead of cookies as a snack, think baklava. In place of lasagna, make pastitsio.
My inspiration comes from Chef Jaime Griffith of Classic Fare Catering and Aramark, which provides food service for Toledo's General Motors Powertrain plant. Just before he left for Greece on July 23 to be a chef for display kitchen A in the Olympic Village, he prepared a full Greek menu for the employees at the plant and shared his menu and recipes with The Blade.
He prepared a Greek Chicken Salad Pizza, Greek Baked Fish, Greek Marinated Vegetables, Greek Lemon Soup (avgolemono), Greek Salad, and the most perfect Pastitsio - each serving of this classic Greek dish made with pasta, ground beef and lamb, and Greek cheese had to be four inches high.
As he prepared for his two-month adventure, Mr. Griffith expected the food experience to be different from four years ago when he was in Australia for the Summer Olympics as a chef for Aramark.
"The last time the emphasis was on Asian food," he said. "This time there's more of a European spin on foods." The Pastitsio, with its bechamel sauce, is a good example.
Last October, Mr. Griffith applied to Aramark to be part of the Olympic food service team at the Olympic Village, which will house 24,000 athletes, coaches, and officials from 200 countries.
Aramark Dasko is a joint venture between Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. and Daskalantonakis Group, a Greek hospitality firm. This is the 13th Olympic Games that the Aramark company has serviced since 1968.
This year, Aramark Dasko will operate food service for Paralympics, which follows the Olympics in September. Chef Griffith hopes to stay on staff for the Paralympics, and do some traveling in Europe. "The one thing about working the Olympics is it's like continuous training. I want to learn," he says. Networking and meeting corporate chefs is an added bonus for the chef, who has been working with food service at GM Powertrain for nine years.
During the Olympics, the food service company will prepare than 2 million meals for the athletes in a dining room that seats 6,000 at a time, 24 hours a day. Aramark Dasko has planned a world menu of more than 1,500 items, which is designed to fuel athletes for top performance, highlight foods from the host country of Greece, and offer athletes and traveling officials a comforting "taste of home."
A variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, and meat will be served. Menus can be customized to suit individual nutritional needs. Vegetarian, vegan, hallal, kosher, and other special dietary needs have been addressed.
Designated restaurants throughout the Athletes' Village Dining Hall include: International (foods of Central and South America, northern Africa, Italy, and Spain); Central Asian (Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, and Japanese cuisines), and Traditional Greek with Central Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.
For armchair athletes watching the Olympics on television, Greek foods can be easily served as family and friends gather. The key to cooking Greek foods is using authentic ingredients and recipes.
Pastitsio is a baked meat and pasta dish found throughout Greece. It is time-consuming to make but can be made ahead and is a great party dish, according to Andy Harris in Modern Greek (Chronicle, $22.95). A bechamel sauce, a white sauce of cream, butter, and flour flavored with bay leaves, allspice berries, and kefalotiri (Greek) cheese with a dash of nutmeg adds richness to the dish. If you can't find kefalotiri, use fresh parmesan cheese. Chef Griffith used a combination of ground beef and ground lamb for the meat sauce, but you can use all ground beef if desired.
Another Greek cheese that is popular is feta, a salty, soft cheese usually made from goat's milk. Chef Griffith uses it in Greek Salad and for Greek Pizza, which also includes parmigiano cheese.
A favorite ingredient in the salad and pizza are kalamata olives, Greek olives marinated in oil and wine vinegar. Black olives can also be substituted.
Also, get familiar with phyllo dough. Its crispy, flaky texture can be used for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Frozen phyllo is easily available at supermarkets. Thaw just the amount you will use.
Make spanakopita, flaky phyllo triangles filled with spinach and a blend of cheeses. When you bake the appetizers, let them cool before serving because the filling gets very hot.
Or try your hand at delicious baklava, a wonderful combination of nuts blended with cinnamon and spices between layers of light, crispy phyllo dough glistening with honey.
If you don't have time for making your own phyllo appetizers or baklava, check the frozen food section of the supermarket or visit a shop that sells these items such as Petros Foods, 5086 Douglas Rd.
For more information on traditional Greek recipes, consult:
●Modern Greek by Andy Harris (Chronicle, $22.95).
●The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi (Hougton Mifflin, $35).
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
Contact her at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.