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Greek cuisine is famous for its great variety of dishes and unique tastes. Sampling the many dishes of the Greek islands can be a satisfying culinary adventure for any type of eating habit. Greece has a history of great food for over 4,000 years. In fact, it was Archestratos in the 330 B.C. who wrote the first cookbook. Many historians consider cuisine to be a sign of civilization.

The four basic secrets of Greek cuisine are the fresh ingredients, the careful use of herbs and spices, the world famous Greek olive oil, and its inherent simplicity. The majority of Greek dishes are generously made with olive oil. Most Greek food is quite healthy due to the wide range of vegetables and herbs used in every dish.

Greek cuisine, like Mediterranean cuisine in general, is known for its spit-roasted meats, flat breads and dishes containing olives, olive oil, chickpeas, oregano, basil, garlic, tomatoes and nuts. Generally limiting the use of meats of eggs, the Greeks find more substantial fare in legumes, grains and vegetables.

The topography and climate of Greece are two factors that produce such a great cuisine. Because of the mild weather, vegetables grow naturally and are vibrant and full of aroma and taste. Even the herbs that are grown in Greece, many harvested wild from mountainsides, are known for their aromatic and healing properties. The lambs and goats that feed on this rich Greek landscape produce meat and cheese that is unique and flavorful. Feta cheese, a cheese made form goat's milk, is native to Greece and a popular favorite in many Greek dishes.

Meal time in Greece is looked upon as an important social event, and a time to share with friends and loved ones. The Greek word "symposium" means literally sharing food with friends. The atmosphere at these meals are generally relaxed, informal and happy. Meals can sometimes last several hours in Greece, as people take time to enjoy their food and company. A good cook in Greece is highly esteemed. Many cooks can spend days preparing a meal for their friends.

Greek wines are famous throughout the world. This shouldn't be a surprise, coming from a country that gave birth to Dionysus, the patron god of wine. There is a wide variety of wines available from this rich country.

Greece is also well-known for its rich desserts, usually made with pastry, honey and nuts. The most common sweet is baklava, a deceptively rich, flaky pastry with a filling of walnuts, honey and spices. Phyllo dough, ultra-thin sheets of pastry used in baklava to achieve maximum flakiness, is used in many Greek dishes, including main dishes such as spanakopita (spinach-filled pastries).

Most Greek dishes are relatively simple to make. Perhaps the simplest, and one of the best, is a basic Greek salad, which is a great accompaniment to many main dishes.

Greek Salad

4 cups salad greens of your choice
1 can black kalamata olives, sliced
2 small cucumbers, diced
2 small tomatoes, diced
4 oz. Feta cheese, crumbled
½ small red onion, diced
Bottled Greek dressing (or make your own, see below)

Toss vegetables and cheese together, mix in salad dressing. Toss to coat.

Greek salad dressing

½ cup Greek olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp garlic, pressed or pureed
1 tsp oregano, dried
1 tsp basil, dried

Mix ingredients together and shake well.