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Traditional Greek island food is reputed to be very good for promoting one's longevity. Perhaps this is because meat is a luxury; so fruits, nuts, salads, vegetables and the ubiquitous olive form the staple diet. I've also read that it's the daily yoghurt that does the trick.

Ironically, Greece turned me from a semi-vegetarian back into a carnivore; all my best intentions went out the window when I saw that food.

Since then, I've done quite a bit of research. My sessions in the kitchen are sometimes long, but I switch on the local Greek station and then I'm quite happy to busy myself in the kitchen for a couple of hours.

That's the down side for some. This is probably not what you'll want to cook after a long day. When you can spare the time, though, consider a full Greek meal: on the table you'll have bread and salad and olives, and your meat dish will only be a part of your meal.

Greek food is about freshness, so you're not going to use canned or frozen vegetables, except for the convenient can of tomatoes. Buy some good quality extra-virgin olive oil, some retsina, and you're ready to embark on a culinary adventure.


SPANAKOPITA
(Spinach Pie)
This is a delicious snack. As part of a whole meal, you might include Spanakopita with the mezedhes, or starters.
1 package phyllo pastry (which you will have to purchase)
1,5 kg (about 3 1/2 lb) spinach
400 g (about 3/4 lb) feta cheese
1 teaspoon plain yoghurt
1 tablespoon salt
Pinch sugar
1 cup olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped dill
5 spring onions, chopped
Pepper

Rinse the spinach well, then chop it very finely. Add the tablespoon of salt and rub well with your fingers. Cover and refrigerate for about an hour. Then lift out the spinach and squeeze it strongly to drain off the liquid.

Add 1/3 cup olive oil, the crumbled feta cheese, yoghurt, eggs, the pinch of sugar, the chopped spring onions, pepper, parsley and dill.

Use a buttered baking pan about 25x28x5 cm, or a round pan about 26 cm in diameter. Line the bottom with one sheet of phyllo pastry, then brush it well with olive oil. Add about 5 more sheets, brushing each one similarly. Let the edges of the pastry come up over the sides of the pan.

Now add the spinach filling, and spread it in evenly. Cover the whole pie with 6 more sheets of pastry, brushing each one with oil. Sprinkle water on the top layer.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 45 minutes. Cool slightly, cut into squares, and serve hot or cold.

THE ULTIMATE MOUSSAKA RECIPE
This is the reslt of loads of research. It also takes some time to prepare properly.
6 medium aubergines (eggplants)
Salt
Flour
Black Pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
4 eggs
Nutmeg
Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
750 g (about 1 1/2 lb) minced lamb
1/2 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
Pinch sugar
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 can peeled and chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
Salt
Pepper
1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Paprika

Peel the eggplant, cut into slices, cover with salt and allow to drain for 3/4 hour.

Meanwhile, make a white sauce by whisking the butter and flour over a medium heat until well mixed.(In fact, this sauce may be prepared the day before and refrigerated.) Now add the milk and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.

Mix about a cup of this mixture into 3 of the beaten eggs, then whisk the egg mixture back into the white sauce. Do not boil the sauce now, or the eggs will scramble. Just simmer it gently, and keep whisking until the sauce is thick. Now add the nutmeg and a dash of Tabasco sauce.

Allow the sauce to cool.

Now prepare the meat. Begin by browning in a heavy pan the olive oil and the lamb. Then add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion is limp.

Add the tomatoes, cinnamon, oregano, white wine, bay leaf, sugar, parsley, mint, salt and pepper. Simmer gently until thick.

By now, your aubergines should be ready, so drain them well, dry them, then shake them in some flour to which you have added the teaspoon of mustard and some black pepper.

Brown the aubergines for 3 or 4 minutes in a little olive oil. Use only a little at a time, otherwise the aubergines soak up all the oil.

Now assemble the Moussaka in a large casserole dish. Start with 1/3 of the eggplant, then add about 1/2 of the meat mixture. Add 1/3 of the white sauce on top of the meat. Now sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup of crumbs.

Repeat these layers: aubergine, meat, white sauce, then the last of the aubergines on top. End with the rest of the white sauce, and the rest of the crumbs.

Sprinkle parsley, parmesan cheese and paprika on the top. Cover, and bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes.

Now beat up the last egg with about 1/2 cup milk or cream and pour over the top. Bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes in a very slow oven, to form a custard over the top.

Serve with salad.

HONEY TART
A delicious dessert
1 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Sieve the flour, chop in the butter, and add about a tablespoon of cold water. Work into a smooth paste, then add the sugar. Roll out and cover the bottom and sides of a greased baking pan.

Mix the cheese and the honey, add the beaten eggs, and half the cinnamon.

Spread this mixture onto the pastry, and sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon on top.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 35 minutes.

Finish your meal with a coffee, a Greek one, preferably, and some delicious shortbread cookies.

KOURABEIDES
2 cups butter
4 cups flour
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup water
3 teaspoons caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Rosewater or orange blossom water
1 1/2 cups icing sugar

Soften the butter with your hands, then work in the flour gradually. Keep kneading, and add gradually the brandy, water, caster sugar and baking powder.

Knead for at least 30 minutes with the fists, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl in one piece.

Roll into different shapes, and bake on buttered baking sheets in a moderate oven , for 45-55 minutes. Watch carefully, and remove before they turn brown.

Sprinkle with rose or orange water and immerse in a deep plate filled with icing sugar so that they are well coated. Stored in an airtight container, they keep very well.