Learning to appreciate an unfamiliar cuisine calls for interwoven threads: You need to taste the classics, cook the dishes, and learn to pronounce and spell the names along the way.
So it is with Greek cuisine. A friend once told me about all of his favorite Greek foods - made from family recipes - that he loved to eat on special occasions. He rattled off the names one by one, rolled his eyes in pleasure, and recalled all the nuances of flavor.
Once you know the name of the dish and its ingredients, you are likely to order it in a restaurant or make it at home.
To help you get started, here's a list of ingredients and foods, many of which I remember from my friend.
●Baklava (BAHK-lah-vah): Sweet pastry made with layers of butter-drenched phyllo, spices, and chopped nuts.
●Dolma (DOHL-mah): Grape leaves stuffed with lamb, rice, onion, and pine nut filling.
●Feta (FEHT-uh): Classic Greek cheese, which is salty and soft and made of sheep's or goat's milk.
●Gyro (YEE-roh): Greek specialty of minced lamb molded around a spit, broiled, sliced, and served in a pita with grilled onions, sweet peppers, and tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt sauce).
●Kalamata (kahl-uh-MAH-tuh): Greek olives marinated in oil and wine vinegar.
●Kasseri (kuh-SEHR-ee): Greek sheep's milk cheese with a cheddarlike texture that's perfect for grating.
●Kefalotiri (kefa-lo-TEE-ri): Hard and tangy cheese, which is also a good table cheese.
●Kourabiedes (koo-rah-bee-YAY-dehs): White sugar-dusted cookies scented with cloves or cinnamon and rose water; may be made with blanched almonds and spelled kourabiethes.
●Loukoumades (lu-ku-MAH-des): Small honey balls similar to doughnuts that are popular as a midmorning snack in Greek cafes.
●Moussaka (MOO-sah-kah): Layered Greek dish with eggplant and lamb.
●Ouzo (OO-zoh): Greek liqueur that is sweet anise-flavored.
●Pastitsio (pah-STEET-see-oh): Greek dish made with pasta, ground beef or lamb, bechamel sauce, and cheese; may be compared to lasagna.
●Paximadia (pahx-MAH-diah): Crunchy, dried rusks (or toast) made from wheat or barley and spiced with aniseed or coriander.
●Phyllo (FEE-loh): Very thin sheets of pastry, usually packaged fresh and frozen.
●Souvlaki (soo-VLAH-kee): Marinated meat or poultry but primarily lamb in a mixture of oil, lemon juice, oregano, and seasonings and grilled on a skewer.
●Spanakopita (span-uh-KOH-pih-tuh): Spinach-feta cheese pastry.
●Tsoureki (tsou-REC-kee): Greek Easter bread commonly in a loaf with three braids and red-dyed eggs.
Now, you are ready to immerse yourself in Greek food.