In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s family runs a landmark restaurant but realizes many of the Greek dishes they make at home are just too exotic for their clientele in southern Indiana, at least during most of the timespan of the story.
They do add roasted Greek potatoes as an option, but that’s about it.
Well, by the early ’80s, when they have a vegetarian line going, they might add dolmathes, the stuffed grape leaves, or vegetarian stuffed peppers to their offerings, perhaps along with tzatziki, the distinctive cucumber yogurt sauce distinguished by its dill and lemon.
Oh, but how much are the holding back on? Consider these ten options.
- Gyro. It’s a yummy handful, a wrap made of warm pita bread filled with strips of seasoned grilled lamb and beef with tzatziki and sliced tomatoes. (No onions on mine, please. They don’t agree with my system.)
- Souvlaki. Around here, it’s usually kabobs of char-broiled marinated pork, ordered by the skewer. “Give me two sticks, please,” is the way to order. Rounded out with things like rice pilaf, beans, and Greek salad on the plate. My favorite came from a wood-fired stove at the Common Ground Fair in Maine.
- Spanakopita. Or spinach pie, made of filo dough baked with layers of spinach and cheese.
- Loukaniko. Greek sausage made with orange peel, too. Great appetizer.
- Kolokythokeftedes. A Cretan vegetarian appetizer ball featuring feta cheese. (Feta is big in our house.)
- Lamb shank. This slow-baked, savory hunk o’ meat is one of the glories of our local Greek festival. Or, for those who want something a little less messy to eat, the slices of roast lamb are delightful, assuming you like lamb. If not, go for the lemon-pepper roast chicken. (Admittedly, I’m cheating in trying to keep this a Tendril. Just ten dishes? Oh, my, impossible!)
- Pastichio. Layers of baked macaroni with cheese and seasoned beef are a common entrees , as is Moussaka, made of layers of baked eggplant, potatoes, and ground beef.
- Keftethes. Meatballs. Bet you can’t eat just one.
- Baklava. This honey-infused filo is a heavenly dessert, but be warned, it has to be eaten while fresh. That honey can get sticky.
- Let’s not overlook Loukoumades. Bite-sized golden puffs of fried dough often sprinkled with syrup, walnuts, and cinnamon are another celestial way to round out the meal. I have heard some heated discussion, though, about whether the next generation can live up to the standards this one requires. The debate can be quite amusing, especially when the stand is being operated by closely supervised children.
Now, as for your Greek favorites?
The automatic coffeemaker came from a yard sale. A Cuisinart for, as I recall, five bucks or so. It even grinds its own beans at 4 in the morning, just like we ordered.
We like our brew with a Latin kick. Cuban roasted, for instance. Like espresso, which I turn au lait – or, in this case, Ole’!
Even curbing back my caffeine intake to a cup a day, as my doctor ordered, it’s heavenly.
Imagine rolling over in bed, hearing the grinder kick in downstairs, and then finding the pot freshly made.
What a way to say good morning to the world!
Adapting to a Healthy Heart diet, which greatly limits my old fallback choices of cheese, eggs (with the yolks), and butter, has led to another shift in what I’m eating.
My carbohydrate intake has spiked. It’s bad news if I start to show indications of diabetes.
At least I don’t have to watch my salt levels, for now. That could be another whammy.
But I have decided that if I’m ever given a terminal prognosis, I’m going to go out with a bang. Load up on all that’s been curtailed, maybe start the day with bourbon or bubbly, that sort of thing.
Oh, who am I kidding. By then, I’ll probably have lost my taste for it all. Oh, shucky darn, right?
Americans’ food choices expanded unbelievably in the generation between the events told in Daffodil Uprising and What’s Left. Admittedly, Cassia’s mother had grown up with a wider awareness of dietary options than had her father – her mother’s Greek heritage relied on olive oil rather than Crisco, for starters, and running a restaurant meant keeping an eye open for new options. Roasting a lamb for Easter would have been in her mother’s background but probably made her father’s side cringe. Still, it’s mindboggling to think how exotic some of today’s common dishes were just a half-century ago.
Here are ten:
- Broccoli. And zucchini and summer squash, which show up on a lot of national chain restaurant plates. Hey, even fresh parsley.
- Yogurt. Seriously, even before you add granola, another upstart.
- Tacos. For that matter, anything Mexican like burritos or quesadillas or margaritas. We’ve even added a holiday every May just to celebrate this development.
- Salsa. And sriracha and any of those Texas hot sauces. Whatever happened to ketchup?
- Sushi. I still can’t believe you can get it at the grocery.
- Thai. For that matter, anything Asian. You know, this extends to Vietnamese and Indian and even authentic Chinese. For me as a child, chop suey on top of wormy dried noodles, both out of a can, were as adventurous as it got for miles around.
- Pasta. Yes, any of those various Italian noodles. Our spaghetti used to come with sauce in a can. Seriously. And a spaghetti dinner was typically a fundraising event in a church. Oh, and it was still pronounced EYE-talian. Ouch!
- Espresso. The word itself conjured up images of beatniks. And now? Just think of all the gourmet coffee storefronts and drive-throughs. Not just Starbucks, either. You no longer have to explain cappuccino or latte or café au lait apologetically, thank goodness. Many of us even make our own.
- Flatbreads. As in wraps, especially, though they can be the foundation of a good pizza. Well, speaking of breads, add baguettes and croutons to the list of advances. We’ve really come a long way, baby.
- Real cheese. Not the processed stuff. We now have so many glorious choices we could do another Tendril on just this one item. Hallelujah!
History? Pizza had recently entered the mainstream. And wine was still a daunting frontier.
What would you add to the list?